Mensur; Germany, 1913

Auf die Mensur... fertig...

Auf die Mensur... fertig...





Heidelberg student fencing…

One of the most frequently encountered motifs of German historical fencing is the semester photo of the Heidelberg Corps (fraternities) at the Hirschgasse inn. (This, by the way, is the place where Mark Twain witnessed the Mensuren he describes in A Tramp Abroad.) Each participant—fencers, seconds, directors, witnesses (Testanten), Schlepper, Paukfüchse, Spektanten—would gather around one pair of fencers to form a photogenic cluster of dark suits that then could be immortalized by the photographer.

For the collector, dating those images (sold as postcards and hung in larger formats from the walls of the fraternity houses) is quite difficult: No publication or copyright year is provided. (A rough dating can be undertaken by looking at the lamps… which change from crude petroleum lanterns in the mid-1800’s to the gaslights you see here. This particular type of chandelier first shows on a postcard mailed 1909.)

This card was mailed and is dated 1919, after World War I… but a small, handwritten note in pencil on the obverse indicates “W19 Z! 13/14 S”… the last pre-War winter semester 1913/14.

A small detail setting this image apart from dozens just like it is that both fencers are depicted actually wearing the Paukbrille, the protective googles worn during the Mensur. Earlier years posed without. The gentleman with the bandagd head to the left might have signed responsible for the dark stains on the carpet…

The man to the right, wearing the bloodstained apron, is not the local butcher but the Paukarzt… the Mensur doctor, who’d  suture gaping cuts and reattach severed noses and ears (which had to be “sewed warm”.)


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