History of Odd Fellowship in Germany

by Don R. Smith

Odd Fellowship was first established on the European Continent on December 1, 1870, in Wurttemberg, Germany, by Dr. John F. Morse, a Past Grand Master of California and a member of California Odd Fellows Lodge #1 of San Francisco, California, U.S.A. After Germany became the first nation in Europe to establish an Odd Fellows Lodge, the Order spread throughout Germany and from there to several other countries on the continent.

During that period Germany did not exist as a state with a formal government, political leadership, a constitution and other necessities for a nation. Germany was a geographical description of many independent and sovereign states including some kingdoms, dukedoms, shires and republics, one of the larger ones was the Kingdom of Wurttemberg. It was independent, liberal and free. This was considered a good location for establishing the American way of Odd Fellowship in Europe.

Six weeks after the institution of the first lodge, Germany became a sovereign and independent nation and Odd Fellowship began growing. In Germany, as well as in America, each state and even in each of the Prussian provinces, starts the numbering of its own lodges with No. 1. Grand Lodges were created in the various districts presided over by a grand master. These District Grand Lodges made up the Grand Lodge of the German Empire with a Grand Sire as the chief executive officer.

Federal Republic of Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany covers 139,266 square miles (approximately 357,092 square km). It is located in central Europe with Denmark and the Baltic Sea on the North; The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France on the West; Switzerland and Austria on the South; and Poland and Czech Republic on the east, Germany is flat in the North, hilly in the Center and West and mountainous in Bavaria. Major cities and their estimated 2007 populations include Berlin, the capital, 3.4 million; Hamburg, 1.6 million; Munchen (Munich) 1.3 million; Köln (Cologne), 946,000; Essen, 622,000; Frankfurt, 635,000; Dortmund, 575,000; Dusseldorf, 593,000; Stuttgart, 590,000; Leipzig, 549,000; and Dresden, 521,000. The estimated population of the country in 2007 was 82,258,000, and ethnic groups are predominantly German (93%) with small Slavic and Danish minorities. Principal religions are Protestant 44% and Roman Catholic 37% and there are approximately 2 million muslims due to immigration into the country. The economy is based on several industries including steel, ships, vehicles, machinery, electronics, coal, and chemicals; and the chief crops are grains, potatoes, sugar beets, and livestock.

Germany, prior to World War II, was a central European nation composed of numerous states which had a common language and traditions and which had been united in one country since 1871. Following World War II Germany became a divided nation with the German Democratic Republic in East Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany in West Germany. In 1989, the changes in the East German government and the opening of the Berlin Wall sparked talk of reunification, and the merger of the two Germany's took place on October 3, 1990, with East Germany acceding to West Germany and ceasing to exist as a separate nation by dissolving its constitution and accepting that of West Germany. The first all-German elections since 1932 were held on December 2, 1990. 

Odd Fellowship Established in Germany

Following the Order's rule "to propagate the Order" the German-American, "Grossreprasentant (Grand Representative) Brother Ostheim," applied to The Grand Lodge of the United States to establish the Odd Fellow Order in Germany in 1869. When Grand Sire Ellias Driggs Farnsworth was visiting Germania Odd Fellows Lodge #116 in San Francisco, California, U.S.A., on April 6, 1870, a large number of brethren from Templar Odd Fellows Lodge #17, also of San Francisco, were in attendance and heard Brother Farnsworth state that the Grand Lodge of the United States had no funds for the purpose of instituting the Order in Germany. When the next meeting of Templar Lodge was held, they voted unanimously to appropriate $1,200.00 to establish Odd Fellowship on German soil. After Brother Farnsworth's sojourn in California, he returned east, and wished to commission P.G.M. Dr. John Frederick Morse of California as Deputy Grand Sire for the purpose of establishing the Order in Germany. Brother Morse was residing in Dresden, Germany at that time. Grand Sire Farnsworth was convinced that he should undertake this important mission, and do so at once.

