Young Germany Movement Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Poet Heinrich Heine, novelist Karl Gutzkow, and dramatist Georg Büchner were the central figures of Young Germany, a movement that influenced German literature, philosophy, popular culture, and sociopolitical theory in the 1830’s and helped sow the seeds for the radical politics of the 1840’s that led to the revolutions of 1848.

Summary of Event

After the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) established a new European conservative order designed mostly by Metternich, monarchs throughout Europe vigorously persecuted the revolutionary ideals that had found expression under Napoleon I. Nationalism increased dramatically in reaction to Napoleon’s unsuccessful attempt to create a pan-European empire. In Germany, Germany;nationalism in student fraternities called Burschenschaften promoted militarism and an extreme, almost fanatic, nationalism. Similarly, outside the schools and universities, the athletic clubs (Turnvereine) were thinly disguised nests of political dissatisfaction and their members (Turner) were often nationalistic politically but liberal socially. Young Germany movement Germany;Young Germany movement Literature;German Philosophy;German Revolutions of 1848;and literature[Literature] Gutzkow, Karl Heine, Heinrich Büchner, Georg Germany;literature [kw]Young Germany Movement (1826-1842) [kw]Germany Movement, Young (1826-1842) [kw]Movement, Young Germany (1826-1842) Young Germany movement Germany;Young Germany movement Literature;German Philosophy;German Revolutions of 1848;and literature[Literature] Gutzkow, Karl Heine, Heinrich Büchner, Georg Germany;literature [g]Germany;1826-1842: Young Germany Movement[1370] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;1826-1842: Young Germany Movement[1370] [c]Literature;1826-1842: Young Germany Movement[1370] [c]Philosophy;1826-1842: Young Germany Movement[1370] Wienbarg, Ludolf Freiligrath, Ferdinand Börne, Ludwig Grabbe, Christian Dietrich Saint-Simon, Henri de

In 1819, Karl Ludwig Sand, a member of the Burschenschaft at the University of Erlangen, assassinated August von Kotzebue Kotzebue, August von , a prominent German author and diplomat, whom Sand believed was a spy for Russia and therefore a traitor to Germany. Directly as the result of this murder, the Prussian monarchy imposed the Carlsbad Decrees, which suppressed the Burschenschaften and the Turnvereine and marked the beginning of harsh and intimidating censorship Germany;censorship in Censorship;German in Germany. These laws remained in effect from 1819 until the people forced their repeal in 1848.

It was during that time of political repression and censorship that the movement that would come to be known as Young Germany (junges Deutschland) arose. Young Germany developed out of German Romanticism but rejected most Romantic premises. It could be regarded as an uneasy synthesis of Romanticism and nationalism. Romanticism is often interpreted as an apolitical movement, yet its aim of liberating the human spirit from the conventions of society, the tyranny of government, and the pressures of religion was taken over and given a political slant by Young Germany. Like Romanticism, Young Germany emphasized freedom, but while some Romantic writers took freedom to be essentially a state of mind, for Young Germany the concept of freedom was entirely political. Ferdinand Freiligrath Freiligrath, Ferdinand began his poetic career by imitating the Romantic style of Victor Hugo but soon moved toward producing overtly political poetry and gained a reputation as an agitator.

Heinrich Heine was Germany’s first political poet and the founder of the Young Germany movement in literature. In 1826, he began to shift his formerly Romantic inclinations toward a more political emphasis with the first volume of Reisebilder (1826-1831, 4 volumes; Pictures of Travel, 1855), a collection of poems about the political and social alienation of a restless spirit. The movement was only loosely aligned, however, and it was unnamed until 1834, when Ludolf Wienbarg Wienbarg, Ludolf coined the term “Young Germany” in Aesthetische Feldzüge: Dem jungen Deutschland gewidmet (aesthetic campaigns: dedicated to young Germany).

Heinrich Heine.

