Long before Udo Jürgen’s “Griechischer Wein” (greek wine, 1974), ZWEI KLEINE ITALIENER (two little Italians) could be considered a popular cultural representation of “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers). It is not a case that the protagonists of the song are Italians, because the first bilateral special agreement to allow foreign workers took place in 1955, between the Italian and the German Federal government.
The song, composed by Christian Bruhn with lyrics by Georg Buschor, was recorded by Conny (Froboess) in 1961. The song is one of the most well known hits of German schlager music; it won the German schlager Festspiele, which guaranteed the qualification for the Grand Prix d’Eurovision in Luxemburg 1962. It classified at the 6th place of the Grand Prix with nine votes (none from Italy).
Italian guest workers, especially from the south, became a common social feature of many German industrial cities, especially in the Ruhr region. At the same time, Italy as a country has always been the most common holiday resort for German travellers and tourists. Since the Grand tour, art from German speaking countries has found inspiration in Italy and its south in particular; this former has represented an idealized paradise for its classic architecture heritage, its landscape and the simplicity of the “lazaroni”. Schlager songs have also celebrated the “Belpaese” as exotic paradise, since the beginning of the 20th Century.
These songs played an important role in offering some escapist strategy to the distressed post-World-War-II German population (“Capri Fischer” was the first post-war hit).
Railway stations, used mainly as a temporary place of passage for travellers, turned in the 1960s into informal meeting places, where guest workers gathered to welcome the newly arrived, farewell the ones who were leaving and simply hung out. This is also connected to their traditional understanding of public spaces (“piazza” for instance), to the dimensions and overcrowding of the lodgings where the guest workers lived and to the fact that they initially didn’t bring their family with them. The perception of guest workers’ presence in public space is therefore augmented and mistaken for a mere longing for home, symbolized by the train leaving. Actually, the sociological complexity of the guest workers’ status, their social/cultural distance and their relation to public space are still haunting German multicultural society nowadays.
The author of the song seems to be aware of the traditional fascination for the Belpaese: he refers to the trip to Italy as “chic und fein” (nice and pretty) and describes Naples as a place with beaches and palm trees. However, the cultural/social distance between the German majority and the new immigrants is clear, starting from the title of the song, where the two Italians are described as “klein” (little), probably in reference to their height. Interestingly, the two girls that the little Italians are longing for are named Marina and Tina. It cannot be a case that “Marina” was the title of a very popular Italian hit, written in 1959 by Rocco Granata.
Musically the song still conforms to the schlager tradition, with orchestral accompaniment. Anglo-Saxon popular music could have played a role in the insertion of a tambourine, providing a rhythmic beat and in some baritone saxophone insertions. This influence will become prevalent in the following production of Bruhn, with “Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht” for instance.
Following its success, the song was released with Italian (UN BACIO ALL’ITALIANA), English (GINO) and Dutch (TWEE KLEINE ITALIANEN) lyrics. The Italian and English versions distance themselves thematically from the original. The Italian one is praising Italian kisses over French, Brazilian, Viennese, Portuguese, Japanese and Kosac because of the fact that they are always followed by a big love. The English version is about unreturned love to a distant Gino, who apparently prefers to practice on his mandolin every night rather than kissing the main female protagonist. Both songs maintain some connections to Italy (names, musical instruments, idea of love and courting) but no references are made to immigration.
Vocals: Conny Froboes
Conductor: Rolf-Hans Müller
Songwriting: Christian Bruhn
Lyrics: Georg Buschor
Producer: Heinz Gietz
Lenght: 2:42 (Single edit)
- Conny Froboess. “Zwei Kleine Italiener”, Zwei Kleine Italiener/ Hallo, Hallo, Hallo, 1962, EMI Columbia, C 22 008, Germany (7″/Single).
- Conny Froboess. “Zwei Kleine Italiener”, Zwei Kleine Italiener/ Lady Sunshine & Mr. Moon, 1979, EMI Columbia, 1 C 006-45 533, Germany (7″/Single).
- Prontera, Grazia: Partire, Tornare, Restare? L’Esperienza Migratoria dei Lavoratori Italiani nella Repubblica Federale Tedesca nel Secondo Dopoguerra. Milano: Edizioni Angelo Guerini 2009.
- Database: http://www.discogs.com/Conny-Froboess-Zwei-Kleine-Italiener-Hallo-Hallo-Hallo/master/140045 [31.10.2011].
- Download: http://itunes.apple.com/de/album/schlager-und-stars-conny-froboess/id332418519 [31.10.2011].
- Music video: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xaezf_1962-alemania-conny-froboess_music [31.10.2011].
- Lyrics: http://diggiloo.net/?1962de [31.10.2011].
About the Author
All contributions by Giacomo Bottà
Giacomo Bottà: “Zwei kleine Italiener (Conny)”. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/zweikleineitaliener, 02/2010 [revised 10/2013].Print