On July 8, 1870, Grand Sire Farnsworth sailed on the Germanic Steamer Main for Germany. On his arrival in English waters, he learned that war had been declared between France and Germany. Useless appeared the trip of the Grand Sire; or at least all his carefully prepared steps seemed useless for the time being. Landing in England, a continuance of his journey to Germany being scarcely possible, he requested Dr. Morse to come to London and meet with him. Brother Morse had been a professor in Berlin and Dresden for a short time. Dr. Morse was charged with spreading the ideals and philosophy of Odd Fellowship in Germany and Switzerland by the American Grand Lodge. He was commissioned Deputy Grand Sire on August 13, 1870, and he immediately returned to Germany to proceed with the institution of Wurttemberg Odd Fellows Lodge No. 1 in Stuttgart on December 1, 1870. The organizers of the Lodge were Brothers Moritz Bernheim, P.D.D.G.M. of California and a member of Harmony Odd Fellows Lodge No. 13 of San Francisco; Otto Schaettle of Pennsylvania; E. Klauprecht of Ohio; Brother Kohkaas of Pennsylvania; and H. Wöernle. From Stuttgart the Order developed rapidly, and the reason for this might be that the doctrine of Odd Fellowship was not so different from German mentality, even today. He then hastened to Washington, D.C., to meet with German Ambassador Baron F. von Gerolt. Schuyler Colfax, Vice President of the United States, founder of the Rebekah Degree and Past Grand Representative, introduced Brother Farnsworth to the German ambassador. After a brief period, the Baron gave him a letter of introduction to Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor. Without the consent of Bismarck, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows could not be founded in Preussen (Prussia).

After the institution of Wurttemberg Lodge other lodges were instituted including Germania Lodge No. 1 in Berlin on March 30, 1871; Helvetia Lodge No. 1 in Zurich, Switzerland on April 2, 1871; Saxonia Lodge No. 1 in Dresden on June 6, 1871; and Schiller Lodge No. 3 in Stuttgart on May 25, 1872. During the first decades, many lodges were instituted including 56 lodges in the 1870s, 20 lodges in the 1880s, 41 lodges in the 1890s, and the membership now totaled almost 4,000 brothers.

The Grand Lodge of the German Empire

The formal establishment of the Grand Lodge of the Germany Empire was on December 28, 1872, with the institution in Frankfurt. German lodges making application to the Grand Lodge of the United States for a Grand Lodge Charter were Germania Lodge No. 1, Borussia Lodge No. 2, Templer Lodge No. 4, Concordia Lodge No. 5 and Humboldt Lodge No. 6 of Prussia; Wurttemberg Lodge No. 1, Donau Lodge No. 2 and Schiller Lodge No. 3 of Wurttemberg; and Saxonia Lodge No. 1 of Saxony. The charter granted distinct sovereignty and independent power in all matters relating to Odd Fellowship in Germany except it may not alter any of the Signs, Tokens, Passwords, Lectures, or Chargers, or any other portion of either the Written or Unwritten Work of the Order. It further provided that the Grand Lodge of the United States reserved to itself the right to give said German Grand Lodge the Annual Traveling Password and to prescribe the Form of Card. The German Grand Lodge was granted the power to establish and grant Charters to other Odd Fellow Lodges and Encampments, and to other Grand Lodges and Grand Encampments within the German Empire, and within such other Germanic European countries as may hereafter be attached to said Jurisdiction by consent of the Grand Lodge of the United States, when such other Lodges or Encampments shall be established. The original charter for the Grand Lodge of the German Empire was issued by the Grand Lodge of the United States on September 19, 1872, and it was signed by Fred D. Stuart, Grand Sire, and James L. Ridgely, Grand Corresponding and Recording Secretary.

A supplemental charter was issued to Germany on August 1, 1884, by the Grand Lodge of the United States, and signed by Erie J. Leech, Grand Sire; Henry F. Garey, Deputy Grand Sire; and Theo. A. Ross, Grand Secretary. It retained many of the provisions of the original charter, but the German Grand Lodge was allowed to change the form of any and all of these in language and matter as to conform the same to the language and genius of their own people while retaining the substance, the legends, sentiments and principles as prescribed and authorized by The Sovereign Grand Lodge. During the 1885 session of The Sovereign Grand Lodge, a resolution was adopted allowing the Grand Lodge of the Germany Empire to transact ordinary Lodge business in the Initiatory Degree.

