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Dueling Scar (wikipedia.org)
104 points by diodorus on April 18, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

You can still see "Schmisse" in Germany today, although they are very rare. Here is the former CEO of Allianz with one: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a8/He...

AFAIK (the article also mentions that), the concept of duelling is still very present (and often a requirement) in German, Austrian and Swiss fraternities, but they now wear protection [0]: https://sensor-magazin.de/app/uploads/2015/09/CorpsHassia_St...

[0] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paukbrille

The protection for this kind of fencing was practically the same during the last hundred years. Depending on the city they are different, the Paukbrille is default everywhere, others like nose or ear protection are treated differently depending on the local rules.

Why then are the scars such an uncommon sight nowadays? Is it because the medical treatment of the wounds is better or because there are less duels nowadays than 100 years ago? Or is it because in the past, students did everything to get a scar (including slicing themselves open with a razor blade) because it was seen as a sign of honor?

Self-hurting is a urban legend afaik and was always (eg putting horse hair in the wound to make it gape wider is such a legend). The number of fencing fraternities is lower today, many stopped it between 1945 and 1970, and also back then many non-frat-guys practiced fencing. Also the number of fights per person was higher back then.

I'm not sure if that is also something that has changed over time, but a friend who is in a fencing fraternity (and also recently got a scar) told me that in most duels, certain moves or move combinations with a high risk of injury have been banned. That especially applies to the initiation duels required to enter the fraternity.

For "initiation duels" (Fuchsenpartien), that was commonly the case in the past as well. However, as previously mentioned, since the number of duels ("Partien") per person is usually lower today, the total number of duels where there is a risk for a hit on the cheeks is substantially lower.

It's true that some fraternities (more specifically, groups with common fencing rules called a Waffenring) have also moved to a "Hochcomment", i.e. a set of rules where hitting the cheek is banned entirely.

The membership in Burschenschaften (fraternities) has reduced significantly and membership is more frowned upon in society because most of them are very much on the right most fringe of society (in particular the "schlagenden Verbindungen, i.e. the ones that do duels).

Fascinating. In my country, fraternities are very much on the leftmost fringe of society.

Oh, where are you from? It's (sadly) true that there is no significant movement of left-wing fraternities over here in Germany (at least none that I'm aware of). I never understood why, because it is part of a historic student culture - and leaving that culture (or any kind of culture) to the right wing seems kind of sad.

Portugal. The first fraternities were founded in the 30s. They had their boom in the 50s and 60s, when university education started to become available for the middle class in earnest. This also coincided with the peak of discontentment with the ruling authoritarian fascist regime. The fraternities were a center of anti-regime activities (the communist party was virtually the only real resistance organisation during the dictatorship). Perhaps that's why the fraternities have always been left-wing bastions. But it's interesting how that culture remained even 40 years after the end of the fascist regime.

A lot of Burschenschaften have changed their rules.

Catholic ones now prohibit self harm through Mensur.

Some now protect the face completely while fencing, and others dont make it obligatory for the scar to be apparent anymore.

And contrary to the Wikipedia article, I would say its an upper middle class thing rather than an upper class thung, even if some Burschenschaften have very high connections.

Their membership has dwindled as their reactionary values have gone out of fashion.

According to Wikipedia, German speaking fraternities have 190.000 members [0], which is around 0.19% of the population of Germany, Switzerland and Austria (EDIT: see comments below, most of them are "nichtschlagend", meaning they don't duel). Compare this to 34.000 students in the German empire in 1900, which was under 0.1% of the population. I would assume that not every student was member of a fraternity back then, so the number of active fraternity members was even lower. Now, I do not know if the 190.000 members include non-active members as well, but I don't think you can generally say that their membership dwindled significantly over the last 100 years. Also, after studying in a University town in Germany where fraternity live is still very present, I don't think you can generally say that these fraternities are reactionary and/or right-winged (although there membership is, on average, much more conservative than the general population). I only noticed one common denominator among all of them: a massive consumption of alcohol.