(Library of Congress)

Henri de Saint-Simon Saint-Simon, Henri de advocated a type of socialism based on nondogmatic Christianity and the hard facts of natural science. His thought closely resembled the later philosophy of secular humanism Philosophy;secular humanism and lent great energy to the Young Germany movement, which, although clearly nationalistic, was also liberal, egalitarian, socialist, democratic, and even proto-feminist. Heine and most subsequent Young Germans were also influenced by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich [p]Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich;and Young Germany movement[Young Germany movement] Philosophy;Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel[Hegel] ’s philosophy of history, but Hegel cannot be considered the intellectual godfather of the movement that Saint-Simon was. Hegel was one of the first Romantic philosophers to insist that abstract knowledge was inseparable from politics—for him, understanding the world accurately and forming the perfect society are synonymous projects—but from his earliest interpreters onward he has often been misconstrued as an individualist. Under this interpretation, he was too individualistic for Young Germany. Some Young Germans, like Karl Gutzkow, had studied under Hegel at the University of Berlin, and all of them knew Hegel’s philosophy well enough.

The Young Germans advocated the emancipation of the Jews, Jews;in Germany[Germany] who could not then hold office or be admitted to most professions in Germany unless they allowed themselves to be baptized. Ludwig Börne Börne, Ludwig changed his name from Lob Baruch when he converted to Lutheranism in 1818, and Heine insincerely went through the motions of baptism in 1825 so that he could practice law. Christian Dietrich Grabbe, Grabbe, Christian Dietrich one of the few anti-Semites Germany;anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism] Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];in Germany[Germany] among the Young Germans, wrote such fine historical dramas and tragedies in verse that even Heine admired him.

In 1834, Georg Büchner, a graduate student in medicine and zoology at the University of Giessen who was involved in underground revolutionary activities, narrowly avoided arrest for writing an anonymous subversive pamphlet, Der Hessische Landbote (1834; with Friedrich Ludwig Weidig; The Hessian Courier, 1963). The next year, he wrote an inflammatory play about the squelched ideals of the French Revolution French Revolution (1789);in literature[Literature] (1789), Dantons Tod (pb. 1835, pr. 1902; Danton’s Death, 1927), which Gutzkow helped him to publish in a censored Censorship;German version. He fled in March, 1835, to Strasbourg, France, where he wrote a novel, Lenz (1839; English translation, 1963), a light comedy, Leonce und Lena (wr. 1836, pb. 1850, pr. 1895; Leonce and Lena, 1927), and his doctoral dissertation on the skull nerves of fish. He settled in Zürich, Switzerland, where he died of typhus at twenty-four. Büchner’s unfinished masterpiece, the poignant, socially conscious Theater;German drama Woyzeck (wr. 1836, pb. 1879, pr. 1913; English translation, 1927), appeared posthumously and eventually became a celebrated opera Opera;Wozzeck by Alban Berg, Wozzeck (pr. 1925).

The court in Mannheim jailed Gutzkow for ten weeks in 1835 to punish him for his eloquent attack on traditional religion and marriage in Wally: Die Zweiflerin (1835; Wally the Skeptic, 1974). Authorities used Gutzkow’s case as an excuse to crack down on a broader category of literary works that might threaten the political order. On December 10, 1835, the Frankfurt Bundestag banned all writings by the members of Young Germany. Most of the authors attached to the movement experienced time either in prison or in exile. Other major Young German works include Heine’s Buch der Lieder (1827; Book of Songs, 1856), Grabbe’s Grabbe, Christian Dietrich Don Juan und Faustus (pr., pb. 1829; Don Juan and Faust), Grabbe’s Napoleon: Oder, Die hundert Tage (pb. 1831, pr. 1869; Napoleon: Or, the hundred days), Börne’s Börne, Ludwig Briefe aus Paris (1832-1834, 6 vols.; letters from Paris), Heine’s Die romantische Schule (1836; The Romantic School, 1876)—itself an expansion of his Zur Geschichte der neueren schönen Literatur in Deutschland (1833; Letters Auxiliary to the History of Modern Polite Literature in Germany, 1836)—Freiligrath’s Freiligrath, Ferdinand Gedichte (1838; Poems, 1949), as well as Gedichte eines Lebendigen (1841, 1843, 2 vols.; poems of a living man) by Georg Herwegh Herwegh, Georg (1817-1875), Madonna (1835) by novelist and critic Theodor Mundt Mundt, Theodor (1808-1861), and Das junge Europa (1833-1837, 5 vols.; young Europe) by the German writer and dramatist Heinrich Laube Laube, Heinrich (1806-1884).