Hugo Wollheim was elected and installed as the first Grand Sire of the Grand Lodge of the German Empire on December 28, 1872. The Deputy Grand Sire was M. Bernheim and the Grand Secretary was Otto Schattle. The residence of the Grand Lodge was in Berlin.

Five Original German Grand Lodges

Five original Grand Lodges established under the Grand Lodge of the German Empire included the Grand Lodge of Brandenburg, instituted on July 16, 1871, in Berlin; Grand Lodge of Wurttemberg, instituted on April 30, 1874, in Stuttgart; Grand Lodge of Hannover, instituted on November 30, 1873, in Braunschweig; Grand Lodge of Saxony, instituted on June 6, 1871, in Dresden; and Grand Lodge of Silesia-Posen, instituted on May 3, 1885, in Breslau. The Grand Lodge of Germany is currently divided into five District Grand Lodges: District Grand Lodge of Berlin, District Grand Lodge of South Germany, District Grand Lodge of Southwest Germany, District Grand Lodge of Niedersachsen, Bremen and Nordrhein-Westfalen, and District Grand Lodge of Schleswig-Holstein Hamburg.

Order Prospers in Germany

Despite the language problems, Germany became the first nation to establish Odd Fellowship without English as the national language. This was the beginning of establishing independent Grand Lodges. Starting in Germany, European Odd Fellowship spread to Scandinavia where the Order became well established.

World War I, from 1914 to 1918, put the Order to a severe test. Collections for the Red Cross and for other Welfare organizations were initiated. The members of the Order, who were involved in the War, did not worry about their families because the home-staying brothers took care of them. In 1916 Brother Prof. Dr. August Weiss was elected as Grand Sire, a position he held for 17 years. Odd Fellowship in Germany grew to 164 lodges with 9,500 members during his years of service. 

Darkest Days for German Odd Fellowship

The continuity, which occurred in the neighboring countries, was broken completely by the regime of National Socialism in Germany. The engagement for humanity, tolerance and particularly the nation joining character of Odd Fellowship were in great contrast to the racist ideology of the National Socialist Germany, and like other lodges Odd Fellowship was prohibited. There were some Jewish brothers in the Order who either emigrated or fell victims of social delusion. 

The date of April 2, 1933, became one of the darkest days in the history of Odd Fellowship. The Grand Lodge of the Germany gave back her charter to the Sovereign Grand Lodge, because there was no possibility for normal works of lodges during the Nazi's regime. In one of the final decisions the Grand Lodge decided it's up to each individual Odd Fellow Lodge to make their decisions for the future. In some of the Lodges, like Wurttemberg Lodge No. 1, the social life of the lodge did not change. It seems that almost nothing has changed, of course the lodge lost all the material values including the lodge houses. There was no possibility for ritual meetings, but the brothers met each Thursday night, the same day of the week as they had done for 63 years. They organized family picnics and all the activities of a lodge outside the ritual. These things took place during 12 long and dark years.

Order Starts A New After World War II

Following World War II Odd Fellowship in Germany had a new start. It was Brother Paul Schildt who founded Hammonia Lodge with some former brothers in Hamburg on Oct. 10, 1945. On Nov. 22, 1945 the Slesvigia Lodge was founded in Flensburg, and on June 29, 1946 Templer Lodge in Berlin was re-established. At the end of 1946 there were again nine working lodges in Germany. 

During The Sovereign Grand Lodge sessions in 1946 it was agreed to set up the International Council of I.O.O.F. The International Council is a consultative agency. It is not the head of the Order, but it was created for cooperation among the various lodges and The Sovereign Grand Lodge. On May 2, 1949 the first conference of the International Council took place and Odd Fellowship in Germany was discussed for the first time. 

Request for a new charter was referred by The Sovereign Grand Lodge to the International Council, and at the tri-annual session in 1951 the International Council adopted a resolution recommending that a new charter should be granted to the Grand Lodge of West Germany, and this was accomplished in 1952. The Grand Lodge of Germany was presented its Freibrief (Charter) during a ceremony in the Pauls-Church in Frankfurt/Main on July 6, 1952. The delegation from Germany participating in the third International Council were Grand Sire Karl Krull, Grand Secretary Paul Schildt, Grossreprasentanten (Grand Representative) Fritz Erxleben, and Dr. Godehard Weiskam.

