Songs of the Edelweiss Pirates and other German Youth Gangs

Young people had very few options in Nazi controlled Germany. Before Hitler took power, many young people in Germany were members of a “Bund,” a “band” or a “club”. These groups met to hike, write music, work on projects, and go camping together. By the end of 1933, all alternative youth organizations ceased to exist and, on March 25th, 1939, membership in the Nazi-controlled Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) became compulsory. Hitler said in a speech in 1939:

in my great educative work, I am beginning with the young. We older ones are used up. Yes, we are old already. We are rotten to the marrow. We have no unrestrained instincts left. We are bearing the burden of a humiliating past [i.e., the loss of the First World War], and have in our blood the dull recollection of serfdom and servility. But my magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? Look at these young men and boys! What Material! With them I can make a new world.

komm zu uns.jpeg
“Come to us! German youth in the Hitler Youth” propaganda from the 1930s.

The Edelweiss Pirates (or Edelweisspiraten) were one of many youth gangs or “bands” in Germany that existed parallel to or in opposition to the mandatory Hitler Youth. They were more or less based in Cologne, with smaller bands in other West German towns, although anyone could claim membership, the “Meute” or “pack,” oftentimes influenced by Communist groups, were scattered about Germany, the “Blasen” or “bubbles” were prevalent in Munich, the “Navajos” in multiple areas, and “Swingjugend” or “Swing Youth” in Berlin and Hamburg. With the exception of the last group, which was mostly a music subculture, these bands took their form and membership from the clubs that existed prior to their dissolution, while others more resembled gangs, and were referred to as “Wilde Cliques,” or “wild cliques.”

die bündische.jpeg
“Die Bündische Jugend” graffiti from Cologne.

Reich Justice Minister Theirack warned the EP and other gangs represented “the most dangerous threat to youth in the entire war” and that Germany‘s youth faced “political and moral collapse because of the EP.” Why? Because the EP and other gangs offered an alternative to the Hitlerjugend by camping together, singing parodied HJ songs, telling dirty jokes, and having sex in the woods. The main goal of the weekend trips was to escape from the controlled world of the cities, which took on political meaning in a country claiming absolute control over its youth. The daily contact after work and longer contact on weekends and holidays created different group structures, forms of communication, codes, and identities among the youth gangs, which threatened the hegemony of the HJ. Further, some of these groups controlled blocks and parks in the city and would beat the Hitler Youth patrollers (the “Streifendienst”), who had largely taken over the duties of the city police in many German cities where the men had gone off to train or go to war.

The HJ-Streifendinst patch. The EP and Navajos also identified each other with patches and symbols. The Navajos wore colorful rainbow bandanas and the EP wore flower pins. Sometimes the wild cliques would also wear the infamous “death’s head” pin.
Hitlerjugend Streifendienst Cologne, 1930s

For about a year now, I’ve been considering writing a long form essay or even a short book on these gangs, but found myself repeatedly stuck on a number of reservations.

The truth is that although Hitler and his Hitler Youth intended to have “total” control over society and everyone in it, this was impossible. The idea of a “total fascist state” is part and parcel of the fascist ideology itself. Hitler’s Germany was terrifying not because he forced everyone to commit atrocities, but because he convinced so many it was the right thing to do, and brutalized the rest into silence. The Hitler Youth incentivized joining, and threatened against not joining, just as Hitler incentivized participating in purges, outing the neighbor, or giving up a refugee. Many people made compromises with their beliefs that resulted in the death of a human being, or their confinement in a camp, including members of these gangs. Some gang members committed acts of racist violence as members of the Hitler Youth after being enticed to join. This prioritizing of the “biologically superior” identify was deeply sown in Hitler’s Germany, and even many hard line anti-Nazis caved when the choice came down to betrayal or losing their life or being sent to a concentration camp.

heil navajo.jpeg
“Heil Navajo,” a parody of “Heil Hitler” in Cologne.

