Last weekend, I bought this World War I postcard that’s related to the history of the Wandervögel.
Wandervogel, of course, was the first youth movement of the 20th century; before its establishment in the last decade of the 19th century, the concept of “teenager” was unheard-of in Western society. The ethos of the Wandervögel was to shake off the restrictions of urbanized society. It was a back-to-nature youth organization emphasizing freedom, self-responsibility, and the spirit of adventure. By comparison, the Boy Scout movement wasn’t established until 1908 in the UK and 1912 in the US.
Although it was a popular movement in Germany, in the years before the First World War it was never terribly big—some estimates are that it never exceeded 60,000—yet it was extremely influential. It is said that almost every major intellectual in Germany at one point passed through some segment of the German youth movement. It should also be emphasized that the “movement” was highly fragmented. Groups were often splitting off from one another and sometimes coming together. They all called themselves Wandervögel, but were organizationally independent. Nonetheless, the feeling was still of being a common movement, but split into several branches.
The name can be translated as rambling, hiking, or wandering bird—but perhaps the most apt translation in English is “vagabond.” Created in reaction to the materialism, hypocrisy, and stifling social conservatism of the Kaiser Reich, the Wandervogel movement is sometimes called the first hippie movement. At first this youth movement consisted exclusively of boys, but girls were soon after allowed into the movement as well—although the genders were not integrated together.
Before the First World War and in the postwar years before the rise of the Nazis, thousands of young people in hiking shorts and colorful costumes could be seen hiking around the German countryside with banners flying, guitars and rucksacks slung on their backs, in search of a better way of life. They delighted in hiking in groups, rediscovering nature, sleeping out under the stars, making music, telling folk stories and singing folk songs, and dancing around campfires.
With the outbreak of war in 1914, most German youths were quickly caught up in the patriotic fervor that swept Germany. They enthusiastically marched off to the front, imagining war as a noble, romantic experience that would mold them into ‘new men.’ This Bavarian drummer boy may well have been a Wandervogel before joining the war.
In reality, however, millions of young people died senselessly. The First World War wiped out an entire generation of German youth. With them died their romantic dreams and shining ideals.
Groove of the Day
84° Rain Overnight then Clear