Most 19th- and early 20th-century photographs of Mensuren are staged. This one isn’t…
During the 19th and early 20th century, professional photographers regularly arranged fencers, seconds and spectators into large tableaux that could be sold as postcards, cabinet cards, and large-format photographs that have been adorning the walls of German fraternity houses for almost one and a half centuries.
Private photographs, however, have always been discouraged during a Mensur. It is felt that the self-consciousness induced by the camera could distract the fencers. Accordingly, live shots during a Mensur are exceedingly rare… especially from the early part of the 20th century.
These pictures depict an unknown fraternity, at an unknown university town. The year, too, is unknown. The seconds’ gear—including the Herzleder (heart leather)—would indicate the years around the turn of the last century. Interpreting the fashions worn requires you side with the “Kickerbocker” school of thought (which would place the scene in the 1920s) or the “Wickelgamasche” philosophy, which might place it closer to WWI.
(I have added two more images from the same set, which could sway the vote toward an earlier date.)
In the top picture, the seconds have locked the fencers’ blades at the command “Hoch bitte!”. In the picture below, the Seconds and Schlepper are crouching out of harm’s way, probably at the command “Fertig!”— everyone expecting the “Los!”
(Of course, the detail-oriented viewer will notice that the fencers are different in both pictures…)
In the window, the Unparteiische (umpire) is ready to note the number of rounds fenced, hits received, and “Kreiden” (penalties) against fencers and seconds.