With those caveats on display front and center, we can and should celebrate those who did not join the Hitler Youth, who freed up space from the Hitler Youth’s patrols -likely saving many lives in the process- and who fought and killed Nazi officials at the cost of their own life. The prioritizing of “civil ideals” also manifests in who gets celebrated from the past. The White Rose and their non-violent pamphleteering and eventual martydom are celebrated widely today, while the Edelweiss Pirates and other wild cliques were still considered criminal gangs first by the Allies -who sometimes came to blows with them, and arrested them- and then continued to be considered criminals by the German state until 2005. These were brave, and curious, 12 to 16 year olds who wanted to explore the world and be free, and there is a lot to admire in that. These songs are expressions of those desires, and while there are some great lines about beating up the Hitler Youth, these lines were sung in joy and humor, and not as the macho mantras of a boys club. The wild gangs wanted to explore the world together, drink, and be merry. That’s what made fighting worth it. Best of all, they saw everyone as a fellow explorer, and, unlike the Hitler Youth, they had no rules excluding any gender or race from joining to defend their neighborhoods and there were many prominent female and Jewish members among their ranks.

On November 10th, 1944, the 13 members of the so-called “Ehrenfeld faction” of the Edelweisspiraten in Cologne were executed without trial. This group was accused of a rash of thefts, murder of a Nazi official, and plans to blow up the Gestapo headquarters in Cologne. Many historians still have the stale civilized debate as to whether this group was “political” or just “gangsters,” as if the two are exclusive of each other.

Without further ado, here are the songs in no particular order. Many were adaptations and parodies of popular Nazi marching anthems, which were themselves just adaptations of traditional German marching or folk songs, while others are originals. These are all my original translations with the German above. As far as I know, these are the only translations of these songs. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so feel free to send me an email with corrections ( or requests for more songs.

1. An Rhein und Ruhr marschieren wir

[Originally called “Argonnerwald um Mitternacht”, “An Rhein und Ruhr marschieren wir” is a German military song from World War One. It went through multiples transformations in the hands of the Spartikists, and then the Nazis, before being adapted by the Pirates. Listen to the WWI version here]

An Rhein und Ruhr marschieren wir,
für unsere Freiheit kämpfen wir,
den Streifendienst, schlagt ihn entzwei,
Edelweiß marschiert, Achtung die Straße frei

Meister gib uns die Papiere,
Meister gib uns unser Geld,
denn die Frauen sind uns lieber,
als die Schufterei auf dieser Welt.

Unser Edelweißpiratenlager
liegt in Österreich auf einem Berg
uns sollte es nur einer wagen,
zu uns zu kommen auf den Berg.

Wir werden sie herunterschlagen,
ob Gestapo oder Streifendienst,
denn unsere Edelweißpiraten
kennen keine feige List.

Hohe Tannen weisen Dir die Sterne,
von der Isar springend zu Flut
liegt das Lager der Edelweißpiraten,
und Du Eisbär, Du hütest es gut.

Hör Eisbär, was wir Dir jetzt sagen,
unsere Heimat ist nicht mehr frei,
schwingt die Keule ja wie in alten Zeiten,
schlagt HJ., SA. den Schädel entzwei.

We march on Ruhr and Rhein

We march together on Ruhr and Rhein
For freedom we will fight and die
The nightwatchman, we beat him down!
Edelweiss march on, hey! The streets are ours!

Master, give us back our papers,
master, give us all our money.
For us women are much better
than all the drudgery in the world.

Our tents full pirates of Edelweiss
are in Austria on a mountain top
we’d like to see the fool who tries
a trip alone up to our mountain top!

All our enemies we will strike,
whether Gestapo or nightwatchman,
since we pirates of Edelweiss
are not cowards, nor ever been!

The tall firs stretch towards night sky
from Isar there springs a rising flow
there lies the camp of us from Edelweiss
and you, white bear, protect it when we go.

Listen polar bear to what we say to you
Our homeland is no longer free,
Swing your club like you used to do
and crack the skulls of all the nazis!

2. In Junkers Kneipe

a. Version „Mülheim 1943“:

[This is a pretty straightforward adaptation of a popular traditional German song. Listen to a mediocre version here for the basic melody and here for a more entertaining version from Heino]

In Junkers Kneipe bei Bier und Wein,
da sassen wir beisammen.
Ein guter Tropfen vom besten Hopfen,
der Teufel hielt die Wacht.
Wo die Fahrtenmesser blitzen
und die Hitlerjungen flitzen
Und wir Edelweisspiraten schlagen drein,
Was kann das Leben
uns denn noch geben,
wir wollen bündisch sein.

b. Version „Bickendorf 1943/44“:

In Junkers Kneipe,
bei Bier und Pfeife,
da saßen wir beisamm.
Ein guter Tropfen
von Malz und Hopfen,
der Teufel führt uns an.

