Edelweiss

Edelweiss

It is springtime which means flowers are popping up all over the place. If you reflect on German or Swiss mountaintops and flowers, ultimately you find yourself in a field of Edelweiss.The small flower is part of a larger plant family, the Asteraceae group, which includes all kinds of daisies and other multi-petaled flowers.  Edelweiss Flower Meaning, Symbolism, and Uses. And I have always been attracted to daisies and even used them in my wedding flowers.

Edelweiss is literally translated as nobel (edel) and white (white). However it is also known as woolblume (wool flower) and klein lowenfuss (little lion foot). They have almost a daisy-like shape and can grow and high altitudes. One variety is actually called the Matterhorn Edelweiss.

Matterhorn Edelweiss

Since the lovely flower may take some hiking effort to acquire, it is often associated with courage and honor. Some of the earliest mountaineering clubs used the flower’s image as part of their logo. Nobility, purity, and strength are all symbolized in this flower. It is sometimes represented on military uniforms of the area as well.

Marriage of Franz Joseph I and Elisabeth

The Edelweiss also has a love connection. Some folklore has suitors going to great lengths to bring their beloved a bouquet of Edelweiss to show their nobel intentions. One such story says Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I picked Edelweiss for his wife.

The song “Edelweiss” sung in The Sound of Music is not German, Austrian, or Swiss. The song was written and composed by two Americans: Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics). Hammerstein had a German heritage—his grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein I, was born in what is now Poland to a German-speaking Jewish family—but the song is strictly American.  The second thing to know about “Edelweiss” is that it, like The Sound of Music, is virtually unknown in Austria. Although Salzburg, Austria, bills itself as “The ‘Sound of Music’ City,” customers for “The Sound of Music” tours include very few Austrians or Germans. The German Lyrics for ‘Edelweiss’  I  must admit that my husband and I went on one such tour in Salzburg and I took this picture of the famous gazebo from the movie.

Salzburg gazebo used in The Sound of Music movie.

Not everyone is a fan. In literature: Mark Twain travelled to the region in the 1890’s and wrote about his journey in A Tramp Abroad.  Here is an excerpt concerning the Edelweiss.

We did not find any examples of the ugly Swiss favorite called Edelweiss. Its name seems to indicate that it is a noble flower and that it is white. It may be noble enough, but it is not attractive, and it is not white. The fuzzy blossom is the color of bad cigar ashes, and appears to be made of a cheap quality of gray plush. It has a noble and distant way of confining itself to the high altitudes, but that is probably on account of its looks; it apparently has no monopoly of those upper altitudes, however, for they are sometimes intruded upon by some of the loveliest of the valley families of wild flowers. Everybody in the Alps wears a sprig of Edelweiss in his hat. It is the native’s pet, and also the tourist’s.

A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain: Chapter 34 

On the other hand, German author Berthold Auerbach exaggerated the charm of the flower in his 1861 novel, Edelweiss. He claimed that “The possession of one is proof of unusual daring.” The mystical and mythical edelweiss. Any hiker in the region will tell you they are not that rare.

What may have been rare was the courage of young people throughout Germany as Hilter rose to power who opposed the Hitler Youth moment. They called themselves the Edelweiss Pirates.  Different factions of them sprung up in German cities throughout the country. Some gave themselves specialized names, like in the city of Koln (Cologne), the group called themselves Navajo.

Edelweiss Pirates
Navajo group

The authorities knew that members of the Edelweiss Pirates prided themselves on their appearance in the sense that it was very much non-militaristic. A standard punishment for anyone caught was to have their heads shaved so that their more bohemian appearance changed to an army/prison one. Later, as the war escalated, the group became more of a threat to the struggling German Nazi Army.  In November 1944, thirteen youths were hanged in public in Cologne – six of them were or had been members of the Edelweiss Pirates. History Learning Site – The Edelweiss Pirates. This event is documented in a movie, The Edelweiss Pirates (2004) as told by a survivor of the Cologne group. It is in German but can be watched with English subtitles. It is gritty and not for children.

I am amazed that such a little flower has such an impact. Silly me. One of the few souvenirs I bought in Switzerland was a pair of Edelweiss socks. They are not all that brave but they have lasted me for more than a decade. Not bad for socks.

3 thoughts on “Edelweiss

    1. Can I use your story as a guest post? I have been there too and have almost the identical pictures. I think it would be nice to hear another voice on my blog. Let me know. Thanks Terri

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