An Intro to German Culture: The ‘Jugendweihe’ or How German Teens Enter Adulthood

Today’s history class, as many times before, started with defining certain words from our source reading, for those who are still kind of suffering with the German language.

Today’s word was Weihe, meaning consecration or benediction, according to the online English dictionary I am using. That was not much of a unordinary word, since the text we were reading was a speech by a theology student from the 1800s but somehow my professor got to speak about an East German tradition for teens, that includes the same word, consecration.

So today, embraced by the feeling of nostalgia while remembering my own experience with this event, I decided to tell you guys about this ceremony that is still around among East Germans, which is called Jugendweihe and is completed by 15-16 year olds. Jugend meaning youth.

The Jugendweihe is a non-religious version, because as we know during the Cold War East Germany was a secular state, of the Christian Communion or Jewish Bat Mitzvah. The general purpose of this event is to welcome the youth into adulthood.

But instead of going to catechism class, or learning to read the Torah, all you have to do to complete your integration into adulthood, is to participate in the activities that are offered to you by the organization.

I remember receiving a catalogue with many different activities to choose from, that included many different areas of interest like sports, history and society, jobs and career etc. I remember choosing to do a historical bus tour through Berlin, going to a presentation about life in East Germany during the Cold War and going to see a show at the Friedrichstadt Palast, the most famous revue show palace in Berlin. Meanwhile there are even trips to Paris offered.

The best thing about participating in these activities is that one gets the chance to do them and experience culture and different workshops for cheaper in connection with one’s “youth ceremony” than if one was to do them separately just like that. I remember paying only € 20 for my visit to the Friedrichstadt Palast. Compared to the usual minimum price of € 50 per ticket, that was quite an offer.

After having done all the chosen activities, there is a set date, usually during early summer or late spring, when the teens have their official ceremony. For youngsters with East German parents who hold on a lot to the traditions from the past, this event is almost as important as prom or anything of that sort. Girls get themselves pretty dresses and shoes on deadly high heels and get their long hair done into an expensive French pleat.

My ceremony, back in 2009 or 2010, took place in a movie theater in East Berlin. We watched as singers and comedians performed on stage, before some others held their speeches to welcome us into society as adults.

After the speeches and songs were over, each one of us was called up on stage and given our certificate of completion along with a single flower I believe. I will never forget how the anchorman of the event tried to get everyone’s (last) names correctly, backstage before we were about to start.

Giving each one of us a quote, mine was by Mark Twain, we were welcomed as members of the adult society and sent off to our relatives and friends, who were waiting for us to finally get us our long anticipated “youth ceremony gifts” that can have just as much value as a birthday gift.

That may all sound a little bit cheesy but was actually a really nice way to show that daily life can consist of more than sitting in front of the computer all day especially since so many things to do were offered to do at a decent price, and that learning about one’s history could lead to interesting conclusions.

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