Burschenschaft

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German Burschenschaften (abbreviated B! in German; plural: B!B!) are a special type of Studentenverbindungen (student fraternities). Burschenschaften were founded in the 19th century as associations of university students inspired by liberal and nationalistic ideas.

History[edit]

The Students of Jena Take to the Field in the War of Liberation, 1813 (Ferdinand Hodler, 1908-09)

Beginnings 1815–c. 1918[edit]

The very first one, called Urburschenschaft (original Burschenschaft), was founded on June, 12, 1815 at Jena as an association drawn from all German university students inspired by liberal and patriotic ideas. Its purpose was to break down society lines and to destroy rivalry in the student body, to improve student life and increase patriotism. It was intended to draw its members from a broader population base than the Corps. At first, a significant component of its membership were students who had taken part in the German wars of liberation against the Napoleonic occupation of Germany.[1]

Its motto was “honor, freedom, fatherland” (German: Ehre, Freiheit, Vaterland),[1] and the original colors were red-black-red with a golden oak leaves cluster, which might be based on the uniform of the Lützow Free Corps, being a corps of volunteer soldiers during the wars of liberation. These colors were based on the Holy Roman Empire's national colors black-red-gold, although the reason for the colors was as well a practical one.[2] Even today, these colors are worn by many Burschenschaften.

The Burschenschaften were student associations that engaged in numerous social activities. However, their most important goal was to foster loyalty to the concept of a united German national state as well as strong engagement for freedom, rights, and democracy. Quite often Burschenschaften decided to stress extreme nationalist or sometimes also liberal ideas, leading in time to the exclusion of Jews, who were considered to be un-German. Nevertheless, all Burschenschaften were banned as revolutionary by Klemens Wenzel von Metternich of Austria when he issued the reactionary Carlsbad Decrees in 1819.

Many Burschenschafter took part in the Hambacher Fest in 1832 and the democratic Revolution in 1848/49. After this revolution had been suppressed, plenty of leading Burschenschafter, such as Friedrich Hecker and Carl Schurz, went abroad. After the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, the Burschenschaften movement faced a severe crisis, as one major goal had been achieved to some extent: German unification. In the 1880s, a renaissance movement, the Reformburschenschaften, led by the ideas of Küster, arose and many new B!B! were founded.

1918–1945[edit]

In 1935/36, all Burschenschaften were dissolved by the Nazi government or transformed and fused with other Studentenverbindungen into so-called Kameradschaften (comradeships). Some Nazis (e.g. Ernst Kaltenbrunner) and Nazi opponents (Karl Sack, Hermann Kaiser) were members of Burschenschaften. Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jewish journalist who founded modern political Zionism, was also a member of a Burschenschaft.

Postwar[edit]

While in communist East Germany Burschenschaften were prohibited as representatives of a bourgeois attitude to be extinguished, in West Germany most Burschenschaften were refounded in the 1950s. Some of them had to be transferred into other cities, since Germany had lost great parts of its territories after the Second World War, and many Burschenschaften from East Germany also tried to find a new home. The allied victors had forbidden refounding Burschenschaften originally, but this could not be upheld in a liberal surrounding. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Burschenschaften, as many other student fraternities, underwent a crisis: a lack of new members and strong attacks by the leftist student community. In the 1990s many Burschenschaften that had left Eastern Germany in the 1940s and 1950s returned to their traditional home universities in the East.

Today[edit]

Roughly 160 Burschenschaften still exist today and most of them are organized in the Deutsche Burschenschaft-organization (DB) in the Federal Republic of Germany and Austria or in the Neue Deutsche Burschenschaft-organization (NeueDB) founded in 1996 as a collective for liberal Burschenschaften in the Federal Republic of Germany only. While the DB still insists upon Fichte's idea of a German nation based on language, thought and culture, the NeueDB favors defining Germany as the political Germany established by the German Basic Law (constitution) in 1949 and altered by the 1990 unification. Aside from these two bigger organizations there are some smaller and non-organised Burschenschaften.

Because of the German emigration into Chile in the late 19th century, there are also some Burschenschaften in Chile, organized in the BCB (Bund Chilenischer Burschenschaften), in contact with the German and Austrian organizations. Most Burschenschaften are pflichtschlagend, i.e. their members must sustain a number of Mensuren. Academic fencing is still an important part of their self-understanding as well as political education.

Controversy[edit]

From those opposed to Burschenschaften, it is often claimed that members of these fraternities are often affiliated with conservative or right-wing parties. Burschenschaften themselves do not tend to a single party or group of parties.

Some individual Burschenschaften, often found in certain "umbrella" organisations (such as the Burschenschaftliche Gemeinschaft), are associated with right-wing or far-right ideas, in particular with the wish for a German state encompassing Austria.[3]

In 2013 one Bonn fraternity proposed that only students of German origin should be eligible to join a Burschenschaft. Reportedly half of member clubs threatened to leave in a row over proposed ID cards and a decision to label an opponent of Adolf Hitler a "traitor". [4]

Notable Burschenschaft members[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Martin Biastoch: Tübinger Studenten im Kaiserreich. Eine sozialgeschichtliche Untersuchung, Sigmaringen 1996 (Contubernium - Tübinger Beiträge zur Universitäts- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte Bd. 44) ISBN 3-515-08022-8

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b This article incorporates text from a work in the public domain: Carl Schurz (1913). Edward Manley, ed. Lebenserinnerungen Bis zum Jahre 1850: Selections. With notes and vocabulary. Norwood, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon. p. 204.  A German reader. The notes are in English for the most part. The copy at archive.org is missing some pages of the notes. In the note on Burschenschaft, this source claims the association of red-black-gold with the Second Roman Empire is erroneous.
  2. ^ See Lützow Free Corps for details.
  3. ^ Interview H. Schiedel, In: Gedenkdienst 3/2003
  4. ^ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germanys-student-duelling-clubs-face-split-over-aryan-id-cards-8347576.html