Wednesday, November 19, 2008

EDW: Duelling scars

A scar on the face is the way to win a lady's affections, according to a study. What the scientists responsible neglected to say, though, is whether or not the scar becomes even more alluring with the addition of a pickelhaube or other suitably Teutonic accoutrement. However, unless the study is complete rubbish (and it is unthinkable, surely that it would have been so widely reported if that were the case, then the flower of German manhood between roughly 1880 to 1920 must have been on to something good.

You see, this era was the heyday of the Mensur, when young men of the right sort liked nothing better than gathering together to drink beer and hold duels. It was all highly organised, of course, and based around student guilds and societies. The point was not to kill, of course, but the custom was laced with a peculiar concoction of machismo and masochism in which the highest proof of manhood was the giving and receiving of facial scars.

The cheeks were pretty much the only part exposed to the blade of the Schlägers, swords that were pretty much only good for this sort of scarring, and it was even suggested that the wounds would be stitched in a deliberately clumsy fashion (or that the medical student doing the stitching would be filled up with beer beforehand) to accentuate the appearance of the wound.

It was an era in which no self-respecting German of the right sort would venture out into manhood without a slash or two across his face. As we now know, they only did it to impress girls. Doubtless any female readers of this blog will now be weak at the knees from seeing the results, but there are more pictures available elsewhere. There's also a pretty comprehensive article about student duelling if you wish to know more, certainly I would not presume to improve upon a website with a name like

Hitler, being something of a spoilsport, took a dim view of the whole business and the practice never really recovered from his disapproval (and I suppose the slowly dawning realisation that Prussian-style militaristic swagger might have a downside to it). Though as the image to your left shows, some of his minions had enjoyed the practice in their youth.

However, I understand German students of a certain type still enjoy formal duels; although the scarring seems to have fallen by the wayside, which might be an error on their part.

So, ladies, just for you, today's Elegentlische Deutsches Wodenstag (this is almost certainly grammatically wrong, but there you go) features some prime specimens of German manhood from an era when for pointless and ritualised violence their upper crust rivalled even the British public school system itself. Form an orderly queue if you please.

The type of man before whom all Europe trembled

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Blogger Quink said...

I'm surprised you didn't treat us to a bit of the Mensur in Three Men on the Bummel. There's a fine illustration of a Teuton in goggles, if I remember aright.

9:39 am  
Blogger bill said...

Haven't got an illustrated edition to hand, which is part of the fun. But there's the text:

As the object of each student is to go away from the University bearing as many scars as possible, I doubt if any particular pains are taken to guard, even to the small extent such method of fighting can allow. The real victor is he who comes out with the greatest number of wounds; he who then, stitched and patched almost to unrecognition as a human being, can promenade for the next month, the envy of the German youth, the admiration of the German maiden. He who obtains only a few unimportant wounds retires sulky and disappointed.

But the actual fighting is only the beginning of the fun. The second act of the spectacle takes place in the dressing-room. The doctors are generally mere medical students—young fellows who, having taken their degree, are anxious for practice. Truth compels me to say that those with whom I came in contact were coarse-looking men who seemed rather to relish their work. Perhaps they are not to be blamed for this. It is part of the system that as much further punishment as possible must be inflicted by the doctor, and the ideal medical man might hardly care for such job. How the student bears the dressing of his wounds is as important as how he receives them. Every operation has to be performed as brutally as may be, and his companions carefully watch him during the process to see that he goes through it with an appearance of peace and enjoyment. A clean-cut wound that gapes wide is most desired by all parties. On purpose it is sewn up clumsily, with the hope that by this means the scar will last a lifetime. Such a wound, judiciously mauled and interfered with during the week afterwards, can generally be reckoned on to secure its fortunate possessor a wife with a dowry of five figures at the least.

He does go on a bit, doesn't he? For a briefer and ruder Brits' take see Royal Flash.

11:28 am  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

I'm off men with scars this month. Always like a nice German 'though, I must admit.


11:43 am  
Blogger Nick said...

Makes the Kate Kennedy Club look like a bunch of madchen lederhosen, nein?

6:33 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Bunch a bloody dirndils, aren't they Nick. Still, thank feck they never dressed up in silly outfits and took themselves waaay too seriously. Oh. Hang on.

11:50 pm  

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