Uniforms and Traditions of German Student Fraternities

Postcards 10


This article that doesn’t claim to be an all-embracing one but rather of the summarizing nature, deals with the general description of uniforms worn by German students, or Burschen, who constituted a special elitist caste of German youth up to the mid-1930s. Striking resemblance of certain features of students outerwear to the military uniform is the major cause of common confusion in correct identification of photos by the beginning collectors who jump to false conclusions and label Burschen as members of obscure paramilitary organizations or even cavalrymen, mostly “hussars”.

The publication will also offer a brief description of some major traditions of German student fraternities, some of which are still being followed nowadays. Among the most notable are designations of certain categories of Burschen depending on period of their apprenticeship, as well as odd customs practiced during extracurricular pastime.  

I. Brief History of German Student Societies

Militarist traditions that run through centuries-old history of numerous German states influenced much youth as well, at least its strata that opted for university-level education and as such temporarily deprived of the possibility to wear uniform and carry arms. Thus, particular attention was paid to distinctive vestments slightly resembling military outfit and individual arms as means of demonstrating gallantry and defending honor. Both elements were regarded as an integral part of a warrior and a noteworthy way of familiarizing with praised ideals of knighthood.

Bearing this in mind it’s natural enough that rituals described in this article did play and still keep on playing so important a role in student societies. Moreover those traditions were developed and cherished over a period of two centuries, or, to be more precise, since 1815, when the very first student fraternities, or “Burschenschaften” were established in the University of Jena under the patronage of the Grand Duke Karl August von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach (03.09.1757-14.06.1828). All-German Student Fraternity (Allgemeine deutsche Burschenschaft) was founded in 1818. Soon those elitist associations saturated with juvenile maximalism and idealism were created in nearly all German universities. Their ideology was mainly based on patriotism, romanticism as well as compliance with Christian and chivalrous spirit. The idea of unification of German states that became vital after devastating Napoleonic wars was used as a general basis of political vision of original Burschenschaften. Further fate of student fraternities turned out to be a chain of rise and fall, mercy and repression. Thus, German authorities were soundly concerned about political idealism professed by students as adolescent romantics and idealists turned theory into practice within less than two years: what started peacefully with youth rallies during Wartburg festival in October 1817 ended grimly with the murder of the pro-Russian writer August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue (03.05.1761-23.03.1819) on March 23, 1819 by the nationalist student Karl Ludwig Sand. The tragedy was followed by reactionary Carlsbad Decrees of September 20, 1819 that not only gravely restricted activities of student associations but also banned Burschenschaften and Turnerschaften for good. As a result of repressions fraternities went underground for three decades and reentered political scene only in 1848 to participate in Revolutions of 1848 in the German states.

Romanticism of yesteryears was replaced with the spirit of nationalism and Pan-Germanism in 1871, with the creation of the German Empire. To a certain extent it was that change of ideology that led German authorities to relax their grip on student associations. The Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia Wilhelm II was once even portrayed as a Bursch wearing an outfit, or Couleur of Corps Borussia Bonn consisting of a distinctive white Stürmer and a black-white-black ribbon over the right shoulder to the left hip.

Postcards 12

Come 1896, the new movement “Fraternity of free students” (Freistudentenschaft) showed up in German universities whose followers united under the slogan “Back to the roots” (“Zurück zur Natur”) called for basic principles of Burschenschaften including organizational framework and distinctive insignia to be rejected. Particularly they fought for wearing of ordinary clothes (“einfache Kleidung”) and stigmatized colorful outfit (Couleur) as archaism. Their minimalist ideology turned out to be persisting to such an extent that Freistudentenschaft survived the Great War and the fall of the German Empire, joining criticism of traditionalist followers during the restless Weimar-era.

Ironically, traditions of German students rose from the ashes in a war-torn and politically unstable post-WWI country on the brink of the civil war. A multitude of teenagers staked on getting high-quality higher education justly assuming that the knowledge would be in high demand after the economic collapse is overcome and their once powerful Fatherland forced to its knees by the Allies is returned to normal life. Uncertainty of tomorrow, radicalization and polarization of society being the most distinctive features of the Weimar Republic antagonized part of the German youth and pushed them away from taking part in politics. They believed that salvation from disastrous effects laid in academic world and attacked problems enthusiastically by studying and developing unfairly forgotten rituals of Burschenschaften as well as following centuries-long traditions that included wearing of distinctive colorful insignia. However, despite initially declared isolation from day-to-day difficulties, German students as once elitist caste of the Empire, couldn’t help from being involved in sharp debates about the future of their native country. Power hungry and gaining in strength communist leaders were regarded as the main threat to stability and prosperity of Germany, especially after their abortive coups d’état of 1918-1919. It’s worth mentioning here as well that student community wasn’t spared for some objective reasons from growing anti-Semitic sentiments purposefully propagated by National Socialists. As a result, German students tend en masse to profess extreme right-wing beliefs. However, their convictions never safeguarded Burschenschaften from repressions that followed after NSDAP seized power in 1933.   

Stundent_60 Stundent_61

National Socialist government couldn’t ignore young people who were regarded as an inexhaustible supply for its movement. Politicization of students was implemented via machinery of the National Socialist German Students’ League (Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund) that was created as far back as in 1926. Despite certain similarity of outlook and ideology, Burschenschaften together with their ideals, traditions, uniform and insignia appeared to be dispensable for the new authorities. The most annoying feature of Burschenschaften was their elitist nature and the fact that student fraternities turned into a kind of closed society for a long time without easy access from outside. Large-scale involvement and accessibility of newly raised children’s and youth non-class organizations headed by Hitlerjugend were set off against privileged position of Burschenschaften originally intended for selected membership only. National Socialists couldn’t do either without malicious attacks on traditional student insignia, distinctive caps being condemned as “reactionary eggshells” and ribbons as “camouflage for racially impure”.


Shortly after that open wear of colorful uniform by students was considered undesirable and subsequently prohibited. The only exception was made for those participating in various state-led propaganda campaigns, such as ceremonial public burnings of “undeutschen” books by authors whose writings were viewed as subversive. The most notable reaction against restriction of the rights to wear uniform showed up in June 1934 in Göttingen, where traditionalist students organized a standoff against Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund that led to street fighting. However, political temperature subsided before long and 1934-1936 saw Burschenschaften declaring their voluntary dissolutions one by one. Not the least of the factors was the stringiest legislation that declared student fraternities outside the law. Enrollment into Kameradschaften of the National Socialist German Students’ League was offered as an alternative option to “careless following of died off old prejudices”.

However, student traditions were still kept alive during the Third Reich era despite clampdown, but were professed secretly. Thus, competent bodies were aware of isolated cases when caps and ribbons were worn, clandestine events and rituals performed. The most remarkable case of resistance to Third Reich authorities took place on July 17, 1944 with an attempt to revive officially dissolved umbrella organization Corps-Dachverbands KSCV. More than hundred students in full vestments participated in a beer function held at headquarters of Corps Rhenania Würzburg. Undisguised violation of law hadn’t gone unnoticed and students soon found Gestapo sitting on their tails. Despite charge of high treason they escaped punishment thanks to late war turmoil.