Refrain 1:
Hei, wo die Burschen singen
und die Klampfen klingen,
und die Mädchen fallen ein.
Was kann das Leben
Hitlers uns geben?
Wir wollen bündisch sein

Refrain 2:
Hei wo die Fahrtenmesser blitzen
und die Hitlerjungen flitzen,
und die Navajos greifen ein.
Was hat das Leben
Hitlers zu geben?
Wir wollen bündisch sein.

Refrain 3:
Wenn Revolverschüsse blitzen,
wenn Gitarren erklingen und Navajos singen,
und Mädel fallen ein.
Was hat das Leben
Hitlers zu geben?
Wir wollen frei von Hitler sein.

a. In Junker’s Tavern Version “Mühlheim 1943”

In Junker’s tavern by beer and wine
we sat each side by side
just one small drop of the greatest hops,
while the devil keeps an eye.
Where the knives shine on sheaths
and the Hitlerjugend flees
and we pirates rush punching blind
What could this life
for us still provide,
we need gangs of a secret kind.

b. In Junker’s Tavern Version “Bickendorf 1934/44”:

In Junker’s tavern
with beer and pipe
we sat each side by side.
Just one good drop
of malt and hops
the devil standing by.

Refrain 1:
Hey! when all the good boys singing
and all the guitars ringing
and the ladies come rollicking by
What could this life
of Hitler’s provide
we need gangs of a secret kind.

Refrain 2:
Hey! Where the knives shine on sheaths
and the Hitlerjugend flees
the Navajos don’t blink an eye
What does this life
of Hitler’s provide
we want gangs of a secret kind.

Refrain 3:
When the revolver shots are plinking
the guitars are ringing and the Navajos singing
and the ladies come rollicking by
What could this life
of Hitler’s provide
We need life away from Hitler’s eye.

3. Wir saßen in Johnny´s Spelunke

[Listen to a modern version here. I changed a couple lines to take out some offensive childish appelations for a Japanese man in the song, not to artificially clean it up, but rather so that you can sing it, because the melody is nice]

Wir saßen in Johnny´s Spelunke
bei Kartenspiel und Schnaps.
Jim Baker der alte Halunke
und Jo der gelbe Japs.
Sie erzählten von Himmel und Hölle
und von der Heimat Schoß
und Ivan, der russische Lümmel
der brüllte auf einmal los:

In Nietschi Nowgorod, in Nietschi Nowgorod,
da gibt es Salz aufs Brot, das macht die Wangen rot.
Und einen Rostow Gin, stellt man vor jeden hin,
man trinkt und singt.
In Nietschi Nowgorod, in Nietschi Nowgorod,
da gibt’s kein Kussverbot und keine Hungersnot,
und es wird Abendrot und es wird Morgenrot
und alle Welt schläft ein wie tot.

Es dröhnt an der Mole die Kneipe, vom Lachen weit und breit.
Jim Baker, der rollte die Pfeife und flucht “Goddam alright”!
Das hörte der gelbe Japaner und plötzlich holt er hervor,
sein Banjo, der braune Kubaner, und alles singt im Chor:

Und als in der Frühe zu den Schiffen, die Jungens heimgekehrt,
da sangen sie und pfiffen, das Lied das sie gehört.
So kam das Lied auf die Reise, von Frisco bis Shanghai
und stehen wir beisammen, dann tönt es über den Kai:

We were sitting in Johnny’s Tavern

We were sitting in Johnny’s tavern
laying bets and sipping schnapps.
Jim Baker, that old scoundrel
and Jo, that Japanese chap.
They were musing of Hell and Heaven
and of the warmth of old home towns
while Ivan, that Russian hoodlum
howled suddenly to the crowd:

(Chorus) In Nietschi Nowgorod, in Nietschi Nowgorod,
there’s always salt on toast, and cheeks are always warm,
a strong Rostov Gin, pushed under every chin
we’ll sing and drink.
In Nietschi Nowgorod, in Nietschi Nowgorod,
you’ll kiss anyone you love and have stocks of grub.
Every day and night the heavens still shine bright
while the world falls deep and dark in the night.