Grand Sires of Germany

Brothers who have occupied the chair of the Grand Lodge of the Germany Empire, in order of seniority, from its institution have included Hugo Wollheim, F. S. Ostheim, Moritz Bernheim, Conrad Setzer, Mr. Elsaswser, E. Praetorius, Albert Roth, Carl F. G. Lesser, Ferdinand Ascherson, Hector Dillinger, Paul Gerlach, and Dr. August Weiss. Serving as Grand Sires of Germany, after 1933, were Karl Krull, Dr. Heinz Grunow, Lothar Sandrock, Herbert Schulz, Ragnar Nilsson, Uwe Romeike, and Wolfgang Holz. These brothers made it their business to establish and to spread Odd Fellowship all over Germany.

New Task For Grand Lodge

A new task arose for the Grand Lodge with the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. The Grand Lodge of Germany on June 28 and 29, 1991, aimed at setting up lodges in all cities of the five new states where they had existed prior to 1933. An Odd Fellows Hall was consecrated at Leipzig in the Province of Saxony on September 28 and 29, 1991, and Lipsia Odd Fellows Lodge No. 3 was reopened. Interested individuals are intending to establish Odd Fellow Lodges in other communities. It was pointed out that it seemed to be far easier to spread the Order into East Germany than it appears to be at the present time, which in the past has proven extremely difficult, since the interests of the former east-german residents appear to be on more material belongings, as for a long time forbidden travelling and securing there spare job-opportunities. Nevertheless the order is established in Saxony and with the help of the District-Grand-Lodge they are hopeful for the future.

Rebekah Lodges in Germany

In 1871 and 1872 two Rebekah Lodges were established in Germany, but they passed out of existence a short time later. However many sisters unions or clubs were established in relation to the brothers lodges, where the brothers' wives supported the lodge's humanitarian and relief work. They meet normally without a ritual, but the sisters support the brothers of the brother lodge to obey the commands of the Order. 

While the first Rebekah received her degree on February 25, 1871, in Stuttgart, it wasn't until the early 1960s that Rebekah Lodges arose again in Germany after having already spread widely in Scandinavia. Grand Sire Dr. Heinz Grunow and Grand Secretary Paul Schildt worked out a ritual for German Rebekahs with the help of the Dutch Rebekahs and they adopted the Dutch Rebekah degrees to pass on in Germany. The first Rebekah Lodge "Zur Unendlichkeit" was instituted in Berlin in 1965, followed by "Hanseatic" in Hamburg on April 8, 1967, and "Elsa Brandstrom" in Braunschweig on April 20, 1968.

On October 31, 1993, some 25 German Rebekah sisters adopted Danish Degrees to establish a Ladies Encampment Auxiliary in Germany in 1994. Sahra Rebekah Encampment No. 1 was instituted on May 27, 1995, today with 30 members. Selene Rebekah Encampment No. 2 was instituted on October 10, 1998 with 19 members.

Odd Fellowship in Germany Today

As of 2007 there are 39 Odd Fellow Lodges with 792 members; 12 Rebekah Lodges with 270 members; 11 sister unions with 209 members; 8 Encampments with 296 members, 2 Rebekah Encampments with 81 members.

The most recent Grand Lodge session took place in May of 2006. Officers elected for three year terms were

  • Walter Kuttelwascher, Grand Sire (Hochmeister)
  • Heiko Madsen, Deputy Grand Sire
  • Gerd Mueller, Grand Secretary
  • Horst Schiele, Grand Treasurer

The Order has not yet achieved its former importance in Germany. However the activity of many lodges and some new foundations are documents of an upwards trend. 

Grand Lodge of United States Journals of Proceedings, 1869-70-71-72-73
Odd Fellowship: Its History and Manual, Theo A. Ross, The M. W. Hazen Co., New York, 1888
Official History of Odd Fellowship - The Three Link Fraternity, Henry Leonard Stillson, The Fraternity Publishing Co., Boston, Mass, 1904
The World Almanac, Funk & Wagnalls Corp., Mahwah, New Jersey, 1994