Rudolf Steiner in the Waldorf School
Address at the monthly assembly after the burning of the Goetheanum!
1 March 1923, Stuttgart
Dear children, 1The first Goetheanum, a massive wooden building, burned to the ground on New Year’s Eve of 1922-23. Rudolf Steiner wrote about this building in Wege zu einem neuen Baustil [Toward a New Style of Architecture], 5 lectures given in Dornach, 1914, publ. Stuttgart, 1957, and in Der Baugedanke des Goetheanum [“The Architectural Idea of the Goetheanum”], one lecture given in Bern, 1921, publ. Stuttgart, 1958.dear boys and girls of the Waldorf School! At the beginning of this assembly, we saw some of your schoolmates give a very good performance in eurythmy. But when they performed this moving poem about fiery flames ascending to heaven, your dear teachers and I had reason to be very sad. You see, when eurythmy reveals something from the heart, we feel the content of the revelation more strongly. And now something like this always reminds us of the sorrow, the pain and the suffering that your teachers and I experienced together because of the terrible flames that destroyed the Goetheanum, our dear Goetheanum. Your teachers had often told you about this Goetheanum, and you had heard what a great pleasure, what an inspiration, what a refreshment for your teachers’ hearts each visit to the Goetheanum was.
But then, my dear children, dear boys and girls, your teachers’ hearts and souls are deeply comforted again; they can say from the very depths of their souls that when something as beautiful as today’s assembly can happen here in school, it is a certain comfort to them. It is a comfort for them to see what they have been able to plant in the hearts and souls of their dear students, for this is something that belongs to them spiritually, and even though it demands great sacrifice and devotion, hard work and attentiveness on the part of your teachers, it is something that lasts. With these spiritual belongings it is possible to conquer any raging flame that reaches out to destroy the human heart. And in painful moments and in the nights they spend working, it is not only the Waldorf School itself, it is also what lives in you, dear boys and girls, that is the greatest comfort for those who guide you. And you can make this comfort grow by doing what you have to do with hard work and attentiveness and with love for your teachers.
Once upon a time there were two people who went for a long walk one Sunday. They walked over the fields in the glorious sunshine, and finally they went into the woods, where they rested in a beautiful place in the shade of the trees and talked to each other. They were very tired and had to rest for a long time, and while they rested, they talked. And it happened quite naturally — for these people were already old — that they came to talk about the joys and work and sorrow and pain in life.
And it happened that one of them said, “Oh, life does have its pleasures, too. It gives us so much beauty. I was once in a gallery, for instance, where I saw pictures by many painters, and my heart was glad. It was so beautiful and grand, my soul opened up.”
And the other one said, “We must remember the things like that. But just think, my friend, what it would be like if you had not learned to enjoy pictures when you were in school. You would have walked right by those pictures without understanding them at all. My dear friend, we must so often think back to how school gave us what makes life pleasurable and valuable.”
And the other said, “But you know, we don't need to go back that far. On this nice walk we took today, when we saw the birds flying in the air, our hearts opened up and we had to sing songs of joy. Would we have been able to do that if we hadn't been able to prepare our hearts for singing when we were in school?”
And a thought occurred to the other one: “We could have learned that later. But when you learn something later, it doesn't come so fresh from your heart.”
And while they were lying there driving their tiredness away, one of them grew very uplifted and happy inside, and said, “Oh, Nature is so beautiful; there is so much to find in Nature. But you know, we can understand Nature better and better all the time. If we learned to imitate Nature in the poems we say, for instance.” And since he was in a mood to have fun, he recited a poem for his friend that ended in “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” And they were glad, not only because they could hear the cock crow, but because they were able to be so full of life and feel all this, having learned to identify with what was out in Nature.
When you are sad, it is a comfort to think back on your time in school. You cannot help but realize that here in the Waldorf School your teachers are making an effort to shape your lives so that later, in times of joy and sorrow, your many vivid recollections of the Waldorf School will be a great comfort to you. And then you will have serious times. You will realize that you would not be able to live if you could not work. And we would not be able to work if we had not learned anything sensible. And now think about how your teachers are working so that you will be able to work and live in the right way later on in life. The men and women who are your teachers are thinking ahead to your later years. I want you to inscribe that deeply on your heart. When we have a beautiful festive assembly like the one today, we are sure in our hearts that all of you can learn for life’s sake. And if you can say to yourselves while you are in school, “Now, we will try to learn not only what is pleasant for us, but also what is unpleasant,” then even what is unpleasant will become a pleasure and a joy for you. Later on in life, the pleasure for which you once had to work so hard will come to you.
These are all things we always have in mind. Here in this school, we are meant to prepare a good later life for you.
Our oldest students have felt this, and it was a beautiful feeling, dear students in the upper grades, to hear you express how you feel in this Waldorf School, to hear you say that you want to stay here as long as you can possibly go on learning, that you want to be taught here in same the way in which you have been taught until now, right up to the point when you step out into life.
There are great difficulties involved in this, many obstacles to overcome. We will have to experience these huge obstacles personally. We will try to overcome many different obstacles in order to achieve what ought to be achieved. This may already have inspired hearts that will strike you down for your ideals. The background for this was Emil Molts founding of this school.
Now, my dear children, dear boys and girls, here is something that I have always said to you: If you love your teachers, — and they have real love for you! — then your love for them will be the power that allows their best guidance to enter your hearts and souls. This is why I am not going to finish what I have to say. I want you to finish it. I want to ask you especially whether you will try to apply hard work and attentiveness to what you want, to your life’s goals, while you are here. If, from the bottom of your hearts, you do want to apply these things, then finish the words that I have spoken to your hearts; then say to me. .. [the children shout to Dr. Steiner that they will do it.].