Maps, Markers and Bodies:
Hikers Constructing the Nation in German Forests

by Scott Moranda
University of Wisconsin—Madison

1 December, 2000

During Germany’s Imperial and Weimar years, most young men (and some women) with the desire to hike and camp could join a number of different organizations with a variety of political, ideological or religious beliefs. The Wandervogel, for instance, was a national organization of conservative and increasingly anti-Semitic youth hikers rebelling against what they saw as the restrictive, effeminate bourgeois society of their parent’s generation.1 On the other hand, the Friends of Nature (Naturfreunde), a hiking club for socialists and workers with 115 local affiliates, organized the leisure activities of 12,000 members. Pfadfinder (Pathfinders), or other Weimar outdoor enthusiasts, could pick up Walther Riem’s Lagerhandbuch, or Camping Handbook, and learn the fundamentals of the camping experience.

Hiking had been a part of everyday life in Germany at least since the last decade of the nineteenth century. Hiking brought Germans to the forests – a key component of a symbolic national landscape. These forests were more than natural ecosystems; they were places constructed and preserved by state foresters, landscape architects, farmers, and communal forest administrators. As I will show below, forest landscapes were monuments to the nation.2 However, forests were also places as historically contingent processes. Tourists entered forests and contributed to the social construction of a place; they brought their own meanings and often left behind their own mark. In this paper, I will discuss several sets of tourists: Wandervogel youth, Naturfreunde socialists, Pfadfinder boy scouts and Heimat tourist societies. This will not be a complete analysis of all aspects of hiking life in Germany. Instead, I will focus specifically on three aspects of everyday hiking culture: map reading, trail construction, and body culture. If, indeed, foresters intended forests to represent one vision of the German nation, different tourists brought their own conception of a future nation to bear. On the trail, these hikers partook in the constant construction of the nation through their attempt to create both more natural bodies and more natural relationships with the landscape. Hikers hoped to secure their vision of the national body by constructing a better interface between individual German bodies and German soil.

It may seem obvious that youth groups aligned with cultural nationalism would understand their activities as an attempt to reinvigorate the nation through nature excursions. It may not seem so obvious in the case of socialist hiking clubs theoretically aligned with an international Marxist ideology. Socialist hiking organizations suffered from a fundamental disagreement over the goal of worker’s organizations. On the one hand, many party stalwarts argued that club activities like singing, hiking or motorcycle riding distracted from the goals of international socialism. Through these practices, workers participated in a bourgeois culture instead of working toward the erection of a proletarian state and culture. On the other hand, leisure organizations in the socialist party made Marxist ideology more attractive to the workers. Many socialist leaders celebrated German nature and criticized its domination by the bourgeoisie – whether through capitalist timber extraction or middle-class youth groups. Nature excursions could also help strengthen the working class – spiritually, mentally and physically. Hikes provided relief from the inhumane conditions created by industrial concerns. Nominally internationalist, socialist organizations still valued nature as a site for rejuvenation and an important part of cultural life. While it is not clear at this point in my research that socialist organizations understood nature in terms of "national" landscapes, it is clear that they recognized that hiking groups with nationalist inclinations regarded the landscape as a realm foreign to class conflict and the urban working class. Working within a national context, socialist groups like the Naturfreunde acknowledged the need to align German culture with socialist ideology. Hiking was one way to claim national landscapes for an alternative vision of the German future.3

In Landscape: Politics and Perspectives, Barbara Bender argues that landscape is polysemic—not static iconography but rather a process or act of construction and reconstruction.4 She writes, "Landscape is never inert; people engage with it, re-work it, appropriate and contest it. It is part of the way in which identities are created and disputed, whether as individual, group, or nation-state."5 Bender emphasizes the constant construction and negotiation involved in the creation and maintenance of national identities and landscapes. It is important to remember, however, that within a theoretically coherent "nation," many different imaginings of the nation are possible. As Anthony Smith emphasizes, a potential nation is faced with multiple pasts that need to be reconstructed; in effect, national myths are not inventions but a recombination of existing elements into new unified wholes.6 Hiking clubs, never very literary in their ambitions, sought to perfect national unity through common physical activities as much or more as through ideological positions.

How do local social interactions reinforce national loyalties? How does the reality of the physical environment and its day-to-day manipulation inform the nation-building project? Rudy Koshar, a German historian, looks to Smith for inspiration in his From Monuments to Traces and argues for a model of nation-building that takes into account multiple actors all attempting to recombine many visible pasts into one coherent national past. In this work, Koshar borrows a sociological concept of framing strategies to describe the ways Germans developed a collective identity. He writes, "The idea is that key groups and individuals establish a range of meanings for given ‘texts,’ whether those texts are books, buildings, or movies . . . Framing devices are rarely unilaterally imposed from above . . . but emerge from negotiation and conflict."7 Monuments, urban spaces and natural landscapes could all serve to frame a German collective identity, but these places could constantly be re-worked, manipulated or even erased in the process.

