Germany: Unser Song 2017… how did we get here? (Part 1)

Ahead of Germany selecting their entrant via Unser Song 2017 on Thursday, we have taken a brief look back at how Germany have selected their entries throughout their history and whether this has coincided with changes to their level of success in the contest.
What a difference four years makes. On the 7th February 2013, Germany were a week away from hosting Unser Song für Malmö to do exactly what it says on the tin… choose their song for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö. The show was to contain some of Germany’s biggest acts. These had been suddenly attracted to the contest thanks to Germany’s newfound “Eurovision superpower” status. Three consecutive top 10 finishes, including a victory, was a record that couldn’t be matched by the overwhelming majority of other Eurovision participants. Germany were in complete love, oh love with the Eurovision Song Contest.
One of the most successful European dance acts from the previous decade, Cascada, were victorious in their revamped selection format Unser Song für Malmö. Once again, Germany found themselves near the top of the odds. What happened next? Moreover, how did they get to this point? In our latest how did we get here? feature article, we find out! For our previous article in the series, read our journey through Switzerland’s Eurovision selection processes by clicking here!

Taking part in the 1956 contest

Germany have taken part in more Eurovision Song Contests than any other country. Only once did the European Union’s most populous state not appear in a contest. In 1996, Leon’s Planet of Blue failed to qualify from that year’s pre-qualification round that was not televised unlike today’s semi-finals. As a result, 1996 is classed as Germany’s only non-participation in the contest’s 61-year history to date. Nevertheless, Germany were one of the seven countries to take part in the inaugural Eurovision Song Contest. In addition, they organised a national final to select their two entries to take part in the contest in Lugano. It remains the only contest when countries could select two entries to represent them.
As briefly mentioned in our previous feature article on Switzerland, Lys Assia took part in this first German national final. She reportedly opened the show which contained a further 11 acts. The two victorious acts who won the tickets to Lugano were Freddy Quinn (with So geht das jede Nacht) and Walter Andreas Schwarz (with Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück). Nevertheless, neither could beat Lys Assia who won the contest for Switzerland.

Late 1950s: Searching for that elusive victory… or even just a podium position?

Germany’s Eurovision broadcaster at the time, HR, somewhat streamlined their national final in 1957. Just 4 acts took part in the show hosted in Frankfurt. After being unsuccessful in Germany’s 1956 national final, Margot Hielscher returned. She won the selection this time round and finished 4th at Eurovision. Nevertheless, Margot wasn’t content with just one Eurovision appearance. She returned for the 1958 German national final which had returned to the format of 1956 with 12 acts. Not much is known about this national final, except that Margot was victorious once again. Yet, she couldn’t improve on her Eurovision finish from the previous year. This time she finished 7th in Hilversum in a field of 10.

Margot couldn’t return for her fourth national final in a row as HR reportedly decided to select their 1959 entry internally. The lucky act was Alice & Ellen Kessler. Their entry Heute Abend wollen wir tanzen geh’n was considered one of the most contemporary entries of the year. However, this wasn’t enough to give Germany that elusive first podium finish. The Kessler twins finished 8th in a field of 11, the country’s worst performance to date.

1960s: Ein Lied für Kopenhagen? That sounds familiar…

Germany returned to the use of a national final for 1960. However, they would keep the format for just a few years. It was initially successful as Wyn Hoop equalled their personal best finish of 4th place. The format was expanded in 1962 with the introduction of semi-finals hosted in different German cities. In each of the four semi-finals, three acts performed two songs each. Each act qualified for the final with the jury selected only one of their songs to progress. Conny Froboess was eventually victorious after votes from six regional juries and an in-theatre jury. Conny’s 6th place finish at Eurovision was an improvement on their 13th place finish in 1961.
Their national final format was switched up again in 1963 with the internal selection of Heidi Brühl. Heidi had finished 2nd in the national final of 1960, but went on to have a major chart hit with that losing song. Her entry was selected via a national final. The decision was made by postcard voting for the first time but Marcel only mustered up a 9th place finish in London. Germany reverted back to a simple 6-act, 6-song national final for 1964 and 1965. 1964 was the first outing for the selection’s new title Ein Lied für Kopenhagen, a title that still lives on in some form 43 years later.
Nevertheless, both of these finals resulted in last place finishes at Eurovision. Not only that but both scored the dreaded nul points!. A switch to a complete internal selection followed for the next three years. While Germany saw an improvement on their last place finishes of 1964 and 1965, neither of the three internally selected entries managed to hit the top 5 at Eurovision.

