When poets describe their experience of the powers that move in their inmost hearts, then they speak about longing. If we allow only a few rays of hope from the poets to work upon us, we will be deeply moved by the indissoluble connection between mankind and longing. Even the smallest selection of the poetic outpouring of human longing will confront us with their deepest content: the longing for God and for unity with God. At the deepest level, they have recognized that the essence of all longing is the cry of the soul to God.- Eberhard Arnold, November 1918
Inspired by the German Youth Movement and Anabaptist communities he studied, Eberhard Arnold’s vision for the Bruderhof community always included crafts, folk music and hymns, art, poetry, dancing, and other creative enterprises.
The earliest Bruderhof at Sannerz, founded in 1920, supported itself with small industries: the publishing house, a farm and garden, an arts and crafts workshop. Their purpose went beyond income; Eberhard held that “manual and skilled craft work deepens the creative and God-given elements in us.”
Carving, leatherwork, transparencies, scissor cuts, spinning, weaving, pottery, galalith (a milk-based decorative plastic), wood-turning, and straw stars were all part of the communal enterprise. The design for every candlestick or bowl that the woodturning shop intended to make was communally appraised and decided. “Eberhard always said that precisely this kind of work, in its simplicity of form, should testify to the way we felt as a community,” said his wife Emmy. There were tasks appropriate to every skill level; children learned to craft as a central part of their education.
Music was essential to the community as well and songs for every occasion were a part of daily life. In 1924 Emmy edited and Eberhard published Sonnenlieder, a book of a hundred songs spanning eight centuries and multiple genres: early Anabaptist and Moravian hymns; Martin Luther’s own arrangements of chorales; beloved songs of believers, saints, and mystics through the centuries; modern socialist, pacifist, and other revival tunes; and two dozen original songs that emerged from the first few years of life at Sannerz. Sonnenlieder was a bestseller for the publishing house and remains an excellent window into life in the community.
In his publishing work, Eberhard emphasized the beauty of the printed page and the neat execution of setting, printing, and binding. He befriended the graphic designer and calligrapher Rudolf Koch who assisted the Neuwerk Publishing House with typographic advice, cover designs, and artwork.
Eberhard also published a collection of folk legends illustrated with scissor-cuts and designed to fit into the pocket of a hiker. This simple folk art, he believed, could touch the reader’s heart in a natural but powerful way, without any pious words. “These stories, through the most varied forms, all bring to light our longing for redemption. They show how the demand for justice is tested and proved by suffering and conflict. In the world of fairy tales, the victory of good over evil is constantly being fought for. The blessing of work, the overcoming of fear, the power of love, and an abundance of practical wisdom – all these come close to our hearts,” he explained.
As a young student, and during his long engagement to Emmy von Hollander, Eberhard was an avid writer of devotional poetry. He picked it up again after the founding of the Bruderhof to express the joys and struggles of the fledgling community. A visitor commented shortly after his death, “The wonderful thing is that for us Eberhard can never die. In all his poems and songs, which we use almost daily, the essence of everything he lived is expressed, and stands for all time.”
1. Eberhard Arnold, letter February 21, 1933.
2. Emmy Arnold, “Eberhard Arnold’s Life and Work,” in A Testimony to Church Community (Walden, NY: Plough, 2016), 11.
3. Markus Baum, Against the Wind (Walden, NY: Plough, 2015), 124–25.
4. Emmy Arnold, “Eberhard Arnold’s Life and Work,” in A Testimony to Church Community (Walden, NY: Plough, 2016), 11.
5. Eberhard Arnold, from an essay "On Fairytales," originally published in Die Furche.
6. Edna Percival, quoted in the introduction to Poems and Rhymed Prayers (Walden, NY: Plough, 2011), 2.
Poems and Rhymed Prayers
In 1920 Eberhard and Emmy Arnold abandoned the security of the Berlin suburbs for a new life in the village of Sannerz. Here they embarked on what Eberhard called an “adventure of faith” – a life of voluntary poverty and community. His poems from this time reflect the new beginning, expressing the joy and the struggles of the fledgling circle, yet still encompassing a wider vision, and the continued call of a life lived for God.
We love the activity of mind and spirit, too: the richness of all the creative arts and the intellectual and spiritual exploration of history and humanity. Whatever our work, we must recognize and do the will of God in it. And God has entrusted the earth to us not only as an inheritance but also as a task: our garden must become God’s garden, and our work must further God’s work.- Eberhard Arnold, 1925
Justice and love demand that everyone take part in simple practical work with a spade, hatchet, or rake. Everyone should be ready to devote a few hours every day to this practical work; those who have done purely mental work till now will feel its humanizing effect especially. In this way it will be possible for each person’s unique gifts to be kindled. The light that flickers within each heart will then exhibit its once-hidden glow in scholarly research or in music, in expressive words, or in the craftsman’s art in wood, stone, or paint…such work will reveal the joy in life that is in each person. Only death knows idleness and tedium. Where there is life, the mind’s creative will remains alert and comes to expression in the service of the whole.- Eberhard Arnold, January 1920