The period in Germany between the fall of Napoleon (1815) and the revolutions that began in March, 1848, is called the Vormärz (“Before March”). More specific, the label refers to the intense prerevolutionary spirit that appeared after the ascension in 1840 of Prussian king Frederick William IV Frederick William IV and his reactionary minister of education, Johann Albrecht Friedrich Eichhorn Eichhorn, Johann Albrecht Friedrich , replacing the more enlightened King Frederick William III and his relatively liberal minister of education, Baron Karl vom Stein zum Altenstein Stein zum Altenstein, Baron Karl vom . The Ministry of Education held tremendous power in Prussia, determining university appointments, enforcing the Carlsbad Decrees, setting the cultural agenda, protecting Christian orthodoxy, and sending out networks of spies among the intelligentsia. Literate Germans tolerated Altenstein but detested Eichhorn.

The Young Germans are to be distinguished from the Young Hegelians Young Hegelians , who used Hegel’s dialectical logic Logic;dialectical and philosophy of history as the basis of their social philosophy and political theory. Young Hegelianism began in 1835 with David Friedrich Strauss Strauss, David Friedrich and ended in 1846 with Karl Schmidt Schmidt, Karl ; it included Bruno Bauer, Edgar Bauer, Max Stirner, Moses Hess, Ludwig Feuerbach, Arnold Ruge, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Marx and formulated many of the philosophical ideas that emerged in the 1848 revolutions and beyond. Both Young Germany and Young Hegelianism were leftist political movements, but the former was literary and nationalistic, while the latter was philosophical and internationalistic.

Both the Young Germans and the Young Hegelians came under Eichhorn’s particular scrutiny. Their demise was due as much to his persecution of them as to naturally disintegrative factors within each movement. While Young Germany faded away after about 1842 and Young Hegelianism disappeared abruptly in 1846, they each contributed much to the ferment that erupted in 1848. Young Germany also laid the groundwork for psychological realism and social commentary in the literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Butler, Eliza Marian. Saint-Simonian Religion in Germany: A Study of the Young German Movement. New York: H. Fertig, 1968. Gives an account of Saint-Simon’s theory and shows how it influenced Heine, Laube, Gutzkow, Mundt, and Wienbarg.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clason, Christopher R. “Young Germany.” In A Concise History of German Literature to 1900, edited by Kim Vivian. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1992. A clear and concise treatment by the chair of the Department of Modern Languages at Oakland University.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hohendahl, Peter Uwe. Building a National Literature: The Case of Germany, 1830-1870. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. A standard and frequently cited work by a leading scholar in the field.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sagarra, Eda. Tradition and Revolution: German Literature and Society, 1830-1890. New York: Basic Books, 1971. Includes a detailed evaluation of Young Germany in the context of the sociopolitical and literary culture of this sixty-year period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sammons, Jeffrey L. Six Essays on the Young German Novel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975. Includes a noteworthy interpretation of Wally the Skeptic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stern, Joseph Peter. Idylls and Realities: Studies in Nineteenth-Century German Literature. New York: Ungar, 1971. A selective overview of the era, discussing only Büchner and Heine among the Young Germans.

Hegel Publishes The Phenomenology of Spirit

Congress of Vienna

Schopenhauer Publishes The World as Will and Idea

Marx and Engels Publish The Communist Manifesto

Prussian Revolution of 1848

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Friedrich Engels; Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; Heinrich Heine; Karl Marx; Metternich; Napoleon I; Henri de Saint-Simon. Young Germany movement Germany;Young Germany movement Literature;German Philosophy;German Revolutions of 1848;and literature[Literature] Gutzkow, Karl Heine, Heinrich Büchner, Georg Germany;literature

Categories: History