The years of decay left behind with the fall of the Third Reich, Burschenschaften were on the point of revival in the West Germany in 1949-1950. However, such initiative unexpectedly met a hostile reception by university authorities and members of public. Caps and ribbons were banned once again in numerous institutions. Justice wasn’t obtained until mid-1950s thanks to positive outcome of several lawsuits. Nevertheless, insignia was allowed to be worn during corporate events and within headquarters only. The ban was lifted once and for all in 1980s.   

Champions of student traditions in the German Democratic Republic and Soviet influenced states, not to mention Baltic republics encountered much more grave problems. Burschenschaften were banned once and for all in DDR as “a vestige of bourgeois order impeding building of socialism”. The general situation resembled that of the pre-war era, Hitlerjugend and Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund being replaced with Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend), created on March 07, 1946 and numbering 88% of youth aged 14-25 by the end of DDR itself. Those interested in centuries-old traditions of German students had to rely on scraps of information and vintage insignia inherited from their parents and grandparents. However, conditions improved slightly in the beginning of 1960s, when unofficial domestic industry started offering “beer tunics” and simple tricolor ribbons. Students from East Germany started wearing butchers’ caps as they slightly resembled headgear of Burschen. Authentic vintage insignia was available for purchase in antique shops. Everything was in a turmoil, and illegal student events in East Germany were in fact gatherings of like-minded persons wearing rags, self-made items and various incompatible pieces either found at the attics or bought at flea markets.

Absence of reliable information on genuine traditions of Burschenschaften as well as impossibility of their implementation provided they were known and carefully studied, led to introduction of certain self-created innovations. Among them was an item of equipment known as “Beer cord” (Bierkordel), a bunch of 30 cm long cords of various colors presented to party animals. A knot was made every time a student took part in a beer ceremony called “Salamander” (to be described below). Along with ordinary “Salamander” (“Knotensalamander”), “honorary Salamander” (“Ehrensalamander”) were performed as well. The latter were dedicated either to distinguished members of fraternity or to memory of former graduates, or Philisters who passed away.

Professionally manufactured items of West German and Austrian origin related to various aspects of students’ life were made available to East German customers only by the end of existence of the socialist state.

Neutral Switzerland was the only European country that never imposed any constraints on its students community.

To summarize the first section of the article its necessary to state that with the lapse of time Burschenschaften finally turned into closed elitist communities with restricted access. Extracurricular pastime was mainly focused on beer parties, fencing, poems declamation and debates on burning issues. Various colorful rituals were integral parts of students’ life, the most common among them being initiation ceremonies, awarding of certain items of uniform, fencing and performance of drinking songs. That was there that acquaintances were made and developed into close friendship in due course. As a rule, university graduates observed fellowship traditions up to their last breath and provided mutual assistance to their former classmates in need. Each fraternity had its own authorities (Chargierte), personal flag, as well as set of rules and code of honor (Komment). Most Burschenschaften had unique distinctive uniform colors (Couleur).

II. Types of German Youth Associations

Postcards 06

German youth associations could be divided for convenience into the following categories.

1. Corps – corporation of students, nobles by birth. Those organizations, the oldest among other student fraternities, were the least politically loaded and professed high society values. Admission of non-German students into Corps was strictly prohibited.

2. Burschenschaft – students fraternity generally adhered to rightist, conservative and nationalist convictions. Burschenschaften were the most numerous amidst other students associations.

3. Landsmannschaft – association of fellow countrymen, admitting natives of specific regions only. As a rule, Landsmannschaften professed quite liberal philosophy.

4. Turnerschaft – athletic, or sports  association focused mainly on physical development of its members. The very first patriotically oriented Turnerschaften were founded in 1819.

5. Sängerschaft – association of choralist students.

6. Christliche Verbindungen, or Christian brotherhoods – religious associations that professed either Catholic or Protestant values.

Since the middle of XIX century those associations were divided into two major groups distinguished by their attitude towards fencing in general and duels particularly.   

1. Schlagende Verbindungen, or Fencing associations, that practiced academic fencing and trained their members to acquire such a habit. Moreover, some of Schlagende Verbindungen stimulated interest and even encouraged students to participate in duels with members of other fencing associations.

2. Nichtschlagende Verbindungen, or Non-fencing associations, that condemned duels and banned their members from participating in such activities, the most striking example being various Christian brotherhoods.

Among the six categories of youth associations listed above, only Catholic brotherhoods opposed duels unconditionally and as such could be characterized as “non-fencing” ones. All the rest had encouraged duels to a certain extent, either forcing their members to participate in combats, or promoting and at least allowing such activities.

Providing at least an exact number of German student associations, not to mention more or less comprehensive description of their traditions and distinctive insignia seems to be an impossible-doing task as more than 4,000 such organizations existed during the boom of students movement in Germany. An academic attempt to summarize information on coat of arms of students associations made in 1930s was crowned with success with respect to 1,400 bodies only.

III. Associations of Jewish Students in German-speaking Countries

To make an article as complete as possible even in its summarized form, Jewish students associations kept aloof though, are worth mentioning here as well.

At the beginning of the XIX century Jewish students were not only allowed to enter various fraternities equally with their classmates but too an active part in creation of some associations, e.g. in 1816 in Freiburg. Being focused on assimilation most Jewish students rejected idea of establishing their own national unions based on race and religion. However, politically oriented Jewish student community supporting creation of the Jewish state in Palestine is known to exist as early as in 1836 in the University of Prague.

Origins of anti-Semitic sentiments among students can be traced back to the middle of XIX century that witnessed dramatic increase of non-Aryan students in German-speaking countries. The cleavage has become more sharply defined in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Jews were granted with civil rights later than their German congeners. At the same time, Jews averaged a third of all students of the Vienna University in 1884, while more than a half of them studied at its medical department. Soon Anti-Semitic sentiments prevailed over German Burschenschaften and Turnerschaften. Those basic social tendencies resulted in restriction and soon prohibition imposed on Jewish students that craved for entering Burschenschaften.

Unconditional expulsion of all Jewish members was announced in 1878 by the Vienna-based association “Libertas” and in 1880 by corporation “Silesia”. Other German and Austrian Burschenschaften followed their example in 1890s. Moreover, in 1880 Vereine Deutscher Studenten, or Union of German Students, being the most radical association submitted a petition to the government of the German Empire requesting restriction of civil rights of Jews and their expulsion from the social life.

