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Physical Activity In The Weimar Republic

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The Weimar Republic was a government in Germany between 1919 and 1933. During the Weimar Republic period, it shows the aftermath of political failure but also cultural growth that remains present to this day. Germany experienced difficulties after World War I where families suffered high mortality rates, a period of food shortages and harsh working conditions. The war resulted in strikes in order to improve work environments but then later turned into a political strike to make efforts to stop the war. Other than politics, the culture began to create light from the effects of the war where topics such as sex and sexuality became subjects that were heavily focused on and physical activity also became a topic that attracted public interest. During this era Berlin had a growing fitness community that was dedicated although Germany has focused on fitness in the Weimar Period, it has also been an interest to society in the modern day. Fitness is a lifestyle that is still growing and Berlin faced many key concepts that are significant in the influence of what fitness is today. Women in the Weimar Republic gained recognition in the fitness world since fitness was primarily made up of men. Women had the opportunity to bring attention to equality in physical activity for men and women. During the Weimar Republic era the access to physical activity was limited but it was also enough for individuals to find a hobby that they liked. Due to the focus on physical activity in Berlin, it allowed Germany to evolve by defining the importance of women creating a presence in the fitness community, sports during the Weimar Republic era and how physical activity impacted society. Without the concept of physical activity, it would have caused a gap in culture during this time period because of the obstacles that the war caused as well as the Weimar Republic government serving the people of Germany. The topic of physical activity has impacted the people of Germany positively and allowed individuals to explore and expand this growing lifestyle. During the Weimar Republic era women began to gain their own independence. Women were beginning to branch out and have the ability to live their lives without the title of a house wife. The struggle that women faced in order to prove themselves to society resulted in women going through masculinization in order to fulfill career duties and at home duties. The masculinization of women also gained a name as the “New Woman” who showed the change in style in clothing and hairstyles while performing both masculine and feminine roles in order to reinvent themselves. As stated by Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, “But the trend went even further; women no longer wanted to appear asexual; rather fashion was increasingly calculated to make women’s outward appearance more masculine… And we observe more often now that the bobbed haircut with its curls is disappearing, to be replaced by the modern, masculine hairstyle: sleek and brushed straight back.” Although the description is given on how women began changing their styles, the article went against the ideas of women going through this change and the “New Woman” was seen as a threat because of women expressing themselves in a sense that made women appear less feminine. The criticism did not allow women to stop chasing a change but it did create the motivation to prove the idea of equality towards men even in physical activity.

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Women began participating in sports such as gymnastics, cycling, tennis, boxing and soccer during the Weimar period which drew sport commentators to speak on many subjects on women in sports. Commentators often compared male and female athletes and the masculinization of woman being the root to the growing numbers of women playing sports. Commentators also raised questions about women playing sports and how their bodies could potentially alter because of physical activity and how this could also affect the reproductive system of women if pregnancy were to happen but these assumptions were found untrue and women had the ability to perform in any physical activity without consequences. Sports during the Weimar Republic era gave woman a chance to participate in the activities that initially focused on men. In 1928, Paula Von Reznicek published a book called Auferstehung der Dame or translated as Resurrection of the Lady. Paula held a background as a woman who excelled in sports at an international level as well as pursuing a career in journalism and writing. In Resurrection of the Lady Paula gave a new perspective to readers on women and stereotypes towards the character of women and encouraged women to participate in sports while engaging in social activities and living a normal everyday life. This image came from Resurrection of the Lady and it shows how women can effortlessly live a life that involves sports while still maintaining their character to engage in social activities. Women in the Weimar Republic showed constant efforts in bringing awareness towards equality in various ways especially in sports. Despite gender differences women also gained respect and proved that they are capable of performing physical activities which sparked as a popular subject among sports and the equality of women. Women were able to impact society in the Weimar Republic because of their motivation to seek equality and respect to grow out of the labels women once had. In comparison to women in sports, men did not have to face the challenges that women faced culturally due to their identity. Men during the Weimar Republic era participated in sports and other forms of physical activity and men were actively involved. Young men typically engaged in competitive sports and competitions while older men performed in regular methods of physical activity. During the Weimar period boxing became a popular sport amongst men. Male boxers in Germany dominated the boxing world and it usually attracted men based on the idea of male boxers becoming a known icon and it fit the standard that men wanted to achieve which was regaining their masculinity instead of being labeled as “soft”. Boxing matches were watched in many places and people in the audience engaged well with the sport and often times were seen cheering on boxers and even taking part in sports betting. As men continued into the boxing sport it brought attention to society while people glorified boxing and labeled it as a “pure man’s sport”. Boxing also received recognition in literature and writers often used boxing related terms in many poems to promote the idea of masculinity and the desire to win in anything at life even if it comes with aggressive force. Boxers were seen as those who weren’t afraid to show their injuries to prove their strength, it has been said that “Boxers took noticeable pride in the bruises that they had received in their fight, visible proof of their capacity to take it…A veteran’s injuries only underscored his impotence in the face of mechanized combat. A prizefighter’s bruises, on the other hand, symbolized a dogged resilience in hand-to-hand engagement.” In order to prove their status, boxers were not afraid to cover up any scars, bruising or injuries since it shows the injuries they can handle during matches while veterans often times don’t show their injuries because it will be seen as a loss. Germany also loved the idea of boxing since it was seen as a form of physical activity and entertainment and this caused Germans to eventually like the way Americans boxed which focused on the “knock-out”.

