The Origin of Hippie in Europe 1880 to 1940 by Anne Hill Fernie

This talk was given at ‘Gullivers’ on Oldham Street in Manchester 20th April 2015 by Anne Hill Fernie, an event planned and brought together by Anne with Joseph Darlington, and assisted by Susan Brown and Alex Dunedin.

Prototypical Hippie

The spiritual crisis of late 19th century urban living due to industrialisation (includes mental illness/neurasthenia/self-medicating through drug taking/patent medicines etc). Reaction against materialist/capitalist lifestyle in Germany (‘Life Reform’ Movement: Karl Diefenbach (& his ‘Himmelbach’ commune 1895 – 1898), Gusto Gräser (& his founding of the ‘Ascona’ commune), Hugo Höppener (the artist ‘Fidus’) and Johannes Gutzeit.

Who they were and the radical ideas they pioneered & disseminated (theosophy, occultism, naturism, vegetarianism, communal living in nature, the ‘guru’ figure etc). Also the artwork produced by Diefenbach and Fidus that predate 1960s subjects & style.


The German ‘Life Reform’ émigrés in the USA and how they created the first ‘hippies’ in the form of the Californian ‘Nature Boys’ in the 1930s & 40s (Maximillian Sikkinger, ‘Gypsy Boots’ Bootzin, Bill Pester, Benedict Lust, John & Vera Richter, Arnold Ehret, eden ahbez (If time): Comparing to the 1920s English ‘Kibbo Kift’ movement of John Hargreaves

If people stop to think about 1960s counter-culture, ‘hippies’ etc. They might cite early 1960s USA as a source or maybe the ‘Beats’ and European counterparts in 1950s Beatnik culture. Very few would think to root it in 1860s England (Arts & Crafts Movement & the 1890s ‘Back to the Land’ initiatives) or the 1880s German ‘Life Reform’ movement.


Later movements such as John Hargreaves’s English, 1920s Kibbo Kift (later Socialist ‘Greenshirts’) also remain undeservedly unrecognised. Various strands of the utopian living concept can, of course, be traced even further back to various religious sects or political/social reform groups like the Diggers and Levellers but for the sake of brevity I have tried to limit the subject to key individuals in Germany who were responsible for spreading some of the key ideas we associate with counter-culture to a wider demographic and taking it overseas to the USA, only for it to be reintroduced to Europe decades later.

In order to understand why these movements flourished in the late 19thc, some context will be sketched in the talk regarding the rapid industrialisation and militarization that occurred in the newly unified Germany. This precipitated a very rapid urbanisation with all the mental and spiritual ills to the individual that one would expect but which were new and frightening for society at the time. While the idealists created their alternative ‘Naturmensch’ societies, scientists developed their own remedies in the form of psychiatry and patent medicines so one could state that drug culture as we know it was also born during this period.



Table of Contents

Slide 2. (August Sander shots: “Citizens of the Twentieth Century,” project 1892 to 1954)

Preamble: Counterculturism is a huge subject but I’ve had to start this talk somewhere and the role of Germany is one that is both surprising but undeniable. Germany’s relationship with nature has always been both visceral and subliminal and 2000 years ago (about 51 B.C.) Julius Caesar noted of the Germans: “The only beings they recognize as gods are things that they can see, and by which they are obviously benefited, such as sun, moon and fire; the other gods they have never even heard of.” The idea of being naked in nature is also one that is particularly Germanic.

During the Middle-Ages a group called “Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit” existed in Germany and Holland. Also known as the Adamites, they were spiritual descendants of an earlier group, the Adamiani. They held nude gatherings in womb like caverns to achieve rebirth into a state of paradisiacal innocence. Anyone who knows Germany will be aware of the naturist island of Sylt and in the centre of Munich, the English Garden which has a large area dedicated to naturism.


Goethe’s (1749 to 1832) known as the poet of Nature religiosity believed “God can be worshipped in no more beautiful way than by the spontaneous welling up from one’s breast of mutual converse with Nature”.


The Earth

It was a German too, Ernst Haeckel of Jena University, who in 1866 first employed the term ‘ecology’, thereby establishing it as a permanent scientific discipline for all future generations. Ecology as a concept had more in common with Buddhism and its recognition of the oneness of all life. Haeckel had travelled in India and was a firm believer in Sun Worship & a form of rationalistic Paganism.


He stated: ‘… the light of pure reason, sun worship as a form of naturalistic monotheism, seems to have a much better foundation than the anthropistic worship of Christians and other monotheists who conceive of their god in human form’.


There have been many breakaway groups, communes, religious groups throughout the ages but for the sake of brevity I am starting at the end of the 19thc and focussing mainly on the key ideas that spread to the USA (and England) via German émigrés and which are still recognisably with us today. I have avoided deep cultural analysis and the aim of this presentation is really to familiarise people with some fascinating characters and hopefully provide some food for further thought.

Introduction (Historical Background):

Germany was not a unified state until 1871 and industrialization started around 80 years later than in England. By the late 19thc however, Germany had the most extreme pace of industrialization and urban growth of any European nation. In 1870 the population of Germany was 2/3 rural, but in the space of 30 years it had become 2/3 urban and by 1910, Germany’s population numbered 56 million and it had as many large cities as the entire rest of Europe.

Our story begins around the end of the 19th century when, as one historian put it: ‘the German middle class had become superficial, coarse, complacent, gluttonous, materialistic, industrialized, technocratic and pathetic’.


This fact is important as regards its effect on individual wellbeing. As historian Michael Green has noted, ‘the iron cage weighed heaviest, and the fight against it was fiercest, in Germany.’


World War 1

Slide 3. Post WW1 misery.

By the end of 1918, defeat in WW1 and ruinous reparation payments had left torn apart by political unrest, poverty, hunger and general discontent.

The war had been the culmination an industrial, military, urban dystopia & many of a mystical persuasion, the war was seen as the final bankruptcy of western European civilisation.


The shock of the war, in both England & Germany created, as James Webb put it, “a flight from Reason” which in Germany manifested itself in violent battles for political supremacy.

Slides 4 to 7: Street fighting

Bavaria: In November 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and there were hunger strikes that turned into riots. Fresh from prison after serving time for organizing anti-war strikes, Kurt Eisner, a social democrat politician, declared Bavaria a “free state”.

In April 1919, the Communists seized power in the free state of Bavaria, seeking independence from the recently established Weimar Republic and to establish a democratic workers council republic. This uprising too was defeated after heavy fighting in May 1919 after nearly 40,000 state & Freikorp paramilitary troops were drafted into the city.

Berlin: By January 1919, Berlin there was a general strike in Berlin, as a number of communists advocated the overthrow of the post war government & workers’ councils were formed. the German Independent Socialist Party (USPD) rose against the government, joined by armed Communists and workers but mostly by unarmed civilians – estimated to be around half a million in total. It is this uprising that has become known as the January 10 to 15th 1919 Spartacist Revolt. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the two leaders of the revolt, were murdered.

Freikorp Recruitment Poster

The Freikorps: The revolt was violently suppressed by the government who called in the Freikorps, their first military action. By the summer of 1919 there were between 200,000 and 400,000 men under arms in the new (Freikorps) volunteer corps of paramilitaries (many unemployed and embittered WW1 soldiers) set up ostensibly to ‘protect’ the new Republic. An important historical function of the volunteers was the suppression of the Left throughout the major cities of Germany from January to May 1919. (One such member of the right wing Freikorps was Ernst Röhm who later recruited from Freikorps members to form the Brown Shirts or SA).
Order was sufficiently restored for elections to be held, a coalition government was formed and the constitution of the new republic was finalised in August 1919 in the town of Weimar – hence the name ‘Weimar’ Republic. Imperial Germany was gone, and in her place was a democratic, not a socialist, state which interestingly, in light of what was to follow socially and creatively, abolished state censorship.