Smith also provides insight into the shaping of collective landscapes and identities. In "The National Construction of Social Space," Smith and Colin Williams explore the intimate connections between people and their environment. At one level, the meaning of the landscape is imagined, and the homeland can be read as a "text," or history of the nation. According to Smith and Collins, the homeland is a historic territory, a rightful possession from one’s forefathers that is bound up with memory. The most mundane features of the land become endowed with mythical content.8 At another level, however, the land is more than a text. Smith and Collins argue that "the land can be renewed, regenerated, rebuilt, and through that act of rebuilding, people can be changed, their outlook revolutionized, their capacities enlarged."9 This is nation building through practical, everyday acts of reconstruction. A landscape can rarely be created entirely by government planners—it is more often a palimpsest of traces from the past and present local daily activity. A malleable homeland becomes a project of self-renewal and negotiation—a reflection of a struggle for wholeness and identity in the face of threats of dispersal and the confusion of multiple pasts.

To accept the multiplicity of voices in Germany is not to deny the common social and cultural structure within which all actors played. Myths and meanings for German forests permeated much of German society. As hikers passed beneath firs and oaks, they often sought out the relaxation and meanings that foresters intended them to find. Hikers and landscape architects often came from the same places within the social structure: the nationalized middle class. Yet, as John Agnew has argued, structural or functional approaches are limited. Agnew writes:

By means of lifelong socialization and through the limits set by the physical environment, people draw upon social structure. But while they do this they are also reconstituting that structure. Mostly it is an unconscious reproduction. But people are to a certain extent, capable and knowing agents; they are not cultural dupes. Therefore, they have the possibility of transforming social structure at the same time that they are products of it.10

As a result, common experiences within a nation are still mediated by local meanings, class experiences and religious belief. It is not just social structures that can be transformed. In a manner similar to Smith, Allan Pred argues that place is always a human product; place always involves an appropriation and transformation of space and nature.11 Pred writes, "In other words, the web of individual movements through time-space that help constitute social conduct, organization, and interaction can be seen as synonymous with processes, of ‘presencing/absencing,’ as sequentially ‘structured differences’ that always contribute to the very gradual or more noticeable transformation of outer nature through unintended touch or calculated usage."12

Tourism plays an important role in bringing individuals in touch with a place. Tourist guidebooks, maps, and travel reports tend to point out important sights and control local meanings. Tourism also allows individual or groups to express their desires and interpretations of the nation. In his German Travel Cultures, Koshar identifies in the pre-Nazi period three distinct travel cultures: the Baedeker, the modernist and the socialist. He relates these travel cultures to framing strategies for the nation; the Baedeker and the tourists who read this guidebook united the dispersed homelands of Germany into one tourist nation. The Baedeker drew the tourist’s attention to sites of German Kultur – such as museums, monuments and natural landscapes – but also to sites of national economic or technological might. The guidebook, according to Koshar, supported notions of a national-liberal culture. Socialist guidebooks, on the other hand, integrated factories and poor urban neighborhoods into the tour while downplaying many sights of high culture. Writing guidebooks that led tourists to sites within German borders, socialists offered alternative visions of the nature without fundamentally questioning the existence of the nation.

As Del Cosino and Hanna argue, many scholars of tourism maintain an unfortunate divide between the tourist gaze and the spaces of tourism, between the sets of representations and the spaces they claim to represent with little room for ambiguity.13 What happens to the tourist and to tourist spaces at the moment of encounter? As Nuala Johnson points out, "We have studies which look at how particular landscape images are constructed by an intellectual elite, but we have a comparatively sparse literature on how these sorts of images are popularised, consumed or resisted."14 By looking at tourism, perhaps scholars can understand the extent to which the public supported or dissented from commemorative activities. Tim Edensor also stresses the continued diversity of voices in touristic activities. He argues that "there are ways of consuming places that cannot be wholly shaped by the commodification of spectacles . . . [He shows] the competing ways in which nationally significant sites are remembered [in] complex ways in which national identity is continually renegotiated by individuals and groups."15 Commodified tourism often led to the re-evaluation or the creation of new local and national narratives. In this paper, I will also attempt to reveal how everyday "tourist" interaction with symbolic landscapes led to the creation of new meanings and manipulated the very shape of commemorative spaces.

At this point, I should clarify my definition of tourists. Building on the tourist literature cited above, I argue in this paper that the term "tourist" should not be limited to the pejorative use of the term tourist. Tourists are not just those camera-toting "philistines" with their noses in their guidebooks and with little sensitivity to the objects of their tourist gaze. Tourists, in this paper, include middle-class German families, hiking clubs, town choral associations out on a weekend stroll, and foreign travelers. Nevertheless, the hiking organizations I discuss here tended to identify themselves as the antithesis to tourists, and they defined tourists in broadly negative terms. As a result, I often refer to hikers as "anti-tourists." I use this word cautiously and avoid the term "travelers" because I hope to establish that these anti-tourists are themselves tourists, as defined by current historians and sociologists. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that their tourist activities developed in opposition to "common" tourist practices. This led to an emphasis on activities not associated with consumer society and commercialized tourism.16

German Forests

Forests performed economic, symbolic and recreational roles in Imperial and Weimar Germany. Woodlands may be natural, but humans throughout history have significantly molded the shape of forest landscapes, even those understood as "pristine" wilderness.17 As a result, these places reflect the social relationships in any given community. In addition to their economic roles, forests have played an important role in German memory culture. Indeed, woodlands often contribute to the symbolic landscapes of many nations. As Robert Harrison writes, "In general, we will find that forests have the psychological effect of evoking memories of the past; indeed, that they become figures for memory itself."18 Furthermore, the nostalgia evoked within forest landscapes "keeps open the vision of historical alternatives."19 Therefore, the forest can serve as an important framing device of an alternative national future built on the pasts preserved in the woods. In Germany, the Grimm Brothers mystified the forests in an attempt to liberate the past from the grand narrative schemes of classical historiography and to resurrect the inner life of the past, in all its concrete fullness. Harrison offers the following quote from Zipes to explain the Grimms’ significance:

It was as though in ‘old German forests’ the essential truths about German customs, laws and culture could be found – truths which might engender a deeper understanding of present-day Germany and might foster unity among German people at a time when the German principalities were divided . . . The Volk, the people, bound by a common language but disunited, needed to enter old German forests, so the Grimms thought, to gain a sense of their heritage and to strengthen the ties among themselves.20

Elsewhere, Tom Lekan has argued, "Landscape preservationists played an essential role in promoting the idea of the landscape as a symbolic and emotional center in the German nation’s imagined community."21 Clearly, forests were important elements of the German national landscape. Germans turned to quiet forested districts to construct national monuments such as the Hermannsdenkmal in the Teutoburg Forest (1875) and the Niederwald monument near the Rhine (1877-83).22 Other historians such as George Mosse and Simon Schama have also written on the symbolic importance of natural landscapes in national cemeteries and in collective memory.23

Foresters writing both manuals for forestry schools and popular texts for the lay reader insisted on bringing Germans and German forests together. Hans Hausrath, a forester writing in 1907, argued that aesthetically pleasing and healthier forests directly benefited the physical and moral health of the people and sought to convince his fellow foresters that nature tourism did not come at the cost of profits. In the late nineteenth century, foresters such as Karl Gayer, Rossmaessler and Moeller began to question the methods of scientific forestry with its economic rationale. While still promoting the forests as part of a distinctly German economic might, these reformers placed greater concern on forest health and aesthetics. In part, attractive forest landscapes would create healthier and more productive workers invigorated by their weekends in the forest.24 Lynn Nyhart, a historian of science, has shown that educators and science populizers used models of biological communities to instill a sense of duty and national community among the populace.25

In order to expose the people to the forest’s edifying properties and enhance the economic utility of the woodlands, leading foresters advocated the adaptation of German state forests for tourists, youth groups and other visitors. With the publication of Forstästhetik, Heinrich von Salisch became the central promoter of aesthetics and trail maintenance. His recommendations were meant to convince forest managers to actively partake in the preservation and construction of harmonious natural scenes. He wrote, "In all the ways already shown, plants come together into marvelous communities, each of which display its own unique character. The task of forest aesthetics is to appreciate the young forests individually and then to attempt to understand how they fit together so marvelously into a harmonious whole, which is what we love and admire about the German forest."26 Furthermore, tourists should be taught to love this harmony. Salisch offered detailed advice on planting aesthetically pleasing stands of trees and the construction of trail networks for nature lovers. Most importantly, he warned against overcrowding the forest. By designing heavily used trails so that they minimized unsightly congestion near treasured landmarks and making certain habitats only accessible by narrow, overgrown side paths, foresters could preserve the special atmosphere of quiet forests.27 Designers needed to avoid monotonous trail plantings, which would detract from the harmonious diversity represented in the forest.28 These design practices helped foresters realize their vision of the German forest and nation – a realm of restrained bourgeois nature appreciation and social education.29 In short, the forester needed to educate and control "bad" tourists so that they interacted properly with nature. Von Salisch concluded, "The forester should not only care for beauty, he should also educate the forest visitor with that beauty."30

If Hausrath and Von Salisch hoped to preserve the forests as both economic and pedagogical spaces, hikers and other tourists had their own fears for the fate of the forests. Hikers, on their own volition and without the encouragement of foresters, tramped through nature seeking beauty and relaxation. In the rest of the paper, I will explore the ways various hiking groups gave new meanings to national spaces. Furthermore, I will show how they attempted to forge those spaces into rejuvenated national places according to their ideological beliefs.

