White roses

bloom again

Nana sang about daisies, lilies of the valley, violets, carnations. Roses are her fetish flowers thanks to the famous song "The white rose of Athens". Its melody was originaly created in Greece but destined for the German public. Its adaptation was so successful that the song has been for her like a passport to make career outside her country. Here is its story.

With the success of the film "Never on Sunday", released in 1960, Greece is in fashion. People like Bouzouki and learn how to dance Sirtaki. A lot of visitors from abroad go off to explore this country, like the German film director Wolfgang Müller-Sehn who decides to realize a TV film. In order to show Greece in its greatest diversity, he shoots pictures of the mountains, the islands, the archaeological sites as well as the capital city. For the music and the orchestration of the soundtrack, he appeals to the most requested composer of the moment, Manos Hadjidakis. Nana, his accredited singer, records five songs whose texts are written by the poet Nikos Gatsos. There are "Ki' an tha dispasis jia nero", "San sfirixis tris fores", "Athina", "To pelago ine vathi" and "Tora pou pas stin xenitia". Recordings take place in October and in November of the same year.

In June 1961, the documentary "Traumland der Sehnsucht" (Greece, Dreamland of Desire) is presented at the Berlin Film Festival and wins a Silver Bear. As Hadjidakis doesn’t want to travel, Nana decides to get there on her own. She remembers having felt intimidated, even disturbed, during this first stay in Germany. The only image she had of German people then was the one of the soldiers who occupied her country. So despite the honor given to her by the representatives during the official reception, Nana cannot help thinking about the suffering inflicted by those men to her compatriots.

Nikos Gatsos, her lyric writer and friend, helps her to forgive and encourages her to accept their offer to record in their language the two main movie themes. During the following weeks, Nana flies back to Berlin. She meets up with Ernst Verch, the producer of this project, who appeals to those who work with the greatest singers. For her, the conductor Heinz Alisch remade the arrrangements and the lyric writer Hans Bradtke gave a new meaning to the texts. During hours, Nana learns the songs and improves her accent. Then, she goes to Hansa-Studio in Grand Hotel Esplanade to make the recordings. This studio is located near Postdamer Platz and has the characteristic of being built with the ruins of an old bombarded palace and the cellars of the basement and its corridors are used as natural echo.

The final product allows to notice the transformations that have been done. So "Athina" (Athens) which is a tribute to the greek capital is called "Addio - Ebbe und Flut" (Farewell - Tide) and has to see with nostalgia. "San sfirixis tris fores" (If you whistle three times), a refrain introduced by a chorus, announcing a boat departure, becomes "Weiße Rosen aus Athen" (White roses of Athens), who are the witnesses of a Love. On the cover, features a young girl in front of the Parthenon holding a rose in her hand. On the back cover, Nana is described like the film title "Die Stimme der Sehnsucht" (The voice of nostalgia).

On August 5 of the same year, the single enters the Hit Parades. It will remain there during 38 weeks. As the sales continue to climb, the release of the second German single is delayed. Satisfied with its sales, the records company decides to offer a free stay in Athens to the 500,000th buyer; a young lady living in the suburbs of Berlin. Nana will be her guide. On February 20, 1962, in Munich, she receives a gold record for one million sold copies. The month after, Luxembourg gives her the Silver Lion as being the most popular radio singer of RTL station. That is of course mainly thanks to this song.

In the meantime, Nana recorded the song in French "Roses blanches de Corfou" and in English "The white rose of Athens". There will be also the Italian version "Rosa d'Atene". In French, Corfu was rather used than Athens because of the rhythm. In English and in Italian, the rose is mentioned in the singular form.

In her biographies, Nana confirms having recorded the song in Dutch and in Spanish. But on which discs do we find them? At the Grand Gala du disque in Scheveningen, she sings the Greek version. The Dutch public will know "Witte Rozen Uit Athene", but recorded by Mieke Telkamp and Mary Servaes, two of their more famous singers. In Spain, her compatriot Alekos Pantas presents "Rosas blancas" with the arrangements of the original composition. On Nana's records, the title is often mentioned in Spanish whereas it be sung in French, English or Italian. However, in German, she will have refreshed her song by recording it with five different orchestras.

During her long career, Nana will have many other big hits translated in various languages. But the single "Weiße Rosen aus Athen" made in Germany remains her most important pressing. The success of that song with continue during many years if we considere all the albums sold because of that title, without counting all Internet downloadings. Moreover a compilation  of her first German songs originaly published in Holland in 1967, came out in several countries  with the English title "White rose of Athens". In Australia, in particular, they took pleasure from releasing it with differents covers and labels. One more time, in 1976, the song gained popularity with "Passport", a collection of her greatest hits inspired by the title. On this cover titles appear as stamps with a photograph of Nana held by a paper clip. At the same time, in Germany, in Austria and in England, the song is re-released on 45 rpm.

Moreover the song "The white rose of Athens" symbolizes her beginnings outside her country. All the biography texts mention it and on several occasions, Nana knew reminding it to her public. By example, in 1968, during her variety programs series for the BBC, she decided to cover it and to record a new version with her band, The Athenians. While adding it again to her repertoire, Nana contributed to make it discover in countries where itís not necessarily the song that made herself known. From then on, whenever she performed on stage, it became one of the most requested songs. Many undoubtedly remember that during years, in every concert, Nana used to hang to her microphone the first rose offered by her fans.

The white roses of Athens or of Corfu is a song that has its story and that survived for decades. These flowers are also a symbol because in some countries, like Australia and England, cultivated roses carry Nana’s name. In 2011, more than ever, they bloom again since a concert will take place on November 29 at the Berlin Philharmonie of Berlin for the 50th anniversary of the song. For 2012, a tour is also planned in Germany.