Wiemar Republic

Slide 8: Weimar ‘decadence’

In that year, The Council of Peoples Representatives abolished the military censorship that had been in effect since 1918. The council believed that the numerous political parties causing unrest would use the screen to spread their political views instead of battling in the streets. The political parties continued using the streets and beer halls to spread their message, but, having nothing to fear from government interference, the film industry decided to take advantage of the lack of censorship that lasted until 1920.

This lack of restraint has become the popular image of Weimar Germany but creative freedom undoubtedly contributed to the experimental and daring nature of much German creativity (film etc.). Germany in 1919 had lived through 4 years of war, civil unrest and inflation & people were ready to enjoy themselves whenever & wherever possible.

Slides 9 to 11: German bohemians/artists; Cologne group

Sadly there is no time to go into detail regarding the extraordinary flowering of German culture during this period but like the counterculturalists, many of the key practitioners were forced overseas in the 1930s with the result that American film, visual arts, theatre etc. were heavily influenced by the ‘Mittel Europa Zeitgeist’ or spirit of the times in their output during the 1930s and 40s.


It is an unbelievably angsty, existential, un-American sensibility juxtaposed onto an American milieu. Watching a moody film noir with its tormented, flawed heroes adrift in dark, dystopic urban settings is pure Weimar. Later, note the names on the credit list which will confirm this.

Slide 12 to 15: German urban youth gangs/Resistance

The turbulence of the times, fatherless families and poverty created a large population of destitute and homeless young people. After the economic crash of 1929 there were around half a million homeless adolescents wandering around the country and in Berlin alone there were 14,000 feral kids between 14 and 18 living rough.

Berlin ring youth gangs

This may explain to some extent the popularity of both the back to nature life reform groups amongst the young but conversely, many were also drawn to urban gangs. The Berlin “Ring” youth gangs often took Indian-derived names like Blood of the Trappers, Red Apaches, Black Love, Black Flag, and Forest Pirates. Girls and boys supported themselves through crime: petty burglary, theft and prostitution.

They dressed in black or grey bowler hats, old women’s hats with the brims turned up adorned with ostrich plumes and medals with lurid handkerchiefs or scarves worn around the neck. Striped vests were worn revealing tattoos and multiple rings worn in the ears, leather shorts with massive belts painted in colours, numbers and human profiles and with tags such as ‘wild & free’ or ‘bandits’.

The ‘Edelweiss Pirates’ group of urban youth gangs are an interesting example of social change forced nature idealists into a more hard-nosed confrontational approach. The Pirates arose in the late 1920s. They initially embraced the ‘nature’ principles of tramping through the countryside but after the ‘Wandervogel’ were banned by Hitler (who created the more militarised boys’ HJ & girls’ BDM instead), became more militant & politicised. By 1939, more than 80 percent of all German males between ten and 18 were members of the Hitler Youth:

compliance was enforced by strict laws but even with the regime at its height, there were many youths who risked their liberty, if not their lives, to live the way they wanted. The Nazi regime had been at its weakest in the German industrial heartland, the Rhine-Ruhr region, and in the early war years neighbourhood gangs in those big cites began to form with the express intention of avoiding Hitler Youth service. These were given the generic name of ‘Edelweiss Pirates’ and like the Ring gangs, they had taken edelweiss badges as their insignias.

They had names like the Shambeko Band (Düsseldorf) or the Navajos (Cologne). Usually working in essential wartime industries, they expressed their difference by wearing Anglo-American clothes—an act of defiance shared by the better-known Hamburg Swings. As well as the exaggerated Stenzen (wide boy) shape, they sported loud checked shirts, battered hats with edelweiss badges or coloured pins, and proto-goth skull-and-crossbone rings. This was a direct affront to the uniformity demanded by the Hitler Youth during wartime

The Pirate gangs altered the words of contemporary song hits into anti-Nazi anthems and engaged in street battles with the Hitler Youth. In 1941, a youth worker noted that “they are everywhere. There are more of them than there are Hitler Youth. And they all know each other, they stick close together. They beat up the patrols, because there are so many of them. They never take no for an answer.” Some did become Nazis—like Winnetou, a prominent Ring Bull. But others went underground: They continued to live free, wandering and harassing the Nazis wherever they could.

Hans and Sophie Scholl
Hans and Sophie Scholl

As the war went on, opposition increased. In Cologne, a large group of Edelweiss Pirates hooked up with escaped concentration-camp prisoners, deserters, and forced labourers in a program of armed resistance that culminated with the assassination of the local Gestapo chief. The Nazis publicly hanged 13 Pirates in the city centre, including the 16-year-old leader of the Navajos, Barthel Schink. In February 1943, members of the resistance ‘White Rose’ group, founded by student brother & sister Hans & Sophie Scholl were arrested & executed for high treason.
I wanted to mention these urban German gangs specifically to stress that counterculture by its very name is a reaction against the orthodoxies of the time & can take many forms. As a result it has no tidy trajectory of effete nature lovers or wacky bohemians. It is much more nuanced than that with strands feeding into each other and coming to the fore depending on the circumstances of any given era.

Germany in the 1930s was extreme and the counterculturalists in turn were also extreme. This particular branch has strong resonances with the Manchester Scuttlers, Birmingham Peaky Blinders, London Coster gangs and later Teds, Skins, Punks etc. than it has with West Coast hippies.


This is confirmed by a contemporary journalist, Fournier, who studied the urban gangs known as the ‘Wild-frei’ (wild & free). He saw in them a direct connection to the Wandervogel (a common slur, in fact, referred to them as Wanderflegel, or Wandering Rude-Boys) but made an emphatic distinction: “The hiking groups that existed before the Great War… aspired toward a better future, for which their adherents were willing to work. Inversely, the gangs, whether deliberately or not, mainly thought about destroying what existed.”


Slides 16 & 17: Drugs / Intro to spiritual malaise; Invention of Pharmaceuticals.

As we have seen, there was an increasing awareness from the end of the 19th century that urban life was creating a sickness of the soul & not just of the body. Early Psychology was not developed until the 1900s so the average individual had no explanation, diagnosis or cure for their feelings resulting from the accelerated pace of change and obliteration of the past & any sense of continuity.


As people have done in all ages and in all societies, people self-medicated either out of need or for escape but the end of the 19th century saw enormous developments in the synthesis by German scientists of powerful pharmaceuticals, often developed to treat the new ailments such as acute anxiety.

Heroin for example, was developed by Merck to counter morphine addiction and cocaine was heralded (by Freud amongst others) as the perfect cure for female ‘hysteria’.


Mescaline was isolated in 1896 & synthesized in 1914. Merck was a major European supplier of mescaline sulphate during the Weimar period and peyote was used as a stimulant & intoxicant in nightclubs throughout France & Germany at the time.

Slides 18 & 19. Women & drugs

In the late 19thc, use of narcotics became a particularly female issue due to the belief that it was a ‘cleaner’ method of intoxication than drinking alcohol which was considered ‘unladylike’ as was smoking.