You can hear the drone from the bar on the pier, laughs reaching far and wide.
Jim Baker, as he rolled up his pipe, yelled “goddamn, alright!”
Then Jo, the Japanese gent, grabbed quick his banjo
The whole crowd, with the dark Cuban, started singing as one in tow:


And in the morning when all the boys board all the ships heading home
They whistled and sang the song, the song that they’d all heard.
Thus the song travelled across the ocean, from Frisco to Shanghai
and we, we stood together, as the song echoed over the quay.

Gertrud “Mucki” Koch became alienated from the “Bund Deutscher Mädel”, the female equivalent of the HJ after being forced to join. She formed her own political group that made music and distributed literature until she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 after throwing leaflets in the Cologne trainstation that read “Macht endlich Schluss mit der braunen Horde! Wir kommen um in diesem Elend. Diese Welt ist nicht mehr unsere Welt“ (“time to cut ties with this nasty rabble! We are dying in this misery. This world is no longer ours”) She was beaten in prison but did not betray her friends. She died in 2016.

4. Schließ Aug und Ohr für eine Weil (Die Weisse Rose)

[This was a favorite of Sophie Scholl, who was executed for distributing literature critical of the Nazis in Munich. She and other members of the White Rose wanted to convince German youth and intelligencia that the war was for nought and that Hitler’s atrocities were unforgivable. After a student riot on January 13, 1943, their leaflets tried to build on this momentum and encourage a student rebellion that never manifested. Listen here]

Schließ Aug und Ohr für eine Weil
vor dem Getös der Zeit.
Du heilst es nicht und hast kein Heil
als wo dein Herz sich weit´

Die Stunde kommt da man dich braucht
Da sei du ganz bereit
und in das Feuer das verraucht
wirf dich als letztes Scheit

Dein Amt ist Hüten, Harren, Sehen
In die Ewigkeit.
So bist du schon im Weltgeschehen
Befangen und befreit.

Handwritten lyrics to “Schliess Aug’…” from a notebook dating to 1936-1941 from a “bündishe jugend” in Cologne.

Shut your eyes and ears for a while

Shut your eyes and ears for a while
from the uproar of the times.
You will not mend it and won’t be saved
although your heart reaches wide.

The hour will come when they’ll need you
and, for that, you have prepared
throw yourself in the fire that smokes
as the final kindling without fear.

Your task: herd, await, look out
into that without end.
In the course of things you are already
liberated and timid.

Jean Jülich

5. Es war in Schanghai

[This is an original from Jean Jülich, an Edelweiss Pirate who survived his experience in a concentration camp, and died in 2012. This song, like many of the songs of the Pirates expresses the Wanderlust of youth, made more intense by the highly controlling and paranoid Hitler Youth groups in the city. A little tip: sing “Paris” the French way for the ryhme. Listen to Jülich himself here]

Es war in Schanghai
Um Mitternacht in der Ohio-Bar,
da trafen sich drei Tramper,
die durch die Welt gezogen war´n.
Jim Parker, der kam aus Frisco,
aus Hamburg der lange Hein
und Charly, der machte den Vorschlag:
„Kameraden, wir trampen zu drein.“

Auf einem Schoner
Fuhren sie hinüber nach Hawaii,
unter Kokospalmen
sangen leis ein Liedel, die drei,
ein Lied voll von Liebe und Treue,
ein Lied voll von Heimat und Glück,
doch keinen, den packte die Reue
und keiner, der sehnte sich zurück.

Es zog sie weiter,
bis hinunter an das schwarze Meer,
sie bohrten Öl und wurden Reiter
in Koltschaks weißem Freiheitsheer.
Sie schlugen sich durch Russlands Steppe
Bis hinunter an den Wolgastrand,
sie kämpften für Freiheit und Rechte
und für ein geknechtetes Land.

