German was the language of Wagner, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. But since English-speaking rock 'n' roll arrived in a country racked by postwar cultural insecurities, it has not been a popular language for musicians, even German ones.
Except for lederhosen-and-dirndl groups, new-wave artists in the 1980s and a few menacing industrial metal bands, German artists have had to polish up on their English if they wanted to get anywhere near the charts.
But that seems to be changing, and a batch of German-speaking artists is providing a hint of promise for a music industry battered by piracy and economic stagnation.
Music sales in Germany, which plummeted 40 percent over the last four years, are showing signs of stabilizing this year.
German-speaking artists are leading a revival of local talent across European markets, musicexecutives say, as the industry is suffering from a shortage of English-speaking international superstars that used to dominate sales.
"It's considered cool again to sing in German," said Frank Briegmann, chief executive of Universal Music Germany.
"Culturally, after all that has happened in Germany, people accept listening to German texts again. Even young people."
European music executives, who had spent much of the last few years paring back their rosters of what the industry calls "local repertoire" in an effort to cut costs, are now hunting high and low for such acts - particularly in Germany, and especially if they sing in German.
Though imported stars, mostly from the United States and Britain, still represent the majority of sales in Germany, their dominance is easing. Domestic repertoire rose to 49 percent of German music sales last year, up from 40 percent in 2001, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a trade group.
Alain Levy, chairman and chief executive of EMI Music, said the trend, also seen in some other European markets, is encouraging because any recovery for the industry as a whole will be led by local artists.
"A market can only be healthy if the local repertoire is healthy," he said. "I don't consider I have a good company if local repertoire isn't at least equal to the imports."
In France, EMI, Universal and the other big record companies, Warner Music and the newly merged Sony BMG, have together moved well past that benchmark. Local repertoire accounted for 63 percent of sales last year, up from 51 percent in 2000. Elsewhere in Europe, domestic artists have made gains, too; the trend is less pronounced in Britain, which has always had a vibrant music industry, and where language is less of an issue.
Executives say the reasons for the rise in local European music may include the backlash against globalization as well as an improvement in the quality of domestic acts, after several years in which one-hit wonders generated by television contest shows like "Pop Idol" dominated the charts.