Cocaine was a particular problem after the First World War, large amounts of leftover military stockpiles of cocaine made their way into the black market and were sold on the streets by unlicensed vendors. As cocaine use became more popular in urban environments like Berlin and Karlsruhe, the Weimar government began to crack down on the sale of the drug. Apparently, cocaine admissions to university clinics quadrupled between 1918 to 1921.
Not quite in our remit but very significant in light of the 1960s countercultural hippie ‘mind expansion’, is Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann’s 1938 experimentation with ergot fungus out of which he synthesized LSD (lysergic acid diethyl amide) at the Sandoz labs. It was not until 1943 that he accidentally absorbed it through his skin, started tripping whilst riding his bicycle home and realised its potency (an effect that in the past, when ingested through tainted wheat, had been called ‘St. Anthony’s Fire’).

Slides 20 & 21: ‘Americanitis’/neurasthenia/’Future Shock’ & commercial remedies.

The resulting crisis of human consciousness was given names such as ‘future shock’. Doctors and patients struggled to make sense of this widespread problem. ‘Lassitude’/melancholy/ennui and anxiety/insecurity induced by change became an almost fashionable ailment around 1900. It was an American doctor who pathologised this ‘exhaustion of the nervous system’ and called it ‘neurasthenia’ later nicknamed ‘Americanitis’. The neurasthenic, a condition now known as ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ was regarded as a person trapped by an inability to cope.
An alternative understanding based on psychoanalysis emerged in the early 1900s. It argued neurosis was rooted in unconscious emotional conflicts, not weak nerves. By the 1930s, treating neurosis became the domain of psychoanalysis and psychiatry. This was especially true in the United States, where many of Freud’s followers exiled from Nazi Germany ended up. Nervousness was now a problem of the mind, not the body. Americans took to the idea of ‘therapy’ and ‘therapists’ in a big way and by the 60s and 70s these ideas coincided with so-called ‘new age holistic therapies’ and ‘talking therapies’ that crossed back across the Atlantic into Europe and the UK and which are with us still, many of which have entered mainstream treatment methodologies.

Coca-cola was invented by and American pharmacist in 1886 & marketed as a neurasthenia elixir/brain tonic to relieve exhaustion and calm the nerves. The popular “Neurosine” designed to address neurasthenia, contained cannabis and worked to lessen migraines and agitation as did the “Americanitis Elixir”.


In Germany neurasthenia figured alongside hysteria and trauma into political debates about degeneration. In the early 1900s critics of Germany’s pioneering welfare system alleged that increased nerve-related pension claims proved the working classes were degenerating.

Fritz Lang

The film director Fritz Lang described the Weimar post 1918: ‘a time of deepest despair. Hysteria, cynicism, terrible poverty next to extreme and new wealth – an ‘innere Zerissenheit’ (inner tearing apart).


John Hargraves, the founder of the Kibbo Kift on post-1918 England: ‘Anything would be better than this dead or alive existence. Things just drifting towards economic collapse – and everywhere a feeling of hopelessness & depression.’

Slides 22 to 24: Reinert ‘Nerven’ Film

This wonderful German silent film (available above on YouTube) and other like it were only made possible due to the lifting of censorship mentioned earlier. It clearly defines the Zeitgeist and offers the solution – back to nature to heal the soul. 1919, the year that the film was made saw an explosion in the search for alternative lifestyles and beliefs. About 100 alternative communities were started in the Weimar Republic after World War I.
Others took a more proactive search for alternatives hence the rise of Spiritualism & paganistic beliefs. For example, in 1914 there were 320 Spiritualist societies in Britain but by the 1930s there were 2,000 with quarter of a million members. Writers also explored Eastern philosophies, something with a direct link to 1960s counter-culture and which has survived into the present day.
Herman Hesse’s work ‘The journey to the East’ describes a pilgrimage taken by members of a secret league whose objectives were founded in the quests of 19th century occultism (awakening of kundalini, serpent power of yoga etc.). The writer Gustav Meyrink, based in Munich, in the same area as Nature prophets Diefenbach, Gräser et al, was originally a member of the Munich Theosophist lodge of the Blue Star. Members drank no alcohol, became vegetarian, resigned all worldly pleasures, smoked hashish, did yoga breathing exercises etc. Meyrink translated Rama Prasad’s ‘Nature’s Finer Forces’, a theosophist publication with tantric exercises.

Slide 25: ‘Health’ cartoon

So much for the Angst and Weltschmerz. There was an alternative. Lifestyle reform leagues were springing up all over Europe from the 1880s onwards. They criticised features of industrialisation, materialism and urbanization coupled with a search for the natural state and incorporated the concepts of anti-establishment and socialist ideals, vegetarianism, homeopathy, naturism, utilitarian clothing styles, communal living and ‘sunlight and fresh air’ cures. Their philosophies were hugely influential on the avant-garde writers and artists of the day e.g. The authors Gerhart Hauptmann and Thomas Mann both wrote well-known novels with ‘nature apostles’ in mind.


By the 1890s the many German groups active in the area of nutrition, clothing, housing & healthcare coalesced into a formal network sharing members, objectives and resources. They became known as the ‘The Life Reform’ (Lebensreform) movement. It has been estimated that at its peak in 1913/14, the Life-reform network may have counted as many as four million people in its ranks.


To put a complex subject in a simpler perspective. The initial reforms were a reaction against the physically debilitating effects of urban life yet awareness grew of the spiritual dimension. It’s ironic considering that the theme of this talk concerns ‘counterculture’ that aspects of life reform actually became an almost mainstream part of the German Wilhelmine & Weimar experience – considered neither progressive nor reactionary.

  • Public lectures were held on hygiene and fitness, and in magazines, journals and self-help manuals were read by millions.
  • Activists demanded more green space and healthier housing in petitions and town-hall meetings.
  • Chairs for ‘natural therapies’ were mandated for all German universities in the period 1918 to 1930.
  • Healthy, natural housing was elevated from a municipal concern to a fundamental human right by the Weimar constitution.

However, even at the time, some of the individuals being introduced here were considered at the more extreme end of the life reform spectrum & were imprisoned or sent to mental hospitals. Many of the artists and painters were of course, later deemed ‘entartet’ (degenerate) and banned by the National Socialists.

Slides 26 & 27: The Wandervogel

The German Youth Movement

In the 1890s, 22-year-old philosophy student named Hermann Hoffmann began organizing hikes into the countryside for teenagers in the Berlin suburb of Steglitz. Dressed in bright colours and funny hats, the adolescent boys would tramp through field and meadow, singing songs and camping beneath the stars. Formally established in November of 1901, the Wandervogel-Ausschuß für Schülerfahrten (Wandering-Bird Committee for Schoolboy Excursions—Wandervogel for short) soon attracted thousands of members, with chapters sprouting up all over Germany.

The first major conference of the new German Youth Movement was attended by several thousand young people in 1913. The ‘Meissner Proclamation’ stated that:


Free German Youth, on their own initiative, under their own responsibility, and with deep sincerity, are determined to independently shape their own lives. For the sake of this inner freedom, they will take united action under any and all circumstances.

Wandervogel Emblem
Wandervogel Emblem

Post-WWI Germany saw hundreds of sub-movements covering the ideological spectrum from extreme left to extreme right. The Scouting movement also became an influence. From the Wandervogel came a stronger culture of hiking, adventure, bigger tours to farther places, romanticism and a younger leadership structure. Scouting brought uniforms, flags, more organization, more camps, and a clearer ideology.

Together this led to the emergence of the Bündische Jugend. The Wandervogel, German Scouting and the Bündische Jugend together are referred to as the ‘German Youth Movement’.


