Nationalism and fire brigade are connected by the Turner

Talking about German nationalism and the origins of the German stat is to think about the Turner movement (Turner = gymnast). Additionally this is valid for the origins of the ‘Freiwillige Feuerwehr’.

The father of the Turner

The gymnast movement was part of the emerging idea of a German national state. It’s important to know that there was never one big German state in the past. At the beginning of the 19th century there were dozens or hundreds of German states. Most of them were very small. The revolution of 1789 in France spread ideas like liberty, equality and fraternity throughout Europe. Once seeded the ideas established themselves in peoples’ minds.

After Napoleon had defeated the German states, the people were unhappy to be ruled by him. Most people in ‘Germany’ assumed that there would be war against France, but they didn’t take measures to prepare, except for Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, called ‘Turnvater’ (gymnast father).

In 1810 Jahn founded the first gymnastics club and other people followed his example. Jahns idea was to prepare the youth for the war against France. Jahn hated the French, even though Napoleon ended the German ‘Kleinstaaterei’ (small state system) and founded bigger states.

Gymnastics served as a way to get the youth in shape. Additionally ideas of liberalism and civic nationalism were being spread within the clubs. Jahn’s Turner wanted to defeat France and to build up one big German national state. (Note that they didn’t want a republic at that time). Jahns idea also included the process of educating the youth for mature citizenship. Whenever Jahn talked about liberty, he meant independence from and the repelling of France. In his ideal aim the Turner were a paramilitary reserve army. Gymnastics was a way to empower the German male to be able to put up a fight.

Authorities’ ambivalent way of dealing with the Turner

As long as Napoleon was the enemy, German authorities weren’t worried about the movement, because authorities also wanted to get rid of the french emperor. After Napoleon had been defeated during the liberation wars (’Befreiungskriege’), 1813-1815, the Turner hoped to accomplish their overall objective founding the national state. But the Restoration (going back to the old order before Napoleon) blasted their aims in 1820. The authorities now aimed to go back to the status quo ante; however, the Turner threatened this aim and authorities forbid the movement. Authorities didn’t accept the Turner’s objectives like liberty and unity. But once the objectives spread, it wasn’t possible to return to the status quo ante.

From underground back to life

Prussian emperor Friedrich Wilhelm IV, elder brother of Wilhelm I, suspended the law against the gymnastic clubs in 1842, because he had sympathy with the idea of gymnastics as part of education. This led to the re-foundation of the clubs and the movement itself.

However in the 1840s it wasn’t the youth but the middle-class who participated in the gymnastic clubs. During the political and liberal spring in the 1840s, forced by another French revolution, the Turner showed revolutionary ambitions and cried out for democracy. After the first German parliament was dissolved and the revolution of 1848/49 was shut down by Prussian troops, the authorities forbid the Turner movement again.

This wasn’t easy, because the Turner movement was the biggest mass organization in Germany with approximately 250.000 members. Not all gymnasts were revolutionary. Some Turner tried to differentiate between politics and the objective that a German male can defend himself. This was the reason the movement was forbidden, but not the clubs. The ideas that the movement postulated were still too dangerous for the old order – the Prussian order.

Turner founded the fire brigade

Between 1842 and 1848 something strange happened. The gymnasts supported the foundation of volunteer fire brigades. Because the gymnasts were physically fit this support seemed logical. Fighting fire is strenuous activity. There were two other reasons for the relationship between the Turner and the fire fighter. First, this engagement was a political statement for supporting the community.

They worked for the people and the state, because they believed in what they did and this was a good thing. Second, and more importantly, the fire brigades were modeled after the french pompier corps, which were a (para)military organization. The fire brigades attracted the Turner, because of the uniforms and the military exercise.

During the pre-March era the Turner believed in the ‘Volksbewaffnung’ (this is like a militia) and serving as paramilitary fire fighter seemed to be the best way to reach this objectives.

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “Nationalism and fire brigade are connected by the Turner”

  1. Bekah Palmer sagt:

    Very nice :)

Leave a Reply