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Home: Freunde Waldorf

A Little Bell Tinkling at Mass or a Great Bell Resounding in the Cathedral of St Stephan?

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 48-49, Note the Copyright!)

The first Waldorf School in Austria was founded in Vienna in 1927. Its development involved constant battles against restrictions imposed by the education authorities. It was then closed immediately after Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938. In his memoir about that founder period of Waldorf Education in Austria, Friedrich Hiebel (1903-1989) strikes a note which resembles that of the greatest bell in St Stephan’s Cathedral - the Pummerin - far more than it does the tinkling of the little bell during Mass.

Together with Friedrich Wickenhauser (1902-1977) I was among the Austrians called by Rudolf Steiner to teach at the Waldorf School in Stuttgart. Understandably the Viennese wanted to found a school in their own country. Soon Gusti Bretter and Hannah Krämer-Steiner (1895-1984) began to teach a small number of children in the lowest classes. The kindergarten started under the care of Ilse Bode-Rascher (1906-1988) and Adelheid Fleischhacker (1903-1987). In the midst of expansion plans and the search for more suitable premises, just when the school was beginning to build up to the full twelve classes, the event occurred which, almost simultaneously with the mother school in Stuttgart, forced our school in Vienna to close its doors.”

After an interval of 28 years

After the end of the Second World War, Bronja Zahlingen (1912-2000) founded the Waldorf Kindergarten in Vienna in 1955. She was the link with the pre-war school where she had run the kindergarten as a very young woman.

In 1963, through the initiative of parents, the Waldorf School made its new beginning in private accommodation. In 1966 it began to function with four classes in a public school building. In addition to Herr and Frau Kühne as parents it is appropriate to mention also three other individuals (known jokingly at the Ministry as the “Rudolfettes”) who took the initiative in founding this school: Kitty Wenckebach (1899-1988), the backbone of the school association and repeated source of financial assistance, Eleonora Zimmermann (1916-1981), a strong personality on the college of teachers, and Elisabeth Gergely who provided the link between parents and teachers. In her review on the occasion of the Wien-Mauer Waldorf School’s tenth anniversary, the latter described that second founding of the school which went forward very tentatively owing to the difficult political climate at the time:

Laborious journey towards public recognition

“After many consultations with the Ministry for Education and the city authorities the Vienna Waldorf School opened its doors once more in the autumn of 1966, 28 years after the forced closure of the original school. Four class teachers and two specialist teachers had come together to teach 30 children in four classes. The city of Vienna had placed lovely classrooms in a state school in Meidling at the school’s disposal for two years.

“As soon as lessons had begun attempts were made to obtain official recognition, which was refused by the Ministry. So the school then turned its attention to obtaining its own statutes. Under the designation of a ‘school working according to a foreign curriculum’ it finally attained recognition as fulfilling the conditions for statutory schooling requirements. On this basis it was possible to build up the teaching in the different classes freely and without any interference from the state and also to take the step of beginning to build the upper school. The end of the 1967/68 school year saw the end of the hospitality in the premises of the state school, so the Waldorf School had to move. It found a fine new home in a beautiful Baroque villa with calm, well-proportioned architectural forms in a lovely situation at the south-western edge of the city. It immediately appealed to all those involved despite its considerable degree of dilapidation which the parents at the time made huge efforts to put right.

“Consideration was then given to putting in a new application for official recognition which can be granted if a school has its own statutes and curriculum. This coincided with some parents making the acquaintance of an expert in education law who agreed to help. After more consultations with the Ministry the application was successful. State recognition of the special features and organizational form of the school was granted for the first time in the history of private education in Austria to a school that does not conform to any existing type while providing a general education for the statutory period of schooling.”

More establishments are founded

Not until 1977, but then in quick succession, what are now 12 schools were founded, 9 general schools, 1 integrated school, and 2 curative schools. The Friedrich Eymann Waldorf School founded in 1982 has followed its own course of development in being run since 1993 by the Rudolf Steiner Upper School Gymnasium. A number of social therapy establishments have come into being linked with agriculture, e.g. the Wurzerhof Home, the Birkenhof Home, the Karl Schubert House at Mariensee, the Styrian Social Therapy Centre and the Breitenfurt Village Community.

The first Waldorf School in Wien-Mauer (Vienna) subsisted on private finance for the first seven years. Not until 1973 did it succeed in obtaining an on-going subsidy for investment and building works. This subsidy has gradually been extended to cover all the schools, but only after massive pressure had been applied, and it still does not contribute to the running costs of teachers’ salaries.

Since 1981 the legal and financial affairs of all the Austrian Waldorf Schools have been handled by the umbrella association Independent Educational Establishments Based on Anthroposophy in Austria in which Elisabeth Gergely, a founder member of Waldorf Education, has played a part for a further twenty years. In 1998 the four fields of the association’s work, “Kindergartens, schools, curative education & social therapy, and adult education”, were separated out into autonomous areas. One member in the management group of each is also a member of the association’s central body. The schools work together in the Federation of Independent Waldorf Schools and have worked out a new profile in this connection.

Comparative curriculum studies

For many years there has been an ongoing study comparing the curriculum of Waldorf Schools and that of state secondary schools including music lessons, art and craft work. This has led to considerable advantages for the school-leaving exams which can now take several different forms. At present the schools at Linz, Salzburg and Wien-Pötzleinsdorf have a Class 13 which prepares pupils for the school-leaving exam. The curriculum study has also provided the basis for a paper printed in manuscript form in 1995 on the “educational brief and teaching aims of the independent Waldorf School”.

Teacher training began as an in-service seminar at the Wien-Mauer mother school. From this the Goethean College developed in 1983 providing a full training for teachers, artists and art teachers. Various other schools also have in-service trainings.

All Waldorf Schools in Austria are now fully recognized and their role as precursors of reform in the state education system is appreciated. Future positive developments will only be possible for Waldorf Education if it can embark on renewal processes that take account of contemporary problems.


Angelika Lütkenhorst
Business manager and upper school teacher at the Rudolf Steiner School at Schönau. Member of the board of the umbrella association of Austrian Waldorf Schools.

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