Figure 1.--The non-political Wandervogel was the most important early German youth organization. By the 1920s, however, it had declined in importance with the rise of youth groups sponsored by political parties. Notice the folk dresses that the girls are wearing.
The most popular German youth organization of the early 20th century was the Wandervogel. This movement was officially formed November 4, 1901, and became Germany's most important youth group. It many ways they were similar in some ways to the Scouts stressing hiking and camping. There was also a strong participant in sport, much more so than the Scouts. There were, however, important differences. Wandervogel stressed Germany's Teutonic roots, a highly nationalistic approach, rather than the international approach of Scouting that allowed it to spread beyond England. It was because of the stress on the Teutonic folk idea anti-Semetic, for shadowing a sinister streak in the German youth movement wehich would appear in a more virulent form in the Hitler Youth. The Wandervogel was partly a manifestation of the perceptible mood of boredom and restlessness appearance of Wilhelmian Germany was little more than a facade which concealed latent tensions beneath the surface. The movement was strictly apolitical and after World War I splintered into many completing, often highly politicized groups. Today in Germany Wandervogel functions throughout the country. I'm not sure just when it was revived.
A Berlin university student, Herman Hoffmann Fölkersamb, founded a study circle for shorthand at the all boys Berlin-Steglitz grammar school where he was
teaching. This schoolboy group began to meet without adult leadership about 1895. The early members of the Wandervogel movement liked to consider themselves
the pioneers of the youth mission, yet not until November 1901, in the Steglitz town hall cellar, was the Wandervogel, as an association formally created. The origin
and description Wandervogel is perhaps symbolic for many of its members, and for many members of other elements in the German Youth Movement, including the
Hitler Jugend. The Wandervogel soon became the preminent German youth movement.
Wolf Meyen came up with a catchy name for the new group--Wandervogel. He took the name of a poem by Otto Roquette which later was turned into a song.
"Ihr Wandervögel in der Luft,
im Ätherglanz, im Sonnenduft,
in blauen Himmelswellen,
euch grüß' ich als Gesellen!
Ein Wandervogel bin ich auch,
mich trägt ein frischer Lebenshauch,
und meines Sanges Gabe
ist meine liebste Habe."
The term Wandervogel in German meant migratory bird. However the word was also used in informal language for vagabonds.
Wandervogel is perhaps symbolic for many of its members, and for many members of other elements in the German Youth Movement, including the Hitler Jugend. The name was
discovered on a tombstone and means, literally, "wandering or migratory bird".
A Berlin university student, Herman Hoffmann Fölkersamb, founded a study circle for shorthand at the all boys Berlin-Steglitz grammar school where he was teaching. This schoolboy group began to meet without adult leadership about 1895. The early members of the Wandervogel movement liked to consider themselves the pioneers of the youth mission, yet not until November 1901, in the Steglitz town hall cellar, was the Wandervogel, as an association formally created. The origin and description Wandervogel is perhaps symbolic for many of its members, and for many members of other elements in the German Youth Movement, including the Hitler Jugend. The Wandervogel soon became the preminent German youth movement. Scouting never caught on in Germany as it did elsewhere in Europe. During the First World War, some army volunteers joined in a "Field-Wandervogel." At the battle of Langemarck in Belgium, some charge that the Imperial High Command needlessly sacrificed an entire battalion of youth movement volunteers. After 1918 the Wandervogel broke up into various groups. Members attracted by the Teutonic volk ethos of Wandervogel split off from the overall group into volkisch-nationalist organizations--the most well known today is of course was to be the Hitler Youth. After World War I, the apolitical Wandervogel movement was eclipsed by the politically active groups formed by rival political parties. Wandervogel was highly influential and the outward trapsings as well as the philosophy of the movement was selectively adopted by these groups. The Wandervogel Leagues by the end of the decade in 1929 had a total membership of only 30,000 boys. After the NAZI takeover of power, the Wandervogel groups joined (some of them voluntarily) the HJ, which also offered hiking and camp life. Officially, the Wandervogel Leagues were dissolved in June 1933, and their members were transferred to the HJ. Individual groups, however, remained in contact with their members, and eventually became nuclei for youthful opposition in the Third Reich.
