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German History in Documents and Images
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The Society for Physical Culture in Berlin: Awards Being Given Out to the Winners of "The Body-Shape Competition" (1912)
Around the turn of the century, societies for physical culture sprang up throughout Germany. These societies belonged to the larger German Lebensreform – or "life reform" – movement, which advocated healthier living through a return to nature, fresh air, exercise, natural food, experiments in communal housing, and new forms of spirituality, which often drew upon Eastern traditions. Lebensreform was a reaction to overcrowding, overwork, and poor living conditions, all of which resulted from Germany’s rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth century. The healthy, youthful body – as here evidenced by “the victors of the body shape contest” – became the unifying symbol for disparate currents within the larger health movement. It should be noted, however, that physical fitness and gymnastics clubs were not entirely new in Germany.