Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different “Word of the Week” in the German language that may have serve to  surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers

June 24, 2013MinneliedMinnesängerMinnesänger in Wartburg (© picture-alliance / akg-images)

Parzival, Richard the Lionheart, Walther von der Vogelweide, Duke  Leopold of Austria … All of these characters knew a thing or two about our word of the week: “Minnelied”. A “Minnelied” is the main form of  “Minnesang”, a specific tradition of lyric and song writing of love  poems that flourished in Germany between the 12th and 14th century, the  High Middle Ages. The poems were presented by singers called  “Minnesänger” (Minnesingers), who would perform them in the court of  kings and dukes. In English, the closest word for the performers is  minstrel, so let’s translate “Minnelied” as a minstrel’s song. You may,  however, use Minnelied and Minnesang (or the slightly adapted derivative Minnesong) in English – a favorite of spelling bees!

The language of the Minnelied was Middle High German, which is decidedly  more different from modern German than Shakespearean iambic pentameters  from modern English. Just to give an example, even the Middle High  German key word “Minne” is not in use anymore – “Minne” means “love”,  and the modern German word is “Liebe”. However, the word “Minne” refers  not simply to love, but to an entire culture that existed around it  within nobility in those centuries. “Minne” is courtly love, the love  felt between nobles, and, more specifically, the love a knight may feel  for a noble lady, frequently unreachable to him for a variety of  reasons. The Minnelied often contains class differences, flowery  language, a comparison between the safety of the castle and the wildness of the forest. There is tension in a traditional Minnelied, but usually the tension is derived from anticipation, desire, and bittersweet  romance. Often there is made up language, and new phrases, symbolic of  the language of love.

Knight and LadyTraditional artwork associated with Minnelieder. (© picture alliance / akg-images)

Some Minnesänger were part of high nobility,  possibly dedicated to various young noble women. One of the most  renowned writers of Minnelieder, Walther von der Vogelweide, spent time  in the company of kings and noblemen. Later, the Minnelied tradition  found its way into epic poetry, musicals, and operas. Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Richard Strauss’ Guntram, both well known operas, have clear elements from the Minnelied  tradition, the first based on the epic minstrels’ contest on the  Wartburg.

Perhaps the most famous Minnelied is  “Unter der Linden” (under the linden trees, which b.t.w. is a term of  German origin in the American language, whereas the British would say  lime trees) by Walther von der Vogelweide, which features the poet’s  onomatopoetic invention “tandaradei” of the nightingale’s tweeting that  people still understand today:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *