Mourning with Berlin: Nine famous songs of sadness and the stories behind them | Music | DW | 20.12.2016
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages


Mourning with Berlin: Nine famous songs of sadness and the stories behind them

When people mourn, music can help. When words fail, maybe they've already been written down and turned into a song. Here are nine songs of mourning for the victims in Berlin.

Only Time 

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 the song "Only Time" by Enya went around the world. The text goes, "Who can say where the road goes / Where the day flows? / Only time..." The enigmatic yet strangely consoling words inspired a New Yorker to underlie a video collage with photos of the events and the victims with the song. The video spread instantly in the internet and on television. Enya's song became a sad hit. Although it had already been on the market for a year, it is indelibly linked to 9/11. 

Tears In Heaven 

Eric Clapton's son's death deeply shocked him. Four-year-old Connor had fallen out of the window in the 53rd floor of an apartment house in New York. The cleaning lady had carelessly left the window open. It was a tragic and avoidable accident, and the death of one's own child is the greatest disaster than can happen to a parent. A year later, Eric Clapton wrote the song "Tears In Heaven," asking his son in it whether he would recognize him when the two meet in heaven. 

Eric Clapton in concert (picture-alliance/dpa/Anspach)

Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" is a tribute to his son

Der Weg (The Way)

German singer-songwriter Herbert Grönemeyer lost both his brother and his wife in a short span of time. He completely withdrew at first and worked on his album "Mensch" (Human). On it, he addressed his mourning in several moving songs: "Mensch," "Unbewohnt" (Unoccupied) and "Der Weg" (The Way). The last song really gets under the skin where the refrain goes, "You flooded each room with sunlight, turned every sadness around (...) life is unfair." About the album, Grönemeyer said that death is a color that belongs to him and that will be included on his next albums. 

Candle In The Wind 

In 1973, Elton John (pictured above) dedicated the song "Candle in the Wind" to Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe. Twenty-four years later came the event that occasioned him to change the words to the song: the fatal accident of Princess Diana in September 1997. The two were close friends. Elton John played the song at Diana's memorial service. It begins with the words, "Goodbye England's rose / May you ever grow in our hearts." A week later, John released the single, subtitled "In loving memory of Diana, Princess of Wales." It became the most successful single of all times. Elton John never sang his version of the song live again.

Stark wie zwei (Strong As Two)

Udo Lindenberg lost his brother in 2006, at a time he nearly had lost himself; his career had hit a lot point. Then came the song "Stark wie zwei" and the album of the same name. Udo snapped back, and the songs to follow were stronger than ever before. He dedicated these lines to his brother: "Strong as two, I go down the street, strong as two, no matter where I go, you are there, I'm now as strong as two." 

Udo Lindenberg (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan)

Udo Lindenberg is a rock legend in Germany


Nine Inch Nails lead Trent Reznor wrote "Hurt," which he called his most personal song. In it, he works through his experiences with drugs and depression. Ultimately, he chooses life and overcomes that dark period in his life. The cover version by Johnny Cash is a completely different interpretation, sung by an elderly, dying man who's ready to throw in the towel. The message is, "Death is inevitable, no matter what you do in life." 

Amazing Grace 

In the 18th century, John Newton, sailor who captained slave ships, wrote a song about his conversion to Christianity. During one of his journeys, he survived a severe storm and began to question his previous life. It was then that he turned to God and experienced the grace of salvation: "I once was lost, but now am found. I once was blind, but now I see." US President Barack Obama sang this song during the funeral service in Charleston for the victims of a racist gun attack on an African-American church. 


Leonard Cohen wrote this song in 1984. It's less of a song of mourning, and more of a powerful hymn, whose hard-to-interpret text contains biblical metaphors, and suits nearly every celebration. It's been covered countless times. Recent interpretations come from Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Damien Rice and Popa Chubby. 


Sting called this an open song and said it was good that people fill it with meaning. He wrote it in 1987 after a US soldier in Nicaragua was murdered by the Contras. Since then, the tune has been sung many a sad occasion. After 9/11, Sting performed it at a benefit concert for the victims. He played it again at the reopening of the Bataclan music venue in Paris, one year after the terrorist attack there in November 2015.  

Click through the playlist below for more famous songs of mourning. 

DW recommends