Progressing anti-Jewish discrimination attained culmination in 1896, when a German-speaking nationalist fraternity at Vienna University, the Deutschnationale Studentenschaft, or National German Student Society issued a decision known as the Waidhofen Declaration of March 11m 1896. They went so far as to declare Jewish students “wehr- und charaterlos”, i.e. “without character and unsuited to defend their honor”. As Jews they could simply never be in a position where they might have to protect their honor, not having any, hence they were to be denied the right to fight duels. German students were granted with a right to ignore challenge to a duel declared by his Jewish classmates. Come 1908, Jews were expelled from associations of university graduates. Although by the beginning of the Great War anti-Semitic sentiments faced recession, rising tide of nationalism and Pan-Germanism on the early stages of WWI resumed discrimination its pre-war course. Thus, all-German congress of Burschenschaften that took place in 1919 in Eisenach resolved to strip Germans who married non-Aryans of their membership. For justice sake it’s worth mentioning here that aristocratic Corps were the last who joined anti-Semitic platform at the turn of 1920s and 1930s.

Disillusioned by restrictive measures described above, Jewish students from German-speaking countries were forced to keep aloof and create their own associations not only in German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Switzerland, but in other European countries as well, e.g. Kingdom of Romania, Russian Empire (that comprised of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland), etc.

The oldest Jewish students association in Austria was Vienna-based Jüdischer Akademischer Verein, or Jewish University Corporation established on October 25, 1882 and widely known as Kadima, or Kadimah (translated roughly as “Nach Osten, vorwärts”). By the beginning of the XX century the Austro-Hungarian capital housed a dozen of Zionist students associations that followed German Burschenschaften model and practiced academic fencing. Those were merged into an umbrella body, Senioren-Convent.

The very first Jewish students association in the German Empire, “Viadrina” (later renamed “Thuringia”) was founded in 1886 in the University of Breslau (at present Wrocław in Poland) and was patterned in terms of structure and insignia after German Burschenschaften and Landsmannschaften.

On August 08, 1896 Jewish students association in Germany united into an umbrella body called Kartell-Convent with an aim of defending their interests and coordinating activities. Students from fraternities that merged into Kartell-Convent were obliged to challenge their offenders to a duel either with cold steel or pistol. The latter was revoked in 1914, though. Among other major umbrella bodies that performed similar duties, Kartell Jüdischer Verbindungen, or Cartel of Jewish Corporations and Bund Jüdischer Akademiker, or Union of Jewish Graduates should me mentioned here as well. By 1931, i.e. two years before their dissolution those bodies comprised of 13, 17 and 9 fraternities, respectively. All the other Jewish fraternities that never entered into the cartels acted independently. 

Female unions admitting Jewish students had been created in due course.

Jewish students fraternities could be divided for convenience into the four categories, according to their ideological outlook: Zionist, left-wing radical, assimilation-focused and finally apolitical that propagated educational values only.

During the turbulent 1920s and 1930s many Jewish students fraternities acted as self-protection squads warding off attacks of various radical, mainly right-wing elements.

Rise of radical ideology in Europe in interwar period made attacks on Jewish students fraternities more frequent, either led by traditional German Burschenschaften or by university authorities. Jewish students fraternities were dissolved after NSDAP seized power in Germany in 1933, the same measures were undertaken in territories incorporated into the Reich, i.e. in former Czechoslovakia and Poland. 

In post-WWII socialist Europe Jewish students fraternities remained prohibited save “Babel”, an association that temporarily existed in Poland in 1967-1968.

IV. Classification of Students’ Grades

1. Fuchs, or Fux (plural: Füchse, or Füxe)

Every novice who had crossed the threshold of university and expressed his desire to enter Burschenschaft becoming its full member, provided his candidature met all the requirements, was called Fuchs, or Fux (literally, “Fox”). Probation term could have lasted up to several semesters, during which he was watched attentively at by senior students. Recognized as fit, neophyte passed through an initiation ceremony that was called “Admission”, “Akzeption”, “Renoncierung” or “Reception”, depending on traditions of a Burschenschaft. It was at there that he received much cherished student’s cap (Studentenmütze) and ribbon to be worn over the right shoulder to the left hip (Fuchsenband). In most fraternities initiation was considered entrance point into Burschenschaft.

It’s worth mentioning here, though, that during the very first days of establishment of students traditions, every freshman was called Fuchs, even before he joined a fraternity. That term entered students’ slang as soon as the very first notion “Renoncenwesen” that stood for novice fell into disuse.

Being Fuchs meant being deprived of any significant privileges, save the possibility to address all the members of his fraternity, even much more senior ones, informally. Being stripped of a right to vote, Fuchs, however, still had an opportunity to influence decision of fraternity on his own future. Thus, his interests were represented during debates by one of senior students from his Burschenschaft. The latter was called “Old chap” (Leibbursch) then, provided he agreed to perform the duties of guardian and mentor. He was known as “Personal father” (Leibvater) or “Beer father” (Biervater) in some fraternities. In turn, his protégé was called “Personal Fuchs” (Leibfuchs), “Sonny” (Leibsohn) or “Beer son” (Biersohn). Henceforth presenting “sonny” with items bearing insignia of Burschenschaft on special occasions got to be one of duties of his “old chap”. As a rule, such relationship was very close and subsequently grew into strong friendship. As Leibburschen were allowed to put several novices in their ward, they acquired a personal entourage in due course, called “Personal family” (Leibfamilie) or “Beer family” (Bierfamilie).

Studying of students culture and traditions of fraternity was the direct duty of any Fuchs.

Depending on a Burschenschaft, Füchse were divided into the following categories.

- Spefuchs (derived from Latin expression “in spe”, meaning “future”): aspirant to a rank of Fuchs. It was given either to university entrants who expressed their wish for joining Burschenschaft even before passing entrance exams, or to first-year students who indicated  same desire. Spehfüchse were allowed to attend fraternity events using it as an opportunity to study customs and traditions. Spähfuchs, or “Observer Fuchs” (derived from German word “Späher”, meaning “Observer”) was an alternative form of identifying neophytes.

- Militärfuchs: applicant for joining fraternity and entering university after discharge from current active military or civil service. Admission for such a category of young men was influenced much by the high prestige of military service, and upon an interview applicant was issued with distinctive insignia of a Burschenschaft, i.e. a cap and a ribbon. Military service was regarded as a “holiday” and Militärfuchs wasn’t burdened with any tasks. 

- Jungfuchs: first-year student who hasn’t passed initiation ceremony but whose candidature had been already approved by a gathering of fraternity (Burschenkonvent).

- Krassfuchs (Krasser Fuchs): student who was accepted as a member of fraternity and was entitled to wear distinctive insignia of a Burschenschaft, i.e. cap and ribbon.

- Brandfuchs: as introduced initially in the XVIII century, a second semester student. Later on that grade was interpreted in two ways, depending on a category of a fraternity. Thus, gatherings of Catholic associations (katholischen Verbindungen) pronounced a first-year student Brandfuchs after an aspirant passed his two semester exams (Branderprüfung) successfully. On the other hand, fencing corporations (mensurpflichtigen Verbindungen) awarded the grade to winners of one or several duels (Fuchsenpartie).

