Gymnastics father, gymnastics rascal, reformer, nationalist, Napoleon hater, gymnastics "daddy", chauvinist, national hero, anti-Semite, Democrat eater, sportsman ...
"The gymnastics father had something for everyone, and what just fits posterity with its opposing views is exploited and Jahn is presented as the model of it."
(Workers' gymnastics leader Karl Frey, 1906)
All political systems of the 19th and 20th centuries have made use of the historical person. Jahn and the reception associated with him are in a certain sense symbolic of the biography of the Germans. His work is connected with questions that still reach into the present and whose answers are constantly being renegotiated. However, Jahn's topicality results not only from the social need for historical lines of impact, but also from the attractiveness of this dazzling, legendary, often contradictory and therefore controversial personality, in whose writings everyone can find a quotable sentence that proves their own interpretation and ideological position.
Jahn polarizes! Often, however, it is not the content at all that stimulates interest in Jahn, but rather the imagery of this association-laden personality that enables an emotionally charged contemplation. The Jahn image is therefore more often "image" than content.
BiographyFriedrich Ludwig Jahn
Life and work
The defeat of Prussia at the Battle of Jena and Auerstedt and the occupation of German territorial states by Napoleon shaped the decision of his life to work for the liberation and unity of Germany. In the years until 1810 he visited GutsMuths in Schnepfenthal and became interested in his gymnastic exercises and school-reforming ideas, he was a teacher in Berlin and founded the secret "Deutscher Bund" with Friesen.. Jahn's aspiration was the training of young people through outdoor physical exercise, combined with national and patriotic education. He laid down his thoughts on this in the book published in 1810 "Das Deutsche Volkstum" presented. The efforts for "gymnastics" - as he called it - culminate in the inauguration of the first public gymnastics field on Berlin's Hasenheide on 18.6.1811.
The residence of the "gymnastics father" around 1894.
His gymnasts proved themselves in 1813 in the Lützower Freikorps, in which he himself was one of the commanders. After the victorious Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, Jahn was involved with various commissions for the Prussian government, which granted him a lifelong honorary salary in recognition of his work.
In his marriage with Helene Kollhof (1814) three children were born. In 1815 the former Lützowers founded the Urburschenschaft on the basis of Jahn's ideas: free rights for all citizens, constitution and unity of the fatherland.
During this time he continued his work on gymnastics, which culminated in 1816 with the publication of his book, written with the gymnastics teacher Ernst Eiselen. "The German Art of Gymnastics" reached a climax. In it he described the variety of those physical exercises which, according to his understanding, fall under the term "gymnastics": Walking, running, jumping, swinging on the swing, today's pommel horse, hovering (balancing), exercises on parallel bars and high bar, climbing, wrestling as well as gymnastics games, swimming, fencing, riding and dancing. The work of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn began to bear fruit: By 1819, more than 150 gymnastics centres had been established in Prussia and other German states; Jahn gave lectures on German nationality in which he attacked the political system and small-scale statehood.
From 1818/19 Jahn and his gymnastics were banned in Prussia and other German states at the instigation of Metternich, the gymnastics centres were closed, Jahn was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, which he served in Spandau, Küstrin, Berlin and Kolberg.
The memorial gymnasium with crypt was consecrated in 1894.
After the death of his wife Helene, he married Emilie Hentsch in 1825, who bore him a daughter. In the same year he was acquitted. The maintenance of the honorary pension was linked to the condition not to settle in any university or high school town in the future. Since then Jahn lived with a short interruption (banishment to Kölleda) in Freyburg an der Unstrut.
In 1838/39 he built his residence there, which today houses the Jahn Museum. In 1840 he was rehabilitated by King Frederick William IV and awarded the Iron Cross..
Jahn experienced the lifting of the gymnastics ban in 1842 with satisfaction, although he himself had long since ceased to be active. He had lagged behind social progress during this time. In the revolution of 1848 he did not understand the revolutionary gymnasts any more and was criticized by contemporaries because of his Germanism and other things as "Turnwüterich". Nevertheless, the gymnasts of the Merseburg constituency delegated him as their former fellow campaigner to the Frankfurt National Assembly, which ultimately failed. The complete break with the gymnasts occurred because the gymnasts felt betrayed by Jahn's reactionary positions in the National Assembly (open letter of the Hanau gymnasts).
Friedrich Ludwig Jahn took part in the founding of the German Gymnastics Federation in 1848. The "Swan Speech", in which he declared his support for German unity, was his reaction to the disagreement with the republican-minded gymnasts. On 15.10.1852 Friedrich Ludwig Jahn died in Freyburg / Unstrut.
Meaning and valuationMeaning and valuation
For the establishment of gymnastics and the construction of the first public gymnastics area, Jahn is still honored today.
Friedrich Ludwig Jahn experiences his current importance as the creator of the national gymnastics movementwhich led to the foundation of an immense number of gymnastics clubs, the German Gymnastics Federation and ultimately to the emergence of apparatus gymnastics as a world sport. The accusation that his motivation was based solely on his German nationalist and military concerns is true to a certain extent, but it must also be put into perspective insofar as Jahn's ideas and his work must be judged in the context of the historical circumstances. His politically contradictory behavior in the course of his life provided scope for the later different political systems in Germany to evaluate his thought in different ways.
The Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Society tries to research and discuss Jahn, his work and the reception associated with him, in cooperation with scholars from very different disciplines, in order to achieve a critical but differentiated and balanced localization and evaluation.
Jahn's life and work were contradictory. Today his merits for the development of gymnastics and his commitment to the liberation from Napoleonic rule are undisputed. The exaggeration of his nationally oriented thoughts led in his speeches, letters and writings to xenophobia and exaggerated nationalism. Included in his nationalist ideas were also derogatory statements against Jews, French and other people who, in his view, acted contrary to his world view.
Jahndenkmal in the hall of honour. Created around 1903