Ach Jim, ach Jimmy,
wir müssen nun verlassen dich,
dort drunten in der Taiga,
liegt ein Grab unter säuselndem Gebüsch.
Hier hast du nun endlich deinen Frieden,
hier hast du vom langen Trampen Ruh´,
doch wir müssen weiter nun ziehen,
immer weiter nach dem Süden zu.

Am Lagerfeuer,
ein Wind weht über die Prärie,
zur Klampfe greift der Mexikaner
und José sang ja wie noch nie.
Er sang von der dunklen Rose
und von der Puszta und Prärie,
und Charly, der kleine Franzose,
hatte Sehnsucht nach Paris.

Und weiter drunten
In einem unbekannten Afrika,
wo lichte Sterne funkeln,
weiß ich im Urwald noch ein Grab.
Ade, du mein lieber Charly,
warst mir immer ein guter Kamerad,
allein kehr zur Heimat ich wieder,
denn ich hab ja das Trampen so satt.

Kommst du nach Hamburg,
in die Hafenbar zum „Schwarzen Hai“,
da findest du bei Kümmel und Rum
den langen Hein, den Vagabund.
Er erzählt dir von Jimmy und Charly
und von der Puszta und Prärie
und denkt auch zurück gern an Schanghai,
wo sich dereinst trafen sie.

It happened in Shanghai

It was in Shanghai
Midnight in the Ohio Bar
we find three tramps there
who had travelled ‘cross the world
Jim Parker, he came out Frisco
Out Hamburg, the giant Hein,
with Charly, who made the suggestion:
Camrades, let’s tramp together this time.

On the deck of a schooner
coasted over to Hawaii
under coco palm trees
sang a ditty the three
a song full love and trust
a song full homeland and bliss
but none was weighed down with sorrow
and nothing of the past would be missed.

Onward, they were driven
until down by the black sea
they bored oil and became knights
ended up white guardsmen of Kolchak.
They pushed through past Russia’s steppe
until down to the beach of Volga.
They fought for the rights of freedom
and for a liberated world.

Oh Jim, oh Jimmy
we must now take our leave
down under in the Taiga
lies a grave under the whispering bush.
Peace you will have at last
from your long tramps, some rest,
but we, we must strive now onward
onto the South and leave the past.

To our small campfire we go
when a wind blows over the prairie
sweet songs from Mexico
and Jose sang with passion never seen.
He sang of dark red rose petals
and of the Puszte and prairie
and Charly, that little French fellow
he had the itch to see the city of Paris.

And further under
in an unknown Africa
where bright stars twinkle
lies in the woods a grave only I saw.
Farewell, lovely Charly
friend and comrade to me.
Alone I turn to my homeland
for I’ve seen all I’ve set out to see.

If you ever come to Hamburg
into the harbor bar called “Black Shark”
You’ll find by kummel and rum
the giant Hein, the vagabond.
He’ll tell you of Jimmy and Charly
of the Puszte and prairie
back on Shanghai think fondly
where once in the past met our three.

An inscription in a Gestapo prison in EL-DE-Haus, 1943/44: “Rio de Jenero – Ahoy Kapalero – Edelweiss Pirates stay true”

6. Ganz einsam und verlassen

[Like many of their songs, this was a parodic adaptation of a patriotic German song originally about the beauty of Germany and the women there. In the original, the singer finds an edelweiss flower and gives it to his ideal blond partner, and is “so proud” because it “united two hearts.” Here, the song also emphasizes the edelweiss, which becomes a symbol of piracy and a vegabond lifestyle. Listen to the original here]

Ganz einsam und verlassen, an einer Felsenwand,
da liegt ein stilles Wasser, der Felsensee genannt.
Hier treffen sich Piraten, vom Stamm der Edelweiss,
mit ihren blonden Mädel von Köln am Rhein zu sein.
Wir sind Piraten von Trampen und von Fahrten,
unser kleines Edelweiss soll unser Zeichen sein.

All Alone and Abandoned

All alone and abandoned, on the side of a rock wall
There lies still water, cliff sea is what its called
Here come the Pirates, from the branch of Edelweiss
with all the blond girls from Cologne on the Rhein.
We are pirates from our constant tramping life
Our little Edelweiss shall forever be our sign.

