Academic fencing/Mensur

Further to discussion in the comments in the last entry, when I think of duels I think of pistols – the form of fencing with swords seems more Continental. Incidentally, it appears that it doesn’t fit with the Nazi images in the Citroen advert, as the corporations were banned in the Third Reich.

In the late 1960s I encountered law students in Erlangen involved in schlagende Verbindungen – the students’ associations that still kept up the tradition of fencing without complete protection. The thing to do was to get a wound on the side of the face, a Schmiss. It seemed a different world from 1968 Berlin. The liberal past of the students’ organizations had been left behind.

Von der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts bis in die 1930er Jahre war der Schmiss das Erkennungszeichen mitteleuropäischer Akademiker schlechthin, das durchaus mit Stolz getragen wurde, symbolisierte es doch das nach damaliger Auffassung herrschende Ideal eines tatkräftigen, unerschrockenen Mannes, der auch vor bedrohlichen Situationen nicht zurückschreckt.

I find a Wikipedia article on Academic fencing that has all these terms explained – the equivalent German article is Mensur. See comments to the effect that the English Wikipedia entry is rather biased in favour of the associations.

Until the first half of the 19th century all types of academic fencing can be seen as duels, since all fencing with sharp weapons was about honour. No combat with sharp blades took place without a formal insult. Compared to pistol duels, these events were quite harmless. The fight was regularly ended when an injury occurred which caused a wound with a length of at least one inch and with at least one drop of blood coming out from it. It was not uncommon that students fought approximately 10 to 30 duels of that kind during their university years.[citation needed]

During the first half of the 19th century and some of the 18th century, students believed that the character of a person could easily be judged by watching him fight with sharp blades under strict regulations. Academic fencing was more and more seen as a kind of personality training by showing countenance and fairness even in dangerous situations. Student corporations demanded that their members fight at least one duel with sharp blades during their university time. The problem was that some peaceful students had nobody to offend them. The solution was a kind of formal insult which did not actually infringe honour but was just seen as a challenge for fencing. The standard wording was dummer Junge (German for “silly boy”).

Known in Eastern Europe before communism. Banned in the Third Reich (apparently the corps members refused to throw out their Jewish members – but that is probably a legend, see comments).

An interesting long article by Jonathan Green, fairly recent (can’t read the date) .

Many claim they are little short of Nazis, who spend their time fighting and drinking, preaching for the far right and recruiting members to a furtive, elitist club whose sinister tentacles of influence stretch all the way to the corridors of power in modern Germany: through politics, business, law and medicine. Yet the corps claim that they are maligned – that they are politically neutral, merely clinging to a all-male sense of camaraderie and tradition.

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