[0] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studentenverbindung

I saw the Wikipedia article. The number isn't properly sourced, but it's believable enough. The closest attribution is this journalistic article[1], which doesn't have the number. It also refers to the dwindling relevance in the past decades, which I was thinking of rather than going back a century. I'll let DeepL translate:

However, what sounds pleasing from the point of view of the student fraternities is different on the bottom line. "Despite the new admissions we have a minus of about 200 members per year", says CV managing director Weiskorn. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of members are older academics, some of whom die every year. This development is in line with the long-term trend that can be observed overall among the student fraternities: "According to information from the cross-corporate mergers CDA and CDK, the number of fraternity members declined significantly between 1997 and 2009," says political scientist Kurth. "This downward spiral is accompanied by a massive loss of importance." Less than one percent of all students are now organized in corporations.

It's worth mentioning that most fraternities don't duel. Dueling fraternities are the reactionary minority of a conservative minority.

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20141129111313/http://www.wdr.de...

> Dueling fraternities are the reactionary minority of a conservative minority.

As someone that knows quite a few people from dueling fraternities (recent graduates), I don't think that's a fair generalization (even though that's the common trope). There has been a lot of organizational changes in the last two decades around one of the biggest associations for dueling fraternities (DB), where a lot of fraternities that didn't align with their reactionary views left and founded associations of their own. As a result of that, DB is now half of its initial size. And there are probably also a few that didn't leave where the younger generation has more progressive views, but they weren't able to convince the old inactive members (which are the bulk) to leave.

So yeah, they are generally of a conservative political mindset, but I would say that the strong political tendencies portrayed in media and hearsay only apply to maybe ~1/3 or less of dueling fraternities.

I assume by DB you mean the Deutsche Burschenschaft, which still includes the majority of fraternities not just the ones that duel. You are correct that many left, but that was not because the DB moved to the right it was more that generally society became more and more critical. The same fraternities did not have any issues for many years that several of the prominent members fraternities of DB had Neonazis in key roles. To give a taste of the views held by many fraternities. Most (90%) do not allow women members, many do not allow members from migrant backgrounds (and the ones that changed only did so in the last 10 years or so). When Germany still had military service (technically it's just "paused"), most fraternities did not allow members who had done "Zivildienst" which is the substitute where you work in hospitals, retirement homes...

My point is that what you call "the same fraternities" are not the same fraternities anymore. Younger, more progressive (compared to the status quo of the fraternities) members join, and older less progressive members leave (die).

I personally don't share the values of fraternities, and would never join one, but I've also come to see that they can be a good station for young adolescents leaving their parents homes for the first time, if done right, and would also love to see them open up to more diverse groups of people.

In the last years, community structures for teenagers/adolescents (e.g. sport clubs, scouts) are becoming less and less popular, and I'd hate for that trend to continue, as I personally wouldn't be the same without them, had they not existed. I'd rather see them reform than be shunned out of existence.

Most of those are not schlagende Verbindungen, though.

The vast majority these are "Alte Herren", i.e older, non active members. The important fact is that their importance for student live and career opportunities has all but ceased to exist.

Out of fashion _among students at elite universities_ maybe.

Unfortunately growing quite fashionable in the greater society.

I spent some time (as a party guest) in a fraternity in Munich where these scars were not uncommon. The coolest part was the room where dueling took place - it was like a pool in the floor but without water, to allow height for swinging blades.

The not cool part was that the organization was arch-conservative and xenophobic. Fun parties though.

I have a gash across my hand from cutting myself as a kid on a bare ATX case I was pulling a motherboard out of.

A friend spooked me while I was at work on the motherboard, I quickly recoiled, but my hand caught the razor sharp edge of a stamped steel case.

The scar is still there, and fairly large. I've always called it my geek dueling scar.

I guess the ATX case was the winner?

I have a 9 inch scar down my leg where my then-kitten fell off my lap and used his claw like a cutlass-wielding pirate rappelling down an unfurled sail. Pirate cat won the duel.

To this day I avoid the cheapest of the cheap cases, as the edges can be razor sharp. I cut my hands and fingers on them countless times, but have avoided any big scars.

I got one pulling a molex out of the back of a CD drive while pulling the CD drive forward out of a tower case. The front panel had been removed, and the sharp edges of the stamped steel case were exposed; I got a gash on the back of my hand when the molex came out only with great force.

It's not huge, about 1 cm in length and 2mm at its widest point, but it's pretty much the only scar on my arms.

The case is just a skeleton. Is the computer still alive?

I think you mean 'exoskeleton'.

