Honour and comradeship in Gottingen

Towards the end of the Second World War, my mother, who was in the ATS, was stationed in Gottingen in central Germany.  Gottingen is famous for its university so it is perhaps not surprising that she brought back two pictures of students.  But these pictures were silhouettes drawn in the 1850s in black, white, silver and blue.  They wore the uniform of one of the university Corps or fraternities.

From 1840 to 1860 in particular, loyalty to your Corps was essential to the higher echelons who chiefly enrolled as students at the university.  They were intelligent young men capable of study but they also socialised and most importantly engaged in the practice of Mensur, fencing with razor sharp two edged blades.  Wearing protective clothing and goggles they were expected on at least three occasions to fight against a fellow fraternity member before being awarded the coloured sash shown in the pictures.  After these three occasions they could stop fencing or carry on as Otto van Bismark did, fighting 32 times in one term.  The young men were often injured, particularly gaining facial scars of which they were very proud. 

Mark Twain described the sword fights while he was in Germany in his book “A Tramp Abroad.”  He was impressed that even when badly wounded they made no sound and how after their own fight they would stay in bandages to watch the next duel.  He was glad that a surgeon was always present to look after them.  These matches occurred twice a week.

One of these pictures, dated 1856 is of P. Bachmann.  I believe he was Paul Gustav Heinrich Bachmann, a Mathematician.  He lived from 1837 to 1920.  He began his studies at the University of Berlin but in 1856 he followed his professor to Gottingen. He produced five volumes on number theory in which he introduced Big O notation which was important to Babbage in his development of computer science.  He was also a talented musician, spending his later years composing, playing the piano and writing as a music critic for several newspapers.

In the mid-20th century hotels and museums exhibited collections of student silhouettes as shown in this postcard.

If you follow this web link you can read about the continues student customs in Germany

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