Working on tasks of humanity

Peter Lang

I first met Helmut von Kügelgen in 1981 in the conference room of the Waldorf Teacher Training Seminar in Stuttgart when I applied for a lectureship there. Von Kügelgen became my mentor and many years later asked me whether I wanted to take over as director of the college.

Von Kügelgen was born on 14 December 1916 in Tallinn/Estonia where his family had temporarily moved from St. Petersburg during the War. His father was a journalist and the son later also studied journalism in Berlin, obtaining his doctorate with a thesis on the press of the ethnic German Russians in North and South America.

Through the sister of the woman he was subsequently to become his wife, Gisela Wassermann, he became acquainted during the Second World War with anthroposophy. This determined the further course of his life and the Christian family culture he maintained, for which his six children remained and remain grateful for the whole of their life. On his return from captivity as an American prisoner of war, he decided to become a Waldorf teacher.

In 1947 he was involved in establishing the publisher Verlag Freies Geistesleben, became editor of the journal Erziehungskunst, initiated the foundation of the Free Youth Seminar in Stuttgart, actively participated in the reconstruction of the Anthroposophical Society in Germany – and until 1975 was a class teacher at the Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School.

Together with a number of experienced teachers from Waldorf kindergartens, he founded the “International Association of Waldorf Kindergartens” in 1969 in intensive collaboration with the German “Waldorf School Association”.  The reason for doing so lay in education policy. It was aimed at countering the premature schoolification of kindergarten and the reduction in the school age, a topic which is still relevant today.

Von Kügelgen was taking a stand against an education policy which subscribed to the idea of “the earlier – the better”, an economisation of childhood. In 1989, when the walls came down, a new phase of international collaboration began, extending from Moscow to South Korea and Turkey. A worldwide network developed.

Helmut von Kügelgen was a master in shaping encounters, borne by a deep interest in the other person and the great developmental questions of humanity. He adopted clear positions in key contemporary questions such as: Waldorf nurseries, yes or no? His answer: “Yes, but the quality question in the work with very young children must have the highest priority.” Own Waldorf kindergarten seminars and state-recognised colleges were set up for training Waldorf teachers.

Annual international conferences provided a meeting place and were used for further training as well as obtaining a deeper insight into spiritual science. He was actively involved in inspiring and organising these collaborations in Germany and in many other countries. He ceaselessly encouraged people to work actively on what he called the “tasks of humanity”.

Helmut von Kügelgen died in Stuttgart in 1998.