Curt Grottewitz, author of "Sundays for Big-City Workers," was friend of both socialists and German forests. Grottewitz claimed German forests for the people and feared that Berliners were losing their love and attachment to the woodlands. He was especially critical of the "industrialization" of nature for economic ends; private owners were exploiting a national treasure and undermining the fatherland.31 Grottewitz identified three particular disasters: the "beautification" of the land for tourists, the introduction of foreign tree species, and resource exploitation by corporate interests. Because of "urban growth, railroad expansion, and the popularity of tourist travel to resorts and other places with fresh air," argues Grottewitz, "the German forests have, in many places, received entirely monstrous new uses There is hardly any exquisite forest left where not one tourist structure has been erected. With this, the ‘beautification’ of the woodlands goes hand-in-hand."32 As a result of beautification projects, foresters introduced "unnatural" species into the forests. Grottewitz complained, "The gardens of many forests are comprised of a very colorful array of foreign plants . . . It is not impossible, that the German forest will one day take on more foreign trees and, it is true, with greater permancence."33 Unlike foresters who promoted the timber industry as beneficial to a robust national economy, Grottewitz singled out "tree factories" as threats to national well-being. He writes, "Then would the forest again maintain that old natural appearance and the charm of the primordial that brings joy to all Friends of Nature, for everyone that not only sees a factory for timber production in the forest but instead sees a national treasure that everyone must maintain for both happiness and health."34 Germany’s future depended on preserving not just trees, but a close relationship between people and landscape. Furthermore, a healthy national space was a homogeneous one free of foreign species that harmed nature’s aesthetic appeal.


When out in the forests, topographical maps were important tools for German hikers. With these maps, they did not need to depend on tourist guidebooks, overcrowded trails, or simpler tourist maps. The terrain was made transparent for the hiker; every gradient was visible. On the topographic maps produced by the German military at the time, even forest trees and memorials were evident. With a map in hand, the hiker chose what seemed the best route for his own interests instead of being forced to take recommended routes or designated trails.

J. B. Harley has convincingly argued that maps are not only the products of geometry and reason but also of the norms and values of societies.35 He further argues that "all maps state an argument about the world, and they are propositional in nature . . . There have been no limits to the varieties of maps that have been developed historically in response to different purposes of argument, aiming at different rhetorical goals, and embodying different assumptions about what is sound cartographic practice."36 In the following, I will argue that hikers used government topographical maps, which Harley would argue were crucial to the maintenance of state power, while simultaneously manipulating those maps to create their own arguments. At the very least, hikers appropriated government maps for their own ends – a closer relationship with nature at a safe distance from tourist bodies. Even with symbols identifying forests and towns, topographic maps reproduce topography in a way that encourages action in that terrain. A place becomes an empty vessel to be filled by human activity and construction.37 While Harley makes this argument to describe the exploitation -- both industrial and imperial -- of distant landscapes, it is applicable to German hiking culture. The landscape, as seen on a topographical map, becomes a destination that invites exploration; the land unfolds in front of the hiker and offers tantalizing opportunities. Other hikers or "inconsiderate" tourists (as the hikers described in this paper would describe most travelers) do not appear on the map. While guidebooks make the reader aware of restaurants and other accouterments of the tourist trade, topographical maps indicate empty nature, free from "desecration." Onto this pristine space, an improved nation was to be built. White space on the map became a place of hope where a rejuvenated nation composed of healthy hiking bodies could be built.

Walter Schönbrunn, an academic promoter of German hiking, found that one’s feeling for a place could be destroyed when "one does not confine the route of a hike to the natural topography of a place, but instead more or less tears straight through the various stretches of land and natural boundaries."38 The key to a proper hike (as defined by the leaders of the German Youth Movement) was the ability to get off of the beaten path and to strike out on one’s own in natural regions less well known. The topographical map and compass were important tools for this enterprise; they allowed the hiker to follow the landscape rather than routes provided by roads and trails alone. Schönbrunn suggested, "If one wants to experience the land, then one must plan out the hike almost geometrically on the map, without consideration of the trails or other roads that thoughtlessly pass through the land in a straight line . . . One stays on these thin lines only if one wants to follow the given paths or only see the ‘worthy’ sights."39 Foresters had therefore failed to properly design trail networks. With a topographical map in hand, however, individuals or hiking clubs could make discoveries of their own and seek out the less well known. With this greater flexibility, hikers acquired more knowledge of the nation and compared themselves positively to those they considered tourist philistines.

The Wandervogel celebrated map reading as a tool for freeing themselves from tourist guidebooks. In "The Topographical Map," Wandervogel leaders rejoiced that youth now had alternatives to school atlases for their excursions. Just before 1911, however, the war ministry began to publish regional topographical maps at a 1:100,000 scale and sell them to the public at a reasonable price. Leadership called all young members to eventually acquire a map for their own Heimat and to learn the vicinity of their hometown as if it were the back of their hand.40 In "The Map," the author wrote: "Certainly there lies a pleasure in being led, be it by people or by guideposts or trail markers. Then one can devote oneself to the beauties of nature without worry; but a more complete man must also be able to hike without guidance and not be helpless when he is by himself."41 The Wandervogel developed such a high regard for topographical maps because they allowed for a clear picture of a region unhindered by guides, guidebooks and tourists. Youth did not need to purchase maps for all of Germany; in fact, one could break-up maps of larger regions into separate pieces and only carry the necessary piece with you in local nature. These maps served a specifically Wandervogel purpose: freedom from the tourist industry and from the discipline of official trails.

