The spirituality of the Schwaben is personified in Hermann Hesse, known to many Americans for his rejection of organized religion in favor of a mystical union with God. He appears in the middle of an iconic Ann Arbor mural on Liberty Street.
Survey research in modern Germany shows that Swabians are more spiritual than other Germans. They are more likely to belong to a church, to affirm that life has meaning because there is a God and that there is a higher reality beyond everyday life. More of them have been in contact with the dead, and believe in heaven, hell, a devil, and miracles. Some 54 percent of Swabians greet each other with Grüss Gott, God be with you, compared to only 21 percent of all Germans.
Young Hermann Hesse, before his Nobel prize and fame among American hippies. He exemplified Swabian trait of spirituality.
The spirituality of the Swabians became most visible in the Ann Arbor area in terms of organized religion, and the early founding of Bethlehem and other churches, many of which are today members of various Lutheran synods as well as the United Church of Christ (formerly the the Evangelical and Reformed Synod). The latter churches may still have German inscriptions part of their stained glass windows.
Bethlehem Church in Ann Arbor has maintained German spiritual traditions. The inscription reads: "In the world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have conquered the world." John 16:33
Bethel Church (Freedom Township) has also maintained German traditions. The window is inscribed in German with "Not My will, but Yours be done." Luke 22:42.
The Swabians often revolted against authority, just as the Celts had against their Roman rulers. In 1524-1525, Swabian peasants rose up against landlords, nobles, and the rich monasteries and churches. The peasants claimed they didn't need priests, they could speak to God directly. They rallied under a flag of a peasant's leather shoe. The uprising, a combination of individualism and spirituality, was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation.
The Swabian peasant revolt against authority. With their shoe flag they surround a knight. A woodblock print from 1539.
A renowned event during the German Peasant War was commemorated in a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The renegade knight, Götz von Berlichingen, was besieged in his castle by an army of Swabian nobles. Asked to surrender, Götz supposedly answered with the immortal words, "Kiss my Ass." This response is known throughout Germany, for when a request is stubbornly refused, it is euphenistically said to be a "Swabian Greeting."
The Swabian culture of individualism was maintained by an inheritance practice unique in Germany, each son receiving a portion of the farm. In 1860, over 90 percent of the people in Württemberg were independent landowners. Like American farmers, they cherished the freedom to make their own individual decisions. Modern surveys in Germany show that Swabians are much more independent and freedom-loving than other Germans.
There were still some traditional small, independent farms in Swabia in 1960. That's me feeding the oxen.
Surveys show that Swabians are distinctive in Germany for their special love of music. Perhaps this came from the Celts. Swabian children are more likely to learn a musical instrument than other Germans, and Swabian celebrations almost always involve music (often accompanied with beer).
My cousin, Andrea, is ready to play in her band at a Fasnacht celebration in Swabia. These festivals take place in the four weeks leading up to Lent. It is said that Fasnacht is the fifth season in Swabia.
Swabians are known for being persistent (or stubborn), careful, fussy, tidy, hardworking, punctual, scrupulous, thrifty, perfectionistic, prudent, and well organized. Earlier, they were less conscientious according to Caesar, as well as to other observers during the Middle Ages. That started to change when Württemberg became Lutheran after 1534. Relgious courts were established even in the smallest villages in order to replace the "barbarian" traditional customs. The riotous pagan pre-Lenten (Fasnacht) parades were outlawed, as were card playing, swearing, child neglect, wastefulness, uncleanliness, even failing to keep up one's property.
A typical modern (Fasnacht) mask. The noisy and fearsome masked paraders were apparently meant to scare off the evil spirits at the passing of winter into spring. This is also part of Swabian spirituality, the belief in the existence of pagan spirits.
Another pagan Fasnacht parade in Swabia. Elsewhere in Germany the parades before Lent lack the gruesome elements found in Swabia. For other Germans, the celebration is fun and riotously hilarious.
The Swabian Catholic areas outside of Württemberg were able to keep their pre-Lenten festivals and other similar pagan customs, but not the Protestants.
A popular nineteenth-century religious poster in the homes of many Swabian Protestants, contrasting a life of amusements on the left, leading to Hell, and spiritual devotion on the right, leading to Heaven.
Conscientiousness continues to be an important part of the character of the people in Swabia, more so than in the rest of Germany, according to surveys. Because of this excessive conscientiousness, some term the Swabians "Super Germans." This characterizes many of Ann Arbor's Germans, too.
RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE