Friedrich Ludwig Jahn

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Friedrich Ludwig Jahn (August 11 1778October 15 1852) was a German Prussian gymnastics educator and nationalist. He is commonly known as Turnvater Jahn, roughly meaning "father of gymnastics" Jahn.


Jahn was born in Lanz in Brandenburg. He studied theology and philology from 1796 to 1802 at Halle, Göttingen at the University of Greifswald. After the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806 he joined the Prussian army. In 1809 he went to Berlin, where he became a teacher at the Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster and at the Plamann School.

Brooding upon what he saw as the humiliation of his native land by Napoleon, Jahn conceived the idea of restoring the spirits of his countrymen by the development of their physical and moral powers through the practice of gymnastics. The first Turnplatz, or open-air gymnasium, was opened by Jahn in Berlin in 1811, and the Turnverein (gymnastics association) movement spread rapidly. Young gymnasts were taught to regard themselves as members of a kind of guild for the emancipation of their fatherland. This nationalistic spirit was nourished in no small degree by the writings of Jahn.

Early in 1813 Jahn took an active part in the formation of the famous Lützow Free Corps, a volunteer force in the Prussian army fighting Napoleon. He commanded a battalion of the corps, though he was often employed in the secret service during the same period. After the war he returned to Berlin where he was appointed state teacher of gymnastics, and took on a role in the formation of the student patriotic fraternities, or Burschenschaften, in Jena.

A man of populistic nature, rugged, eccentric and outspoken, Jahn often came into collision with the authorities, and this conflict resulted in the closing of the Turnplatz in 1819 and Jahn's arrest. Kept in semi-confinement at the fortress of Kolberg until 1824, he was sentenced to imprisonment for two years. The sentence was reversed in 1825, but he was forbidden to live within ten miles of Berlin. He therefore took up residence at Freyburg on the Unstrut, where he remained until his death, with the exception of a short period in 1828, when he was exiled to Kölleda on a charge of sedition.

In 1840 Jahn was decorated by the Prussian government with the Iron Cross for bravery in the wars against Napoleon. In the spring of 1848 he was elected by the district of Naumburg to the German National Parliament. Jahn died in Freyburg, where a monument was erected in his honor in 1859.

Among his works are the following:

  • Bereicherung des hochdeutschen Sprachschatzes (Leipzig, 1806),
  • Deutsches Volksthum (Lübeck, 1810),
  • Runenblätter (Frankfurt, 1814),
  • Die Deutsche Turnkunst (Berlin, 1816)
  • Neue Runenblätter (Naumburg, 1828),
  • Merke zum deutschen Volksthum (Hildburghausen, 1833), and
  • Selbstvertheidigung (Vindication) (Leipzig, 1863).

A complete edition of his works appeared at Hof in 1884-1887. See the biography by Schultheiss (Berlin, 1894), and Jahn als Erzieher, by Friedric (Munich, 1895).

Jahn popularized the motto "Frisch, Fromm, Fröhlich, Frei" ("Hardy, Pious, Cheerful, Free") in the early 19th century. The band Jawbreaker appropriated the German monogram with four F's for use on their early releases up to and including Bivouac.

Contribution to sports

Jahn crafted early models of the balance beam, horizontal bar, the parallel bars (from a horizontal ladder with the rungs removed), and the vaulting horse.[1]

In honor and memory of him, some gymnastic clubs, called Turnvereine (German:Turnvereine), took up his name, the most well known of these is probably the SSV Jahn Regensburg.

A memorial to Jahn exists in St. Louis, Missouri, within Forest Park. It features a large bust of Jahn in the center of an arc of stone, with statues of a male and female gymnast, one on each end of the arc. The monument is on the edge of Art Hill next to the path running north and south along the western edge of Post-Dispatch lake. It is directly north of the St. Louis Zoo.

forest park monument1 forest park monument 2


In his time Friedrich Jahn was seen by both his supporters and opponents as a liberal figure. He advocated that the German states should unite after the withdrawal of Napoleon's occupying armies, and establish a democratic constitution (under the Hohenzollern monarchy), which would include the right to free speech. As a German nationalist, Jahn advocated maintaining German language and culture against foreign influence. In 1810 he wrote, "Poles, French, priests, aristocrats and Jews are Germany's misfortune."[citation needed] At the time Jahn wrote this, the German states were occupied by foreign armies under the leadership of Napoleon. Moreover, in 1817 Jahn organised a public book-burning.[citation needed]

Jahn gained infamy in English-speaking countries through the publication of Peter Viereck's Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind (1941).[2] Viereck claimed Jahn as the spiritual founder of Nazism, who inspired the early German romantics with anti-Semitic and authoritarian doctrines, and then influenced Wagner and finally the Nazis.

However, Jacques Barzun observed that Viereck's portrait of cultural trends supposedly leading to Nazism was "a caricature without resemblance" relying on "misleading shortcuts". [3] Viereck's claims concerning Jahn's supposed cultural influence, and influence on Nazism in particular, are not supported by evidence. The writings of the German Romantics do not even discuss Jahn, let alone endorse him.[citation needed] Joseph von Eichendorf's 1823 comedy "Krieg den Philistern" is unusual in mentioning Jahn at all, but does so only in order to ridicule him.[citation needed] Wagner, much influenced by Jahn according to Viereck, never even mentioned him.[citation needed]

The Nazis showed no interest in Jahn because Jahn had been a liberal and an outspoken democrat, and thus, he was neither congenial nor useful to them. Though the Nazis were keen to posthumously recruit "great Germans," for example claiming Goethe, Schopenhauer, Schiller, Wagner, Beethoven, Mozart, Kant, Luther and many others for their cause, Jahn was not mentioned in Mein Kampf or in Hitler's other writings and speeches, and was also absent from the theoretical writings and speeches of Nazi ideologues like Goebbels and Rosenberg.[citation needed]

Jahn's influence, for good or ill, should not be exaggerated. He was a figure of his time who reflected the prejudices of his time, in particular in his anti-Semitism, but who in other ways looked forward to a democratic future.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Goodbody, John. The Illustrated History of Gymnastics. London: Stanley Paul & Co.., 1982 ISBN 0091433509
  2. ^ Viereck, Peter. Metapolitics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind. New York: Capricorn Books, 1961.
  3. ^ Journal of the History of Ideas, 3:1 (Jan 1942), 107-110.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.