This article, drawn heavily from one which appeared in Prosit in 1993, discusses 4F steins with emphasis on the historical perspective of the 4F movement. It begins with the salutation which is found on almost all 4F steins:
Gut Heil! (Good Health!)
collectors of antique beer steins are likely to come across a stein
bearing the words Gut Heil! and the 4F symbol which is seen at
After reading this article you should be able to answer a number of
What is a 4F stein?
What is the significance of the 4F insignia?
Who started the gymnastics movement in Germany, and why?
Who were the Turners, and what was a Turnfest?
Who is to blame for the gym classes we all hated in school?
There is considerable evidence of gymnastics activity in antiquity.
Perhaps the earliest suggestions arise from cave paintings seeming to
show men jumping over the backs of wild animals. (Whether this is sport
or the survival instinct is unknown!) Early forms of the sport were
practiced in China and Persia, while western forms arise from the
practices of the Greeks and Romans. The Greeks are credited with
starting the Olympic Games as a form of organized athletic competition
in 766 B.C. While the Greek emphasis was on individual physical skills,
the Romans viewed physical exercise as a mean of creating a more fit
and powerful soldier. In 392 A.D. the Romans abolished the Olympic
Games. During the Dark Ages, bathing, exercise and physical culture
were shunned, not to be reborn until the 18th and 19th century, when
Germany was to become the center of activity of organized fitness and
In the period leading up to the 19th century, Germany was composed of
various states, kingdoms and princedoms, with constantly shifting
boundaries and rulers. Marriage within the nobility was most often
based on political benefit, as countries and families struck ties to
strengthen or extend their political hold. In the early part of the
19th century, Napoleon vied with the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians
to exert political control over all of central Europe. Within Germany,
cultural and philosophical views were shifting toward a view that
imitation of foreign ways was unnatural and undesirable, and that a
true culture or civilization must spring from the life of the common
people. Resentment of Napoleon's treatment coupled with this emerging
sense of identity led to development of a new sense of German
A contemporary of Napoleon's, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn was born in 1778 in
Lanz, Prussia. In 1811 at age 33 and influenced by the growing sense of
nationalism, Jahn began teaching gymnastics. Harkening back to Roman
thought, Jahn organized the movement to promote physical health,
patriotism, readiness and resistance. He established the first outdoor
gymnasium in the Hasenheide (hare meadow) outside Berlin, and
promoted organized competition. He is credited with inventing much of
the equipment used by gymnasts, such as the pommel horse, parallel
bars, and flying rings, and is generally considered the father of
modern gymnastics. Many local Turnvereine (gymnastic clubs)
were established as local community fitness and social centers. The
widespread interest in developing strength, agility, and physical
skills did not limit itself to gymnastics. Steins commonly show that
weightlifting was an important activity, and we will also see
indications that fencing groups considered themselves part of the
While the movement is sometimes perceived as a social or recreational
diversion, the 4F symbol, standing for Frisch, Fromm, Froh,
Frei (fresh, pious, happy, free), makes clear the cultural
and nationalistic values embraced by its practitioners.
The circumstances of the origin of the 4F insignia are not known,
although the "gymnast's cross" has been seen on a stein dating to 1856.
Although the movement began some 40 years earlier, the period from 1800
to 1850 was a quiet one for stein manufacture, and the vast majority of
4F steins date from 1870 to the early 1900's. Let's look at a couple of
Left, Mettlach PUG, form 1526, Dec. 567, simple 4F
symbol in a wreath of laurel and oak branches.
Right and below, Mettlach form 1526, handpainted, 4F logo on a shield
with crest, named to Julius Stoetzer, inscription on the right side
indicates a birthday present in 1906!
This is a good point to begin to note some commonalities in
4F steins. Oak
and laurel branches surround the 4F symbol on both of the above pieces,
will be seen
to be a common occurrence. Even in the 19th century, oak was a symbol
strength, while laurel symbolized victory.
Left, a half-liter porcelain stein, named to Hans Kraus
and showing the
with barbells and a shield. Members of the 4F clubs were very proud of
skills, and it is quite common to see steins bearing their owners name.
Right, etched Mettlach, form 1914 (made in 1898), unnamed, shows the 4F
the body and inlay, a proud competitor wearing the sash of his Turnverein,
holding a flag and a barbell, standing in front of parallel bars and a
Mettlach 1914 also has a nice figural thumblift of Turnvater
who originated the 4F movement as a means of preparing the populace for
resistance to Napoleon.