Map in hand, young hikers celebrated both the local and the national.42 Moreover, they rejoiced in those places collected together by their own hiking activities. A chain of Wandervogel spaces would overlap with but also overshadow the old landscape identified with tourists and their modern accouterments. Georg Schmidt asked, "O Fatherland, why are you so small, why are you so short on beauty, short of worthy hiking districts that your youth must all crowd together in this narrow valley?"43 He called for travels beyond the most famous landmarks and natural regions and for adventures into the relatively unknown reaches of Germany. Schmidt requested that young hikers begin to trace their various excursions onto a map of Germany. After a few years, "Whoever has systematically sought out hiking districts will see that all these colorful lines (traces) appear as a still intact, but pulled apart thread. Those that go on tours will see a great series of isolated, detached curves swimming together on the map."44 With this record in hand, youth could identify spaces that had yet to be explored. By sketching out routes on their maps, hikers also revealed a space of their own creation (through their footsteps, photo taking and singing) independent of any state or commercial infrastructure. For instance, one Wandervogel member remarked that "Germany . . . first becomes our own through hiking and searching observation. Then, more than before, we will be able to see both the whole and the particular land(scape) with totally changed eyes."45 Every aspect of German nature and culture needed to be explored: "Every flower, tree and stream will become known and trusted by us. We will get to know and learn to value and collect the legends and poems of the Volk, their customs and habits. And because we pay attention to them, we protect them."46 By becoming more sensitive to nature, young hikers honored and protected natural harmony. By protecting green places, they protected themselves – not by preserving a static image of the past, but by retaining an inquisitive and open relationship with an environment that could teach lessons in beauty, purity and community. Leaders expected young hikers to enthusiastically explore and re-discover the land and to constantly create a fresh relationship with nature. With topographical maps, the German relationship with landscapes – spiritually and physically – could begin anew and help create a better nation.

Socialist youth leaders also encouraged young hikers to take advantage of detailed topographic maps. Like Wandervogel leaders, Engelbert Graf praised such maps for the independence they provided. In particular, working youth could avoid guidebooks and tourist regions. Graf writes, "Travel handbooks . . . lead time after time to the businesses and other places which require entrance fees and to monuments where both the humble and the bourgeoisie can get patriotically excited. That is not at all for us."47 Furthermore, a good map would tell hikers more than the thickest Baedeker guide. Like the Wandervogel, Graf also suggested that youth immediately purchase maps of their surrounding homeland, or Heimatort. With the map in hand, hikers would no longer be blind to any details of the terrain. Graf explains, "You would be astounded at all that is drawn onto the map, where you can find an individual tree, a peat bog, the church, romantic ravines, hidden forest groves with babbling brooks."48 Of course, topographical maps were not the only tools for becoming better acquainted with German landscapes. Hikers could take advantage of geological maps, natural history guides, local history texts, and newspaper clippings that would offer insight into local history, economies, art and nature. Any of these, Graf reminds his readers, could be found at a local socialist bookstore.49 For socialist or worker hiking groups, the local landscape would have provided an important opportunity to escape the oppression of capitalism, but it also could provide an opportunity to appropriate places often associated with nationalist Heimat organizations for a socialist vision of a German future.50


If maps allowed hikers to leave well-traveled spaces alone and become better acquainted with nature, an assortment of construction activity on the part of hiking clubs allowed groups to announce their presence in a landscape. They announced to their fellow hikers, "This is ours also." Foresters, according to von Salisch, often fought for nature’s control against a different conception of German natural space – one that was organized around regional sites. He encouraged foresters to prevent regional beautification societies from erecting too many viewing towers that could overpower natural scenery.51 Local citizens often had their own uses for nature. Confino describes residents of Württemberg who "treated nature with an ambiguous combination of poeticalness and practicality: they cherished nature for its ageless qualities, its beauty, the passion and the awe it inspired, and they appreciated nature for its new role in a mass society; it was a potential gold mine, an attraction for tourists, a source for local profits."52 While the German forest still represented national ideals, it also played a key role in regional pride, wealth and entertainment.53

Beginning in 1909, Jacob Wais published ten editions of the Schwarzwald Führer, or Black Forest Guide, and actively promoted the Heimat as an arena for hiking. In the fashion of Baedeker, each edition provided up-to-date information to serve as the most accurate and useful guide for hikers. Wais cites the Württemberg Black Forest Society and the Baden Black Forest Society for their tireless efforts in creating a hiking district through the construction of paths, lookout towers, shelters and hiking trails. In effect, these clubs created the hiking landscape of the Black Forest, controlling the views, sites and forest districts that could be visited by the hiker.