Etymology of the grade “Fuchs” is worth of being mentioned here as well. “Fox” being a literal translation might seem to be the most appropriate way of understanding the sense of the grade. However, some researches who undertook profound studies found out more precise meaning of that word. Thus, they trace the roots of that notion in the Central German dialect (Mitteldeutsch) that labeled ignoramus or yokel “Faix”, “Feix” or “Feux”. Low German (Niederdeutsch) and Upper German (Oberdeutsch) dialects also had similar words – “Fos” and “Foss” that signified idlers. Moreover, Bavarian “Fex” stood for dunce. Nevertheless, Latin origin seems to be the most probable version. As the Latin word “Fucus” meant “drone”, subsequent “Fuchs” might be interpreted as follows: like a drone a first-year student is too lazy to study and lives in idleness. Meanwhile, some partisans of Latin origin insist that “Fuchs” is a derivative of the word “Faex” that stood for dregs and scums as lower stratum of society was known in the old days.

It should also be observed that several students fraternities from Brunswick, Göttingen, Heidelberg, Kiel and Königsberg used term “Renonce” instead of “Fuchs”. Those lads also added abbreviation “Ren” to cipher (Zirkel) of their Burschenschaft embroidered on cap.

As a rule, continuance in a grade of Fuchs lasted within one to three semesters, but not less than traditions of particular Burschenschaft instructed. It was understood that novices of yesterday would be able to represent their fraternity and won’t ever defame his Burschenschaft thanks to self-education and instructions of his Leibvater and Fuchsmajor. Fuchs would enjoy status of a full member of fraternity (Vollmitglied) upon passing the final check known as “Fuchsenprüfung”, “Burschenprüfung” or “Brandungsprüfung”. After the gathering of fraternity (Convent) passed positive judgement, an initiation ceremony (Reception or Burschung) took place with its main features being elaborated back in XVIII century. A Fuchs of yesterday and now a full member was presented with a cap and a ribbon (Burschenband) and then sworn solemnly on the constitution.

Continuance in a grade of Fuchs could be shortened provided an applicant won several duels, but that period might not be less than traditions of a particular Burschenschaft instructed. At least four victories were necessary before the WWII (before that regulations were even more strict), while in modern day Germany one or two successful duels seem to be enough. 

2. Fuchsmajor, or Fuxmajor

Authorized senior student responsible for providing knowledge to Füchse on general aspects of students culture as well as traditions and history of the fraternity was called Fuchsmajor or Fuxmajor. Some corporations designated that important position alternatively. Thus, Fuchsmajor was called “Fuchs(en)kränzchenführer” or “Fuchs(en)kränzchendeichsler”, i.e. Educator or Master of Füchse in the Heidelberg University and in the South German Corporation (Süddeutsch Kartell). Baltic Germans called those mentors “Oldermann”, Netherlanders – “Schachtenmeester”, natives of Flanders – “Schachtentemmer”.

Fuchsmajor of an ordinary non-fencing corporation enjoyed official status (Chargierte) and was  included to the governing board. As other officials, he was selected for a period of one semester only. Other associations might have had any university graduate appointed as a Fuchsmajor, regardless period that passed from his student years.

Fuchsmajor was granted with a privilege of adding an abbreviation “FM” after his name or signature and the cipher of his fraternity (Zirkel) when signing correspondence personally. Moreover, such a favour could have been granted for life by the gathering of fraternity for exceptional merits rendered to a Burschenschaft by a particular Fuchsmajor.

Fuchsenstunde, or “Füchse hours” were weekly lessons given by Fuchsmajor, during which he instructed neophytes on corporate culture, customs and traditions of the fraternity. He was also in charge of conducting meetings (Fuchsenconvent or Fuchskränzchen) aimed at strengthening bonds of friendship and esprit de corps. On the whole, the ultimate purpose of all those lessons and gatherings was to provide Füchse with satisfactory knowledge sufficient enough to pass the final check (“Fuchsenprüfung”, “Burschenprüfung” or “Brandungsprüfung”) and allow then obtain a status of a full member (Vollmitglied).

Headgear worn by Fuchsmajor was by far the most distinctive feature of his uniform as it basically was adorned with a fox brush either attached to the backside of a cap and thus hung loosely or sewn around the cap. Cocked hat (Zweispitz) was worn on special occasions only.

Another distinctive items of his uniform were two ribbons worn simultaneously: that of Füchse (Fuchsenband) and that of full members of fraternity (Burschenband). Some Swiss fraternities also added fox skin worn crosswise together with their community ribbon.


Stundent_28 Stundent_31

3. Aktiver Bursch, Aktive Dame / Mädel

That general rank applied to all full members of fraternity that enjoyed all the privileges and rights as well as duties and responsibilities stipulated by the Charter of Burschenschaft. The governing body of a corporation was elected among the members of this category.

4. Inaktiver Bursch, Inaktive Dame / Mädel

Students of the graduation year who focused mainly in passing final examinations and thus were unable to pay full attention at fraternity activities were called “Inaktiver”. They wore distinctive insignia during corporate events and en route to such functions only.

5. Alter Herr, Hohe Dame, Philister

Postcards 09

Those were the honorary members of a corporation, or former students regardless of their age with the main obligation of providing financial assistance to the fraternity from their earnings.

Stundent_75 Stundent_76 Stundent_77

The governing body of a Burschenschaft generally consisted of the following authorities (Chargierte) who were selected for a period of one semester.

1. Highest staff (Erstchargierte): Chairman (Senior) and Speaker (Sprecher).

2. Medium staff (Zweitchargierte): Vice-Chairman (Consenior), Vice-Speaker (Sprecherstellvertreter) and Fencing Instructor (Fechtwart).

3. Junior staff (Drittchargierte): Assistant to Chairman (Subsenior) and Secretary (Schriftwart). 

V. Traditions of German Students

1. Mensur, or Academic Fencing

Postcards 03

Duels, or more correctly, academic fencing (German – Bestimmungsmensur, Mensurfechten or just Mensur), were fought between students representing different fraternities. It should be noted straight away that those duels had nothing in common with hostility towards an opponent, neither they were aimed at killing an adversary. It was mere an opportunity to assert oneself by acquiring a reputation of a skilled fencer ready to defend honour of his corporation right along. It was not uncommon for duelists to become close friends after Mensur was over.

The term “Mensur” was derived from the Latin “mensura”, i.e. “measure” and is known since XVI century. The fact of the matter is that both duelists stood motionless against each other, the distance between them allowing opponents to strike a stab  without changing initial position. That distance (Mensurabstand) was calculated individually for each pair of students depending on the length of their arms. The art of Mensur was mastered vigorously during “fencing hours” (Paukstunde) that were absolutely different from “Füchse hours” (Fuchsenstunde), the latter being dedicated to theoretical knowledge, as it was described above. Those with physical defects or offsprings following their parents’ Mensur ban were allowed to refrain from a dangerous pastime. Unlike Fuchsenstunde that were conducted by a Fuchsmajor, fencing lessons were conducted by an appointed tutor – Fechtchargierte, or a Vice-Chairman (Consenior) of a Burschenschaft. Many students paid as much attention to mastering their Mensur skills as to studies, perfecting sleight of hands and accuracy of movements on a daily basis. 


