Patron saint of children

By Nana Göbel, March 2020

Klara Hattermann and the beginnings of the Waldorf kindergarten movement.

Elisabeth von Grunelius, who set up the very first Waldorf kindergarten at the Uhlandshöhe in Stuttgart in 1926, only allowed very few people to sit in on her kindergarten. They included Klara Hattermann. After the Second World War, she rebuilt the Waldorf kindergarten movement from scratch from Hanover and for decades formed the centre of this movement.

Each morning, Klara Hattermann (1909–2003) simply stood in front of the door of the Waldorf kindergarten of the Stuttgart Uhlandshöhe and repeated this exercise until she received special permission to sit in. She was gifted with such a firm will that not even Elisabeth von Grunelius could stand up to the pressure. When a small Waldorf playgroup began in Nuremberg in 1927, Klara Hattermann moved to Franconia and started to work in this first kindergarten initiative. 

The city authorities adopted a positive attitude towards the initiative and even held out the prospect of school premises. An association for an independent Nuremberg school was set up, sufficient teachers and 35 children were registered. Eduard Riegel and Anton Treiber, two state-trained teachers, were proposed as the founding teachers. The school was to open at Easter 1928. But no permission arrived. The Nuremberg school administration and the Bavarian state chancellery in Munich kept throwing the ball in each other’s court and could not agree what paragraph was to be used to establish such a school. In the end the Bavarian state ministry of education on 29 December 1928 rejected the opening of the school on the grounds that an examination of the curricula and other documentation had shown that there were considerable doubts of a teaching, academic and educational nature about such a school. As a result there was nothing left for Klara Hattermann to do in Nuremberg and she moved on.

In 1931 she founded a small kindergarten in Hanover independently of the Waldorf school which she was able to run until 1941 in a two-room flat she rented. Once this became impossible, she moved to Dresden and there managed a small kindergarten in hiding for a time. When this also became impossible, she decided to move to West Prussia.

Shortly before the end of the Second World War, Klara Hatter­mann fled from West Prussia together with her twin sister Helene von Radecki and her children and after the War returned to Hanover. The two sisters and their family renovated an abandoned wooden shack in the school grounds which they lived in. Under these very simple external conditions, Klara Hattermann started with kindergarten work in her small house in 1946.

For seven years she cleared her personal things out of the room each morning and put them back again in the evening. The roof of the small house was made of roofing felt and umbrellas were handed out whenever it rained to protect against the water dripping in. Grass grew up through the floor and in the winter snow crystals formed on the walls. The children played in the ruins – with the attendant risk. Other than before the war, the kindergarten was now integrated into the school and run on its simple premises for the following seven years. Then the handicraft teacher designed a plan for a separate building for the kindergarten and made the furniture for it himself. The new building was inaugurated at Christmas 1953.

From the early 1950s, a group of kindergarten teachers around Klara Hattermann worked on developing a contemporary methodology and teaching theory as well as an art of education for the kindergarten age group. After the preliminary work of Elisabeth von Grunelius, this was the second pillar on which the Waldorf kindergarten movement was built up. At the turn of the year from 1950 to 1951, Klara Hattermann invited seventeen kindergarten teachers to a first meeting in Hanover. From that time onwards, Waldorf kindergarten conferences were regularly held under her leadership in the kindergarten building in Hanover; a tradition which – since 1968 as the Whitsun conference – has been maintained to the present day. In 1952/53 she also started a kindergarten training course in Hanover, the Hanover Kindergarten Teacher Training Seminar.

In the fiftieth year of the existence of Waldorf education, in 1969, the kindergarten teachers from the twenty-four participating kindergartens who had me at Whitsun each year since 1951 set up the International Association of Waldorf Kindergartens and appointed the grande dame of the movement, Elisabeth von Grunelius, as the honorary chairperson. The Waldorf kindergarten association was founded on the initiative of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, as reported by Ernst Weißert two years later in the Hague Circle. In view of the questions arising worldwide as to the way childhood might be shaped and turned into a source of strength in the development of a person’s biography, the association was made  international. 

For thirty-three years, the Whitsun conference of kindergarten teachers in Hanover remained its sole regular international meeting and what might be described as its core event each year. In 1979, Klara Hattermann noted in conversation with Helmut von Kügelgen that in view of the decrease in a natural ability to handle very small children and the increasing insecurity of mothers, the Waldorf school movement had to concern itself with the very small child between 0 and 3 years of age and should also set up courses for parents. Both had in mind that this could be of help in maintaining, rescuing and, indeed, strengthening the forces of childhood.

At Easter 1984, a Waldorf kindergarten conference then took place for the first time at the Goetheanum in Dornach. 

The 89-year-old Elisabeth von Grunelius attended as the guest of honour. Since then the kindergarten association has addressed itself to the training of kindergarten teachers and watches over the establishment of new kindergartens.

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