You are currently browsing the daily archive for September 16, 2010.

I suppose I have to rate this one PG or something – just so you’ve got some warning…

When our son was little we taught him the typical songs you’d teach your kid here in America – you know, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” …  “You are my Sunshine”, and of course, the ever popular children’s song, “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m okay”…. (okay, I didn’t teach him all of that one)

But I also taught him some of the songs he would have learned had he grown up where I grew up, in Germany.  Specifically Southern Germany.  More specifically, the “Swabian” part of Germany.

The sense of humor over there is so matter of fact… And it’s old.  Some of the folk songs have their basis in events that may have happened hundreds of years earlier, and that sense of humor is often dry to the point of being dusty.

Also, some of these songs come from the same culture that brought you Grimm’s Fairy Tales…

The original ones, not the Disneyfied ones.

So one of the songs I taught my son was about a fellow getting a ride on a train.

With his wife.

And a goat.

Now before I describe the song to you – you really have to hear it. (click on the word ‘song’ back there). If you don’t understand German – don’t worry – the people singing are singing just like we all did, with joy and gusto.  You might be wondering why by the time we’re done, but… Well, that’s one of the things that might be lost in the translation – which I’ll be doing my best to do, as it were, below – you just need to hear what the song sounds like first.

The one you just heard, if you listened, starts off pretty fast.  The way we used to sing it, we’d start out slow and speed up – like a steam locomotive of the time would – then get faster – and then there’s this refrain, “Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala”, – and then the last two lines of the previous verse are repeated.  It’s also sung in the dialect of southern Germany – which, where I grew up, is kind of like a gentle southern drawl.  (and the one you just heard is definitely authentic) I mean – speaking “Hochdeutsch” (high German – the formal stuff) – you could try to say “I love you” and end up sounding like a cat, hacking up a hairball – so the southern dialect, the Schwäbisch – or “Swabian” dialect – is gentle, laid back, and saying the same thing sounds like a hug.

Needless to say, there’s a difference between hugs and hairballs, so I’ll do my best to translate here.  Note: the dialect is phonetic – so what you see below might not be translatable in, say, Google or other online translation services.

The first verse just tells the story of the first train that went all the way from southern to northern Germany.  This section of track, the “Schwäbische Eisebahn” was a tremendous source of pride in that part of the country when it was built, and the song, as I understand it, almost became a sort of regional “national anthem”.

Auf d’r schwäbsche Eisebahne gibt’s gar viele Haltstatione,

On the Swabian railroad track, there are lots of train stations
Schtuegart, Ulm und Biberach, Mekkebeure, Durlesbach!

Stuttgart, Ulm and Biberach, Mekkebeure, Durlesbach (several of the major stops on the line)

Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,

Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,

Schtuegart, Ulm und Biberach, Mekkebeure, Durlesbach!

Stuttgart, Ulm and Biberach, Mekkebeure, Durlesbach

It was a tremendously fun song to sing – I’d sung it growing up – so it was a given that I’d be teaching it to my son as he was growing up.

And then my wife asked the most innocent, and simultaneously impossible question she could ask:

“So what’s it mean?”

Auf d’r Schwäbsche Eisebahne wollt amol a Bäurle fahre,

On the swabian railroad, a farmer once wanted to take a trip
Goht am Schalter, lüpft d’r Hut. “Oi Bilettle, seid so guat!”

He went to the ticket agent, tips his hat, and asks, “One ticket, if you please”
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,

Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
geht am Schalter, lüpft d’r Hut. “Oi Bilettle, seid so gut !”

…went to the ticket agent/machine, tips his hat, and asks, “One ticket, if you please”

“Well, it’s about this farmer… “


“…and his wife…”


“…aaaaand this goat…”

(Long, LONG pause as I try to figure out how to translate this part that up until that moment had been funny, but now that I tried to translate it into something someone born and raised here in America would understand, I realized that it would absolutely, positively, without a doubt, lose something in the translation…  Just how much was to be determined…)

Einen Bock hat er gekaufet und daß er ihm nit entlaufet,

He bought himself this billy goat, and so it wouldn’t walk off
Bindet ihn d’r guete Ma, an den hintere Wage na.

The good man tied him to the back of the last car in the train.

(unsaid, implied, or left for you to guess is that he was doing

this while loading the rest of his stuff onto the train)
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
bindet ihn d’r guete Ma an den hintere Wage na.

“Well, the farmer ties the goat to the back of the train to keep it from wandering off.”

“Okay…. And?”

This is where it got hard…

“Well… what isn’t actually stated is that he forgets the goat.”

“What – the goat runs off?”

“Well, not exactly…”

“What do you mean, not exactly?”

“Well, the goat’s tied to the back of the train.”

“And the train LEAVES?”

Wie des Zügle wieder staut, der Bauer nach sei´m Böckle schaut

When the train started up again, the farmer went to check on the goat.

(the version I used to sing had a couple of verses before this one where the farmer sits down next to his wife, lights up his pipe, and has a smoke, and it’s at the next stop that he makes the discovery below)
Find’t er bloss Kopf und Soil an dem hintre Wagetoil.

And finds nothing but the rope and the goat’s head still tied to the last car in the train.
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
Find’t er bloss Kopf und Soil an dem hintre Wagetoil.

“Ummm…  Yeah…”

The reputation of an entire culture was on my shoulders as I tried to explain that tying a goat to the back of a train that was about to head down the tracks a tad faster than said goat could run could be seen as rather amusing when looked at the right angle, you know, like the farmer went to town every week on the train, and every week he did the same thing – only this week he did something different, out of the ordinary, not routine… He bought a goat.  He thought about it long enough to tie it to the back of the train so it wouldn’t run off as he was loading his other purchases into the train – and, as we often do, he then went on autopilot once he was on the train and the whistle blew. (how many coffee cups, diaper bags, wallets, or dare I say it, loaded child seats, have you seen on the roof of a moving car?)

Of course, trying to find out exactly what angle in all this would be amusing was the challenge…

‘s packt d’r Baure a Baurezore, er nimmt d’r Geißbock bei die Ohre,

The farmer (in frustration) grabs the goat by the ears
Schmeißt er, was er schmeiße ka, dem Konduktör an ‘n Ranza na.

And throws what he can throw (namely what’s left of the goat) as hard as he can throw it at the conductor

(essentially blaming him for not keeping track of the goat, so to speak)
Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala,
Schmeißt er, was er schmeiße ka, dem Konduktör an ‘n Ranza na.

And while I’m happily singing “Trulla, trulla, trullala, trulla, trulla, trullala” with my son, clapping with him and smiling, the dawning realization in my wife’s mind changed the look of shock on her face into a look of absolute horror.

She was thinking of the song from the goat’s point of view, which, in Germany, especially in agricultural Germany, you really didn’t do much… I mean yes, some of the farm animals kind of became pets, but for the most part, goats were livestock, and farmers managed them.  Livestock lived long enough to either produce or become food. It was pretty simple, pretty straight forward, and pretty practical.

But here in America – especially here in America in an area where you don’t see livestock in much more than a petting zoo – you tend to think of those warm fuzzy little goat like things a little differently, and you might tend to see the whole story from their point of view.

“He left the goat tied to the back of the train, the goat tried to keep up with the train, and – and…”

I had to fill the silence with something…

“Well, yeah…”

“And they wrote a SONG about it?”

“And it’s a HAPPY song?”

“Well, um.  Not for the goat…”


Trulla, trulla, trullala…


Tom Roush

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,178 other followers

September 2010
« Aug   Oct »
%d bloggers like this: