Major Tom: Why Germany’s unofficial anthem is poised to be ‘the song of Euro 2024’

Major Tom: Why Germany’s unofficial anthem is poised to be ‘the song of Euro 2024’

Völlig losgelöst von der Erde / Schwebt das Raumschiff, völlig schwerelos.

Completely isolated from Earth / The spaceship floats, totally weightless.

So goes the hook of “Major Tom”, the 1980s hit by German popstar Peter Schilling. And if you haven’t heard it yet, you soon will, because as Germany prepares to host Euro 2024, “Major Tom” is poised to be the song of the tournament.

For German fans, it has already become an unofficial anthem of sorts, with the song back in vogue like so much from the 1980s. But to explain its third life, a quick retrospective is required on its first and second lives.

The first, naturally, came upon the song’s release in 1983, as Schilling’s debut single went all the way to No 1 in Germany – as well as Austria, Switzerland, and even Canada and Bolivia thanks to the production of an English version. It embodied the Neue Deutsche Welle (the German New Wave scene), as songwriters began to move past the significant UK and US influence on domestic music. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of artists doing something uniquely German but cutting edge”, The Independent hears from Derek Rae, perhaps the most recognisable voice in German football commentary among English-speaking audiences.

“Major Tom”’s second life came in 2015, when it was chosen as the theme song for the television show Deutschland 83 – and the sequel seasons Deutschland 86 (2018) and Deutschland 89 (2020). In fact, English viewers may even recognise it from a 2011 episode of Breaking Bad, in which protagonists Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) see it sung by chemist Gale Boetticher.

But its latest resurrection has been a timely one, thanks to its inclusion in Adidas’s kit launch video for Germany’s Euro 2024 jersey. At the end of the video, which was released in March, the song features over footage of Ilkay Gundogan netting a penalty. (The theme of the video was “typisch Deutsch” / “typically German”, and it was fairly deemed that scoring spot-kicks qualified.)

From that moment, “Major Tom” struck a chord with an altogether new audience – a new generation – while reconnecting with fans of an older age. For those who remember the track’s initial release, “The song brings back memories of what Germany was then,” Rae says. “In terms of national identity, Germany is not other countries, for very valid historical reasons,” he continues, “but the song speaks to German hearts.”

They include, as noted above, the hearts of younger Germans, who find something about the song to be ‘passend’ or ‘fitting’ right now. Its newfound popularity, which has seen Schilling back on TV for interviews about the track, echoes the recent explosion of adoration for Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”. That single was released in 1985 but captivated young listeners in 2022, after featuring prominently on the hit Netflix show Stranger Things.

A German fan at the team’s 2-1 win over Greece – their final pre-Euros friendly (Getty Images)
A German fan at the team’s 2-1 win over Greece – their final pre-Euros friendly (Getty Images)

Soon after “Major Tom”’s use in the kit launch, and following an away win over France, a Change.Org petition gathered pace; Max Kirchi was pushing for the track to be approved as Germany’s official Torhymne, a song played when a team scores. And the Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) obliged, playing “Major Tom” on stadium speakers when Max Mittelstädt equalised against Netherlands. Julian Nagelsmann’s team came from behind to win in Frankfurt, with Niclas Füllkrug sealing victory in the 85th minute. In Mönchengladbach on 7 June, when Germany fought back to beat Greece in the 89th minute, “Major Tom” soundtracked celebrations once again.

The ambience at those home games, thanks in large part to joyous renditions of this new Torhymne, “flew in the face of the apathy from recent games, where the atmosphere was pretty dead”, says Rae. Indeed, Germany had suffered defeats by Austria and Turkey in November, having drawn with Mexico one month prior. Those results hardly inspired confidence that Germany would improve upon their recent showings at major tournaments, namely group stage exits at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and a last-16 dismissal at the Euros in 2021.

Yet fear and apathy have been replaced by a sensible German optimism, and “Major Tom” is at the heart of this hope. Most importantly, though, German fans are simply enjoying watching their team again, as English supporters learned to do in Gareth Southgate’s first two competitions as coach.

Max Mittelstädt (right) celebrates his equaliser against Netherlands (Getty Images)
Max Mittelstädt (right) celebrates his equaliser against Netherlands (Getty Images)

Yet while the DFB has harnessed “Major Tom” as a conduit for this sentiment, Uefa has reiterated its firm stance: At the Euros, songs may only be played during warm-ups and at full time. A little leeway would go a long way in defining the personality of a German Euros, but Uefa’s bureaucracy knows no bounds.

Still, fans will be singing “Major Tom” anyway, and the track will no doubt feature at fanzones. Don’t be surprised if the Germans aren’t the only ones belting out Schilling’s hook by the end of the tournament.

“This is going to be the song of Euro 2024, certainly,” says Rae. “Visitors to Germany this summer... If they’re not already familiar with this song, they soon will be.”