Der Andere Rudolf Steiner: Augenzeugenberichte, Inteviews, Karikaturen.
[The Other Rudolf Steiner: Eyewitness Reports, Interviews, Caricatures]
By Various Authors, Edited by Wolfgang G. Vögele
Reviewed by Daniel Hindes
Published April, 2005, and available in German only.
Wolfgang G. Vögele of the Rudolf Steiner Archives in Dornach has assembled a book of 67 eyewitness accounts, 8 interviews and 12 other contemporary references to Rudolf Steiner. They have been edited and arranged in approximate chronological order. The longest is 8 pages, the average about 3. Together they create a mosaic impression, vivid and rather incomplete. Vögele has added an introduction and a brief historical background to each selection. Some of the authors are famous (Hermann Hesse, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, and Franz Kafka). Others have been forgotten by history.
The collection is divided into three major sections, and thematically falls into three time periods. First are the recollections and references to the young Rudolf Steiner before he became active in Theosophy. A portrait of a serious and intense young man emerges. His schoolmate recalls how, as a seventh grader, Rudolf Steiner was warned by a teacher about using so much philosophical vocabulary, as it was ruining his writing. He was already studying Kant. Neighbors recall a friendly young man who enjoyed talking with anyone. Friends describe hours of marvelous conversation.
The second section deals with those who met Rudolf Steiner as the public initiate and lecturer on Theosophy, and their reactions. The descriptions often tell us more about the author than the subject. Certain themes reoccur frequently. Steiner’s “jet black” hair is mentioned by dozens of people. His amazing capacity to listen completely to anther person during conversations was repeated in various anecdotes by all who claim to have had a private conversation with him. His enormous lecturing voice is also frequently mentioned. That he was able to fill even large halls with sound impressed many, even when they were not so taken with what he had to say. Some even called it hypnotic. Reactions to his public lectures ranged from “holy man” to “charlatan”, and more than one person commented negatively on the large number of women in the audience.
The third section covers the period from the end of the First World War to Steiner’s death in 1925. Here Steiner was a very public figure due to his efforts on behalf of the Threefold Social Organism. With a best-selling book and a sold-out public lecture tour, his name was in the papers frequently. Caricatures appeared in large-circulation magazines. Steiner apparently had a carefully cultivated look, always dressing in black, with black hair and deep-set eyes – an easy subject for a cartoonist. The book reprints one really funny cartoon that shows two large statues on pedestals, one labeled Buddha and the other Confucius. In between a small Steiner bows and says, “Pardon me, gentlemen, may I take a place between you?”
Certain things seem to have bothered contemporary non-anthroposophists, and were mentioned by several people. A “certain type” of “impressionable” woman constituted, by some accounts, a majority of his followers (though this is probably a reflection of contemporary sexism rather than actual audience composition). You can also see what difficulty Rudolf Steiner had with his followers, whose actions, though well-intentioned, could cast a negative light on the entire movement. Eurythmists in flowing gowns floating around the Dornach hill were the source of one satirical piece.
Despite publicity for the book promising shocking new insights, there is really nothing to force a radical reevaluation of Steiner’s personality. The various not nice things said about Steiner are more a reflection on the writer than on Steiner. Some are rumor, and most are the honest reactions of people allergic to a spiritual conception of the world.