Klaus Mann describes the Odenwaldschule:
In September of 1922 I traveled, this time alone, past Heidelberg to Heppenheim on the "Bergstrasse." From there one walks about three quarters of an hour up to the Odenwaldschule. Erika had stayed in Munich, where she was preparing herself at a breath-taking pace for acceptance into the preparatory level of the girls' school. It was the firrst time that I would be without her.
At the Bergstrasse it is milder than at Vogelsberg. The woods displayed a magical array of autumn colors; as the apples ripened, we secretly picked them off of the farmers' trees - they had so many; the fiavor of these Odenwald apples seems to differ from all other apples that I have ever eaten; I can taste them now when I close my eyes. In the fruit room of the Odenwaldschule, we were sometimes allowed to sort and stack the fruit. The smell was so unforgettably pure and strong that this storage room invariably surfaces in my mind when I think about fruit.
The Odenwaldschule had a number of houses, similar to Hochwaldhausen but with names: Goethe House, Humboldt House, Lessing and Fichte House and later the Plato House was added. I believe about 80 to 100 children, boys and girls, attended the school while I was there (in the meantime as far as I have heard, more students have been added). The students were called "comrades" or "companions," and the teachers "colleagues."
The companions were split up into "families" which each had a colleague as a head "mother" or "father." I started out in the family of Frau von Keller, a majestic yet tender, sometimes capricious lady who, with honorable tact, combined the qualities of a very refined and knowledgeable "Grand Dame" with the ethical standards of a youth group leader.
Back then I shared a room with a friendly, quiet son of well educated parents (though I had little to do with him) and the clever and handsome Armin, the son of the poet Hermann Kesser. My friendship with him lasted long after our time at the Odenwaldschule was over and was based primarily on an intellectual exchange. He seemed more mature than I because I found him well versed in philosophy and religion whereas I had concentrated almost solely on literature. Armin was the first person who gave me an inkling of worlds where names like Buddha or Kierkegaard dominated as the brightest stars and where respect for German medieval mystics up to Novalis led to a weighty pause wherever a human countenance with eyes closed confronted God. (By the way, everything seems to indicate that he has now learned to look down upon such worlds; I've heard that he has become a faithful advocate of the Berlin radicals for whom the world of souls evokes only laughter.)
Later the philosopher and drawing teacher, Heinrich Sachs,
started up a family for me and my closest friends. I lived with
Ulfert Wilke, the son of the great artist. He was on the cusp
of becoming an artist himself and had the loud, jovial and somewhat
penetrating temperament that make painters the liveliest and most
sociable of the artist folk. For the last months at the Odenwaldschule,
I received a single room.
Paulus Geheeb is impressive already because of his bearing. The director of the Odenwaldschule has a strange yet meaningful appearance. Above his white, fiowing beard emerges a face - short, pale and with a uniquely blind air of penetration. His stomping yet also tapping gait coincides with his almost scary, searching and sometimes hesitant way of speaking. If I remember correctly, in his wide eyes (which seemed to be more made for seeing in the dark than in light) red, green and violet circles surround the large, fixed pupils. According to the style of the youth movement, he wears trousers that expose his white legs below the knees. The combination of this attire with his conventional conversation, which only rarely moved to a more personal level, was quite surprising.
The mysterious distinction of this experienced and mild person, who seemed much older than he truly was, made such an impression that I later couldn't resist the deep temptation that he awakened in me to depict him in a literary work. (The Old One in Anja and Ester carries Geheeb's traits.) The picture of Geheeb approaching, even stomping toward the animal cages in order to feed his deer and large birds belongs to the classic and dominating images of my memory. Paulus, with endless patience and tenacity in dealing with fellow human beings (which may have contained more skepticism than I understood at the time), loved the animals. He often remarked that he recovered from the adults by being with children and then recovered from the children among the animals.
He had such tolerance and a large heart; so many things he could observe and tolerate without lifting a finger to stop them. But somehow it was always Paulus who had all the reins in his hands - in contrast to the professor of the Berg School who tried so hard to be in control. Geheeb's pedagogical personality rarely needed to intrude into the daily workings of the school; it had its effect because the knowledge of its existence - more or less clearly - remained present in the consciousness of all companions and colleagues.
The Odenwaldschule could withstand a crisis, such as one that we could have instigated at the Berg School, without large problems. It had its past and its legends (some of these legends were cute and somewhat tacky, like the one about the young girl, Drude, whose story became the basis of a novel). Yet however we might have tried to disrupt the school, it had to remain a passing moment. The school stood on firm ground.
Paulus was one of the first pioneers of the German country boarding school concept. Along with Wyneken, he worked for Doctor Lietz. With Wyneken he founded Wickersdorf, but these two strong and important personalities couldn't exist together for long and they parted ways after which Paulus relocated to the Bergstrasse. The air at the Odenwaldschule became milder and more tolerant under the leadership of Geheeb than it was under
Wyneken at Wickersdorf who was more radical, problematic and genius- like. Characteristically, Paulus, the son of a theologian, began his development as a botanist. He worked with types of moss before he started working with human children. His large heart was not above patiently delving into the smallest details. His sympathy for far eastern philosophy and for Indian ways - which has increased in the meantime - clearly infiuenced the spirit of his school.
Aside from Goethe and Plato, the Gods of the place were Buddha and a Jesus Christ not so much styled along Roman lines but rather more oriental. The peaceful and tolerant underlying atmosphere at his institute allowed all sorts of contradicting movements which often stood in stark contrast to one another: thus there was the American "Sportgeist," the youthful German romantics, and a somehow Hellenic yet difficult to precisely define movement that indirectly formed itself through interest in Stefan Georg. This was the clique that I belonged to.
The system of instruction at the Odenwaldschule was familiar to me from Hochwaldhausen: here one had the free course system instead of fixed classes as were known at the scorned state schools. This meant that one was placed into a higher or lower level course depending on one's knowledge of a given subject. One could attend the highest level French and yet at the same time the lowest level Latin. The teachers were, for the most part, young; some already had unusual accomplishments in their areas of specialty. I especially remember the course on Indian myths and teachings given by the religious philosopher, Bonus, or the musical harmony lessons I took with Frau Sauerbeck, a piano player with great intellectual and spiritual abilities.
The daily routine was tighter and fuller than what I was used to at the Berg School (at the beginning I participated with enthusiasm, yet later I was excused from some activities): the day started with a run in the woods followed by a cold shower; during a break between lessons there was an "air bath" on a fenced in hill field which one jogged to and where, the boys separated from the girls, one performed open air exercises stark naked. The practical work after lunch involved, similar to the Berg School, chopping wood, peeling potatoes, carpentry or digging in the garden.
On Sunday morning there was a service during which Paulus, a colleague and an older companion read something of deeper spiritual meaning and before every midday meal Paulus delivered a thoughtful saying - usually from Goethe or the New Testament as far as I remember. In the evening a companion performed this duty. (Once I stood up and presented my favorite quotation about prayer and enjoyment from Danton; people found it worth hearing and not at all poorly selected.) (134-138)
Heinrich Sachs, the head of our "family," had a face like one carved by the master Riemenschneider: a hard and elegant countenance, the lips forming words slowly and the eyes sending out a look that held us responsible for our actions. He had chosen the most difficult and problematic family
because we were once again "outsiders" albeit in a different fashion than at the Berg School (how long ago that seemed to me! A year at this age seemed an eternity!). We loved the school and regarded it as the best of all possible schools, yet we saw our inability to integrate ourselves as the result of our extremely unique personalities. The situation escalated to the point that, when I returned to the "Oso" after the Easter vacation, I was released from almost all daily activities: I didn't have to attend classes or do any of the practical work, but I was allowed to go for walks the entire day and read, write, and think. No other educator that I know of would have tried such an experiment. I am still thankful toward Paulus Geheeb today that he took such a risk. Only the youth who was responsible for sport activities didn't want to accept such behavior.
Once at 10:00 in the morning, when I was supposed to be taking an "air bath," Wurstl, the big athlete, and a dozen other boys stormed into the room in which we were sitting on the bed and deeply lost in an argument, wanting to give me a thrashing which they couldn't do because of Eva's presence. In any case, the "air bath" fanatics screamed at me, "hold your love sessions at a different time than during the long break - " which I truly found unfair. That wasn't the situation at all. Our relationship was close but not in the way that the sport boys imagined. (146)
Reproductions of Michelangelo statues or heads of gothic sculptures hung on the walls of our rooms. In a blue glass bowl lay oranges and apples next to amber necklaces or bead chains of berries. Next to math and Greek notebooks lay a volume of Nietzsche or Angelus Silesius. The beds were narrow and hard. Under the beds stood the hefty boots that we had to clean on our own. The chair at the desk was rickety but it offered a view out into the foliage or onto the bare branches once the leaves had fallen. In the evenings we met each other in one of these rooms. We had candlelight because it was more romantic. One of us read Zarathustra or Franziska from Wedekind out loud.
Sometimes we had a music evening. Frau Sauerbeck played Bach, Mozart and Bruckner; a very beautiful girl sometimes played the violin; she looked like an archangel when she held the instrument under her chin. (I noticed that at intellectually and spiritually stimulating places such as the Odenwaldschule, any activity, even the seemingly most innocent, acquired a cult-like or sacred character.) We sat with our backs to the walls of the music room with our eyes closed and completely still in meditation. Other evenings we met in Paulus' study with some of the other older companions. On his desk stood the Spinario, a statuette of a boy pulling a thorn out of his foot, whose hair, for some strange reason, didn't fall into his leaning face and whom I found to be the symbol of pure humility; in the corner of the room hung a Gothic sculpture of Christ. Paulus offered us apples from a ceramic bowl and some cookies which a companion got out of a cupboard at Paulus' signal. We debated in a circle while he lay on a sofa with his wide, animal- like, alert eyes directed toward us or the ceiling.
We loved the long walks, afternoons or early evenings, through the mild hillsides of the Bergstrasse. I don't think that I have ever again perceived the changing of seasons with such an alert intensity: the wonderful turning of the leaves' colors from green to gold and their falling; the gray moist sky of the Odenwald in December.
In January or February we could ski for a few days. The snow
would soon become sticky; the light frost didn't hold. - Spring
of the year 1923: I breathed its pungent odors with a fervor that
no April has awakened in me since. My relationship to the countryside
and to all of nature had a mystic and erotic quality which was
part of my psychological state: I embraced trees and pressed my
face against their bark, and the soft springy moss under the thin
soles of my sandals was to me a sign of love. I ran against the
wind: exciting lust, wilder and better than writing a storm song
("Sturmlied"). Exalted by the smell of the first
green, I hurried into the small house of God which stood on the
way to Heppenheim from the Oso and I kneeled or, with absurd,
crazy, and rebellious sayings, I criticized and provoked the Lord.
(147-148) Kind dieser Zeit, Klaus Mann, 1932