—"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
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.
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
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
prophecies, and the Hitler Youth would seem to be a subsequent
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