Finally, a close-up of the central design of Mettlach 1914, probably
widely held Mettlach 4F stein.
At left, a half-liter relief creamware stein by Reinhold
gymnastics (parallel bars, high bar, pommel or vaulting horse), Vater
words Frisch, From, Froh and Frei, and
to "Turners". (The term "Turner" is asserted to be a
derivative of the French word "Tournier", or tournament, or as simple
reference to the "turning" done in gymnastics.)
Left, a half-liter porcelain stein, unnamed, showing
weights, parallel bars, a high bar, pommel horse, Vater Jahn,
organized competition in an outdoor setting a la Hasenheide, a
foil and a saber, and tumbling (turning).
Right, close-ups of the side scenes of this stein. The dwarf is
surrounded by tools of the Turner, including a foil and a saber, a 100
Kg. weight, a barbell and a banner bearing the 4F motto. Over his
shoulder we see an organized outside event, perhaps in the Hasenheide
or Hare Meadow, in Berlin.
On the other side, we see Turnvater Jahn's image above a shield with
the 4F logo. Note the repeated use of oak branches framing Vater Jahn's
image, while the shield is set off by laurel. The honor in which Jahn
was held is clearly indicated by the radiant highlights above his head.
This half-liter creamware stein links the 4F movement
to state and city
pride. The Heidelberg Castle appears below the central wreath, and the
ode to Heidelberg appears on the sides: Alt Heidelberg du Feine, du
Ehren reich, am Neckar und am Rheine, kein' and're kommt dir gleich
Heidelberg, you are so fine, You city rich in honor, On the Neckar and
Rhine, like you there is no other). The circular design above the
displays the colors of the State of Baden, a rampant lion, and the 4F
The smaller rings are wreathed in laurel, while the entire scene is
by a garland of oak. The relief pewter lid and thumblift display the 4F
Turnvater Jahn, the words "Gut Heil", and the oak branches.
Up to this point the
steins we have examined display either generic 4F themes, or honor an
individual's participation. We turn now to steins which were produced
to commemorate organized competitions, or Turnfests.
These steins were typical souvenir fare 100 years ago. Turnfests were
organized nationally, but held in a different city each time.
Examination of the dates indicates that they were generally held every
five years. While Festkrüge
from the 1880's through 1923 are regularly found, the absence of
earlier ones makes it appear that the events began before the event
planners were prepared to produce the souvenirs! Note the sense of
pride, patriotism and loyalty
in the way these steins are decorated, many just chock full of symbols.
At left is a one-liter creamware souvenir stein memorializing the VII.
Deutsches Turnfest held in Munich in 1889. Talk about full of
symbols! The stein shows a shield with the Prussian Eagle, the 4F
symbol on a shield displaying the blue and white colors of Bavaria, an
image of Turnvater Jahn surrounded by an oak wreath, a competitor
holding two over-flowing steins at arm's length, and the Münchner
symbol of Munich, standing on the competitor's shoulders and hoisting
two barbells! The pewter lid is a nice relief of the city skyline, and
the thumblift is a Munich Child with outstretched arms. The one-liter
saltglaze stein at right above was made in 1893 for Sendling (Munich),
and it again bears a
prominent image of the Münchner Kindl. The acorn thumblift, a new
symbol, stands for good luck.
one-liter saltglaze stein with incised cobalt decoration was made for
(tenth) Deutsches Turnfest, held in Nürnberg in 1903. It
several now-familiar symbols (the 4F logo, the words "Gut Heil" and
the oak leaf wreath), plus the winged harpy (Frauenadler or
eagle), symbol of the city of Nürnberg. The base is incised "L.
The relief pewter lid shows the skyline of Nürnberg, characterized by
numerous towers. The inside of the lid is marked "L. Ostermayr" and
a half-liter creamware stein, again Nürnberg 1903, showing the same
the lid above. Here again we see shields bearing city and state
with oak and laurel embellishments.