While women underwent their transformation in sports, so did the Weimar Germany boxers in order to experience a cultural change. Sociologists would compare the boxing ring as a stage where the boxers presented their bravery and dominance that covered up their working class background they once may have had. The younger men that were working class in Weimar Germany looked up to the stories of successful boxers that expressed the difficulties during their road to success that lead to status and wealth. It was difficult to make a successful living from boxing since there were tight selections made and only qualified boxers had the change of earning the fame and fortune that was constantly advertised in the newspapers. Boxing was seen as the exit to the working class life and because of the success stories of German boxers, boxing was seen as the sport that could take boxers and their families from struggle to success which attracted more men to the sport even if they belonged to another sport. Ludwig Haymann is an example of boxing attracting individuals from other sports, Ludwig stepped away from the shot put sport as an eligible athlete in the Olympics in order to experience the financial success in a boxing career. In Weimar Germany, people saw the earnings that boxers made and it reflected the wealth they wanted to experience but it also showed the rise in financial expectations were for the success of professional boxers. In men’s sports during the Weimar Republic it influenced participation in sports, especially boxing but it has also caused a cultural impact that is still popular in Germany. In Weimar Germany, sports were considered as an important subject that steadily increased in popularity. Changes in physical activity requirements impacted schools, clubs and armed forces. For students, a bill was passed that made it mandatory for boys to participate in sports while in universities, sports were offered and athletes were able to participate in games and practices. During the war, military officials also noticed the advantages of sports due to the importance of physical activity so physical sport requirements were set in order to benefit the German military. High schools did not offer sports at the time but recreational clubs allowed both boys and girls to participate in sports if they were not at the university level, the growth of athletic culture was described as, “Before the war there were 400,000 enrolled members of German sport clubs. Today the corresponding figure is 2,500,000 to which must be added over a million Turners, so that over 3,500,000 young Germans are now registered as actively engaged in some form of athletics. The number is constantly increasing.” Which showed that the demand for sports in Weimar Germany constantly increasing and it made it easy for organizations to offer sports to fulfill athletic needs to society. Sports also impacted society in Weimar Germany by creating a better life spiritually. During the Weimar Republic era, topics such as fitness and sexuality became popular subject that society heavily engaged in by the public. During the 1920s, a writer and military officer Hans Surén became one of the voices to address topics such as fitness and sexuality. Hans looked at the benefits of physical activity and its purest form when performed in the direct sunlight fully nude as the base in order to build up a healthy and happy life. Although the focus is on physical activity being done clothed during the Weimar Republic, an excerpt found in his book Man and Sunlight shows how Hans Surén discussed physical activity and how it should be viewed, “The future of a people depends on its physical and moral enlightenment; compared to these, its equipment in arms is but a fragment…Work and exercise in constant alternation will restore health and strength to the race.” Hans goes on to say that people will rely on their physical well-being and values given the proper foundation but along with the balance between exercise and work will benefit in growth towards the individual and society. Weimar Germany valued sports and the benefits that physical activity brings while also viewing sports as a way to engage in an activity that brings people together. Sports and physical activity impacted the Weimar Republic because of its diversity to sports and its growth in society through its culture and involvement.

The Weimar Republic experienced a lot of growth especially along the topics of physical activity. The 1920s allowed for women to not only prove themselves to be equal to all in sports, but it also built society to understand the differences of all athletes and individuals that may face similar obstacles. German men also made a popular name for sports such as boxing and provided the foundation for growth and involvement in men’s sports. Men also inspired others to push for their athletic dreams to create a better life for those around them. The effect of physical activity in the 1920s also brought people together through sports or athletic clubs and allowed Weimar Germany to grow physically which also helped their society grow intellectually. Weimar Germany dealt with the struggles post war but it also allowed Germany to evolve their culture and society. Germany still takes pride in their physical achievements from equality, athletic milestones and its view of sports from society that has not only impacted the Weimar Republic but the future of Germany.

01 February 2021

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