Reference to Know

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Set against the backdrop of late 19th century Germany, Spring Awakening tells the timeless story of teenage self-discovery.  Though the themes are timeless, there are things referenced in the musical specific to the 19th century:



Germany was the first country to make education mandatory in 1794.  Through time, the focus on education became more and more stressed and was successful as the Prussian illiteracy rate was only 12% by the mid-19th century.  Boys and girls were taught in separate schools and with very different tactics.  In the musical, the boys are shown in gymnasium which focuses on the classics such as Latin and Ancient Greek.  They also would have had a time for religious teachings, works of Shakespeare and Faust, mathematics, and history.    Girls attended school as well.  They learned religion, German, mathematics, history, geography, natural science, and the arts.  The biggest difference was that they also learned domestic education. Both boys and girls took part in gymnastics, a time for strength and character building, something that was very important to German society.

Teachers at the time were very strict, commanding, and powerful.  Because they were paid by a government who took education very seriously, they had a lot of pressure to make sure everything was learned by the students properly and nothing went wrong.  Education was only mandatory for a certain time, so as a class progressed, the teachers would limit the amount of students for the upper classes.  Teachers would intentionally fail students because there were limited spaces.  All children received an education, but teachers and the system prevented all of the students from receiving a good education.  There were a lot of consequences for failing or being kicked out: not allowed to attend secondary school or university, and not qualify for good paying jobs (banking, teaching, medicine, or religious service).  This was also looked down upon by the community.


student and teacher


Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the theology of Martin Luther, a German reformer.  Luther taught that salvation is not earned by good deeds but received only as a “free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin” (  He translated the bible from Latin into the vernacular and this caused tremendous impact on the church and German culture.  Although Luther was responsible for fractioning the Catholic Church, he unified Germany—without him, Germany would probably have 500 languages and wouldn’t have as much similar values.

While the majority of the people in this play follow the words and ideas Martin Luther, the German Protestant Reformer, Melchior’s atheism is very much German bread as well.  Though the idea of atheism has been in existence for a long time, the word was coined in the 16th century.  Later, there were many German philosophers that have shaped atheism: Karl Marx, an economist; Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher, and others such as Ludwig Feuerbach, Arthur Schopenhauer and Max Stirner.

The idea of atheism was based on the belief of no god, and that man created religion, not religion created man- Karl Marx.

Wendla and Adult Woman 



The German industrial revolution didn’t happen until long after Britain’s so German economy wasn’t significant until the late nineteenth century. Germany’s industrialization began with the building of railroads in the 1840s and 1850s and development of iron, steel and coal mining.  A rail system for Germany developed rapidly under the promotion of the German state governments. A steel industry also developed and the stimulus of the coal and steel development expanded the banking and capital markets available to Germany. This helped other industries such as the chemical and electrical industries develop in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The German chemical industry became the most advanced in the world.

“Because of great investments into research and development, Germany was producing half the world’s electrical equipment, thus becoming the continent’s industrial giant. German population also expanded rapidly, growing from 41.0 million in 1871 to 49.7 million in 1891 and 65.3 million in 1911. Many cities, including Berlin, tripled or quadrupled in size.”  This led to a huge separation of classes, and an emergence of the middle class.

wendla and melchi 1 


Artist colonies

Artist Colonies initially emerged as village movements in the 19th century. There were thousands of artists that participated in the mass artist movement in over 80 communities. These artists were mostly impressionist painters.  Painters would come and go as they pleased, staying for different amounts of time.  The people in the villages lived bohemian lifestyles and were very segregated from the cities.

celeste funeral 



The end of the 19th century was an in between for modern science and old remedies.   German folk medicine tended to favor the use of plants and other substances used as abortants. The Folk medicines also utilized physical acts like extreme exercise, heavy lifting, hot baths, jumping, and shaking. There were also abortionists in the late 19th century, though they were only heard of by word of mouth and only used if necessary. Many women would first enlist the help of their friends and family in terminating a pregnancy, even though they had no clue as to what they were doing before they went to the abortionists.  Most women that tried to go through abortions were unsuccessful in the 19th century.


Words to Reference

Faerie queen- off of a 16th century book Edmund Spenser created an English equivalent to Virgil’s Aeneid.  It was later turned to a Protestant-based children’s story characters that was shown as beautiful and majestic

May Wine (40)-common springtime drink in Germany similar to sangria using the sweet tea with herb, woodruff.

Woodruff (40)—a fragrant plant with small white flowers and narrow leaves used as flavoring and in sachets.

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