1970s: A constant switch-up in selection formats

ARD reverted back to a national final for 1969. However, it was Ein Lied für Amsterdam a year later that became historic for Germany. A new voting format had been introduced in 1969 where the top 3 songs selected by the jury proceeded to a second round of voting, a “superfinal” if you must. This was where the ultimate winner was chosen. The format continued for 1970 and Katja Ebstein was victorious after the juries voted unanimously for her song Wunder gibt es immer wieder. She went on to finish 3rd at Eurovision, Germany’s first podium finish.

Nevertheless, ARD switched-up their selection format again for 1971 by reverting to their 1963 method. Katja Ebstein was internally selected to represent Germany for second consecutive year. This time she performed 6 songs in Ein Lied für DublinDiese Welt was chosen as Katja’s entry by a 10-person jury. This differed to 1963 when postcard voting determined the winner. She went on to match her finish from the previous year, scoring Germany’s second ever podium finish at the same time.
ARD continued to erratically change their selection formats during the 1970s. Sometimes the winner was determined by postcard voting, sometimes by juries, sometimes by radio listeners and sometimes a mix of both! Internal selections popped up once or twice too. Yet, none of the formats selected entries that could live up to Germany’s run of three 3rd place finishes at the beginning of the decade which had been completed by Mary Roos in 1972.

Early 1980s: Germany gains its psychology degree with sampling!

A new national final format was introduced in 1979, most notable for its method of voting. The winner was chosen by a sample of 500 West Germans. These had been selected to fairly represent the demographics of the country’s population at the time. Whether it was the new voting system or a coincidental improvement in song quality, the format was a success. Dschinghis Khan was chosen from a field of 12 with their song of the same name. They went on to secure Germany’s best Eurovision finish since 1972 with a 4th place result.
The format was maintained for 1980, although the sample was doubled to 1000 participants. Katja Ebstein was chosen to represent Germany once again. Her entry Theater very narrowly took victory in a field of 12 entries once agian. Katja’s Eurovision success would reach a new peak, recording Germany’s best ever result of 2nd place in The Hague. Lena Valaitis gave Germany another 2nd place a year later with Johnny Blue. Germany’s new selection format was proving to be by far their most successful format to date. In addition, it was the first time ARD had kept the same format for a number of years. All that was missing now was a Eurovision victory…

1982: Ein bißchen Frieden, ein bißchen Sonne…

Momentum was building in Germany at Eurovision. In 1982 they finally got that elusive victory. 17-year-old Nicole was selected via the same national final format. Once again, a sample of 500 Germans chose between 12 songs. Ein bißchen Frieden won Eurovision 1982 in a landslide and topped charts in several Eurovision countries. Germany were now in the middle of what would become their Eurovision “golden era” and the best run of finishes they have had to date.
Nicole’s song is an important moment in Eurovision history for several reasons. Ein bißchen Frieden, or A Little Piece, remains the most recent Eurovision winner to top the UK music charts. In addition, the 1982 German entry was the final song in what was a run of very commercially successful Eurovision winners that began back in 1970. It wasn’t until 2009 when the contest managed to produce a run of similar commercially successful entries, a run that continues to the present day.
Ein bißchen Frieden was also chosen as the 7th most popular Eurovision entry of all-time in a special 50th anniversary show hosted in 2005. Nicole herself would go on to perform at Eurovision’s Greatest Hits, a concert celebrating 60 years of the contest in 2015. Her performance was one of the most warmly received of the night and she remains one of the most-loved winners ever.

Mid-1980s: Consistency pays off

Germany continued to use the same national format up to and including 1988. Every national final contained 12 entries. The only change was the number of Germans sampled to determine the voting results. Usually, approximately 500 Germans were sampled. Although this increased to 600 for the final year of the format in 1988. While Germany weren’t able to continue their run of five consecutive top 5 finishes between 1979 and 1983, they achieved two further Eurovision 2nd places with this format. Both of those silver medals were achieved by schlager group Wind, in 1985 and 1987. Overall, by sticking with the same national final format for ten consecutive years, ARD had produced their most successful Eurovision period in their history!

Find out what happens next by reading the second and final part of our article which has been published right here

Editor’s Note: Please do let us know if you know of any further information regarding the German selection processes that we were unable to mention. As mentioned, information is scarce so we would appreciate any assistance to help fill in the missing pieces! Feel free to comment below or get in touch via the contact form.

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