biodynamics in nazi germany

There’s a new article by Peter Staudenmaier in the most recent edition of the journal Environmental History; the article is entitled ‘Organic Farming in Nazi Germany: The Politics of Biodynamic Agriculture, 1933-1945’ (read the abstract!). It sheds some (much needed) light on the fate of biodynamic philosophy and practices in the nazi era, and should interest anyone who wants to know more about the history of organic agriculture in general and biodynamic agriculture in particular during those times. The article deals with nazi support for biodynamic farming methods as well as biodynamic proponents’ support for the regime. This is by no means a simple and straightforward matter — within the nazi regime, biodynamic agriculture met both with support and opposition; there was collaboration, ideological overlapping but also animosity. The article describes how the biodynamic method benefited from associations with and support from people in the right places — having this support was essential for the relative success of biodynamics during the time. There are some rather staggering references to opinions expressed in the biodynamic journal, Demeter, like one about awakening the ‘love for the soil and love for the homeland: This must be our goal and our lofty mission, to fight together with our Führer Adolf Hitler for the liberation of our beloved German fatherland!’ But the most appalling aspect of the relationship between anthroposophists and proponents of biodynamics and the nazi regime is perhaps the presence of biodynamic plantations in concentration camps. In the article, Peter writes:

In January 1939, Himmler created a new SS corporation under Pohl’s supervision, the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Ernährung und Verpflegung (German Research Facility for Food and Nutrition), known as the DVA. A substantial portion of its operations consisted of agricultural plantations located at concentration camps including Auschwitz, Dachau, and Ravensbrück, as well as estates in occupied Eastern Europe and in Germany. Many of these agricultural projects were biodynamic plantations growing organic products for the SS and the German military, with production monitored by the Reich League for Biodynamic Agriculture. Ravensbrück was the first DVA estate to be converted to biodynamic cultivation, in May 1940. Eventually the majority of the DVA’s plantations were run biodynamically. The DVA also marketed Demeter products, cooperated with Weleda, and contributed financially to the Reich League for Biodynamic Agriculture. Pohl recruited several leading biodynamic figures, including Max Karl Schwarz and Nicolaus Remer, to work on organic enterprises at Auschwitz, although Heydrich and Martin Bormann protested the employment of anthroposophists in SS ventures. […] The centerpiece of the DVA biodynamic operations was the sizable plantation at Dachau, which produced medicinal herbs and other organic goods for the SS. As at Ravensbrück, the labor on the Dachau biodynamic plantation was performed by camp inmates. From 1941 onward, the Dachau operation was overseen by anthroposophist Franz Lippert, a leader of the biodynamic movement from its beginnings and head gardener at Weleda from 1924 to 1940. Shortly after taking over the Dachau plantation Lippert joined the SS, and in 1944 he received special recognition and a bonus for his work there. Lippert published a book for the SS in 1942 based on his work at Weleda and Dachau. [Footnotes have been excluded.]

I highly recommend the article; it is interesting and contains valuable information. (This older list post is also worth reading.)

Ps. I hope that one day most anthroposophists, too, will be able to acknowledge the facts of the movement’s history — and to realize that this history itself does not (and perhaps, in my opinion, should not) prevent anyone from practicing anthroposophical methods, like biodynamic farming, or enjoying the fruits of these methods today. If the fruits actually are fruits. Which, sometimes, they are — literally or metaphorically…

agricultural alignment with spiritual beings

Here’s an exciting Steiner College course on ‘Biodynamics and the redemption of substance’. The

methods for developing a sacred relationship to the land will be explored through:
– presentations on the alchemy of the four elements as the theoretical basis for the biodynamic worldview
– exercises in phenomenology growing out of the work of the poet Goethe
– hands-on experiences in the art and science of preparation-making as an alchemical practice.

The practices the course will teach

will allow human beings to align themselves with spiritual beings who are waiting for human souls to build a bridge to the spiritual world, redeeming substance by uniting it once again with spirit.

