Friedrich Oehlschlegel – a Waldorf teacher from day one

By Tomás Zdrazil, May 2019

On the first day of school at the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School in Stuttgart on 18 September 1919, twenty-eight expectant class 6 pupils were sitting in their tiny classroom under the eaves of the converted Waldorf school building.

“Suddenly the door opens and all eyes turn towards him. Friedrich Oehlschlegel enters.” Blue suit, white shirt, green tie. “Friendly blue eyes look at us through gold-rimmed glasses.” He greets the class with an American accent: “Good morning, dear children!” With these first words he had already won the hearts of the pupils. 

The motif of an open attitude to the world was dear to the heart of Oehlschlegel and unconventionally he almost exclusively taught geography in the first few months. Despite his young age – he was 28 – he had already seen a lot of the world. Fritz Koegel, a pupil who subsequently himself became a Waldorf teacher, was very impressed: “Absolute silence reigned when he spoke about trips to Archangelsk or the Aral Sea.” 

Oehlschlegel had a German father and American mother, had grown up in the USA and had also worked there for a time as a teacher. Then the First World War came and he decided to fight on the German side. He was wounded and in hospital became acquainted with anthroposophy through a nurse. After the war, he worked as an English-language assistant at Marburg University. He read Rudolf Steiner’s Towards Social Renewal with his students.

He came into contact with the local group of the Association for Social Threefolding in Marburg and with Emil Molt and his plan to set up a school in Stuttgart. Molt was so fascinated by Oehlschlegel that he suggested to Steiner to invite him to the course for teachers. There he quickly became friends with Herbert Hahn and Walter Johannes Stein. During the teacher training course, Oehlschlegel on several occasions attracted attention: when describing the Mississippi or when fractions were introduced. 

Apart from taking on a class and teaching English, Oehlschlegel was to assume the responsible task with Herbert Hahn of introducing the completely new, so-called free religion lessons for the children of non-denominational parents, including a Sunday service. But before this could happen, he unexpectedly left the school. His class remained vacant, no one except Emil Molt knew about his intentions. 

Oehlschlegel returned to the USA in order to seek financial support there for the threefolding movement and the Waldorf school, including a “Waldorf college”. Despite the initially close connection with the Waldorf school, his correspondence documents a growing disaffection. The contact with the school broke off. 

When Oehlschlegel eventually made contact again from Honolulu in mid-1921, the school informed the superintendent of schools in Stuttgart that Oehlschlegel had “exceeded his holiday without authorisation and failed to communicate with us for almost a year” and was therefore no longer a teacher at the Free Waldorf School. Nothing more is known about the further path of this Waldorf teacher “from day one” so that a sense of tragedy remains associated with his name.

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