What follows is a reproduction of a newspaper article from The Daily Telegraph dated February 10, 1937. With the benefit of hindsight aspects of the program become chilling, but it is worth remembering that a German Sports Badge exists today with no such dark connotations.
I reproduce this here to champion the idea of national (or indeed international) programs to improve the physical fitness of the average man and woman.
GERMANY'S METHODS IN PHYSICAL TRAINING
System of Competitive Sports for the Nation
By William Teeling
Some aspects of Germany's highly-organised system of physical training - in which men and women up to the age of 40 are catered for - are discussed from personal knowledge in the following article, with special reference to the British Government's new proposals for physical fitness training on a national scale.
SOME people who have recently visited Germany speak in glowing terms of the physical fitness of the average man and woman. They seem to put that down entirely to the present regime; yet the Nazis have only been in power four years.
They forget that physical training and physical fitness have been studied keenly by Germans for many years. Furthermore, because they may not like Nazi political theories, they dread the idea that anything done for improving the physique of the people of Britain should have even a suggestion of being copied from Germany.
Yet the fittest Germans are people who have lived through the war years, and through all those years afterwards when successive German Governments told us how poor they were and what miseries their people were undergoing. Whatever the truth of that may have been, it was obviously a good training ground for the physique of the German today, and that reflection should not discourage people in our own distressed areas.
WHAT MAJORITY FAVOUR
There are three kinds of physical training in Germany - one especially for the army, one for the Nazi sports badge and one for the Reichsport badge.
The winning of the Nazi sports badge, which can be obtained by Nazis and also the ordinary civil population, necessitates in addition to the learning of ordinary forms of sport a fairly advanced knowledge of what are called field sports. These are games which elude map-reading, a knowledge of how to take cover from air attack, how to attack, oneself, from behind cover, how to get through a wood without being seen by the enemy, and judgment of distances.
Oddly enough the majority of Germans do not go in for this examination to obtain a badge. They nearly all prefer to obtain the Reichsport badge; and the competitions or examinations this necessitates might well make a popular appeal in this country.
The idea of a Reich (or State) sport badge was initiated before the war, and was revived immediately after it. Bit by bit the numbers obtaining it grew each year from thousands to hundreds of thousands.
How seriously the monthly examinations were taken became evident when in 1931 the badge wearers went on strike. The powers that be had ordained that you could do the 300 meters swimming test in any time you liked. This, said the badge wearers, meant there was nothing any longer in possessing the badge, unless the original time limit was introduced. They won their point, and today over 300,000 badges are won each year.
WINNING THE BADGES
Men and women wear them whenever they like – and especially the first few weeks after they have been won. They are rather large and ugly and are worn by men over their breast pockets.
The ordinary badge is bronze and can be won by men and women aged 18 to 30; the silver badge can be won by people from 30 to 40; and anyone who wins a badge over 40 years of age obtains a gold one. The examinations are the same for all and are held all over Germany every fourth Sunday.
It is supposed to take a competitor a year to train for these examinations, and in order to encourage people to go on training after they have passed the test, you are allowed to take the examination as many times as you like. If you take it every year you can obtain a silver badge much earlier than by waiting to enter the 30-40 class, and a gold badge after passing the examination continuously for 14 years.
Naturally, few people do this, but it is possible to have a gold badge at 32 instead of at 40, and this has been known greatly to upset women torn between pride at becoming entitled to wear this badge at 32 and horror that their friends will think them over 40.
NOT ONLY FOR THE FIT
The sports are divided into five categories and the test must be passed in one sport of each category. This is done in case, in outlying parts of Germany, there may not be facilities for practicing certain sports. since some villages can not afford the proper equipment of gymnasiums.
The first category covers swimming. All entrants must pass the swimming test either in a public bath or a river. The second includes all forms of jumping, such as high jumping, long jumping, or even ski-jumping in the Bavarian Alps; the third covers sprinting, or long distance running; the fourth discus throwing, javelin throwing, shooting, weight-lifting, canoeing,, or sculling; and the fifth and last category is for horse-jumping, motor-cycling, marathon walking, pack marches (a certain distance in a certain time, carrying a given weight), ski-ing, skating, and even bicycling.
It is important to remember that these tests are not only confined to men and women who are 100 per cent. fit. There are special tests for blind people who pass their examination in swimming by following a motor-boat with a bell on it, and in running by doing the course between two men on bicycles, also ringing bells. The examinations for people with only one arm or leg are slightly different.
ALL CLASSES JOIN IN
Many of the facilities for people to train for these examinations are obtained through the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) movement, a branch of the Labour Front, the organisation that takes the place of our trade unions.
This movement, which exists, as its name implies. for health purposes and believes that a healthy body leads to cheerful mind, rent swimming pools on specified evenings, and skating rinks, school gymnasiums, riding schools (providing horses and riding kit for a minimum sum). It supplies teachers for skiing lessons – first in a gymnasium, later on slopes outside cities with jumps covered in straw and sand – and generally makes it possible for the poor labourer to take part in the badge tests.
I have watched men of every class of life boxing and doing physical jerks in every part of Berlin, fashionable and poor, and women doing their exercises with the aid of a harmonium.
Such training is naturally more or less compulsory in schools, but it is voluntary for people over 18 years of age. There is no suspicion of militarism in it, and it has proved a godsend for people too poor to enjoy more expensive forms of amusement in their off hours.
It has now reached such proportions that not only has a college to be provided to teach training instructors, but there is also a hospital near Berlin specially set aside to deal entirely with casualties due to over-straining in trying to win the Reichsport badge. The Minister of Agriculture, Herr Darre, has for weeks been lying there, having over-strained his muscles trying to pass the test in sprinting.
WATCHED BY THE WORLD
The college (or Akademie) opened in October is meant to serve the whole of Germany, and is within a few hundred yards of the scene of last year's Olympic Games. It has cost £750,000 to build and is equipped with the best physical training devices.
Students over 150 in number, come there for a year after the university examinations, in order to learn how to teach sport in the schools; they are all to be be school teachers. Another hundred, also for a year, come to learn to be future village sport leaders, and in some cases to make a career of it. There is also room for policemen and others who want to go there to study for a few weeks.
Foreigners from almost every country in the world -except from Great Britain - were there doing a course when I visited the college. There were students from the Dominions and from China, France and Italy, but none from England at that time. Since then a special wing has been opened for women teachers.
There is much taught that would not be necessary in this country. The three photographs of the students stark naked, their finger prints and their blood tests, are designed to assist in making suitable marriages later on to breed better Germans. and also to find out at what games different types of Nordics from different ends of Germany excel.
MATERIAL AND MOTIVES
But the lessons - on anatomy, on the muscles to be developed, on the country's laws as to what to do if you kick ball into a neighbour's garden - are all to the good. In the swimming pool the teacher is enabled to sit under the water, which is lit up, and see what is wrong with the diving and swimming of his pupils performing over his head.
It may be argued that much of the keen-ness of the modern German for such thorough fitness is due to his years of open-air life and hiking, and to his poverty, which prevents him enjoying other amusements, and that England has no such background. But Italy, the United States and Sweden also have developed the physique of their people on more or less similar lines, yet each with a very different background and for varying reasons.
In England a training college and some inducement, such as a State Sport Badge, will fit in with much that voluntary bodies here have been for years encouraging, and the goal – which is to make the people of this country mentally as well as physically healthier by keeping fit – will be likely to become as popular here as it has in recent years in most of the rest of the world.