Loyal to Tradition: East German Families on the Move and the Preservation of the Jugendweihe Rite of Passage

Friday, January 4, 2019: 9:30 AM
Price Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Catherine Plum, Western New England University
The Jugendweihe coming-of-age ritual for young teens is alive and well in eastern Germany and is gradually spreading to more communities in western Germany. This paper discusses specific institutional ties, sister-organizations and exchanges between East and West which have supported the establishment and success of new branch organizations. In a climate in which cultural differences still persist, many families that have migrated westward hope to preserve Eastern cultural identity and family heritage. I argue that the Jugendweihe ritual supports East/West cultural awareness and integration in families and communities, including families of mixed origins.

Free-religious communities first established Jugendweihe as a tradition in the mid-to-late nineteenth century as an alternative to Christian confirmation. A mass, state-sponsored ritual in the GDR, the Jugendweihe rite survived the fall of communism based on its positive standing as a family tradition and coming-of-age ritual that has adapted with changing times. Families support the rite as a transition into young adulthood and in many cases as an opportunity for young people to investigate adult themes such as historical traditions, immigration, religious tolerance and climate change through Jugendweihe programs.

Prior to the AHA conference and with IRB permission, I will interview Jugendweihe director Fred Seidel in Bonn in early June. I also plan to survey some of the families that have recently been involved in Jugendweihe programs. Additionally, the paper will utilize generational analysis and data gleaned from past interviews, program materials, newspaper articles, and a limited number of secondary sources on this topic. Researchers have not yet studied the Western migration, and instead, focus primarily on the GDR church-state struggle. To date, only brief scholarly comparisons exist discussing the nature of the ritual before and after 1990 (Ute Mohrmann, Anna Saunders, Susann Illing and Barbara Wolbert).

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