Sounds good, don’t you think? Are the spiritual beings helping to build? Is it true they’re really waiting? Don’t they have more fun without humans (I bet they do)? Are we sure they didn’t dig the ditch — or magically conjured up the ocean? — that keeps us apart and which we’re supposed to bridge (through biodynamics) in order to get rid of us? Many questions, few answers.


A A Gill, an English food journalist (I think?), visits Stockholm. It’s a very funny article, also quite scathing, which is perhaps one of the reasons why it’s so funny. (Its title says it all: ‘The stuff was vile, thoughtless, spiced and seasoned by a careless troll’.) I thought you’d enjoy this passage in particular; it’s about Mistral, a rather famous restaurant committed to biodynamics.

Mistral is a southern wind that’s supposed to drive you mad. Mistral the restaurant does. […] Our table was decorated with the sort of things that solitary children who worry their parents pick up; old corks, bits of rotten pumpkin, bones and shells. It could have been evidence for a Nordic murder mystery. The food, the cook-waiter told us, was bio-dynamic, and a surprise. Bio-dynamism is, he said, the spirituality of food. More like a religion than catering. The ingredients were grown by a very old man who delivered them in a very, very old van. I suspect he also guards a secret well, speaks in rhymes and spins straw into gold. […] As dinner, it was pretty disastrous, as comic theatre of the absurd, it was a triumph.

whisky under the stars

There’s not only biodynamic wine these days, but spirits too. No, not those spirits from the higher plane. Well, possibly those too. At least, with this beverage, you might ‘see’ them. I suppose this is progress, anthroposophically speaking?

Single malt is enjoyed by Hollywood stars, astronauts may reach for stars, drunks may even see them, now the greenest whisky ever made is distilled under the influence of stars.

The world’s first ever biodynamic whisky has been distilled at Bruichladdich Distillery from barley sown, grown and harvested according to an astral calendar.

Biodynamic Bruichladdich is über-organic, the barley being grown according to the controversial agricultural principles of the messianic Dr Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).

Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, educationalist, spiritualist and lecturer, is considered the ‘Galileo of organic science’; to critics, he was just a cosmic nutter.

Read more about the Demeter whisky.

university chair in biodynamic agriculture to be axed

NNA on the axing of a chair in biodynamic agriculture at the University of Kassel, Germany:

The first professorship of biodynamic agriculture in Europe at the University of Kassel in Germany has come one step closer to being axed with the decision by the council of the faculty of organic agricultural sciences to abolish the department of biodynamic agriculture and reduce the position to the level of a research assistant.

Despite the fact that several anthroposophic companies/foundations* offered to continue financing the department (it is of course in their interest, and the movement’s interest, to do so; an academic position does wonders for credibility). It is, in my opinion, a bit dishonest of them to call themselves representatives of civil society without mentioning that they are also a kind of representatives of the anthroposophic movement:

In their statement, the sponsors expressed their concern, “as representatives of civil society”, that words such as scholarship and excellence appeared to be used to denigrate positive research qualities …

However, the most important part of the article is this:

The university president, Prof. Rolf-Dieter Postlep, said: “The faculty tested in recent years whether it is possible to provide an academic basis for the subject of biodynamic agriculture and its ability to mesh with other disciplines. The opinion of the external assessors makes it clear that this would only be possible within very restricted limits in a university environment in the light of the academic standards applying there.“


Continue reading “university chair in biodynamic agriculture to be axed”

jay mcinerney on stu smith and biodynamics

Author Jay McInerney writes an article about Stuart Smith and Smith’s blog Biodynamics is a Hoax in Wall Street Journal!

In order to demonstrate his point, [Smith] quotes Steiner at some length—something which he claims proponents are reluctant to do. (And there’s some wild stuff to quote, about ghosts and the Lemurians, the jellyish beings who inhabited Atlantis.) The most emblematic and controversial practice of biodynamics is the practice of burying a cowhorn stuffed with manure at the time of the autumnal equinox. On or around the spring equinox, the horn is disinterred, the manure diluted in water and sprayed on the vineyard (This mixture is known as BD 500).

Continue to read!