Some of the original Wandervogel groups had Jewish members; Jewish youth and adults had their own Wandervogel group called “Blau-Weiss” (“blue-white”), and this eventually became a Zionist youth movement; other Jewish scouting movements such as Hashomer Hatzair were influenced by the Wandervogel. Other groups within the movement were anti-Semitic or close to the Nazi government. Therefore one can later find prominent members subscribing to the Third Reich and other prominent members resisting it.

From 1933 the Nazis outlawed the Wandervogel, German Scouting, the Jungenschaft, and the Bündische Jugend, along with most youth groups independent of the Hitler Youth.

Slide 28 to 31: Gustav Nagel

Several prophets and gurus appeared after the German revolution 1918/19 and around the inflation of 1922/23 propagating for a new healthy and “natural” life and they were collectively given the name the so-called Inflationsheiligen or saints of inflation. We shall look at two of these individuals who shared the desire for change but whose methods were quite different.

Gustav Nagel
Gustav Nagel

Gustav Nagel was born in 1874 and began teaching in 1888 but resigned due to chronic ill health. He then built himself a hole in the ground near the city, and devoted himself, to the teachings of the hydrotherapist & inventor of Naturopathy Sebastian Kneipp. By 1892 he was a vegetarian and began to dress “like Jesus with either in loin cloths or long gowns with bare feet & long hair.

Despite being arrested in 1900 he travelled as an itinerant preacher and visited Jerusalem in 1903. Married 3 times, his children were placed under guardianship. In 1910 he bought ground by the Arendsee Lake, building a wooden hut and creating a garden and lake temple (by 1920) together with treatment rooms which became popular.

Nagel stood in the 1924 Reichstag elections as a representative of the German Christian Folk Party and received 4,322 votes. He stood again in the 1928 election but only received 901 votes. After Hitler came to power in 1933, he preached against the persecution of Jews and in 1943 his libertarian beliefs resulted in his internment at Dachau concentration camp.

In 1944 he was released into the care of Uchtspringe mental hospital and was discharged in 1945. After 5 years living at his Arendsee retreat, Nagel was readmitted to the mental hospital where he died in 1952 of heart failure. He is still remembered in Arendsee where an association was founded in 1996 to preserve his thoughts and poems for posterity.

Slides 32 & 33: Friedrich Muck-Lamberty (the “Messiah of Thüringen”) & the Neue Schar

Lamberty is a very different character to Nadel, another self-made prophet but more radical and mercurial. Born in 1891, he was a teetotaller & vegetarian who believed passionately in health through good nutrition. He opened a ‘Reformhaus’ grocery in Graz (Austria) when he was 18 & at19 he handed the business over to a friend & embarked on a ‘wandering’ lifestyle for the next 2 years. During this he encountered Gusto Gräser, a key character in this story who we will meet in a minute and who had established the famous Monte Verità life reform commune in Ascona.

Muck’s ‘New Mob’ or ‘Flock’ movement started in May 1920 (when he was 29) when 25 young people – dissidents from the Wandervogel movement met in Hartenstein/Erzgebirge and began a joint hiking tour.  They called themselves the new mob and hiked through Franken and Thüringen playing guitars, violins, bugles and waving a blue flag. Mob/flock members wore sandals or walked barefoot, wearing the loose weave clothes of the Wandervogel, which they often made themselves. They hiked from town to town, sleeping in the woods and gathered around the fire, singing songs and also experimented with a form of ”communist” or at least communal alternative lifestyle.


Friedrich Muck-Lamberty

What made them different was that they “occupied” each town by dance. When they entered a town, they would invite the children to dance which then attracted larger and larger numbers of townspeople to their circles of folk dance which then grew to enormous sizes. In Erfurt for example, more than 10,000 inhabitants joined in the dancing. The dance style explicitly contrasted with bourgeois social dance and had elements of “drunkenness” and ecstasy, creating an atmosphere of ecstasy & spiritual revivalism.


In some towns, churches were opened for Muck’s sermons. He expressed a radical cultural critique against the ‘old world’ and some vague ideas about a coming new ‘people’s community’ (Volksgemeinschaft). The young people talked about a spiritual revival of youth, a revolution of the soul, and free love.

Muck believed that mankind had lost the capability of simplicity and natural spontaneity and that this could be regained through dance. We will encounter this belief again when we look at the Ascona commune so Muck can be seen as an early proponent of the idea of physical and spiritual liberation through dance.

His approach however, was immediately met with suspicion. He was accused of being lazy and a communist/Spartacist by the authorities. They regarded him of having messianic tendencies and his advocacy of free love was viewed with horror. He is still a divisive figure but by 1921 the movement broke down after Muck was accused of having sexual relations with three girls of the group at the same time. The disclosure of Muck’s “harem” was destructive to the romantic ideals of his young followers and ended the charismatic leadership of the “Messiah of Thüringen”.

Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach
Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach’s Art

Slides 34 to 44: Karl Diefenbach/also Naturism (42 & 43 = artworks)

Born in 1872, Diefenbach was one of the earlier proponents of life reform. He was a successful painter Diefenbach was unable to conform to the morals & social conventions of his age, reacting against the conservatism of the newly unified German Empire.
It was in the 1880s that Diefenbach’s life took a direction that is now becoming familiar in the German reformers. In 1882 he retreated like Gustav Nadel, to the mountain of Hohenpeißenberg and upon his return lived in the bohemian area of Schwabing in Munich. He formulated a new lifestyle creed including free love, temperance, vegetarianism and the evils of smoking. He grew his hair and adopted dress reform wearing robes, a cloak, sandals and no underwear or hat but went much further, bemoaning the “plague of clothing” which imprisoned bodies yearning for sunlight.

He used his art to parody the clothing of his age, showing apes dressed in typical bourgeois fashions. His most ambitious work, the frieze per aspera ad astra, depicted his children Kurt-Helios, Stella and Lucidus whom he allowed to run naked.


The concept of nudism as beneficial to health began in 1853 with the foundation by Arnold Rikli of a sun-healing institute. In 1904 German Richard Ungewitter wrote a book titled ‘Die Nacktheit’ (nakedness) advocating nudism, abstention from meat, tobacco and alcohol. He had to publish it himself, but it quickly became a bestseller. The vegetarian aspect focused on the purity of the body and soul, with adherence to a regular program of fitness.

By 1905 there were 105 similar ‘baths’ in Germany. The enduring cult of FKK (Freikörperkultur, or “free body culture”) in Germany can be partly attributed to the lifestyle innovations of Diefenbach and his predecessors and as stated, the English Garden area right next to Schwabing in Munich has a naturist area to this day.


In 1885 Diefenbach founded the ‘Humanitas’ workshop for Religion, Art and Science. His ideas included life in harmony with nature and rejection of monogamy, turning away from any religion (although he was a follower of theosophy), and a vegetarian diet. His ideas were received with enthusiasm at first but reservations grew at his autocratic style and he soon alienated both the bohemian arts community of Schwabing who mocked him in their magazines and also the citizens of Munich who lampooned him in the press nicknaming him the ‘turnip-cabbage/Kohlrabi Apostle’.

Diefenbach had numerous run-ins with authority. In 1885 his public preaching was banned by the police. In 1888 he was sentenced to jail for letting his son Lucidus sunbathe nude & in 1889 was charged with neglect of his son Helios.


In 1896, Diefenbach tired of the persecution & mockery in Munich & established a commune called ‘the Himmelfhof’, located in Ober-St.-Veit, Wien in Austria) where he lived with his followers until 1899. His followers included Gusto Gräser and Hugo Höppener who would later leave to form their own movements and who form a direct line in the progression to the countercultural ideas taken to the USA.

