Hundred years of Uhlandshöhe

By Mathias Maurer, February 2020

What a celebration! The Liederhalle concert hall in Stuttgart, political and Waldorf celebrities, a full hall, a programme fit to burst – 100 years of the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

It started with a piece specially composed by Sebastian Bartmann, played by the upper school orchestra of the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School: an impressively high musical standard. Then the welcome by pupils in twenty-four languages. The prime minister of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, wished for the Waldorf school to “retain its stubbornness” and praised it as a “high school of empathy”; the chief mayor of Stuttgart, Fritz Kuhn, hoped that it would remain “the yeast in the progressive dough of the state school system” – both found words of appreciation which were clearly more than polite phrases.

Representatives from the Uhlandshöhe Waldorf School, the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart – Seminar of Waldorf Pedagogy, the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum and the German Association of Waldorf Schools spoke. A key message: free, individual and social development requires a free school system outside the influence of state and economic interests. An interesting sidelight: the politicians and the board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, Henning Kullak-Ublick, were united by a common past: they were among the founders of the Greens and had studied Rudolf Steiner’s threefold social order.

A Japanese drumming group and a Namibian choir brought some light relief to the weighty speeches and introduced an international spark into the hall – this was how Waldorf presented itself in all its variety: a movement of progressive education which started with a festive opening event in Stuttgart’s Stadtgarten park a hundred years ago at exactly the same time on exactly the same day and has grown into a movement currently comprising 1,100 schools and over 1,900 kindergartens – from the favela in Sao Paulo to the high-tech world of Silicon Valley, from Vietnam to Irkutsk. Red lights on a globe suspended in the foyer showed all the places in the world.

This was followed by a mammoth festive event, similar to the monthly celebrations in the schools, with artistic presentations by pupils from all the Stuttgart Waldorf schools: a feast for the eyes, with performances in parallel of Michael Ende’s Jim Button in the puppet theatre and a panel discussion with former Uhlandshöhe pupils, humorously chaired by Frank Stöckle – “No one does it quite like Steiner” – himself a former pupil and today on the road as an actor and musician. A random selection of the topics discussed: eurythmy, protecting the climate, the Sunday services, migration, year projects, child poverty, class 12 trips, digitalisation, the monthly school celebrations, the lifelong influence of teachers on pupils. One demand stands out: the school should become even more radically practical for the pupils because the current global problems are huge and there is an enormous amount to do.

Christof Wiechert, for many years a class teacher in the Netherlands and former head of the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum, closed the festive event and at the same time opened the following conference “In the Beginning was the Human Being”. Using examples from literature, film and real life, Wiechert illustrated the “transformative power of the imagination” as a central educational virtue which strengthened the moral outlook of children; he criticised the “industrial model” and behavioural input-output thinking in education and its “one-dimensional” image of the human being.

It was to Steiner’s credit and the credit of the anthroposophical system of education that the image of the human being as a threefold being with a soul, spirit and body had been preserved into the present and that the human being’s development before birth and after death was taken into account in this system of education – introducing the work on the content of The Foundations of Human Experience which determined the work of the conference: the task of education to bring the soul and spirit into harmony with the physical body. But this was first preceded by a whole evening’s eurythmy performance by the class 12s of the Uhlandshöhe Waldorf School with their artistic interpretation of pieces from Beethoven to Arvo Pärt, poems from Goethe to Rose Ausländer so that it became visible how “individuality can be topical”.

The conference did not attract the hoped for thousand participants but only about half that number. Even if the international character was maintained with the presence of teachers from all continents, a greater presence of local teachers would have been all the more desirable. After all, there are more than half a dozen Waldorf schools in the immediate vicinity. They did not, however, feel it necessary to interrupt business as usual for the hundredth anniversary of their ”mother”. Or maybe it was because the subject of The Foundations of Human Experience had already been dealt with repeatedly at large international conferences from Sao Paulo through Bangkok to Dornach, or perhaps that in a major effort half a dozen books had been published on this subject, enough for the next hundred years? 

Whatever the case may be: qualitatively the Uhlandshöhe – school and college – can offer something which has always shaped the educational genius loci of this place: a certain closeness to anthroposophy, a touch more of spiritual scientific excellence; in other words, more Steiner – someone from whom, as many newspapers were keen to tell them for the anniversary, they should apparently distance themselves. Fortunately they refuse to do so, even if the outward reality is a building site right now: the upper school building currently under construction, designed by Behnisch Architects, rather restricts the attractiveness of the school grounds for pupils and guests at the moment and places a substantial strain on the school finances. Nevertheless, the lecturers, speakers, workshops and workshop leaders – almost a hundred of them – offered such a variety of subjects that it was difficult to choose.

To pick out just a few examples: Rita Schumacher (Kassel) dealt with the highly topical subject of education in a time of virtual reality and what separates human beings and machines; Albrecht Schad (Stuttgart) illustrated astonishing parallels between cosmic and ontogenetic development; Michael Zech (Kassel) and Florian Osswald (Dornach) suggested ideas for new upper school models; but it was also possible to carve wooden spoons or artistically decorate posters and house walls. Lastly, there was a preview of the third part (Auf meinem Weg) of Maria Knilli’s special “research project” in which she filmed a Waldorf class throughout its school years (parts one and two: Guten Morgen, liebe Kinder and Eine Brücke zur Welt) (www.forschung-waldorf.de/publikationen/streaming-portal) – a memorable documentation about the profound questions which young people take with them into life at the end of their school days.

It would be remiss to omit to mention the artistic and cultural events: there was classical (Brahms and Mozart), a one-man show on the four temperaments modelled on Frieder Nögge, eurythmy by the Else Klink Ensemble under the deeply moving title “I want to live” from the Holocaust victim Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger, and lastly the worldbeat pop band RasgaRasga making the Stuttgart hills rock into the night. Back to classical for the conclusion in the Liederhalle concert hall: the Waldorf Philharmonic Orchestra with the soloist Dorothea Stepp, conducted by Patrick Strub, played works by Mendelsohn, Brahms and Dvořák; this musical climax tore the audience of 2000 from their seats for standing ovations.

Altogether a well-rounded Waldorf performance for head, heart and hands which gives rise to the hope that the guiding principles of Waldorf education and the opportunities to shape it developed today will continue to be grasped with courage.

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