The lectures printed in this volume are those Rudolf Steiner gave to members of the Anthroposophical Society in Berlin immediately after the outbreak of the First World War. The atmosphere perceptible in these lectures was markedly influenced by the momentous events of the time. On the other hand the language is often personal and intimate, for a powerful bond existed between Rudolf Steiner and this group of people. From 1900–1902 onwards, Berlin had been the place where he developed and presented spiritual science in lectures and written works, and it was the centre of his activities in Germany. The Berlin ‘Branch’ of the Anthroposophical Society was the only one Rudolf and Marie Steiner (von Sivers) led in person until the General Anthroposophical Society was established in its new form at Dornach in Switzerland over Christmas and New Year 1923–24.
The year 1914 saw the collapse of many hopes. Austria declared war on Serbia on 28 July, and further declarations of war followed at a rapid pace. Germany declared war on Russia on 30 July and on France on 30 August. Great Britain then declared war on Germany on 4 August, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia on 6 August, and Great Britain on Austria-Hungary on 13 August.
One year previously, in the autumn of 1913, Rudolf Steiner had laid the foundation stone for the first Goetheanum (referred to as ‘the building' in a number of these lectures) on a hilltop in Dornach, near Basle in Switzerland. At the time when war broke out, artists and young people from many European nations had been working together for many weeks to bring Rudolf Steiner's artistic and architectural concepts to realization on that site in Dornach. Something very real had developed among them, a true fellowship in the reality of the spirit, irrespective of nationality or creed. The outbreak of war came as a tremendous shock to them and to the millions who lived in Europe.
This is the background to the lectures Rudolf Steiner gave in Berlin during 1914 and 1915. Particularly in the first lectures one is very much aware of his heart going out to all the people caught up in the maelstrom of war, people now finding themselves on opposite sides, facing great challenges both at home and in the trenches. Today different challenges have to be faced, but the wider context and true spiritual background given by Rudolf Steiner, the great challenge to humankind from the spiritual world which he was able to show to be behind the events of the day — these are as relevant now as they were then.