Sweat Equity: Sports and the Self-Made German

Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


In June 1930, the French sculptor Aristide Maillol sat poolside in Frankfurt and marveled at how much more fit and athletic German youth appeared than those back home in France. His friend and host, the German statesman Harry Kessler, explained to Maillol that “a new sense of life” had taken hold in Germany since the end of the war. “One wants to really live” Kessler continued, “to enjoy the light, sun, happiness, one’s own body.”1Two years later, when Kessler visited France, he was similarly struck by the contrast between the cultures of physical development in the two countries. Germans exuded a sense of physical liberation that, in Kessler’s estimation, their neighbors to the west noticeably lacked: “One hardly sees a sign of bourgeois stiffness [in Germany] anymore, but instead beautiful, strong bodies, naked or half-clothed. Here, by contrast, the petite bourgeois style in clothing and Sunday leisure still completely dominates.”2


Female Athlete Competitive Sport Tennis Player Athletic Training Female Player 
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    Vicki Baum, Es war alles ganz anders (Frankfurt, 1962), 377. Fan Hong has argued that sports played a similarly emancipatory role in Republican China in the 1920s. Fan Hong, Footbinding, Feminism, and Freedom: The Liberation of Women’s Bodies in Modern China (Portland, 1997).Google Scholar
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© John Alexander Williams 2011

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