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  • Performance Anxiety: Sport and Work in Germany from the Empire to Nazism by Michael Hau
  • Marcus Coesfeld
Performance Anxiety: Sport and Work in Germany from the Empire to Nazism. By Michael Hau (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. 384 pp.).

In Performance Anxiety, Michael Hau emphasizes the idea of performance and its importance for central steps in the development of the German society. This discourse markedly begins with the idea that a human has an economic value, which is simultaneously threatened by (sudden) decline at all times. The author begins by exploring the emergence of the importance of sports for the performance-based society and finds answers in the German Empire already. Especially "English Sports" and German "Turnen" play an important role with regards to this. On this basis, Hau sheds light on the interrelationship between the "will to work" and the sense of responsibility. The main body of his work is based on this premise: it is devoted to the link between work and sports in performance-based Nazi Germany. Hau emphasises that performance or the orientation towards performance is a core element for understanding German history.

This does not only affect sports alone; however, it is the focus of Hau's research. He is less interested in the performance of (or achievements in) sports but more in the way sports retain and increase performance: sports as a means to an end in a (social) political, psychological perspective against the backdrop of incessant fear of imminent loss in performance, decay of health and, as a consequence of that, an impending drop in productivity. How did the elite deal with this? Which are ideological and cultural meanings of performance-related thinking? How were they implemented in practice (in this case, sports)? According to Hau the elite saw sports as a tool for social and political governance and, there-fore, pursued higher aims through the hype in sports than one might be able to recognise at first glance. Hau takes a critical look behind this propaganda backdrop by consulting both published and non-published sources from Nazi officers, sport officials and business men and undergirding them with examples taken from contemporary practices in sports. On this basis and from several vantage points, the author demonstrates that the elite leaders recognized sports as a means to an end. This is also reflected in the division of his chapters.

In chapter one, "Wehrkraft and Volksgemeinschaft: The 'Human Economy' and Performance Enhancement during the Empire," Hau presents the economic background of the German Empire. At the beginning of the 20th century the [End Page 1422] idea that humans can have an economic value, which has to be secured and expanded upon, took root within the German elite. In a parallel development, the anxiety of being unable to hold on to this economic value in a sustainable manner or even the anxiety of squandering it arose. Finally, during and with regards to war, especially World War I, sports was understood as a tool for the improvement of economic productivity and military power ("Wehrkraft"). Even after the war, sport was regarded as a means for the reintegration of disabled veterans into the economy.

Chapter 2, "Conditioning Bodies and Minds during the Weimar Republic," follows from this. After millions of the strongest men had fallen in World War I, an anxiety about the condition of the "Volkskörper" ("body of the people") and the important relation between sport and military service was postulated. It was necessary to rebuild the strength and health of the German people—both physically and psychologically for character building. On account of the losses and of the decline after World War I, Hau argues that the combination of stress on productivity, sense of responsibility, camaraderie and the will to work laid the ground for National Socialist sport propaganda, which presents itself in its pure form in such popular sports phenomena. During World War I, sports was understood as a biological and social technology, which improved military and economic productivity. Even rehabilitation because of physical infirmity, with which Hau is concerned with in several different passages, is economically motivated. The concatenation of sports and work pushed on the cog wheel of National...


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pp. 1422-1424
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