- The Rhythm of Eternity: The German Youth Movement and the Experience of the Past, 1900–1933 by Robert-Jan Adriaansen
Much has been written about the German youth movement. Ever since Walter Laqueur's 1962 study Young Germany, scholars have spent a lot of time discussing its institutional history, internal dynamics, and overall role within modern times. Robert-Jan Adriaansen's new history, The Rhythm of Eternity, adds new insights to those conversations by examining "which dominant conceptions of history and time circulated in the German youth movement between 1900 and 1933, how they developed, and how they related to historical representations and to historical experience" (187). In a detailed yet surprisingly accessible introduction, the author outlines his exploration of the "practical ways in which the youth movement attempted to overcome a modern, 'historical' worldview next to its ideas about it" (4). This, Adriaansen believes, "can shine light on the possibilities and impossibilities of trying to surpass the epistemic boundaries of one's culture" (4). More directly, his methodological approach analyzes "the youth movement as a social realm in which the world was experienced and comprehended, rather than as a cohesive force in Germany's historical development" (13).
The monograph follows this logic in a very organized manner. Adriaansen begins [End Page 653] with the commemorative events of 1913 as a way of discussing the position of the German youth movement within the historical culture of Prussia and imperial Germany (27); he then references "the birth of the Wandervogel" (30), early years of the movement, various youth activities, and frequent divisions—all without losing track of broader underlining critiques of the movement as these took shape at the time. He delves into the role of lived and intimate experience (Erlebnis, 57) as the central characteristic of the movement. These experiences played important roles even during World War I as members of the Wandervogel hailed idyllic Flemish culture and society as more authentic than their own (77). Adriaansen explores "The Postwar Crisis of Experience and the Religious Turn" (89) in terms of two individuals: Rudolf Haberkorn and Ernst Wurche. Here he concludes that, even though the early 1920s brought the disintegration of the youth movement, its members "had gained awareness that a metacritique of historicism and historical consciousness was needed to gain a truly new society" (114). In another chapter, he focuses on "'the summer of dance' which the youth group 'Neue Schar' triggered in Thuringia in 1920" before highlighting three central concepts of importance for the ideological core of the movement: "Bund, Knighthood, and Order" (120). The search for a "spiritual motherland" (159) within the youth movement drew upon narratives like "the eastern frontier" (167) or the Nordland (176), all of which, according to Adriaansen, "functioned as sites that could lead back to the German 'origin'" (182). A synthetic conclusion highlights the author's understandings of the so-called conservative revolution: more specifically, emphasizing that it resonated in broader society, that moral and educational elements were part of its political discourse, and that it should not be seen as antimodernist reactionism (193, 194).
The Rhythm of Eternity is a fascinating study that pulls together countless conversations tied to modern German history. Apart from correctly going beyond romantic conceptions of the youth movement, Adriaansen's emphasis on more abstract ideas is helped greatly by his organized writing style. The author's use of Fahrtenberichte, or hiking and travel reports (18), is striking in that it allows him to shed new light on the importance of experience within the youth movement as a whole. These elements certainly make this volume a worthwhile read for many audiences while providing scholars working on similar topics outside of modern German history with an excellent frame of reference. [End Page 654]