I believe the Wandervogel movement began to reform in 1946 after the defeat of the NAZIs in World War II. HBU at this time, however, has virtually no information on Wandervogel in post-War Germany. The Wandervogeal in the 1990s appears to be a popular, functioning groups. Units are active throughout Germany.
Hoffmann did not have a firmly-defined program for the group. He had vague notions about what did and did not represent a reasonable life. These thoughs were developed as the Wandervogel movement spread and was adopted by increasing numbers of German youth. He realized that industry and commerce had come to stay, but he was equally convinced that the individual, instead of passively surrendering to the impersonal and atomizing forces of industrialism, should actively control them. What seems strange to the modern reader is that along with the heralding of nature and the individual was a healthing dose of Teutonic nationalism and anti-Semitism, sounding much like a melding of todays' greens and neo-NAZIs.
Here we review some of the tenants of Hoffman and other Wandervogel adherents.
Wandervogel was itially a limited movement without a formal administrative structure or was completely informal. We do not have much information on the organization of Wandervogel, but bleieve that the different units were very loosely assiciated. Here we need more information.
Wandervogel was best known for its outdoor activitiesm camping and hiking, folk dancing and singing, reciting poetry, staging dramtics, and sports. Activities were not restricted to bucolic country settings. Wanddrvogel and other groups supported a Heim (home) in Berlin and other major cities. Often they were small basement apartments or storefronts. The young members paid the rent and furnished as best they could. They were decorated with posters, bannersm trophies, and momentos of their many excursions. Here the boys and to a lesser extent girls would play games, sing, reherse dramtic skits, conduct poetry readings, and discuss the issues of the day which interested young people. They planned and organized their next excursin. In these homes they enjoyed e fredom they found in bucolic settngs--freedom from often stifling adult authority. For many they felt more at home in these "caves" as some were called than in their own homes. One very importnat element of Wandervogel was the music and song. Some of the music was quite beautiful and appealing. There was, however, also some rather uglu anti-semetic songs which in the loght of history are quite chilling today. Many of the more benighn songs are still remembered in Germany today. A HBC contributor reports visiting the Wandervogel exhibition in Berlin in 2001 where two girls and a boy came in. The boy had a guitar and wore the only pair of Lederhosen to be seen in Berlin. They were from the town of Lippe in West-Germany. They started playing and singing typical Wandervogel songs. They had beautiful voices and the singing filled all of the house. These Wandervogel songs are available on CDs.
The Wandervogel movement was a reaction to the formality and stern authoritarianism of Wilelmine Germany. The boys hiked and gloried in the fresh air. They sought to create a better human condition. They pursued drama and poetry and endless debates on the issues of the day. They also exaulted in a idealized Nordic past and pursued volk culture in song and dance. The Wandervogel was partly a manifestation of the perceptible mood of boredom and restlessness appearance of Wilhelmian Germany. Boys sought alternatives to the authoritarian approach of their parents and schools. They discussed among themselves have to break free of what they saw as a represive system. The movement was particularly popular among working class and middle class German boys. While there were many positive aspects to Wandervogel, there was also a fierce nationalist commitment and among many, but not all, a strong element of anti-semetism.
Wandervogel in some superficial ways looked like Scouting. Baden Powell for a time briefky saw it as a German Scouting movement. There were, however, major differences. Like wise there were some shared tenants and similarities with other German youth groups, including right wing groups like the Hitler Youth. There were some basic inconsistencies in the thought of Hoffman and the Wandervogel movement which lead to the splintering of the movement into many diverse groups after World War I (1914-18)
Especially interesting to the modern reader is the style of greeting that Hoffman elected for his group. He felt that to be be free one had to break the existing conventions; in place of the prevailing greeting of a simultaneous bow and clicking of heels, Hoffmann thought it suficient to raise one's right arm in the ancient form of salute, accompanied by a "Heil!"
Figure 2.--The campfire was almost a mystical altar for the Wandervogel, a place for secret rituals. Such rituals were one of the many aspects of Wandervogel that the Hitler Youth incorporated.
The campfire for Wandervogel was as Bertolt Brecht expalins something of a secret ritual.
A song sung by the Wandervogel expresses their emotions around a campfire:
Marching around an altar,
Swinging our arms together,
In the presence of a god.
