“Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” by Vampire Weekend

Like many of Vampire Weekend’s songs, this track deals with a lot of heavy symbolism. As such, only Ezra Koenig, who wrote the song, as well as those he feels inclined to share related knowledge with may understand the meaning of certain passages. But on the surface, there still seems to be some general themes that can be derived from “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin”.

 As such, it seems that Koenig, himself being a Jew, is singing about the State of Israel. More specifically, he presents this nation as one that has a “big dream” but at the same time “can’t make it real”.

For instance, in this track, he references 1917, the year in which a document called the Balfour Declaration was signed which basically led to the establishment of Israel. But he states that “now the battery is too hot” and other terminology alluding to a flawed state of being.

Jerusalem, New York and Berlin are mentioned in the chorus apparently within the context of idealizing a “wicked world”. These are locations, particularly Berlin and Jerusalem, which hold a significant place in Jewish history. However, the direct connection between this trio is unclear, though it may be just that Koenig added “New York” to give the track a more-global perspective.

Meanwhile the third verse appears to be a statement against anti-Semitism, particularly in terms of individuals being on the lookout that a strong “genocidal” sentiment as manifested in the Holocaust never rematerializes.

Ultimately this is a well-written song based on Koenig’s personal Jewish perspective of profound global events using intricately-woven metaphors. And hopefully this interpretation of “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” has done an accurate job of capturing the key points that he wanted to set forth.

Lyrics of "Jerusalem, New York, Berlin"

Interesting Facts in relation to this song

  • It is perhaps also worthy to note that Ezra Koenig was actually born in New York City.
  • As alluded to earlier, Ezra Koenig is the sole writer of this track. He also produced it in collaboration with Ariel Rechtshaid.
  • “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” was released on 3 May 2019 by Spring Snow and Columbia Records as the final song on Vampire Weekend’s 2019 album. That album is titled Father of the Bride.
  • In addition to the likes of “Harmony Hall” and “Unbearably White“, this track is one of the popular tracks on the Father of the Bride album.

7 Responses

  1. Zazu says:

    It sounds like he’s referencing these places as representations of spiritual (Jerusalem) and financial (New York) success but it seems not one without the other. That’s what I hear.

  2. Sammy L says:

    I think there’s two possible options, the first that New York is home the majority of Jews living in America, the second that it’s where he was born, I thought it was maybe reverse chronology.

  3. mike says:

    I don’t think this song is about Israel at all. I think it’s about a relationship when it’s over. “Young marriages melting, and dying where they lay.” He’s saying those are places they could have gone together. What could have been.

    “I know I loved you then
    I think I love you still
    But this prophecy of ours
    Has come back dressed to kill”
    (I love you but it’s over)

    Three stones on a mountain
    Three small holes in a field
    You’ve given me the big dream
    But you can’t make it real
    (This relationship/ marriage is what I always wanted, but not THIS one, it can’t last, it’s over

    O, wicked world
    Just think what could have been
    Jerusalem, New York, Berlin
    (grand cities we could have gone to together, if not for the wicked world or conditions that caused me to fall out of love)
    All I do is lose, but baby
    All I want’s to win
    Jerusalem, New York, Berlin
    (He’s feeling the loss of a connection, and he wants the opposite of that, everlasting love)

    A hundred years or more
    It feels like such a dream
    An endless conversation
    Since 1917
    (I feel like I’ve known you my whole life or longer. He’s speaking to their connection)
    Now the battery is too hot
    It’s burning up in its tray
    Young marriages are melting
    And dying where they lay
    (The relationship is now toxic, and then he gives us the most relevant line of the song, and it’s about divorce.)

    Our tongues will fall so still
    Our teeth will all decay
    A minute feels much longer
    With nothing left to say
    (He’s told her he doesn’t love her, and they are done. Nothing she can say is going to change his mind, and he has no words left. There is no fixing it)
    So let them win the battle
    But don’t let them restart
    That genocidal feeling
    That beats in every heart
    (She’s lashed out at him verbally after this announcement. That’s okay, he has nothing left to say, so he’s letting her say what she has to say, or “win the battle”, but he is not going to let her make him react. He’s done fighting, its over.

    O Wicked World,
    Just think what could have been,
    Jerusalem, New York, Berlin

    • Jay says:

      I feel you’re not wrong but the “she” in this song is Israel and it works completely with your interpretation of each passage.

  4. mike says:

    Furthermore, I believe my theory is supported by the timing of the female vocals that joint Ezra. (O’ Wicked World… She’s saying those lines to herself as Ezra is saying them to us.

    It’s a song about divorce, and what experiences they may have had together if it wasn’t over.

  5. MG says:

    I think it is clear that this song is a lament about Zionism. Ezra is conflicted, as many Jews are. Zionism to him is a beautiful dream that he still feels a connection to, but in light of how it has played out vis a vis the Palestinians, Ezra feels that maybe it is time to let it go. The 3 stones on the mountain are the 3 major religions in Israel. The 3 small holes in the field are 3 graves, an allusion to the violence that Jerusalem has seen as a result. The battery is too hot; the violence is boiling over. Perhaps the Zionist dream is just not worth the struggle anymore. He toys with the notion of letting go of the Zionist dream, but fears another genocide will be launched against the Jews if they give up their power. New York and Berlin represent the diaspora for the Jews, where they have lived for 2 millennia, following the destruction of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Berlin also adds the connotation of genocide that was all too recent. It is a beautifully nuanced song.

    • Andrea says:

      I agree with you. Except I think it’s possible that “that genocidal feeling that beats in every heart” may be referring not only what’s been done to the Jews historically, but feelings some Israelis express and act on toward Palestinians, and the dangers that creates for everyone in the region.

      “Our tongues will fall so still. Our teeth will all decay” is a reference to the book of Lamentations (Eicha, or “How?!” In Hebrew) which describes the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem.

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