(And, apparently, Steve Jobs has a biodynamic garden.)

no funding for ‘possum peppering’ study

Steiner had some ideas for pest control management. Some New Zeelanders wanted to conduct a scientific study to test the efficacy of these methods. I’ve mentioned it before. However, it now seems that funding for the study has been denied, according to an article in Waikato Times:

A $330,000 proposal to control possums using pelts burnt to dust when Venus is in Scorpio has been denied funding by Environment Waikato’s Environmental Initiatives Fund, following a sceptical staff report.

The biodynamic possum control proposal sought $120,000 for the first year of a five-year study which backers had hoped would be the first to scientifically test philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s pest management theories. [. . .]

“It’s difficult to accept planetary alignments and zodiac signs would have any impact on possum behaviour. There seems to be no plausible mechanism by which ‘possum peppering’ might work,” the reviewers concluded.

Read more.

Not a good day for spiritual vermin control science. (Canineosophical science already has an evidence-based alternative for vermin control. Performed as an art it’s called ratting or rat-baiting. A prominent ratter was known as Huddersfield Ben. He was a true spiritual pioneer of the canineosophical arts and sciences.)

disturbingly irrational

On biodynamic farming and wines in Wall Street Journal yesterday:

‘I make no claim to understand how biodynamics works. According to the “Oxford Companion to Wine,” non-believers consider biodynamics an “unscientific and disturbingly irrational cult.” A view, I have to confess, for which I once harbored a slight sympathy. It’s not that I now have the fervor of the convert, far from it, and there are still some principles associated with it I find a little odd. It’s just that having tasted numerous wines made using some of the practical aspects of biodynamics I have found they are marked with a purity, silkiness and concentration rarely found in other wines. …

‘Central to this is the use of biodynamic fertilizer. This is where it can get a little unusual. Reference to stinging nettles, oak bark and dandelion seem innocuous enough but it’s hard to read that they have to be prepared in a cow’s intestine and then buried in the ground in a cow horn without cracking a smile. But it must be stressed that not all biodynamic winemakers adhere to all of Steiner’s strictures.’

They’d have to adhere to certain strictures though. Or they wouldn’t be allowed to use the label on their products. The preparations aren’t optional, as far as I know.

Read the entire article here. There’s also stuff about lunar cycles, planting and wine tasting.

Update: Incidentally, I ran across this blog post on Urban Diner. In the comments a similar opinion as the one above is put forth; i e, that biodynamic growers don’t apply all Steiner’s doctrines and that they don’t always use the preparations the way they were prescribed. But basically, if the farmers are certified biodynamic, by the Demeter organization, they have to follow Demeter’s regulations. It’s not up to the individual wine-grower if he wants to implement all or some of Demeter’s requirements — not if he wants to stay certified. It’s not up to the individual farmer to pick and choose from Steiner’s ideas and methods; he can’t discard something because he finds it wacky or useless. If he wants to put the label biodynamic on the product, he needs to farm biodynamically, heeding the rules set up by Demeter. Some biodynamic methods are irrational and pointless, I agree with that. However, you can’t have the cake (i e, the label biodynamic which earns you more money than plain organic) and eat it too (i e, avoid having to go through the procedures which constitute biodynamic farming). If you don’t want to do biodynamics, why not settle for plain organic? Trying to sell products as biodynamic when you’ve picked and chosen whatever aspects of biodynamics you like and trashed the rest — now that’s fraudulent! Someone buying biodynamic wine because they believe in the magic rituals actually expect this magic to have been carried through if that’s what the label promises. As critical as I am of biodynamic farming principles, I find it even harder to stomach the thought of producers only wanting the label but not the content. That’s spineless.

biodynamic magic

to my astonishment, the same misunderstandings keep raising their ugly heads. Thus, I felt I may perhaps repeat myself, once again. It can’t hurt, but it probably won’t do any good either. It seems that certain people, or perhaps just Sune and nobody else (I really don’t know), find my convictions and my actions inconsequential. The thinking goes like this: if you criticize anthroposophy, in this case biodynamics, you must also contend that everything from the underlying ideas to the end-products are basically crap, and avoid them. This, however, is a rather black-and-white perspective, which I’m sure suits one-sided minds (like Sune’s, I’d say), for whom the world can be easily divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and where no shades exist.

