1896 onward a movement of various forming and splitting and reforming German youth groups were known as "Wandering Birds". They were also often the same people who called themselves "life-reformers." It quickly became the preeminent German youth movement. These youths broke away from the strict requirements of their educational and social environment and were opposed to contemporary trends toward rapid, progressive urbanization. The also were reacting against the organized youth groups and clubs that featured German folk music which were being pushed on them. They broke off to develop their own way of life. Their aesthetic featured back-to-nature, freedom, self-responsibility, adventurousness, and anti-bourgeoisie. They wore long hair and beards, danced and made music, went nude, wore hiking boots, sandals, and went barefoot, practiced vegetarianism, natural medicine and healing. They also practiced abstinence, were interested in Teutonic nationalism, and organized outdoor activities like hiking. They were mostly middle class young people, and organized into "bands" around compelling leaders.
Richard Miller described them in 1977: “They pooled their money, spoke hobo slang, peasant patois and medieval vulgate. They were loud and rude, sometimes ragged and dirty and torn by briars. They carried packs, wore woolen capes, shorts, dark shirts, Tyrolean hats with heavy boots and bright neck scarves. Part hobo and part medieval they were very offensive to their elders.”
One of the origins of these groups and their activities was athletic hiking expeditions that were a part of school culture. The first of what would become Wandervogels came together, met and bonded arranging such hikes. Experienced hikers took on the role of "chiefs" and "sub-chiefs."
Some groups of Wandervogels eventually formed communes, cooperatives, and other settlements, practicing soil reform, organic gardening, communitarianism, and experimented economically.
One such location was "Monte Verita", which drew visitors like Hesse, Jung, Isadora Duncan, Lawrence, Klee, and Kafka, among many other artists, anarchists, and celebrities.
Monte Verita was originally a hill in Asconda which was purchased in 1900 by Henry Oedenkoven, the son of a businessman, and his wife, where they established the "Co-operative vegetarian community of Monte Verita" on principles of primitive socialism. These values were discarded in favor of individualistic vegetarianism. The community was against private property, party politics, traditional marriage and dress, and practiced morality, nudism, and sunbathing.
After several years, some of the aspects of Wandervogel became less radical, more conventional organizations that were a part of mainstream culture and society, quite different from the intentions of their Wondervogel creators. Monte Verita later became a School of Art and then a hotel and eventually a museum.
A Wandervogel song by Otto Roquette:
The Wondervogel in the air,
In ether glimmering, in the sun's fragrance,
in blue airswells,
You greet me as a journeyer!
A Wondervogel am I too,
me taking a fresh lifebreath,
and my song gift
is my most loved thing I have.