Monthly Archives: June 2008

Laban, Ascona, Nazism and the hippies

\"Lichtgebet\" (\"Prayer to the Sun\") - Fidus, 1913

I’ve been meaning to post a link to this article for some time now. It tells the story of the development of hippie philosophy and is a good starting point if you want to investigate the conceptual similarities between Nazism and the hippies. Much of the story takes place in Ascona, Switzerland, which was the epicentre of the ‘back to nature’ movement, popular with Hermann Hesse and Carl Jung among others.

The guiding philosophy at Ascona was a mixture of “nature mysticism, sun worship, theosophy,” and vegetarianism, which together with various other ideas constituted the idea of Lebensreform (life-reform). These concepts were also bound-up in two apparently opposing political positions: Nazism and Ghandism. Ascona looked like something many of us would recognise from various 1970s films and documentaries:

The beautiful natural setting inspired urban people to sunbathe in the nude, sleep outdoors, hike, swim and fast. This village quickly developed a universal reputation as a health center.

Hermann Hesse was excited when he saw four long-haired men with sandals walk through his village on their way to Ascona. He followed them, settled in and then took a nature cure for his alcoholism. The year was 1907.

It was from Ascona that people like Dr. Carl Schultz and the wonderfully named Dr. Benedict Lust exported the concepts of Lebensreform and Naturopathy to the United States and California in particular.

In 1906 Bill Pester first set foot on American soil having left Saxony, Germany that same year at age 19 to avoid military service. With his long hair, beard and lebensreform background he wasted no time in heading to California to begin his new life.

He settled in majestic Palm Canyon in the San Jacinto Mountains near Palm Springs California and built himself a palm hut by the flowing stream and palm grove.

Bill spent his time exploring the desert canyons, caves and waterfalls, but was also an avid reader and writer. He earned some of his living making walking sticks from palm blossom stalks, selling postcards with lebensreform health tips, and charging people 10 cents to look through his telescope while he gave lectures on astronomy.

He made his own sandals, had a wonderful collection of Indian pottery and artefacts, played slide guitar, lived on raw fruits and vegetables and managed to spend most of his time naked under the California sunshine.

The many photos of Pester clearly reveal the strong link between the 19th century German reformers and the flower children of the 1960’s…long hair and beards, bare feet or sandals, guitars, love of nature, draft dodger, living simple and an aversion to rigid political structure. Undoubtedly Bill Pester introduced a new human type to California and was a mentor for many of the American Nature Boys.

But Ascona wasn’t merely the birthplace of the ‘perennial counter-culture’ which informed the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s. It was also a centre for the development of a modern, Germanic art form which was closely linked to concepts of race and nation (as well as nature). Ascona was, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of modern dance. Rudolf von Laban (along with Mary Wigman), closely connected to the Lebensreform idea, established his ‘School for Art’ at Ascona, and it was here that he developed his notation which was an attempt to remove the formality of classical ballet and replace it with an almost tribal expressionism, a freedom linked directly to the concepts of Lebensreform.

Modern dance went on to become “an art form that went on to build the National Socialist myth,” (Laure Guilbert). That last link is to a review for Guilbert’s book, Danser avec le IIIème Reich, which I haven’t had the opportunity to read yet. In the book, Guilbert makes the point that modern dance has, for some time, managed to expunge any idea of a connection with Nazism from its history. The truth is that,

Laban et al. were entwined with the mind-set from which the NSDAP itself issued.

Leading figures of the Lebensreform movement went on to design and choreograph the ritualistic dance of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, all captured on film by Leni Reifenstahl – a former student of Ascona’s Mary Wigman.

Now, my intention in drawing these threads together is not to imply that all hippies are Nazis. That argument doesn’t stand up. But it is interesting to see how the the ‘Summer of Love’ in San Francisco was partly influenced by cultural movements seemingly a million miles away from the beliefs of most who would call themselves “hippies”.


Hitler’s Dancers: German modern dance and the Third Reich

Hippie Roots and the Perennial Subculture (caution, contains images of nude hippies)

The Asconan Idea in Politics

Another king bites the dust!

Great news from Nepal. After 150 [actually, it was nearly 250 years] years of ruling the country as living gods, the Nepalese monarchy has been abolished by its people (well, they did it last month, but the former king has just spent his last night in the palace). It’s always good news when kings are deposed as they are, without exception, national parasites with few duties but many ‘historic rights’. The Nepalese people have taken a huge step today. The ‘royal’ palaces will now become museums.

Oh, and apparently, panic buying is ensuing in Spain. I didn’t want to join in but then I wondered: what if I’m the only sensible person and everyone else panic buys? What price would I pay for being calm and superior? So actually I went and stocked up on a bit of veg and meat, the things I figure might run out if this strike continues. Sadly, a truck driver was killed on the picket yesterday… not sure if he was trying to cross it but that’s irrelevant.

Crap political prediction: ERC leadership election

Not that many people care about this but this leadership election could directly affect my household (no, we’re not militants, one of us happens to work somewhere where a change in direction from ERC could mean changes).

Anyway, I reckon that out of the available choices, the Carretero federalist agenda makes sense, though some will say that this is the most extreme of the options on offer. Obvously, Puigcercos is revolting (and he masterminded the last electoral campaign, an unmitigated disaster: he doesn’t deserve to lead). Benach seems OK but he kind of looks like he has a drink problem… sorry but it’s true. Reyner, I don’t really know anything about (but apparently, neither does anyone else)… he seems to be a bit of a radical, and his current’s website incudes a handy map of where they’ve burnt the king (in effigy).

BTW: why is it that so many Americans in Spain love the king so much? Same reason they love the queen of England, I guess.

Yeah, so Carretero should win but Benach probably will. Prediction over.

Edit: Told you it was a crap prediction! Puigcercos and Ridao won!

Catalonia: Enough with the rain already

…yeah, I know we’re in the middle of a drought but si us plau! Surely we’ve got enough water to cancel that bizarre river transfer idea? Can’t we hang out in the sunshine some time? I mean, even if I didn’t want to go to the beach (which I don’t), the satellite’s on the blink most of the time. It’s just not fair.