Alpinism, and especially the act of mountaineering, is one of the most important means in rebuilding the moral strength of the German people.—DuÖAV, Nürnberger Leitsätze (1919)
Toward New Heights: Mountains as a Path to National Renewal
IN 1928, ONE YEAR BEFORE the first German mountaineering expedition to the Himalaya, the Eigenbrödler-Verlag in Berlin published a volume by Friedrich Koslowsky with the title Deutschlands Köpfe der Gegenwart über Deutschlands Zukunft (Germany's Minds of Today on Germany's Future), in which nearly seven hundred politicians, scientists, artists, and other public figures of various political orientations expressed their thoughts about Germany's future. As Rüdiger Graf has documented in Die Zukunft der Weimarer Republik (The Future of the Weimar Republic), the volume was part of a group of similar publications that appeared mostly during the early years of the republic and reflected the widespread concern in Germany about the fate of the nation in the wake of the devastating political and economic consequences of the First World War (66). This concern was expressed most tellingly, if rather radically, in a preface authored by former army general Rüdiger von der Goltz, who described Germany as being “in a sorry state, disarmed, plundered, impoverished, robbed of important agricultural areas in the East, the West still suffering unlawfully from a humiliating, ruthless, goading occupation” (Koslowsky 7). Despite Goltz's rather negative assessment of Germany's current state of affairs, however, the volume's contributors, clearly reflecting the publishers’ intent to assert Germany's reemergence as a nation for their readers (Graf 69), perceived of Germany's future in an exclusively positive light. For them, this future was assured, but contingent on three conditions: first, to overcome the nation's political, ideological, and social fragmentation and dissociation, that is, to create greater national unity; second, to renew the nation in a spiritual, ethical, and moral sense; and third, to strengthen the nation's will to work hard and make sacrifices. While their optimism for the future was grounded in a common belief in the so-called “German virtues,” that is, the productivity, efficiency, and capacity for suffering of the German Volk (people, nation), they naturally diverged on the question of how exactly these conditions could be met.