The construction of trail signs throughout local forests helped Heimat clubs appropriate German forests into their own spatial network. Nature was both national and local, especially when town leaders erected war memorials honoring local dead at the peak of local hills. A complex system of diamonds, arrows, and letters needed to be deciphered by the hiker in order to be assured of an enjoyable and timely excursion. In effect, these trail markers helped map out a primary and secondary landscape. By following markers designating Höhenwegen, or high trails, the tourist would be assured of visiting the most dramatic vistas and pristine natural settings high up in the hills. Wais, however, structured his guidebook to encourage the greatest variety of secondary trail choices that could be recombined in any fashion by the hiker to provide for slightly different hiking experiences. He encouraged his audience to break from the high trails and to explore at length the nooks and crannies of the Black Forest that many typical tourists might have missed in their rush to reach their hotels. He wrote, "It lies in the nature of things, that the high, central paths do not touch on all great landscape views, particularly not those that lie in the foothills or in the valleys. Only through the connection of the high path with spurs and side paths can a fulfilling and rich hike be put together."54 Hikers used the many landmarks and signs to create individualized hiking experiences. Signs, historical sites and nature all added up to an immense system of codes to be deciphered, understood and mentally mapped. Experts in this code would need to understand regional space well enough to create their own hikes. At each Heimat tower or shelter, the hiker turned, looked back and re-evaluated the natural scene, thus making distant landscapes a part of Heimatler space.

Socialist hikers, as represented by the Naturfreunde (or Friends of Nature), added their own signs to local landscapes. In essence, these hikers announced their claim on the landscape and appropriated symbolic national landscapes for a socialist future. In a Rheinland Naturfreunde journal Jakob Schmitz, the local director of trail designation, made an argument for the expansion of Naturfreunde trail markers. Local Heimat clubs actively created official paths; the Sauerland Mountain society designated approximately 2500 kilometers of trails, while the Eifel Society and Westerwald Society each had over 2000 kilometers of official society trails.55 The Naturfreunde planned to complete a path-marking project in which their mileage and directional signs would stand side-by-side with those of local Heimat clubs. The Naturfreunde would challenge the middle classes exclusive right to claim landscapes for themselves. In this sense, the Naturfreunde did not challenge the nation’s right to exist, but they did struggle to re-define the nation.56 Red signs marked with a green "N" would guide socialist hikers to pleasing views and to Naturfreunde homes, hostels throughout the Rheinland (there were over 200 Naturfreunde homes in the German countryside). Markers, according to Schmitz, could also agitate; putting the Naturfreunde symbols in the public eye could enhance recruitment. Furthermore, the signs would bind Naturfreunde homes together—both the hometown and the natural landscape.57 Protesters argued against the addition of any more signs to already overcrowded landscapes, or as Schmitz put it, "Members of Heimat clubs that consider the path markers as their privilege are making difficulties for us."58 Therefore, sign installation would continue despite the fact that so many kilometers are already "claimed" by others, and the Naturfreunde would find a friendly network of paths leading from the city to their hostels along the Rhine.


Groups could construct signs and landmarks to label a landscape as theirs, but they could also introduce human "markers" – well-trained bodies that proclaimed their exclusive oneness with the land. Recently, historians have begun to study the importance of "body image" in German culture. Ahead of his time, George Mosse was one of the first to address the relationship between body image and nationalism. In Nationalism and Sexuality, he writes, "The ideal of classical beauty was co-opted by nationalism, just as nationalism would annex many other political movements and philosophies over the years. The nation was attempting to provide symbols with which the people could identify . . . The visual self-representation of the nation was just as important as the much cited literature of nationalism."59 Not only did beautiful bodies represent the nation, but national bodies also could be regenerated in service of the nation. Discussing modern-day "sun-worshippers," or nudists, Mosse asserts that sunbathers did not just seek self-rejuvenation: "The analogy between the sun, light and national regeneration was present even (in the early nineteenth century) in Germany."60 Richard Ungewitter, a founder of the nudist movement, saw nudism as furthering the emergence of a racial elite which would put an end to degeneration. Ungewitter, according to Mosse, would have claimed that "just as foreigners must be expelled from the country, so ‘foreign bodies’ must be eliminated from the human body. This led to the championing of vegetarianism and the banning of smoking and alcohol."61

As Mosse indicates, nationalism was concerned not just with promoting beautiful images of the nation, but also with the constant rejuvenation of nationalized bodies. In a similar manner, Ghassan Hage argues:

The national imaginary operates like a Lacanian fantasy. In being such an always-yet-to-be-finalised structure that invites the nationalist to do more work on it, it provides an imagined space where the attainment of a fully satisfying goal (in our case, a nation) is perceived as ‘not too far away’. In so doing, it provides the imaginary grounds on which individuals are symbolically constructed as purposeful (because hopeful) and meaningful nation builders . . . This is highly significant, for it means that, in the process of nation building, the national subject is not only building a nation but also constantly building itself.62

As Smith and Bender have written, the nation is a constant act of construction. Mosse and Hage would add that bodies within the nation also undergo reconstruction. In the following section, I will discuss how hikers in Germany sought to better integrate national bodies with national landscapes. I will focus less on the shaping of bodies and more on the development of stronger body-nature interface.