Slide 44: Diefenbach’s Kindermusik Frieze

Diefenbach would preach the word of Christ before a giant crucifix, his freestyle spirituality and progressive lifestyle a prophetic forerunner of the 1960s. Himmelhof was one of the models for the reform settlement Monte Verità in Ascona founded by his protégé Gusto Gräser whom we will look at later. It was at the Himmelhof commune that he and his protégé Fidus (arguably the better artist) created his greatest artwork the 58 metre 34 panel frieze called „Per aspera ad astra [‘Kindermusik]“,

Diefenbach saw himself as a benevolent patriarch yet his controlling nature (glimmers of which could also be seen in Muck-Lamberty) has resonances more in the ‘counterculture gone wrong’ that can be seen in 60s cults such as those of Jim Jones, Manson and Rajneesh. Like them he did not deny himself worldly pleasures while urging self-denial on his followers. The Diefenbach colony at Himmelhof was forcibly evicted in 1899.

By the turn of the century he was bankrupt and retired to Capri, a retreat for other life-reformers and lived with a group of female followers until his death in 1913. By this stage he had 2 broken marriages behind him, his children had rejected him and he was ridiculed as a nature apostle.

Johannes Guttzeit
Johannes Guttzeit

Slide 45: Johannes Guttzeit; the Nature Preacher

In the autumn of 1898, the nature preacher Johannes Guttzeit with his group of young followers joined Diefenbach’s Himmelhof community near Vienna. Guttzeit’s group were more pantheistic & semi pagan than Diefenbach i.e. ‘to live like the lilies in the field, etc. and he eventually took over leadership of the commune after disputes over Diefenbach’s autocratic style.

Guttzeit was a Prussian army officer who resigned due to ill health in 1879. Whilst in Italy he learnt the vegetarian lifestyle and in 1882 published a pamphlet that spelt out his ideology: ‘From the Church towards Nature’. In 1884 he founded the ‘Pythagorus group’, later re-named the ‘Brotherhood group’.

He consequently wandered across Italy, eventually settling in Zurich in 1888 as a preacher where the author Gerhard Hauptmann met him and consequently based the main character in his novella ‘The Apostle’ on him. Guttzeit lectured at many vegetarian societies and spas and became known as the ‘German Tolstoy’ who addressed everyone as ‘Brother’ & ‘Sister’. He was against the Establishment in all its forms (army, church, government). Until 1903 he also published a newspaper called ‘The new Human’.

Slides 46 to 47: ‘Fidus’ (Hugo Höppener) the artist

Born in 1868, Höppener was a naturally gifted painter who met Karl Diefenbach whilst studying art in Munich. He became an acolyte of the older man, even serving Diefenbach’s 8 day prison sentence for letting his son sunbathe nude. This earned him the nickname Fidus meaning the ‘faithful’. He absorbed Diefenbach’s vision of an enlightened society turning its back on industry and materialism and re-embracing nature, and transformed it into a religion.

In 1892 he moved to Berlin, setting up an artist commune. His earliest illustrations contained dream-like abstractions and his work frequently appeared in the Jugend magazine.

After the First World War, interest in Fidus’ work as an illustrator declined & in 1932, he joined the Nazi Party, membership of which became increasingly important if one wanted to be employed. He was probably also impressed by the Nazi Party’s environmentalism and romantic portrayals of the German people. His creative trajectory was however, completely alien to Nazi ideology and they took no interest in his work. When Fidus died in 1948, his art had been almost forgotten but was rediscovered in the States in the 1960s & consequently inspired the psychedelic art style of that era.


Slide 48 to 51: Höppener/Fidus paintings

Fidus held Theosophical beliefs and during the 1890s he became very interested in German mythology. Höppener was considered part of the German Secessionist Art Nouveau Movement. His ability to combine elements of mysticism, eroticism, Art Nouveau and Symbolism in a graphic style made him highly popular in his day.

Hagal rune
Hagal rune

Fidus’ work is also characterised by motifs such as naked human figures in natural settings. Several works portray male/female couples embracing, a Yin/Yang striving for the deity. Slide 47 (left) shows a naked youth with arms outstretched to the sun or universe as a young woman sits cross legged in a giant lotus, inspired by Hindu/Buddhist imagery and clasps his legs. Above them is a so-called ‘Hagal rune’ – an ancient Germanic symbol (rune) indicating the cosmos, health, energy & the body. The message is that opposites attract, the relationship of male & female and the transcendental potential of man & woman which was a consistent theme of Fidus’s oeuvre.

In 1934, he designed the ‘Herbst’ (autumn) mural showing a group of naked figures picking fruit from a tree. At the top of the design is what is claimed to be the first ever peace symbol; the one that would later become synonymous with the hippy movement and later anti-nuclear (‘Ban the Bomb’) movements. Gerald Holtom, a British artist has been credited with designing the ‘peace symbol’ in 1958 but this is nearly 25 years after it was used by Fidus who probably used it to represent the Yr. rune, a symbol of the feminine and also of a drawing to an end.

Fidus’s illustrations appeared in numerous magazines, books and other printed material & his most popular work, Lichtgebet “The Prayer to Light/Salute to the Sun [Slide 50] became emblematic of the Life Reform movement.

Slide 52-53: Fidus/Höppener designs for neo-pagan temples

Fidus/Höppener designed several pantheistic temples, with names like “Dragon Temple”, “Beethoven Temple” and “Temple of Still Waters”. Fidus studied art in Munich towards the end of the 19th century, so it is unsurprising that his designs share decorative elements with Art Nouveau (Jugendstil).

Gusto Gräser
Gusto Gräser

Slide 54 to 60: Gusto Gräser (the Nature Apostle)

Gusto Gräser is one of the most important figures in this story as he forms a direct link from Diefenbach to the influential émigrés who took Lebensreform ideas to the States. He was born in 1879 in a German area of what is now Transylvania. He had a promising career as an artist & was acclaimed at the 1896 World Fair in Budapest. Then he burned all his work and dedicated himself to inner explorations and nature studies; poetry and dance. He gave away all his inherited money to live out what nature gave him.
When he was 18 (1897) Gräser joined the ‘Himmelhof’ commune of Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach & later wandered through Europe with his family in a caravan painted with philosophical slogans, spreading his gospel and giving away poems or blades of grass as gifts. Wandervogel magazines featured his poetry & many writers & intellectuals of the time including Hermann Hesse who featured the personality and teachings of Gräser in several of his books & Gerhart Hauptmann who regarded Gräser as the personification of the ‘New Man’ as extolled by Nietzsche and Walt Whitman. Others however mocked him as a ‘holy fool’ due to his eccentric appearance which the writer Johannes Schlaf described in 1909:

The upper body of this form is wrapped in a kind of chiton made of yellowy-brown coarse sacking fabric with the bare, lean, strong arms and slim veiny hands exposed. His legs are clad in tight trousers from the same material and his feet wrapped in sandals fastened up the shins with straps. A meshed wanderer’s sack hangs over his shoulders.


The media mocked him & authorities often banned him from their towns & countries & his pacifism saw him interred in an asylum during WW1. He was equally unpopular when he preached non-violence to the revolutionaries who briefly turned Bavaria into a Communist republic.

In the 1920s, Gräser worked at an anti-war museum in Berlin (which, by a grotesque irony, was later used as a torture chamber by the Nazis). He lived in Munich during WW11 in extreme poverty writing poetry until his death in 1958 & burial in a pauper’s grave.

