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Rammstein Interpreted: the Song Mein Herz Brennt
“Once upon a time…” Hear those words, and Americans expect to hear a story, particularly a fairy tale and probably at bedtime. In the Rammstein song “Mein Herz Brennt,” the band uses the German version to tell their own tale.
“Mein Herz brennt,” translates to “my heart burns.” Taken by title alone, the song should be about love. Rammstein songs are never about love, not in any sentimental way. (And they are never about chocolate cake – let the rumor stop here.) As suggested by the first line, “Now, dear children, pay attention,” the German version of “once upon a time,” the singer is spinning a story. The meaning of this particular Rammstein story… well, let’s look.
NB:All lyrics are the copywrite of Rammstein.
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The beginning of the story sets up the narrator as a sort of sandman who watches over sleeping children. However, rather than sprinkling sand, this character tells the listeners, “Ich hab euch etwas mitgebracht/hab es aus meiner Brust gerissen,” I have brought you something/I have ripped it from my chest. Clearly he means his heart. In German folklore there is also “Der Sandmann,” the Sandman, but he is not in the habit of ripping the heart out of his chest. Rammstein, then, have created their own character.
E.T.A Hoffmann, who wrote a story of the Sandman in his native German in 1816, did create a creepy character. This Sandman actually throws sand into naughty children’s eyes so that they bleed their eyes out; he then feeds the eyes to his children on the moon. Ironically, Rammstein’s character seems more benevolent. True he rips the heart out of his chest. But the heart is a “bright light in the heavens” – the burning heart. Interestingly, the character can use the heart “zu erpressen,” to blackmail the eyelids. Perhaps the understanding is the children should go to sleep or their heart gets ripped out, too. Or perhaps the character is just saying that he ripped his heart out, so the child really should get to sleep. In fact, the action does not state the eyelids should close, so the character may very well be stating he has the power to force the listener to stay awake.
The last idea is furthered by the fact that the character sings until daybreak. Depending on which vocal qualities Rammstein’s singer, Till Lindemann, chooses to utilize, this could result in a voice that could send villagers fleeing into the fields from the mighty, Germanic bass with its growling undertone emanating from his chest. (Sans heart, naturally.) At that time in the song, though, the music is a low, cello accompaniment with no percussion, and Lindemann is singing in what was for him at the time a gentle voice, a sort of low rumble. (After this album he spent time in musical study, and his voice features a wider range with clearer tones now.)
In the next verse, the narrator warns of what comes in the night: Dämone, Geister, schwarze Feen, demons, ghosts, and dark fairies. These creatures come from the cellar, but they seem also to come from the subconscious. Perhaps they are the boogeyman in this story since they do “look,” under the bed. With the tone of the song, the demons, ghosts, and dark fairies should be the narrator’s minions. However, at this point the narrator’s role in this line-up is not clear. He is “the voice from the pillow,” presumably the Sandman.
This version of the Sandman has still come bearing “something:” the “bright light in the heavens.” “Mein Herz brennt,” is the refrain – and title – of the song. What makes his heart burn, or why it burns, is not clear. But since it is “a bright light in the heavens,” it sounds like it is meant to be a star, perhaps the sun itself. This would go along with the idea that this particular Sandman is actually preventing the child from sleeping.
In the final original verse, the ending of the fairy tale comes, and we discover the narrator's role. "They" – presumably the demons, ghosts, and dark fairies – come in the night. They steal the children's "small, hot tears." These can be the result of the sand – perhaps even the violent sand of Hoffmann's story; they, therefore, could be blood tears. This is supported by the last line of the verse, when "they" put the small, hot tears into the narrator's "cold veins." Vampiric, for sure.
In fact, the vampire allusion could play throughout the entire song. After all, the character steals into homes in the night, has demons and the like for minions, sings only until the day awakens, and his burning heart could be the result of daylight on his flesh. This is a stretch, however. Likely Rammstein have created a new creature in their song, possibly a dark angel, one who ingests the hot tears of children collected by evil spirits. As is typical with Rammstein, the allusions are not polemic. Either way we cannot know if the narrator is good or evil – likely he is a little of both.
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People who might not know much about Rammstein – perhaps only know they sing in German and seemingly aggressively at that – might question whether the song deserves this in-depth an analysis. After all, look at many songs today, and they do not contain much more than their surface meaning. They would not stand up to poetic analysis. Rammstein singer Till Lindemann, though is responsible for writing many of the lyrics, and he is a published poet. His book of poetry, "Messer," or "Knife," came out November 1, 2002, and is filled with dark imagery and provocative pictures. Indeed, Till Lindemann is the son of a journalist/writer mother and father, Werner Lindemann, who was a famous children's poet – yes, children's poet. Till Lindemann has the credentials on all accounts to write a song that is deep and nuanced poetry.
Mein Herz Brennt
Till Lindemann, singer; Christoph Schneider, drums; Flake Lorenz, keyboards; Richard Kruspe, guitar; Paul Landers, guitar; Oliver Reidel, bass