After the war, some youth leaders critiqued pure hiking for its emphasis on changing impressions and landscapes and promoted longer camping excursions as an alternative. Camping advocates found that the camp differed fundamentally from the hike: "As a rule we do not hike far away from our Heimat, or if it is the case, a railroad or ship quickly overcomes the long distances. We can then live within the landscape for a week at a time, becoming ourselves a piece of living nature. It is then that the spirit of a place awakens for us, and we begin to hear the pulse of this stretch of earth . . . We begin to know the piece of earth on which we live."63 Despite some disdain for mere hiking, these campers brought with them an approach to landscapes indebted to the Wandervogel. Camping, like hiking, would allow for a more thorough understanding of the natural world and let youth become a part of nature themselves. It is important to discuss camping because of its similarities with the hiking movement. Of course, all camping excursions also included hiking activities. The handbook, in fact, carried on traditions begun in the hiking movement.

Walther Riem’s camping handbook from 1929 stressed the need for the individual to create a bond with heaven, earth and brother.64 German youth would during an excursion would spend their time uniting as a community but also intimately exploring nature: "He will not only collect firewood, start campfires, wash utensils and whatever other small necessary duties there are. There are many more important things to be done. Every tree must be climbed, every rock must be climbed . . . here entices a half-buried cave, there a wide lake; there must the wide brook a bridged; and every high oak must contain a tree house."65 Camping was an opportunity to combine nature, the nation and the individual body into a more cohesive unit.

The handbook also emphasized the importance of hiking and camping along Germany’s national borders. Border camping would only make the bonding experience even more important. Amidst post-World War I international tensions and German territory losses, campers could "occupy" lost German territories to become reacquainted with the landscape and remind local Germans that they have not been forgotten.66 By camping in borderlands, a "wall" could be constructed between Germans and foreigners. Furthermore, "The campsite provides the opportunity to create ties to a place or become enamored with a region. It also serves as an important variation on the attempt to secure among vibrant youth the basics of a great and united German life."67 Campers were to secure national space with their bodies. It was as if their bodies helped to purify space on the borders to clarify the division between Germans and non-Germans.

The Wandervogel also sought a closer connection to German nature. In this case, they attempted to purify nature within national boundaries by ridding it of commercial excess and even of those hated tourists. In the pages of the Monatsschrift, Wandervogel consumers sought to filter out extravagance and identify the most spartan sporting and camping gear. Götz wrote, "A member of the Alt-Wandervogel, with the Wanderlust to embark into God’s free nature, wanted to rest and not be disturbed by fashionable foolishness."68 The very first Wandervogel club in Steglitz made a point of modeling their costume after medieval scholars, accentuating their protest against the conspicuous consumption of their parents’ generation. Photos reveal an image of simplicity with hikers all outfitted alike in standard uniforms of shorts or simple pants, white shirts, dark sport coats and feathered caps.69 While the Wandervögel rejected the standardization of middle-class life, on the trail they emphasized uniformity in order to free themselves of fashionable goods that they believed suppressed individuality. Julius Gross’ photos often featured young Wandervögel hiking or gathering for festivals. Youth dominated landscape scenes – gazing out over a valley from the foreground of a picture. They could be dressed simply or, sometimes, not at all; both instances represented a consumption ideal which brought the hiker closer to nature. At times, visible landmarks receded into the background. Pictures of hikers gathered about roaring campfires highlight the importance of hiking bodies for the nature experience. Moonlit hikes also emphasized the human presence in a natural landscape. At night, nature was less visible, but hikers became more attuned to its rhythms as their eyes and ears adjusted to its subtlest sounds and smells. Every step required the Wandervögel to acquaint themselves with each ridge or groove in the earth. Trail markers and local viewing towers disappeared; without sight, hikers established a more intense, personal connection with the landscape and with each other.

If they were going to become more independent, young German hikers needed to learn how to pack clothing and gear for their excursion. In a 1911 edition of the Monatsschrift, a concerned club leader offered, for a low price, advice sheets that provided lists of necessary gear for trips of various lengths and in assorted weather conditions. These handy slips of paper could be distributed to youth to help them become proper hikers: "The advice lists are distributed, so that every leader before the departure of a longer hike can hand out to his young hikers these lists which state what [participants] should or should not bring with them."70 The author of "About Our Packs" in 1911 suggested that one does not always need to pack a tent, for free lodging could often be procured from a local farmer. With or without a tent, "Outfitting is as important as the A-B-C’s for the Wandervogel and may not be neglected as a minor detail."71 As a model, youth could follow the example of the infantry with their emphasis on light and orderly packing. The landscapes explored by the Wandervögel would thus be free of hotels and related structures of the tourist industry. Youth could be free to experience nature without restriction.

