Alexander Strakosch – the Waldorf engineer

By Tomás Zdrazil, September 2019

When in the spring of 1920 it became clear that a group of class 8 pupils would not move up to class 9 but were seeking a transition to practical work, Rudolf Steiner suggested that a so-called continuation school be established for these pupils: “We would have to go for the practical and artistic above all. They should be taught concepts from life, from agriculture, from the trades, industry and commerce. They should do business essays and accounting, and in the artistic field visual arts, music and literature. That would be a task for Mr Strakosch. Life has to be looked at as a school. They can be told all the time that from now on they are being educated by life.”

But at that time Alexander Strakosch still occupied a senior position as an engineer with Austrian railways. A happy coincidence meant that he was able to take part in the Stuttgart teacher training course in the summer of 1919. Strakosch stood out not only because of his extraordinary specialist technical knowledge but also through his passion for Greek literature and philosophy. He was also an excellent violinist, good equestrian and virtuoso ice skater. In addition he spoke four languages. Through his wife, who was a painter and pupil of Kandinsky, he also had direct access to the visual arts. In 1908 he had learnt about anthroposophy and felt a great connection with it and Rudolf Steiner. He knew Steiner quite well, not just because he had followed him to various lecture courses, but also because he had had the opportunity to spend a holiday with him and Marie Steiner in Istria in 1911. 

Although he had only celebrated his fortieth birthday during the teacher training course, he was among the older participants and evoked a natural respect among the other attendees through his striking face framed by a black beard. He nevertheless quickly became popular through his “amiability and almost southern openness of soul” (H. Hahn). Thus Strakosch was asked in the spring of 1920 to give up his employment with the Austrian state, move to Stuttgart and place his abilities at the service of the Stuttgart school. The development of the continuation school for school leavers could not, however, be realised. This was because Strakosch immediately had to devote his attention to another urgent task, namely as class teacher of the orphaned class 5. He found his way into his new task almost as if he had never done anything else. 

Through him, a great wealth flowed to the pupils particularly of those images of modern life which they so urgently wanted. One of his pupils was Rolf Gutbrod, who subsequently became one of the most important German architects in the post-War period. The latter particularly remembered a class teacher “who as the engineer in charge had built mountain railways in Austria and told fascinating stories about that and about the Italian migrant workers”. These stories probably laid the seeds in Gutbrod of what he wanted to do in the future. We can say that Strakosch gave lessons in life skills even then, the development of which subsequently became one of his most important tasks. 

From the beginning, Strakosch had a specific task also in the management of a scientific research institute sponsored by the venture “Der Kommende Tag” with a biology, physics, chemistry and a textile fibres department.

When in the third year of the school five practical subjects were introduced for the new class 10, Strakosch took on spinning, weaving and engineering mechanics. When in the fourth year of the school his class 7 had grow to 65 pupils, it was divided into two. It was only after he had finished with these pupils after class 8 that he took on the technology lessons in upper school. It lay very close to his heart that the school should remain connected with the most modern branches of life. “What he achieved in this field has remained unforgettable for all his pupils. Although the female part among them did not always have a sense of the technical achievements of the time, his humour and ability to respond with presence of mind to any doubts meant that Strakosch was able to win over these more hesitant and reticent pupils.”

He was a person who, as a new breed of teacher, was to play a very important role in the Waldorf school; namely as someone who derived his qualifications as a teacher directly from practical life. Rudolf Steiner anticipated from such people not just the refreshment of teaching but also the revitalisation of the whole social structure of the school. After Strakosch was forced to leave the school in 1934 due to his Jewish origins, he settled in Switzerland where he lived until his death in 1958.

About the author: Prof. Dr Tomás Zdrazil is a lecturer at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar for Waldorf Pedagogy.

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