Thanks to Herman Hesse however, Gräser’s teachings lived on in the 1960s & 70s counter-culture generation for whom Hesse’s writings were required reading. Hesse first encountered Gräser & 3 other long haired men in 1907 near his home in Ascona, Switzerland. He followed them, stayed at the Ascona commune & took a nature cure for his alcoholism. Gräser became his close friend and teacher. Hesse’s report Among the Rocks: Notes of a Nature Man (1908) described how he & Gräser lived the lives of natural men and hermits, sleeping in caves in the Swiss Alps and fasting. The guru-disciple relationship within Hesse’s novel Siddhartha (1922) was a mirror of his own association with Gräser his teacher.

In 1963 Timothy Leary and his colleague German born colleague Dr. Metzner pioneers of LSD use for consciousness expansion, published an article in their quarterly magazine The Psychedelic Review entitled: ‘Hermann Hesse: Poet of the Interior Journey’, acknowledging Hesse’s contribution in defining the mind-set of the Aquarian age.

Slide 61: Gusto Gräser & the founding of Monte Verita/Ascona Commune.

Ascona Commune
Ascona Commune

In 1900, Gräser, his brother Karl, Henri Oedenkoven, Ida und Jenny Hofmann and Lotte Hattemer founded Monte Verità, a reform-community on a mountain above the lakeside town of Ascona in Switzerland. It was a loose collection of anarchists, dancers, artists, wanderers, healers & writers who saluted the sun at dawn naked, refused eggs, milk, meat, salt and alcohol, fasted, attended lectures on Theosophy & lived in simple huts in the forest. It was the first of several utopian colonies on the spot which would have a huge influence on the development of the later countercultural trajectory.

At first it was like an outpost of the artistic neighbourhood of Schwabing in Munich with Schwabing residents including writers Stefan George, Erich Mühsam, Gerhart Hauptmann, Hermann Hesse, Else Lasker-Schüler and artists such as Hans Arp, experimental dancers Mary Wigman, Rudolf von Laban & Isadora Duncan, all spending time there. The so-called ‘myth of Monte Verita ‘grew around the figure of Gräser, with stories, novels and poems being inspired by him and the commune’s life philosophy.


Fidus, whose art we have seen designed a ‘Temple of the Earth’ specifically for Monte Verità which was never built.

Slide 62-66. Monte Verità, Ascona

Monte Verità was run on a co-operative system, aiming to promote the emancipation of women, new ways of cultivating a unity of mind, body and spirit. It has been described as a Christian-communist community. What is exceptional about it is the concentration of key creatives who stayed there sharing their ideas. This ensured that the common ideals could later be disseminated across Europe and later to America.

Monte Verità
Monte Verità

To counter a rather revisionist perspective of Ascona that is portraying it as nest of tree hugging proto-hippies, one resident was Otto Gross, a follower of Sigmund Freud. His views were too radical for Freud and he was rejected from the Vienna circle and travelled to Ascona in 1906 & planned a ‘’school for the liberation of humanity” there. He was an anarchist, believing that the new insights of psychoanalysis should be used to change society.
He was also a champion of women’s rights, free love and believed that marriage was slavery. Otto’s father Hans invented the discipline of criminology and believed that his son had gone insane. In a huge scandal at the time, he had him arrested in Berlin and taken to court in Vienna, claiming that Otto was unfit to be a father. The court case was closely followed by the European media  and artists like Otto’s friend Franz Kafka who, it is rumoured, was inspired to write his novel ‘The Trial’ with Josef K based on Otto.

Over the years the community became a sanatorium frequented by theosophists, reformers, anarchists, communists, social democrats, psycho-analysts, followed by literary personalities, writers, poets, artists and finally emigrants of both world wars. The writer Erich Mühsam called Ascona ‘’the Republic of the Homeless”. D H Lawrence, the Dadaist Hugo Ball, El Lissitzky and many others visited and stayed there.

In 1964, Harvard psychedelic researchers Professors Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner published their landmark book “The Psychedelic Experience” which was quickly labelled the “bible” of the hippie movement. In the introduction they included a tribute to Swiss psychologist Dr. Carl Jung who wrote extensively about universal consciousness & archetypes; significance of dreams & internal perception. Jung, once a resident @ Monte Verita (Ascona) had witnessed first-hand many spiritual purifying rituals involving fasting, diet and excessive hiking, that could sometimes induce a psychedelic-type high.
In 1903, an anarchist newspaper in San Francisco published an article about Ascona, describing the people and their philosophies. This was certainly one of the earliest instances of detailed news of European counter-culture reaching California.

Mary Wigman
Mary Wigman

Slide 67 to 72: Ascona & modern dance

The 1920s brought new forms of Ausdruckstanz (expressionistic dance) which were a bodily equivalent to expressionism in the art of painting and literature & was regarded as a ‘revolution’ in dance. The new style was represented by Isadora Duncan, Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman & developed into what later became known as Modern Dance. The existential trajectory of Muck-Lamberty’s Neue Schar spontaneous folk dancing movement with its consciously radical stance was part of this tendency.

The free dancing was a revolt against classical and romantic ballet and worshipped rage and ecstasy, bare feet, and the idea of dance as a means to assert identify rather than enacting established moves. Gusto Gräser’s ecstatic ‘Expressionist Dance’ was interpreted into a more professional, structured form by Laban who later performed it publically as the ‘German Dance’ or ‘Expression Dance’.

Mary Wigman came to Ascona in 1913, invited by Rudolf Laban and stayed throughout World War 1 She and Laban worked intensely together and out of it she developed her revolutionary dance. In 1918 she left Ascona and changes the world of dance.

German emigres to America

Arnold Ehret
Arnold Ehret

Slide 73. Arnold Ehret

During the first several decades of the 20th century German Life Reform beliefs were introduced to the United States as Germans settled around the country. Many moved to Southern California where they could practice an alternative lifestyle in a warm climate. In turn, young Americans adopted the beliefs and practices of the new immigrants.

Arnold Ehret arrived in Los Angeles in 1914 after running the sanatorium at the Monte Verità commune. He had suffered from many physical ailments which encouraged his early exploration into alternative lifestyles and diet. His ‘professorship’ was actually in art. His book, The Mucusless Diet Healing System (1922) was hugely influential.

He discovered that the human body is an air-gas engine that is powered by oxygen & that a diet of starchless fruits & green-leafy vegetables (mucus-less foods) is the only food fit to be eaten by people. He stated: If your blood is formed from eating the foods I teach [fruits and green-leaf vegetables] … your soul will shout for joy and triumph over all misery of life. For the first time you will feel a vibration of vitality through your body (like a slight electric current) that shakes you delightfully.” His books are still in print and web sites abound extolling his methods.

Slide 74: Max Sikinger

Sikinger was one of the feral, urban street children described earlier on. He was only around 5ft tall which he put down to the deprivation of being an infant during WW1. He lost his mother in a bombing raid & fell in with street children who looked after him. He arrived in the US in 1935 aged 22 and train-hopped to California after exploring natural healing, nutrition and outdoor living in Germany. Sikinger met ‘original hippie’ Boots (né Robert Bootzin) in San Francisco, and became his mentor, passing along a strain of Lebensreform philosophies to a new devotee.

They joined the loose circle of the California Nature Boys in the 1940s, during which time Sikinger published a pamphlet on raw food and meditation that sold thousands of copies.  He was one of the original fitness advocates on Muscle Beach (Santa Monica) and trained contestants for the Mr Universe contests & by the 1970s, one of the first to advocate women working out with weights. Clients included the singer Linda Ronstadt. By the 1960s he was a regular fixture at festivals and concerts and considered a lifestyle guru by many Topanga hippies.