I recommended the blog Biodynamics is a hoax, because I honestly think it is about time that someone who knows the field takes the proponents of biodynamics to task for their fantastic claims.

Saying that the biodynamic method is pseudoscientific is emphatically not to say that all biodynamic products are bad. They most definitely aren’t. There are many reasons for this. They compete in the higher price segments, so of course they can’t be crap — they would have maintain a certain quality level (or expect to sell only to other true believers). But biodynamic food may taste divine; yet, this is no indication that magic works. Those methods that are unique for biodynamics — i e, not shared with the larger community of organic farmers — are based virtually on nothing but magic thinking. The conclusion of believers is, not surprisingly, that these magic practices are effective.

My conclusion is rather different. It is that biodnamic producers do what they can to compete in their price segment, and as a result end up producing food which, most of the time, is of high quality. It isn’t the magic, though, which enables them to compete. It is other aspects of their work. For example, expensive vegetables from small-scale local growers are usually much tastier than mass-produced cheap stuff that has been transported from far away before it finally reaches our tables. Organically produced food usually tastes better than conventional varieties — in my opinion — but this rule is certainly not generally applicable now that organic food is also mass-produced and shipped over long distances. To sum up, there are many things which influence the quality of the product: scale of production, price, time (e g, for the food to grow and time in shipment), the commitment of the farmer to quality and to his farmlands, and so forth.

It is certainly possible that a religious farmer believes in appeasing the gods to yield better crops — it is also possible this farmer produces great food, and that I’d happily buy his products. This action of mine is, however, not to be interpreted as an endorsement of the belief in god(s) or in the belief that higher powers magically interfere in the production line. I think that’s complete bogus, regardless of the taste of the food produced under these conditions.

The same goes for biodynamic agriculture. As long as there is no solid proof to suggest otherwise, I’d say it’s safe to conclude that the magic aspects of biodynamic farming are nothing but — at most — unnecessary but perhaps enjoyable activities the farmer engages in due to his private spiritual beliefs. These particular practices do nothing for the farm products as such. But, obviously, everybody is free to believe that cow-horns with dung — dug down during full moon — have some higher connection with cosmic forces. This right does not entail the right to impose this belief on others as a scientifically valid viewpoint.

As for using biodynamic flour, which was what caused some consternation for certain people, there are several independent reasons for it. One reason is that it’s quite good, although I don’t know much about flour, I have to say. (I almost never bake my own bread, so I very rarely buy flour at all. It’s an odd example, but it was used, so I continue with it.) Another reason is that biodynamic flour is the only organic flour to buy that has not been imported, and it seems to me a waste of resources to ship flour from other countries (not that I have considered this question in any depths, I have to admit). The third, and perhaps most important, reason is that biodynamic flour is the only flour without additives. I have nothing against additives, but I see no point in favouring products with unnecessary additives. And since I grew up on bread baked on flour without additives, I can’t for my life understand what good the additives do. I’d rather buy just flour. Until other producers begin to offer this on the market, I see no reason to buy their products. I think it’s rather simple, actually.

gardner on steiner

recently deceased skeptic and science writer Martin Gardner also wrote about anthroposophy in his book of 1952, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. These are a couple of selected quotes, pertaining to anthroposophy, taken from that book.

on the belief in Atlantis

‘The late Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical Society, the fastest growing cult in post-war Germany, accepted all of Scott-Elliott, then added new details of his own from a source he said he was not permitted to place on record. In his Atlantis and Lemuria, 1913, he reveals that the Lemurians were unable to reason or calculate, living chiefly by instinct. They had no speech, but communicated with each other by telepathy. They lived in caves, and possessed a highly developed will power which enabled them to lift enormous weights. The atmosphere was denser then than it is now, the water was more fluid, and the earth was in a plastic, unconsolidated state.’ Continue reading “gardner on steiner”