7. Kurze Haare grosse Ohren

[This is sung to the tune of “Hofkonzert im Hinterhaus,” a popular swing song, and was sung to ridicule the Hitler Youth]

Kurze Haare, grosse Ohren
So war die HJ geboren
Lange Haare, Tangoschritt –
Da kommt die HJ nicht mit
Und man hört´s an jeder Eck´
Die HJ muss wieder weg!

Short Hair, Big Ears

Such short hair, such big ears
that means the Hitler Youth must be here
Grow long hair, tango nights
there’s no Hitler youth in sight
Oho, oho!
And one hears the words on every street
there’s no Hitler Youth I’d like to meet
Oho, oho!

8. Hohe Tannen weisen uns die Sterne

[This adaptation of the song “Hohe Tannen weisen die Sterne” was found in the notebook of a “bündishe” youth from Cologne. “Rübezahl” pronounced like “ruebe-tsahl” is a mountain spirit with no direct translation.]

Hohe Tannen weisen uns die Sterne
über der Isar springender Flut,
liegt ein Lager der Edelweisspiraten,
doch Du Eisbär schützt es gut.
liegt ein Lager der Edelweisspiraten,
doch Du Eisbär schützt es gut.

Rübezahl, hör was wir dir sagen,
die bündische Jugend ist nicht mehr frei.
Schwingt den Spaten der Edelweißpiraten.
Schlaget die bündische Jugend wieder frei.
Schwingt den Spaten der Edelweißpiraten.
Schlaget die bündische Jugend wieder frei.

The Great Firs Point Us to the Stars

The great firs point us to the stars
above the waters of the Isar’s quiet rage
the Pirates of Edelweiss are not far
but you, great polar bear keep them safe
the Pirates of Edelweiss are not far
but you, great polar bear keep them safe

Great Rübezahl, listen to what we say
the bands of youth are no longer free
but the pirates will swing their metal spades
those bound together fight until they’re free
but the pirates will swing their metal spades
those bound together fight until they’re free.

9. Es steht an der Grenze die Edelweißschar

[According to a 1943 report of the Reich Main Security Office, this song was sung by the Edelweiss Pirates in Gelsenkirchen]

Es steht an der Grenze die Edelweißschar,
die Kämpfer für Freiheit gegen Nazigefahr
das Edelweiß, es wehe, es weht bei Tag und Nacht,
Der Kampfruf erschalle, Edelweiß bahnt sich Macht

There Stands on the Border the Edelweiss Swarm

There stands on the border the Edelweiss swarm
as fighters for life against the Nazis they’ve sworn
the Edelweiss, it flows, it flows by day and night,
The call for battle rings out, Edelweiss gather might.

10. Wenn die Sirenen

[I can’t find any recorded version of this, and the original didn’t have a very strong ryhme structure. It worked out to add more ryhmes, so I did. The last lines are the same lines that were scratched in the wall of the Gestapo prison cell in the “EL-DE-House” in 1943/44 that is pictured above. A captured Edelweiss Pirate told the Gestapo that this song was sung by the Cologne Edelweiss Pirates.]

Wenn die Sirenen in Hamburg ertönen
müssen wir Navajos an Bord.
In einer Kneipe bei einem Madel,
fällt uns der Abschied so schwer.
Rio de Janairo achio Kabalero,
Edelweisspiraten sind treu.

When the Sirens

When the Sirens of Hamburg can be heard
then we Navajos must be on board.
In some dive somewhere in ladies company
such a burden it is to take our leave
Rio de Genero, ahoy Caballero,
The Pirates of Edelweiss stay true.

11. Und im Graben der Chaussee

[According to a 1943 report of the Reich Main Security Office, this song was sung by the Edelweiss Pirates in Gelsenkirchen]

Und im Graben der Chaussee,
liegt der Streifendienst juchee
sieht uns starten,
nur mit Schmerz und Weh.

And in the Graves of the Chausee

And in the graves of the Chausee
lie the bodies of Nazi patrols, whoopee!
they watch us start,
we Edelweiss Pirates
only with painful screams

I got most of these lyrics and some background information about some of the songs from this website and this one.The background information was taken primarily from Sascha Lange’s book Meuten, Swings & Edelweißpiraten: Jugendkultur und Opposition im Nationalsozialismus.