Dr Benedict Lust
Dr Benedict Lust

Slide 75: Dr Benedict Lust

A pioneer of holistic medicine in the USA, Benedict Lust was hugely important in establishing key counter-cultural ideas on health, lifestyle & nutrition in the States. Born in1872 near Baden, Lust first came to America in 1892, became ill with TB, returned to Germany and took a ‘Kneipp water cure’ invented by Father Sebastian Kneipp who believed in cold bathing in temperatures of 5°-to-10°C (preferably in rivers) for health. Lust recovered & returned to America in 1896 as a Kneipp representative. He opened the first health food store in the USA in 1896 called the ‘Kneipp Store’ and brought the ‘water cure’ to America.

Lust was a pioneer in what has come to be called Classical Naturopathy and a facilitator of holistic methods in the United States. He studied osteopathy and various schools of healing that eschewed the use of drugs and surgery. By 1900, Lust was looking toward a new synthesis of nonintrusive healing arts, which he termed naturopathy (a name he actually purchased from a colleague: Dr John Scheel).


Lust founded the American School of Naturopathy in New York City, the first naturopathic medical school in the world. Benedict Lust began the Yungborn Nature Cure in 1896 on 60 acres in the Ramapo Mountains near Butler, New Jersey.

He believed in the so-called ‘Regeneration Cure’, a regimen of living that restored physical strength/energy whilst also achieving a spiritual rejuvenation’ – what we would now call ‘mind, body and spirit’ holistic healing. It involved, sunbathing, hiking naked, a strict vegetarian diet & herbal teas & ‘air cabins’ that maximised the fresh air running through them.

He was busted repeatedly by American authorities and medical associations, for promoting natural methods of healing, massage and nude sun bathing at his Yungborn sanatorium. He was arrested some three dozen times for practicing medicine without a license but all cases were dismissed from the courts.

Lust also introduced Americans to Indian concepts of Ayurveda and Yoga – hugely popular amongst 60s to 70s counter-culturalists and almost mainstream today. He also translated and distributed the German classic health works of Father Kneipp, Louis Kuhne, Adolf Just, Arnold Ehret and August Englehardt. After Ehret’s death he issued further publications under Ehret’s name.

Adolf Just
Adolf Just

Slide 76: Adolf Just

He began an apprenticeship as a bookseller, but fell ill and studied various natural remedies, through which he became a lay practitioner. His 1896 book (also published in the USA in 1903) advocated a natural diet, clean water, fresh air, clay therapy & in 1895 he founded the Naturopathic Institute ‘Jungborn’ whose most prominent patient was the writer Franz Kafka. In 1918 Just founded the Healing Clay Society in Blankenburg (Harz) & started the company, Luvos (clay products) which still exists.
His work attracted interest in India and led to natural medicine hospital, the ‘Nature Cure Clinic & Sanatorium’ being built in Poona (Pune). Mahatma Gandhi read Adolf Just’s book in 1902 & became interested in the subject, becoming a lifelong chairman of the Clinic. He advocated naturopathy & the nature cure movement & helped it to gain momentum in India. Hippies who congregated in Poona in the 60 & 70s in turn took the philosophy back to Europe.

The clinic still exists in Poona and is called ‘the National Institute of Naturopathy (NIN)’ The NIN, at Bapu Bhavan named after Gandhi. In the preface to his 1896 book, Adolf Just states:


“The Simpler Life is the demand of the hour. The confusions of a complex civilization, the disintegration of the old-fashioned home, the distractions of international discord, the perplexity of the individual mind wavering between the evolution of Science and the revolution of Theology – all these disturbing elements have settled moodily into a sense of universal unrest, that pervades the mingled atmosphere of nations – Be at peace with yourself”

Bill Pester
Bill Pester

Slide 77: Bill Pester

There is an interesting link between Bill Pester and Karl Diefenbach. In Diefenbach’s papers there are letters written in May 1897 to Emil Pester, possibly Wilhelm’s (Bill) father in Leipzig-Neustadt. Pester had ordered a book from Diefenbach so was supposedly positive about his ideas. He may have got to know him in 1888 when Diefenbach & Fidus had spent time on a ‘cure’ in Leipzig at the Nature Institution of ‘father of the detox bath’ Louis Kuhne.

Wilhelm/William/Bill Pester, known as the ‘hermit of Palm Springs’ was born 1885 in Saxony and was either the son or close relative of Emil. He left Germany, an adherent of the Lebensreform movement, aged 19 in 1906 to avoid military service. He settled in the mountains near Palm Springs and built himself a palm hut by the stream and palm groves. The land belonged to the Cahuilla Indian tribe who had great admiration for him and who granted him permission to stay there.


He spent his time writing and exploring the canyons, caves & waterfalls, earning a living by making walking sticks from palm blossom stalks, selling postcards with Lebensreform health tips and charging people 10 cents to look through his telescope whilst lecturing on astronomy. He made his own sandals and collected Native American pottery, played slide guitar and lived on raw fruit and vegetables whilst living mostly naked.


Sometime in the 1930s, Pester met eden ahbez in Tahquitz Canyon. Recognizing a kindred spirit, Pester became a mentor to the younger man. Like Pester we have seen how many of the individuals we have looked at such as Nadel, Diefenbach & Gräser lived as hermits in the wilderness for periods of time. This lifestyle was resurrected in the early 1970s when many hippies in California and Hawaii lived in caves & tree houses in southern California in areas such as Deep Creek, Sespe and The Big Sur River which all had young cave dwellers in their canyons.

Slide 78: The Nature Boys & transition to hippies

Californian cafes and health food stores opened by German immigrants influenced by Life Reform ideas played a crucial part in the development of West Coast counterculture in the 1940s transitioning to the ‘official’ beginning of the hippy era in 1964. They were perfect for people to congregate and for radical European ideas to be disseminated.
Two of the first were Sexauer’s Natural Foods in Santa Barbara, owned by German immigrant Hermann Sexauer, and the Eutropheon, a vegetarian raw food cafeteria in Los Angeles was opened by John and Vera Richter in 1917. The Eutropheon café was important in the formation of the Nature Boys and their philosophy as it was here that key members of the Nature Boys actually met.

The café & its branches lasted for over 25 years without any change in ownership, from 1917 through to the 1940s. According to eden ahbez’s future manager, Mr. Jack Patton: ‘the Eutropheon was the torch where they lit their lamp’ and Richter was their inspiration in matters of live-foods, organic farming and natural lifestyle.


Nature Boys
Nature Boys

The communities that formed around these cafes shared dietary habits & an interest in learning about alternative health and lifestyle practices. They shared books on naturopathy and healing by Germans like Arnold Ehret & Louis Kuhne a.k.a. the ‘father of the detox bath’. Such figures promoted ideals that eventually defined a spirit of 1960s counterculture.
The Nature Boys grew their hair and beards, practiced vegetarianism and Eastern mysticism, and spent long periods sleeping outside, roaming nearly naked, and foraging for food. In On the Road Jack Kerouac noted that while passing through Los Angeles in the summer of 1947 he saw ‘an occasional Nature Boy saint in beard and sandals’.
Eventually, a few of these Nature Boys, including the famous Gypsy Boots, made their way to Northern California in 1967, just in time for the Summer of Love in San Francisco.
According to writer Ed Sanders, the term ‘hippie’ was coined after the 1967 ‘Human Be-In’ at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park where ‘Beat’ poets Alan Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure led the crowds in chanting ‘Om’. It is at this time that the transition occurs between the beatniks, inspired by European ideas of Existentialism to wear dark, sombre colours, dark shades and goatees to the more lurid, psychedelic clothing and long hair of the hippies. Beats famously ‘played it cool’ while hippies ‘let it all hang out’ exuberantly.

