Kinship, state, and ritual: Jugendweihe – a secular coming-of-age ritual in socialist and post-socialist Eastern Germany
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This thesis uses the secular coming-of-age ritual, Jugendweihe (‘youth consecration’), as a locus for exploring the ways kinship and politics in Germany are complexly intertwined. Although Jugendweihe emerged in the mid-19th century as a substitute for ecclesiastical coming-of-age rituals, and was adopted by various movements, it is closely associated with the former GDR (German Democratic Republic/East Germany). Under the GDR, young people aged thirteen to fourteen prepared for their Jugendweihe ceremony in ten ‘youth lessons’, which aimed to craft ‘socialist personalities’. Between 1955 and 1989 more than seven million adolescents pledged allegiance to the GDR state during the public ceremony, which was followed by a family celebration. With the demise of state socialism in 1989-90, western observers and the Churches assumed the ritual would vanish, but Jugendweihe continues to be celebrated in contemporary eastern Germany – without a pledge of allegiance. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between November 2012 and January 2014 in Thuringia, this thesis investigates the changed social relations between individuals, families, and the state in eastern Germany after the political caesura of 1989-90. It explores the ritual’s abiding relevance within a different socio-political context, and considers how the ritual’s metamorphosis is mediated both through the local Jugendweihe Association and the grandparental and parental generations. The research examines what values grandparents and parents, who were socialised under the GDR, seek to transmit to their offspring born after the GDR state’s demise. It demonstrates the continued (and changing) salience of connections between kinship, ritual, and politics in contemporary Germany.