If clothing and consumption choices could tie the Wandervogel closer to the land, hikers also had to learn to behave with more sensitivity toward nature. Hikers should be able to scan the landscape and understand its essential unity; their openness to nature’s secrets seemed to even establish proper hiker bodies as important elements of German forests. In club contests, the Wandervogel encouraged young artists and photographers to improve their understanding of nature through enhanced skills of observation. In 1911, the journal announced a contest that would help teach youth how to identify the key elements of characteristic German landscapes.72 In "Wandervögel and the Art of Photography," Carl Breuer encouraged hikers to collect impressions or images when they traveled and to understand the aesthetic relations between the various objects of the natural and historical world.73 Often, photographic images included hikers themselves, nestled into landscape as if they grew organically out of it.

In his Jugendwandern als Reifung zur Kultur, Walter Schönbrunn found a harmonious landscape to be one of the central organizing features of a youth hike. Heimat landscapes offered an arena for young hikers to tie experience, society and history into a living and breathing whole. He wrote of landscape, "Here lies the point of conjunction of natural sciences, nature aesthetics and history. The whole is discovered through finding the visible traces of significant cultural and historical events in the landscape amongst the impressions of nature’s beauties and marvels."74 Hiking was an activity that increased in value the more it was performed. As more spaces were seen, knowledge and understanding of a landscape could only become stronger: "Naturally one can only bring together the parts of the integrated whole through hiking."75 The more places traversed within a region and the more mileage covered, the greater one’s sense of that place became.76 Hikers brought diverse elements of the natural world together into one scene. The Wandervogel were to remove all barriers around their individual bodies so that nature and self could mingle together. By opening up to the landscape, Wandervögel and nature seemed to melt together. Ultimately, this would create a stronger nation of nationalized bodies tied to national landscapes in an organic fashion.

Tourists, as defined by the anti-tourist Wandervogel, actually disrupted natural harmony. Therefore, photography and camping clothes were two ways that these young hikers distinguished themselves from tourists. In effect, the Wandervogel hoped to offer an alternative relationship with German forests and meadows that was more natural. "Tourists," on the other hand, should be removed from natural areas for they only bring harm and ugliness. If regenerated bodies were to become more closely linked to the land, offending bodies could not remain to disrupt the unity of the nation. These "crude" tourists were seen as a foil to more naturalized hikers.

The Naturfreunde, with their vision of a socialist nation, also emphasized the importance of hiking for the body. Hiking was a harmonious unification of physical and spiritual education that would strengthen the proletariat.77 According to W. Schirrmacher of the journal Rheinisches Land, hiking was a sport of struggle that, especially in our hikes, has the goal of steeling the entire body and influencing the spirit. Through hiking we achieve a relaxation of muscles and nerves.78 People who hike will become more natural; the entire body will become more harmonious and alive. (add more, perhaps)


During the Third Reich, "the propaganda minister [Goebbels] wondered whether German forests should not be made out of bounds for [Jews]."79 In fact, the Nazis enacted many legal restrictions on the movements of Jews in German nature. Just as many hikers felt that some tourists harmed landscapes with their lack of sensitivity and their proud hotels and restaurants, many anti-Semitic Germans felt that certain hikers, defined by race, could degrade pristine German places. Clearly, a forest landscape was not just a place of trees and animals; it was a landscape built from many elements, including human beings.

In this paper, I have tried to show that national landscapes, like monuments, are not designed in a vacuum. Just as Nuala Johnson argues that is important to understand how monuments are perceived by on-lookers, it is important to understand how hikers and others use and understand German nature. Foresters attempted to bring together economic objectives with concerns for healthy ecosystems and tourist behavior. Through discipline and education, they hoped to define proper activity in woodlands. Hikers, however, brought their own meanings to the landscape. With maps, markers and their own bodies, hikers traveled their own "path" in the forests; at the same time, they also claimed German nature for vision of the nation, whether that be a nation of many Heimats or a nation imbued with socialist values. With markers proclaiming their presence in the landscape, hikers could legitimize their ideologies with an attachment to important symbolic spaces. Furthermore, hikers hoped to become closer to nature and forge an organic connection with the land. Maps directed hikers to "true" nature, and hiking gear and technique helped erase the boundaries between the people and the land. The construction of a national body, as well as national bodies, was never complete. The means of the construction also evolved over time. While hikers before World War I focused on alternatives to tourism and the perfection of hiking methods, the molding of hiking bodies became increasingly important during the Weimar years. Later, right-wing hikers would seek to exclude "non-Germans" from both the national body and national space.

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Copyright © Scott Moranda
Published by The Nationalism Project, Madison, WI. 2001.