Slide 79-82: eden ahbez

A key Nature Boy, George McGrew was originally a pianist & dance band leader in Kansas City but after arriving in LA in 1941, he started playing piano @ the Eutropheon café. It was here that McGrew met Gypsy Boots Bootzin & Bill Pester.

Bill Pester mentored McGrew who consequently grew his hair & beard and ate only raw fruits and vegetables. He then adopted the name ‘eden ahbez’ spelling his name with lower-case letters, claiming that only the words God and Infinity were worthy of capitalization. He is also said to have incorporated ‘A’ and ‘Z’ (alpha and omega), the beginning and the end, in his surname.

eden ahbez
eden ahbez

Like many of his German role models (e.g. Gusto Gräser & Muck-Lamberty), ahbez too spent time living in a cave in Tahquitz Canyon near Palm Spring & like them experienced a life changing epiphany . It was at the cave that he composed the six movement suite of which ‘Nature Boy’ was a part. In 1948, the song, performed by Nat King Cole, became a number one nationwide hit for eight weeks. ahbez was interviewed and photographed – robed and sandaled during this period, raising awareness of the alternative lifestyle being practised in Southern California to a national audience.

Nature Boy song became the primary soundtrack for Joseph Losey’s 1948 pacifist film The Boy with Green Hair, Ahbez’s lyrics repeated at the end of Nature Boy: the greatest thing you’ll ever learn / is just to love and be loved in return, pitted love against war in a guileless dichotomy that was to surface again as a creed of the 1960s anti-war movement. Ironically, the film’s pacifist stance was deemed Un-American and Losey was subsequently blacklisted.  Ahbez also sat in on the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” recordings in 1966 (see slide 79).

Slide 83 to 84 : Gypsy Boots

A lifelong friend & mentoree of Maximillian Sikinger, Robert Bootzin has been dubbed the ‘Ur-Hippie’ who effectively created the counterculture ethos that carried into the 1960s for others to emulate. It is the Nature Boys but media-friendly Bootsy in particular who has been credited with forming the crucial link between the German Lebensform and Wandervogel cultures & carrying it through to the 50s, 60s and beyond.

Born in 1914 to a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in San Francisco, his mother led young Robert and his four siblings on nature hikes in the nearby hills. She also taught them Cossack dances, put them on a vegetarian diet, and baked black bread for them to give away to the less fortunate. When Gypsy’s older brother died at 22 of TB, Gypsy dropped out of high school and became obsessed with health and fitness.


He worked odd jobs, slept in Sonoma Valley haystacks, and in the late 1930s, fell in with the Nature Boys, grew his hair & joined them living in the caves and trees of Tahquitz Canyon near Palm Springs, on the beaches of Santa Monica, and the date orchards of Indio.


Gypsy Boots
Gypsy Boots

In 1958, having permanently relocated to Los Angeles, Gypsy and his wife opened their tiki-themed restaurant, the Health Hut. The Health Hut, according to its menu, was meant for: ‘firewalkers, fan dancers, phrenologists, philosophers, soothsayers, saints, space people, phony wrestlers, oppressed quiz show contestants, alchemists, bongo and balalaika virtuosos, Venusians, and utopians.’ His appearances on networked TV’s The Steve Allen Show made Boots into a national star. He would swing onto the stage on a rope, long hair flying, and persuade Allen to help him make organic juices and do exercises with him.
Boots was also a paid performer at several festivals like Monterey and Newport, with acts like: Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, The Who, Ravi Shankar and The Jefferson Airplane. Later he appeared in a bizarre cult movie called “Mondo Hollywood” (1968) with Ram Dass and Frank Zappa, and had roles in other films like Swingin Summer, Confessions of Tom Harris and The Game with Michael Douglas.

He performed fitness demonstrations on television and in movies and was a familiar sight in & around LA in his painted van distributing organic food to his customers – the main objective being to spread his message, which was deadly serious in spite of his constant clowning: Gypsy died in 2004, just short of his 90th birthday.


The surf scene of the late 1950’s in California and Hawaii had its roots in the lifestyles we have looked at & was also a precursor to the counter-culture that began in 1964, including components like long hair, natural foods, trips to Mexico, psychedelic music, living outdoors, unique vocabulary, anti-authoritarian posture and global travel destinations.

A surf band called The Gamblers had a hit song titled Moon Dawg in 1960, and the B-side was the song LSD 25. Dick Dale, the undisputed ‘King of the surf guitar’ had a hit with Let’s Go Trippin in 1961, which was later recorded by the Beach Boys (1964). Noted surf artist Rick Griffin later became a respected hippie artist as well. The Seeds (hit track Working too Hard) were a band whose members were influenced by Bootzin and the Nature Boys creed. They were wearing their hair long way before the Beatles made it more acceptable to do so in the mid-1960s.


POSTCRIPT: ‘Freak Out’ (2014) film

(dir. CarlJavér. Sweden/Germany/Denmark/Norway co-production)

Freak Out

‘Freak Out’ is a 2014 European co-production drama documentary claiming to tell the story of Ascona and the ideals of the people who lived there. The name alone causes the heart to sink. Whilst reserving judgement as have only seen the trailer and read the website notes, it does start to appear as though the creators and certainly the distributors are falling into the classic trap of imposing contemporary outlooks onto events of a century ago.

It is Important to step back from events and think of the whirlwind of conflict and political, social & psychological change of the time and how that would have impacted individuals’ wellbeing. If you want to understand the past (‘another country’ after all), you have to immerse yourself in the time as a whole and not just cherry pick one aspect of it.


The trailer refers to ‘middle class kids’ when many were in their 30s-40s & beyond. Treating Ascona as the equivalent of a hedonistic free festival & ignoring the single-mindedness, intensity & political aspects of it i.e. to change society. These were people who had lived through the chaos of Weimer and later WW1 and who were soon to experience the horrors of Nazism and occupied Europe.

It is in the America of the late1940s and early 1960s (post war years of peace in the most affluent country in the world with the benign climate of southern California!) that the most idealistic manifestation of the back to nature lifestyle ideals can be seen. It is this credo that was carried through into the earliest manifestations of utopian hippy in the mid to late 1960s. Those old enough to remember will know that by the late 60s, early to mid-70s the political edge had reasserted itself into a more hard-edged approach with the radical lifestyle and identity politics of the time.

Where we are today is that many aspects of the lifestyle & identity politics are now virtually mainstream whilst the hedonistic side has been appropriated into 2-4 day festivals where the clothes can be bought at Top Shop, the tents are dumped after the event and the hippy lifestyle can be played at for a while before returning to the ‘real world’.



So, to conclude: Steve Sailor noted that when walking with his father in the Hollywood Hills above Laurel Canyon in the mid 60s-80s that about one in four people they passed on the trails would reply to ‘Good Day’ with ‘Guten Tag’ or a Nordic equivalent.
Apparently hiking then became fashionable in LA during the 1990s and this Germanic feel disappeared. Gordon Kennedy who wrote a book on the origins of hippies in Germany concludes that the actual anomaly was not the German element but that of mid 20th century mass culture:

Hippiedom is really just a perennial sub-culture…as old as the first humans that ever walked upright…that’s why hippies will never go away…because they’ve always been here anyway.

Hope this talk has at least given you a taste of that world.