To the right, this half-liter saltglaze stein was designed by famous
Franz Ringer as the Offizieller Festkrug ("Official Fest
Stein") for the XI. Deutsches Turnfest in Frankfurt, 1908. The
magnificent spread-winged eagle on this piece virtually screams
determination, patriotism. Note also the oak wreath and the acorn
relief pewter lid shows the skyline of Frankfurt. Ringer was a renowned
in his own time, yet he designed souvenir steins!
Beer steins have provided modern collectors with
evidence of two variants of the 4F movement. Weightlifters formed a
specialized organization with the motto and values of Kühn, Koernig,
Kraftvoll, Kunstvoll (bold, sound, powerful, skillful). Although very
uncommon, these words are found on a character stein of barbells (see
ECS #111). It's tempting to think that they also created a 4K symbol,
but I've never seen one. In contrast to the weightlifters, a second
variation of 4F is known to us primarily through its symbol. Comprised
of the two F's which normally form the top half of the 4F symbol, with
a T replacing the lower two F's, all overlaid with an S, this variant
is known as FFST. Writing in Prosit a number of years ago, Sig Klein
told us that the symbol stands for Frisch, Fromm, Stark und Treu. While
the symbol has been observed on steins, I'm not aware that these four
words have appeared, and we remain unaware of the nature of this
porcelain stein showing the
FFST logo (see close-up at the
Interestingly, the participant, holding a barbell in one outstretched
arm and -
what else - an oak wreath in the other, is wearing a shirt with the 4F
Apparently, whatever group adopted this logo, they continued to
4F. One other interesting aspect of this stein is the use of the phrase
Heil! instead of the common Gut Heil!.
When Germans emigrated to the U.S. in large numbers in the 19th
understandably tended to stay close to family, friends, and those who
their language. German customs and culture were naturally maintained
these communities, and German ideas about physical education were
America. In 1825 a director of physical education was appointed at the
Hill School of Northampton, MA. Harvard began a program of gymnastics
the same time. The first Turner Society in the U.S. was established in
Cincinnati in 1848. A large number of Turnvereine were established in
England and New York, numbering over 150 by 1860. 4,000 Turners
performed at the
Chicago World's Fair of 1893. After peaking in the early part of the
century, enthusiasm for gymnastics began to decline. Boredom, less
manual labor and physical strength, more emphasis on free play and less
regimentation, and the rise of teams sports all contributed to this
While technically speaking it is not a stein (no lid),
Whites of Utica
manufactured a mug for an American Turnfest which was held in
Dolgeville, NY, in
1894. The saltglazed mug displays another version of the FFST logo,
crossing sword and torch, and the obligatory laurel wreath. The incised
design indicates it was made for "25. Bezirk's Turnfest", "West
New York", "Dolgeville, N.Y. 1894". Found on the base below the
handle, the manufacturer's trademark - C.N.Y., Utica, NY - is that of
Returning to the questions posed at the beginning of this article, a 4F
stein is simply one which features the 4F insignia (or one of the
recognized variants) as a central part of the theme. Thus the character
stein of a
weight bearing the 4F insignia is a 4F stein, while the one of
Turnvater Jahn is relegated to the category of "go-with". Friedrich
Ludwig Jahn began the organized gymnastics movement in Germany and
appealed to a sense of
pride, personal well-being and patriotism. Local and national
competitions were held, providing competitors, attendees and latter-day
stein collectors with a variety
of 4F steins. As a routine part of everyday life, German immigrants
brought their interest in exercise and fitness to the U.S., and it
became the stimulus for physical education in our school system.
finish with one last example, although since it does not bear the 4F
insignia, it does not meet the definition I have used for a
4F stein. Nonetheless, it is obviously pertinent to this subject.
This most interesting stein, Mettlach 979/1909, made in 1895,
bears the words Turnschule ï¿½stafrika (Turn School East
Africa) and shows an exaggerated
representation of black Africans practicing athletics, including the
weightlifting, high jump, and the forerunner of the shot-put, the
consider the person at the right of the scene to be the century-old
either a coach or a personal trainer, take your pick! Note the
below the scene on the front - Gut Heil!
German colonization of Africa began in 1884 when the flag was
Luderitz Bay in Southwest Africa. Further protectorates were declared
year and in 1885, but most German attempts at colonization were
1890, as the efforts appeared to be a losing financial proposition.
I hope this discussion of the historical and cultural aspects
of the 4F
movement has given you a renewed appreciation of 4F steins, and I close
more familiar salute than I used at the opening: