The Wandervogel—"birds of passage"—were young German men before the first World War who were filled with indescribable passion for a kind of 19th century supernatural ecstasy and Wagnerian enchantment which is difficult to correlate in contemporary terms.

They fancied outrageous costumes, lived off the land in tents and lean-tos, and generally protested against all things conventional, failing however to propose any sort of "civilized" structure for those whose lifestyle might tend towards the less rigorous.

The Wandervogel spent most of their time singing around the campfire and communing with the "spirits" of the forest, who often it appears brought them important messages. Nietzsche, Stefan George, and Rilke were their avatars, and the creation and nurturing of the Alpha Male was their essential quest.

When World War I came, the Wandervogel flocked behind their annointed captains to the Western Front like seagulls to a garbage barge. At least ten thousand died there, in their "monastery with walls of flame," and the remaining five thousand birds of passage were so embittered by the Treaty of Versailles that they formed the core of the radical Right after the Armistice, and of course we all know what happened then.

The emergence of an Adolf Hitler had been foretold in Wandervogel sessions round the campfire: "perhaps someone who has sat for years among your murderers and slept in your prisons will stand up and do the deed." Thus Hitler's screed, Mein Kampf, teems with similar prophecies, and the Hitler Youth would seem to be a subsequent incarnation.

The basic idea of a societal force emerging unchecked from a poetical construct is central to the conflict within the structure of Thomas Pynchon's epic World War II novel, Gravity's Rainbow.

reference A Reader's Guide to Gravity's Rainbow by Douglas Fowler, Ardis, 1980

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