The most common, though natural mistake made by nearly all novices at the initial stage of training was dodging a head stab, that was regarded as a gross violation of Mensur regulations. That inadmissible habit was uprooted by the means of a thick felt skullcap put on a head of a Fuchs. An apprentice was confronted then by a skilled Bursch armed with a rapier blunt for training purposes. Unlocking a defensive position of a Fuchs in a matter of seconds, instructor started raining stabs one after another in order to get his apprentice accustomed to tough conditions of an actual Mensur in such a peculiar way and make him avoid ducking.    

Pretended or true insults to dignity and honour of a student were the most common reasons for challenging to a duel. Much time being spent at mastering the art of fencing, it’s no wonder that practical proof of skills in real life was desired. As a result, most challenges were of farfetched nature, as were the “insults”. However, offenders, i.e. those who decided not to take up the gauntlet by turning a deaf ear to a mockery were destined to expulsion from the Burschenschaft according to the code of honour. Faint-heartedness during a Mensur was punished similarly.

Traditions of students fraternities from the XIX century required at least one duel to be fought by each student during his university years.

Stundent_83 Stundent_82 Stundent_84

Stundent_85 Stundent_86 Student_92

Mutilations and injuries being integral consequences of Mensur forced German authorities to prohibit duels in 1885. Nevertheless, the ban was lifted five years later and duels were revived since 1890. Historical evidence provides us with fact that 8,000 duels approximately were fought yearly in all the universities throughout the German Empire. The German student Fritz Bacmeister (04.08.1840-09.08.1886) is said to be a XIX century record-holder for a number of duels he participated in during his studies in universities of Göttingen, Würzburg and Jena within 1860-1866. That number exceeded… 100 duels!

The next unsuccessful attempt at eliminating picturesque but dangerous tradition was made by authorities of the Weimar Republic. National Socialists that seized power in 1933 succeeded more as their ban wasn’t lifted until 1953, when West German government partially legalized academic fencing. Though no absolute ban against Mensur was imposed, a fine was set on duelists and its amount depended entirely on legislation of a particular Land. In fact, such an ironic solution could be traced back to the Imperial era. Thus, German Emperor Wilhelm II was said to declare that both officers caught red-handed while fighting a duel would be punished severely as violators of a ban; meanwhile any officer refusing to give satisfaction would be disgraced and expelled from the army. However, as early as 1651, the Hohenzollerns forbad duels outright, a prohibition which remained legally in force forever after.

Mensur remains popular pastime among present-day German students, though to a lesser extent in comparison with the Imperial era. Commonly known nowadays as an academic fencing, it is neither a sport nor a duel in the primary sense of these words. Most probably it could be described as a method of educating character and personality. Modern statute of Mensur stipulates that “academic fencing serves the purpose of cultivating courage and self-confidence. Restitution of this medieval tradition serves as a tribute to the memory of our ancestors, and in no way might be regarded as a sign of reactionary sentiments in the society”.

Generally modern-day Mensur is limited by fifteen sets as against forty in the beginning of the XX century, distinctive insignia of fraternities isn’t worn for secrecy reasons, contestants and onlookers gather gradually to avoid police meddling. However, personal protective attire of duelists, slightly modified though and resembling fantasy armour remains the only unchangeable attribute of Mensur which traditions live until now.

1.1. Schläger Fencing

Postcards 01

Exchange of stabs without changing a position was the basic principle of a duel. Both duelists were not allowed neither to shorten or lengthen the distance between them nor to back off or shift their initial positions with body or foot even by dodging a blow. The only opportunity to parry a stab from an opponent was by moving one’s own rapier. Incidentally, arm itself should have been immobile, the only moving part of it being a hand. Such strict rules were accepted by all the students fraternities in 1850s, and before that regulations had been less exacting, e.g. duelists were allowed to duck by shifting torso and the distance between them was wider. 

Attempt to hit the unprotected areas of opponent’s face or head, the only unprotected parts of a duelist, was the main goal of a fight.

A special dueling costume is worth being mentioned here as one of the most distinctive features of students’ attire.

Quilt vest and similar apron reaching middle of hips represented the main protection of the torso, in certain cases leather garments were worn. Quilt sleeve together with leather elbow pad protecting arm of a fencer from shoulder to hand was worn on the fencing arm, either left or right, depending on preferences of a duelist. The left hand (provided student was right-handed) was placed behind the back and covered by a light shoulder pad. The throat up to earlobes was securely protected by a thick cloth scarf. Eyes and temples as by far the most weak parts easily open to fatal injuries were covered by special steel goggles with wire mesh eye shades. Therefore, head was left totally unprotected and thus represented an ideal target for a skilled fencer. Such a peculiar costume was introduced for security reasons after dueling regulations were toughened, i.e. since duelists were allowed to move their hands leaving arms immobile. Theretofore only the right arm had been protected, and fencers were allowed to move their body to dodge a stab.

The most common dueling weapon was called Schläger, or Mensurschläger, a 85 cm long sharpened rapier, ca. 1 cm in diameter with an orthogonally cut point to prevent severe injuries. A term “Rapier” was used once in a while. Design of a Schläger depended on a German state. Thus, students from the southern states preferred to use so-called Korbschläger, or Korb-Rapier, a rapier with a solid basket-type guard made of steel rods. The most common weapon used by students from the North of Germany was so-called Glockenschläger, or Glocken-Rapier, a Schläger equipped with a light bell-shaped guard bearing traditional colours of fraternity. In some universities both Korbschlägern and Glockenschlägern were used. Depending on a type of a weapon, fencing hand was protected differently, either by a suede glove or by a leather one reinforced by metal scales. In addition, cold steel for full uniform was manufactured as well, known as Parade-Korbschläger and Parade-Glockenschläger, and worn in metal sheath.

As a rule, ordinary duel consisted of 40 courses for fraternity members and of 15 courses for Füchse, each course, or “Gang” in turn generally comprising four to six strikes. The result was calculated on the basis of effective stabs. Hard-and-fast rule stipulated that a duel must be brought to a stop provided one of the fencers was seriously wounded, and the student who managed to cut face of his opponent was considered winner automatically. 

Well-tried stab by an experienced fencer who managed to break down his opponent’s defense resulted in a scar (Schmiss, or Renommierschmiss) left on the latter’s face. Schmiss was situated  mostly on the left side of the face, where blows would fall from a right-handed duelist. Left-handed fencers were considered to be quite dangerous opponents as far from all students were trained to parry stabs coming from the “wrong side”.

Stundent_17 Stundent_6 Stundent_25 Stundent_26 Stundent_20

Stundent_32 GE_army_15 TR_old_62

A dueling scar that remained for life was seen in the German society as a badge of honor and was borne by wealthy lawyers, experienced doctors, reputable professors and high-rank officers, thus differentiating former students from their colleagues of the same age. “Eiserne Kanzler” Otto von Bismarck had good reason to consider those dueling injuries as a proof of courage and honor. 

Postcards 05


Chief of RSHA Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Stahlhelmbund leader Franz Seldte, SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Reinefarth, Gauleiters Adolf Wagner and Paul Wegener, General der Infanterie Hans Krebs and General der Panzertruppe Karl Mauss were among numerous Third Reich-era statesmen and commanders whose faces were covered with Schmiess.

Dueling scars were desirable among Burschenschaften members in the second half of the XIX century and the first half of the XX century to such extent that some dishonest students imitated Schmiess either by resorting to self-infliction with a straight razor or by paying doctors to slice their cheeks. Those who received their scar in such a dishonorable way would frequently enhance it by pulling the wound apart and irritate it by pouring in wine or sewing horse hair into the gash.

Ironically as it may seem, Mensur had no losing party as the fencer who gained victory won laurels and the one who lost fight received a Schmiess that would indicate his bravery and valor during adolescent years for the whole life. Moreover, favor of the fair sex who preferred courageous cavaliers at all times was an additional attractive factor of receiving a Scmiess.

However, let’s return to description of Mensur participants.

Postcards 02

Each duelist was known as Paukant. The fight was maintained by several officials: the judge, two seconds, two assistant seconds, two masters of protocol, two Schleppfüchse and two doctors.

Impartial officiating was provided by judging performed by a representative of a third party Burschenschaft, the so-called “unaffiliated person”, or Unparteilischer.

Each duelist was accompanied by a second (Sekundant) and his assistant (Testant), the latter authorized to count stabs and hits. For security reasons both Sekundanten who stood at the left hand of duelists, were equipped even more elaborately than Paukanten themselves. Thus, instead of goggles they wore either a thick leather helmet with a face guard made of steel rods or a spherical helmet constructed entirely of rods. Both Sekundanten were armed with Schlägern.  


The minutes were recorded by two Masters of protocol (Protokollführer), each representing his own Burschenschaft.

Schleppfuchs was charged with inspection of Paukant’s rapier during breaks between dueling courses as well as with tracking and prevention of uncontrollable injuries to observers.

Two physicians called “Paukarzt” in Germany and “Bader” in Austria, one for each duelist, were present to attend to injuries during a fight. However, no anesthesia was used and wounded Bursch had to endure pain during stitching without crying and moaning. Doctors were also entitled to stop duel depending on severity of injury.

1.2. Saber Fencing

Postcards 04

In comparison with Schlägern, sabers were much less popular weapons among German students. Saber fencing differed from the standard Mensur described above in several basic features.

First of all, as appears from the term itself, a heavy saber (Fechtsäbel, or Säbel) with a curved blade and a hilt similar to that of Korbschläger was used as a weapon. The distance between opponents allowed them to hit each other with the point of a saber only, but movements with arms were permitted, unlike rapier fencing regulations.

Protective attire for Paukanten was considerably different as well. Thus, it consisted of quilt vest and apron worn next to the skin and attached by two straps on top and two more straps wrapped around middle of hips. Knees were protected with pads, neck with scarf, while fencing arm was completely covered with a thick quilt sleeve. The other hand that was placed behind the back, was left unprotected. Moreover, neither face nor upper side of a chest were protected. Therefore, injuries suffered during fencing with sabers were much more severe than those sustained during standard Mensur.

Generally, attire of the Sekundanten was nearly the same, except for the vest that was worn over a shirt rather then next to the skin.

2. Beer Rituals

Postcards 08

Alongside with duels, beer parties were another traditional pastime of German students to such extent that special beer mugs (Steinkrug, Krug, Stein) with insignia of countless Burschenschaften were soundly considered as an integral part of students equipment.

For Füchse, initiation ceremony included declamation of a quite lengthy poem or singing of a song during a general meeting (Commers) while sitting on a beer barrel. Each quatrain accomplished, Fuchs had to empty a full mug. Considering a length of a song or a poem, by the end of the performance probationary member of a Burschenschaft scored more than a dozen of mugs.

student 91 20140111 1450180495

Seating plan during parties was also regulated. As a rule, tables were arranged L-shaped, and the shorter part was occupied by a chairman and other authorities. Füchse led by their Fuchs-Major were allowed to be seated at the very end of the longer part of a table. 

Beer drinking was alternated with singing of students and patriotic songs according to chairman’s preferences. Each member of the fraternity was expected to be familiar with the particular repertoire, failing which a special songbook was available for a reference. 

Troublemakers were punished with the so-called Bierverbann that barred them from further drinking, singing of songs and participation in discussions. The name of the defaulter would be  chalked on a blackboard as a warning to other students. Bierverbann could have been waived in a eccentric way, by drinking an extra portion of beer by one of the party animals. The next portion of beer was split by a troublemaker and his guarantor. Grave breach of etiquette was punishable with a “double beer ban”, or doppelter Bierverbann that could have been waived by drinking a double portion of beer.

Not possessing full rights, Füchse, unlike members of a Burschenschaft were not favored with a questionable right to have their names written on a blackboard in case of misconduct. Outline of a pig was drawn instead, with a number of limbs corresponding to a number of troublemaker Füchse.

Disputes that broke out during beer parties were settled in the most peculiar and amusing way. All the arguments being exhausted and consensus still not reached, either squabblers or eyewitnesses addressed the chairman and made request for a so-called “beer trial” (Bierprobe). The task was to empty a mug filled to the very brim at the command of the chairman, and the one who left behind his opponent was considered a winner. Accuracy of a trial was confirmed by turning the mug over. False start was punished with exchange of mugs, thus facilitating a task for a law-abiding Bursch.

 “Salamander”, another beer ritual still observed today, inaugurates and concludes beer parties. Beer mugs were slid along the table and then pounded in unison three times at the command of the chairman. 

The so-called “puke pan” (Kotzbecken), that in fact was a small sink screwed on to the wall at chest level equipped with two handles, was practical though peculiar accessory of beer parties, indispensable for those students who felt unwell after getting dead drunk.

3. Other Rituals

Postcards 07

In addition to traditions described above one more colorful ritual originating from medieval German customs is worth making reference to. “Landesvater-Stechen” procedure that could be roughly translated as “piercing in the name of the ruler” was performed by two close friends who took their caps off and held them with their hands outstretched. Each cap was then pierced by his friend’s Schläger while bonds of friendship were sealed with a handshake. Slits in the cap were embroidered with silver or golden thread later on as a token of remembrance. Such a fraternization procedure as “Landesvater-Stechen” in fact used to be, was performed every five years. 

VI. Uniform of German Students (Couleur)

Postcards 11


Distinctive features of students’ uniform from Germany and several Central European countries were known as “Couleur” (from French, “color”) and comprised of a ribbon, cap or other specific headgear, cipher of the fraternity, tunic and Schläger. The so-called “Vollcouleur”, or “full vestment” consisted of a ribbon and a cap with the cipher.

Meanwhile, German Burschenschaften were divided into the following categories.

- Schwarze Studentenverbindungen, or “Black fraternities”, that didn’t have distinctive uniform at all and used coat of arms (Wappen) and cipher (Zirkel) only.

- Farbenführende Studentenverbindungen, that had their own Couleur but wore neither caps nor ribbons. Flags, coat of arms and special cloth pendants (Zipfel, or Zipf) were used as distinctive features of such fraternities. Full uniform wasn’t worn but during ceremonial functions and by authorities (Chargierte) only.

- Farbentragende Studentenverbindungen, that encouraged wearing of Couleur.

Tender affection for Burschenschaft insignia made some students keep their ribbon and cap even after being conscripted. Thus, some WWI- and WWII-era photos portray German soldiers in casual attire wearing ribbons and caps from their student years.


Stundent_46 Stundent_47


Sterbebild 2

Ribbons of German Students (Burschenband / Fuchsenband)

Two- or three-colored thin cloth ribbon was the major element of students’ attire. It was worn over the right shoulder to the left hip, both ends were held together by buttons made of enameled metal or porcelain. Those buttons were often engraved with a cipher of the Burschenschaft or coat of arms associated with the students’ fraternity.

Most corporations had two different types of ribbon, those for full members, i.e. Burschen, and Füchse.

1. Burschenband displayed original or full colours of the fraternity and differed in its width depending on a particular Burschenschaft and type of attire it was worn with. Generally it was 14-36 mm in width. Special types of ribbons were issued for wearing with a frock coat (Sektband) and a dinner jacket (Weinband).

2. Depending on a Burschenschaft regulations, several types of Fuchsenband were known to exist.

- Simplified ribbon for Füchse from fraternities that normally had three-colored ribbons, showed two color only, one of which was represented twice, thus making up three stripes.

- Füchse from fraternities that normally had two-colored ribbons wore ribbons with three stripes, either two of which displaying the same color, or with addition of a white stripe.

- Some Burschenschaften with longstanding traditions issued Füchse with ribbons made of state colors, i.e. black, red and yellow. However, those ribbons were not considered as full-blown items.

- Some associations, e.g. Göttingen and Heidelberg Corps, most Heidelberg Burschenschaften as well as Verbindungen from the Baltic republics had no Fuchsenband at all.

It’s worth mentioning here that due to huge number of fraternities, some of them boasting unique traditions, exceptions from the general rules stated above were not rare. Thus, some German-speaking Swiss Burschenschaften, e.g. Dachverband Stella Helvetica, issued their Füchse with three-colored “beer ribbons” (Bierband), while full members wore two-colored “wine ribbons” (Weinband).

Headgear of German Students (Kopfbedeckung von Studenten)

Headgear 1eng

1. Visor cap (Mütze, Kappe, Deckel, Keo, Couleur, Kopfcouleur, Couleur-Mütze) made of cloth, satin or suede was (and still is) the principal type of German students’ headgear and is considered to be the second most significant item of their uniform. When worn together with a ribbon it made up the so-called “full vestment” (Vollcouleur).

As a rule, the upper part of a cap (Kopfteil) was manufactured of a cloth of basic color (Hauptfarbe) that corresponded to that of a Burschenschaft. Occasionally cloth color was absolutely different from that of a fraternity, as it was the case of some Austrian Burschenschaften or of those associations that were raised by merging of several others.

In the majority of cases caps had a wide ribbon (Farbstreifen, Mützensteg, Vorstoß) displaying colors of Burschenschaft sewn to the cap band. Some fraternities had a short perpendicular scrap of cloth (Gösch) sewn to the cap band either of association colors or of those representing a friendly Burschenschaft.

Unique headgear known as “cap with wreath” (Kranzmütze) was introduced in 1830. It had red crown, black visor and black  velvet cap band featuring oak leaves embroidered in golden thread. Kranzmütze symbolized continuity of traditions of the oldest fraternity from Erlangen, Burschenschaft der Bubenreuther zu Erlangen, which flag sported those colors. 

Stundent_2 Stundent_12 Stundent_11 Stundent_33

Upper parts of some caps bore “Landesvater-Stechen” ceremony marks (see above), embroidered oak leaves and other symbols.

Several types of students caps were worn, the most common being soft (Schlappformat), semisoft (Halbschlappformat), stiff (Steifformat), semistiff (Halbsteifformat), burgher (Biedermeierformat), Heidelberg-style (Heidelberger Format), Jena-style (Jenaer Format), Bonn-style (Bonner Teller) and Prague-style (Prager Format). Particular type of a cap was regulated by the charter of fraternity and students were prohibited from wearing different headgear. Austrian and Baltic Burschenschaften caps were known as “Deckel”, the latter bearing embroidered star as a traditional insignia.

Headgear 2eng

In most corporations the main difference between caps worn by Burschen and Füchse was that the latter had simplified color scheme due to the usage of Fuchsenband or additional braid. Baltic Füchse wore entirely black caps.

2. Stürmer was the summer headgear of a distinctive shape originating from Bonn of 1840s. It is said that it derived from the square academic cap, while some researchers tend to associate it with a Phrygian cap. 

Stundent_1 Stundent_34 Stundent_15

3. Cerevis was a traditional visorless cap worn by students authorities (Chargierte). Three types of Cerevis existed: parade (Paradecerevis, or Steife Cerevis), street (Straßencerevis, or Leichte Cerevis) and doctor (Doctorcerevis). Cerevis-clad student performed military-style hand salute when greeting equal or higher ranking authorities by bringing two extended fingers to his right temple.

Parade, or Stiff Cerevis was worn shifted to the forehead and the right ear so that cipher was visible to those in front of a student. Cap band as well as cipher were decorated with oak leaves or vine embroidery. In most cases piping was bicolor, while third color was used as a basic color of the cap and was also found in embroidery of a cipher. Cap band and upper part were allowed to be embroidered in golden or silver thread. Paradecerevis was reinforced with elastic rubber band that served as a sweatband. Fuchsmajores generally adorned their Cerevis with a fox brush. Paradecerevis was worn during various corporate and public events with black suit and white gloves. It was prohibited from wearing as an informal headgear.

Stundent_14 Stundent_30 Stundent_24 Stundent_40

Unlike Paradecerevis, Street, or Light Cerevis was worn shifted to the back of the head so that cipher was visible to those behind a student. Due to the absence of elastic rubber band Straßencerevis was less stiff. In other respects Straßencerevis was similar to Paradecerevis. It was worn daily and was equivalent to a Mütze. Moreover, it was authorized for wearing with dinner jacket, as well as with black and dark suits. Right to wear Straßencerevis was regulated by charter of a particular Burschenschaft. 


Doctorcerevis, worn with either full or informal dress, was worn by PhDs only. It was distinguished by embroidery on its upper part either in a shape of three triangular rapier punctures or an additional chevron in the upper left part of a Zirkel.   

4. Beret (Barett) was a ceremonial headgear generally manufactured of corduroy and reminding of an item of traditional German attire from the first half of the XIX century. One to three ostrich feathers were attached to the front of a beret by means of a tricolor cockade in fraternity colors.

Some Burschenschaften authorized the chairman of the corporation and its flag-bearer only to wear beret as a part of their full uniform, the other authorities (Chargierte) being allowed to wear cerevis. Other corporations allowed beret to be worn instead of cerevis.  

Stundent_18 Stundent_21 Stundent_39 Stundent_22

5. Biertonne, or Kneiptonne, translated roughly as “beer barrel” was actually a visorless cap similar to a Cerevis but a bit softer, lacking cap band embroidery and Zirkel. Cap band was made of tricolor ribbon, color of an upper part corresponded to that of a Burschenschaft. Some Biertonne were trimmed with fur. Two types of that headgear existed: Tellerformat (disc-shaped) and Nackenformat, or Hinterhauptcouleur (cervical) that differed in size and shape. Biertonne was worn shifted to the back of the head so that cipher was visible to those behind a student. Biertonne was an informal headgear in most respects equivalent to a Mütze. Generally it was worn by Inaktiver Bursch and honorary members of students corporations. Those wearing Biertonne were obliged to greet each other with salute.


Cipher of a fraternity (Zirkel)


Initially ciphers of fraternities that made their appearance in 1780s represented intertwined letters corresponding to the names of German universities. Thus, Heidelberg students adopted “RC” cipher (Ruperto-Carola), Erlangen – “FA” (Friderico-Alexandrina), Göttingen – “GA” (Georgia-Augusta), etc. Ciphers were subsequently created by combining association names and lower case characters “v, c, f” or “e, f, v” that stood for the initial letters of the following Latin or German mottos:

 “e, f, v”: “Ehre, Freiheit, Vaterland” – “Honor, Freedom, Fatherland”.

“v, c, f” combination had three interpretations: “Vivant Fratres Coniuncti” (“Long live fraternity”), “Vivat Circulus Fratrum” (“Long live circle of friends (brothers)”) or “Vivat, Crescat, Floreat” (“Let [fraternity] live, advance and prosper”).

Postcards 13

However, mottos might not coincide with those of fraternities themselves. Thus, Zirkel of Guestphaliae fraternity featured Latin motto “Vivant Fratres Coniuncti”, though motto of Burschenschaft read “Es mögen leben die verbundenen Brüder”. That was also the case of

Germania fraternity – “Vivat, Crescat, Floreat” vs. “Es lebe, wachse, blühe” and Hassorum fraternity – “Vivat Circulus Fratrum” vs. “Es lebe der Kreis der Brüder”.

In most cases, since 1820-30s ciphers ended with an exclamation point (“!”) which origin is interpreted in several ways. Firstly, it heightened the very meaning of the motto. Thus, up to 1850 the motto “Vivat, Crescat, Floreat” would be even followed by three exclamation points that derived from its interpretation  as “Vivat! Crescat! Floreat!”. Secondly, exclamation point stood for an aspiration of fraternity members to display their fitness for a duel as the only way to uphold their honor. In that case “!” was interpreted as a stylized Schläger turned upside down. Finally, exclamation point might stand for integrity of younger and older generations. Thus the line was interpreted as a community of graduates (“Altherrenschaft”), while the comma as that of students (“Aktivitas”).

Being an integral part of students’ insignia Zirkel was drawn on beer mugs and wine glasses, embroidered on flags and caps, either separately or framed with wreath, attached to ribbons. It was mandatory for a Zirkel to be put after student’s signature provided he filled any document in the name of his corporation.

Special rules regulated appearance of signatures depending on position of students. Thus, highest staff, or Erstchargierte – Chairman (Senior) and Speaker (Sprecher) – put “x” after their signatures; medium staff, or Zweitchargierte – Vice-Chairman (Consenior), Vice-Speaker (Sprecherstellvertreter) and Fencing Instructor (Fechtwart) – put “xx”; junior staff, or Drittchargierte – Assistant to Chairman (Subsenior) and Secretary (Schriftwart) – put “ххх”. However, some fraternities followed reversed order, i.e. “x” for Erstchargierte and “xxx” for Drittchargierte. In exceptional cases a privilege of adding “x” attachments could have been granted for life.

Putting “FM” abbreviation after Zirkel was a prerogative of Fuchsmajor, “F” – that of Fuchs, “ren” – of Renonce. Corps members put “CR” that stood for “Corpsrezipient”. The most peculiar one was used by drinking companions who put “CK” (Conkneipant) while being in correspondence.

Schwarze Studentenverbindungen, or “Black fraternities” that didn’t have distinctive uniform at all, used Zirkel along with their coat of arms as the only insignia.

Ciphers were also scratched on walls of university prison cells by troublemaker Burschen. Such a striking illustration is still available nowadays in universities of Heidelberg, Erlangen, Göttingen, Leipzig and Greifswalf.


Short jacket made of cloth or suede of various colors and resembling dolman worn by hussars was called Pekesche or “beer tunic” (Kneiprock, Kneip-Rock, Kneipjacke). Kneiprock generally had four to five buttons, slit pockets and stand collar. Coat-breast, collar, imitation sleeve cuffs and lapels were edged with color piping corresponding to color of particular Burschenschaft. The breast was decorated with several rows of double cord fasteners with buttons. Decoration of a back of Kneiprock with cords was optional.  

Stundent_45 Stundent_5 Stundent_7 Stundent_4

Double-breasted cloth overcoats with cuffs of various colors known as “livery” (Livree-Rock) were also worn by students. Collar, cuffs and lapels were trimmed with wide silver or gilt braid.

Full dress (Vollwichs)

Full dress was worn by authorities (Chargierte) during various ceremonial events, e.g. university jubilee celebrations, festive gatherings of Burschenschaft, wedding ceremonies, funeral processions and funerals. Vollwichs was worn by Chargierte from all corporations, not only Farbentragende Studentenverbindungen, but even from Farbenführende Studentenverbindungen, i.e. those not wearing distinctive insignia at all. Full dress was generally worn by mounted authorities in XIX and in the first half of the XX century. The highest level of religious fraternities wore full dress on solemn occasions, e.g. divine services, various processions and interments.

Stundent_38 Stundent_43 Stundent_41 Stundent_23

Full dress consisted of the following items.

- Cerevis or Barett as a headgear;

- Kneiprock for university students or mining tunic (Bergkittel, known as Flaus in Austria) for students of mining academies (Bergakademien);

- Wide silk sash (Seidenschärpe) in fraternity colors and ribbon;

- White fencing gloves (Stulpenhandschuhe), white cloth gloves (Stoffhandschuhe) for young fraternities;

- White trousers (Hose) or riding breeches (Reithose), known as “Buchsen” in Austria;

- Black leather jackboots (Ledergamaschen) or riding boots (Reitstiefel) with spurs, known as Kanonen in Austria;

- Parade-Korbschläger or Parade-Glockenschläger, depending on traditions of a particular university, with metal sheath and black leather sword belt. “Non-fencing corporations” carried blunt Shläger.

Author’s personal collection of students’ photos can be found in our Gallery