All of us are one.
When the sacrifice rises in pointed flames
Our blood flows in one stram
we dance joyfully locking arms
All of us are one.
We reach to the heavens,
Reach to the horizon
With our arms.
We are a cup
From which the gods
[Kurt Gauger, "Alle die um einen Altar schreiten," Wesser Ritter, VI, 1926, p. 273.]
Wandervogel boys sat around their falmering "altars" in woods, in barns, in town squares, sang their songs. The preferred location for these ceremonies and campfires were the rins of medieval castles. These esrtaic young people in their cpruroy and cotton uniforms performed skits as well as theatrical plays. For many it was mystical intoxication
The German Youth Movement began to emerge in the 1890s. There were many small, disorganized groups. It eas the Wandervogel that emerged as the leading and most popular group. Wandervogel in many ways were similar to the Scouts, both stressedg hiking and camping. There was also a strong participant in sport, much more so than the Scouts. The Wandervogel was partly a manifestation of the perceptible mood of boredom and restlessness appearance of Wilhelmian Germany was little more than a facade which concealed latent tensions beneath the surface. While Wandervoyel shared some of the outward trapings of Scouting. The basic tenants as reviewed above can be seen to have been very different than Baden Powell's Scouting movement. As Wandervogel was the principal German youth mobvement and not Scouting, it suggests that the movement was more in tune with German youth than Scouting. It is often thought that the Hitler Youth in the 1930s perverted innocent German youth. It appears, however, that German youth in the years before the NAZI seizure of power willingly adopted some of the tenents of the Hitler Youth before even more the more virulent ideology of NAZIism was forced upon them.
Unlike the Boy Scouts, there was no international program. There was to our knowledge not Wandervogel activity outside Germany. The only excption was Austria, another German-speaking country. The Austrian Wandervogel was founded in 1911 by the student Hans Mautschka (1888-1914) of Prague as the ÖWV, Bund für deutsches Jugendwandern. as in Germany, hicking, singing, community, dance and abstinence as well as living in nature were the main goal of the Wandervogel in Austria. They didn’t want to create a set Wandervogel culture, but rather to let youth develop freely. During the Meissnerformel [????] 64 Austrian youth groups were founded. The groups after World War I had to find each other again. There were by 1929 there existed 33 boy and 22 girl groups. Immediately after the Anchluss, the NAZIs on March 12, 1938 the banned thge Wandervogel. The Hitler Youth were to be the only permitted youth group. After World War II, it was difficult to form new youth groups. Even so in Vienna were there had been some youth groups. In 1953 finally the Junge Bund was founded. It remained independent and without religious restriction ever since.
The Wandervogel movement was an outgrowth of German Romanticism which influenced the NAZIs. The Wandervogel featured groups of youths hiking, singing, and camping. We would have called it "getting back to nature" a couple of decades ago. It was a reaction against
industrialization and urbanization, as was romanticism, and it was something of a model for
various Hitler Youth activities.
HBU have very little information on the Wandervogel uniforms. Hoffman also has strong feelings abour clothing. He thought that the style of one's clothes should fit the desired way of life. Creased trousers, starched shirts, and ties were hardly suitable attire for cross-country hikes. Instead shorts, dark shirts, a waterproof, and hob-nailed boots were indispensable. This was in effect a uniform, but was not the para-military uniform adopted by the Scouts or later by the Hitler Youth. Some of the available images of the Wandervogel seem to show the boys without uniforms, although it is not always easy to tell. Other sources tell us that the Wanndervogel did have uniforms, but not as destibctive a uniform as the Scouts. Nor did the Wandervogel give the kind of attention to a uniform as was the case of the Scouts. A contributor reports, "The Wandervogels did have a uniform, according to Bertolt Brecht in his Berlin: A Scrapbook of the Twenties. The uniforms appear rather rustic in photos. This book has a brief but informative chapter on the Wandervogel and its connection to some of the Weimar youth groups and the Hitler Youth." Another source reports that Wandervogel, like organizations that would follow it, adopted a specific style of dress, a ranking system, and a stylized way of recognizing each other.
Brecht, Bertolt. Berlin: A Scrapbook of the Twenties.
Koch, H.W. The Hitler Youth: Origins and Development 1922-1945.
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