One of the favorite hiking pennants in my collection is an approximately 15″ x 30″ BDM pennant from the town of Schlitz, is a small town (pop. 9,548) in the Vogelsbergkreis in eastern Hesse, Bavaria.
Still retaining the ambiance for which Old Germany is famed, Schlitz is known throughout Hesse for the town’s five castles and is also called the Romantische Burgenstadt Schlitz (the Romantic Castle Town of Schlitz).
As this pennant suggests, it was also a place where a fierce brand of fortitude and bravery were expected to be practiced in times of trial. The reason I say this is because of the design of the Wolfsangel on the pennant, which is a variant of the usual design, seen at right.
The Schlitz pennant Wolfsangel is actually two runes, as shown here. As such, this variant on the Wolfsangel rune qualifies as a “bindrune,” which is the combination of two or more runes for a special purpose. Usually, a bindrune includes in a single design two or more different runes, so as to enable a controlled release of those runic energies attributable to each of the respective runes. But in this particular variant, the Sigil rune appears twice, presumably to intensify its power. Although a bindrune is a blending of runic characters, each rune included in the design is expected to retain its own individuality; it must be visible as a complete entity within the whole.
The Wolfangel is a German heraldic charge inspired by an actual historic wolf trap consisting of two metal parts and a connecting chain. The top part of the trap, which resembled a crescent moon with a ring inside, used to be fastened between branches of a tree in the forest while the bottom part, on which meat scraps used to be hung, was a hook meant to be swallowed by a wolf. The simplified design based on the iron “wolf-hook” was often heavily stylized to no longer resemble a baited wolf trap or hook.
In prewar Germany, the Wolfsangel rune’s popularity in the 1930s was partly inspired by Hermann Löns’s 1910 novel Der Wehrwolf, in which the protagonist, a resistance fighter during the Thirty Years’ War, adopted this magic symbol as his personal badge. In early times, the Wolfsangel was believed to possess magical powers, and became a symbol of liberty and independence after its adoption as an emblem of the 15th century peasants’ revolt against the oppression of the German princes and their mercenaries.
The Wolfsangel was also intended to be the symbol of Werwolf, which was the name given to a plan, begun in 1944, to create a resistance force—staffed mainly by elite SS and Hitler Youth—which would operate behind enemy lines as the Allies advanced through Germany. The organization originally had about 5,000 members. In 1944, Joseph Goebbels said: “The enemy will be taken in the rear by the fanatical population, which will ceaselessly worry him, tie down strong forces and allow him no rest or exploitation of any possible success.” On March 23, 1945, he gave another speech known as the “Werwolf speech,” in which he urged every German to fight to the death. But experience proved that the German people would not be defeated by death, that they would survive.
It is therefore appropriate that Schlitz was the model for the fictional town of Schewenborn, where the 1983 novel The Last Children of Schewenborn (Die letzten Kinder von Schewenborn) takes place. The novel was written by Gudrun Pausewang, herself an inhabitant of Schlitz. The story depicts life in Germany in the aftermath of a nuclear war.
The story is told in the first person by a 12-year-old male protagonist whose family takes refuge in the Schewenborn home of his grandparents, who at the time of the nuclear blast were away from home and probably killed. The later parts of the plot describe the weeks, months and years after this attack, and take place mostly at Schewenborn. The oppressive story does not have a happy ending: most of the protagonist’s family gradually die of radiation sickness and other illnesses and face extreme hardships. At the conclusion, only the boy, his father, and a small group of children—the “last children” of the title—remain alive.
In America, Schlitz is best-known as the name of “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” While the link between the two towns is not particularly strong (Joseph Schlitz arrived in the US from Mainz), beer played a prominent role in both towns’ development. The family Schlitz—who ruled the town of Schlitz—lost its brewing rights in the town when the family chose the wrong side in a local uprising and wound up with the losers. But in 1725 Friedrich Wilhelm von Schlitz founded a new brewery outside the town. Schlitz beer was originally brewed in Milwaukee WI by one German and got its name from another. Joseph Schlitz worked as a bookkeeper for the brewery’s founder. When the founder died, Schlitz took over the company, married the founder’s widow, and gave the brewery his name.
He found opportunity in a potential setback.
Was the same tenacity evidenced in the postwar experiences of the young women from the town of Schlitz? A German visitor who is active in the scouting movement told me that similar hiking pennants are said to be the “soul” of the group that marched beneath them. Before they forever pass into the past, I am going to try and contact women in Schlitz who were likely members of the BDM. If I am successful, it should be illuminating to hear their stories and, perhaps, to gain some insight to their spirit.
65° and Clear