If you have known rugby players, a north american equivalent today would be cauliflower ear from "the hooligans sport played by gentlemen," or collegiate wrestling, and the less-U brazilian jujitsu. The culture of initiation and rites of passage is rarer today because it shames people who lack whatever virtue the initiation is intended to recognize.

German fraternity guy here. Did such fencing with sharp weapons three times, but was good enough to only receive one small scar. AMA :-)

There's plenty of nerves running around the face and due to the amount of bone, probably necessarily close to the surface. Are there occasions when these get severed leaving the recipient less able to control their facial or jaw muscles?

The facial nerve is the 7th cranial nerve. It's branches innervate the muscles of facial expression. It is deep and it takes a deep cut to sever it's branches usually through muscle. Most of the scars are horizontal and I dont think I have seen one associated with a facial palsy.

The thick leather strap of the Paukbrille ("duelling glasses") protects much of the nervus facialis. When the cheeks get severed, however, some people complain from weird effects for a while (e.g. skins starts sweating when chewing). This always seemed to go away at some point though.

Never heard about that, and I heard a lot of stories in the last 15 years about fencing.

I don't think with functional loss, but severance of nerves there happens very very rarely. A few years ago a friend of mine had some jaw nerve/muscles severed, but regained full functionality.

Are there ever any severely disfiguring facial injuries from such duels, of a kind that frighten children or nauseate passersby? From which even community members cringe?

I am probably biased, but I don’t think so. In the days and weeks after the duel it looks heavy, but after months and years it in most cases barely visible from walking-by distance. There are some funny terms for extensive scaring on some cheeks like “Rangierbahnhof” (railway yard).

Well, ok, then. Sign me up. I want one.

Funny, I have scars in my legs and arms from dull training sabre and epiee. Completely accidental of course

In Austria this scar thing is only a thing amongst far right winged fraternities. Same in Germany?

Not really, the majority of fencing fraternities in Germany are not politically determined, except of course a general bias towards traditional mindset.

It usually is. Well connected fraternities at that.



Does it hurt?

The weapons are sharpened in such a way that they leave clean cuts. The Adrenalin is high enough so you don’t really realize the hit and direct aftermath, only the blood running down. Of course there is the healing pain, can be quite painful.

Would you say this "Mondo Italian" video is a fair representation of the dueling tradition?


No, this clip is widely considered as bogus in the community.

Nonetheless it looks very appealing. I’m not sure exactly why, other than I fence and like beer.

Dueling scars are still a thing in Germany today. Here's an interesting first-person account: https://travel.stackexchange.com/questions/69224/how-can-a-t...

cool, thanks.

(that link goes to the question. here's a direct link to the first-person account: https://travel.stackexchange.com/a/69363)

Very interesting, thanks. Documentary about it: https://youtu.be/lUh5exBJXBU

I live in Austria, and it's worth noting that the scars are heavily associated with old fashioned values, conservatives and nationalists and are very rarely seen nowadays

This is amazing in that one would endure pain and disfigurement to advertise social standing, but I guess I speak from a time where there are other ways to display class standing. Dueling fell out of favors in the French aristocracy because ... wait for it ... the lower and middle class started to duel in emulation of the upper class. Although in the US, I read that it declined because it became barely concealed cover for extra-judicial killing.

Now I'm on a train of thought that wonders what the customary analogous marker of status for women would be. That is, they all seem to be external (jewelry, ballgowns, high-status relatives) and not marked on the body.

Modern people suffer “pain and disfigurement” in other ways to display their status, high or low. Piercings, tattoos, branding, smoking, drinking, tight shoes, tanning, etc. We still do terrible things to our bodies for style. That never stopped.

> This is amazing in that one would endure pain and disfigurement to advertise social standing, but I guess I speak from a time where there are other ways to display class standing.

Yes, in our times people use tattoos, piercings, etc. Doesn't seem that different.

In China, foot binding (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_binding) was a status symbol (and a lot more cruel than dueling scars)

I thought the Kayan practice of wearing lots of brass coils around the neck also was a status symbol, but Wikipedia doesn’t mention it (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kayan_people_(Myanmar) )

Not having a tan (shows you don’t have to work in the fields) also was a status symbol at some time. Then, it became having a tan in early spring (shows you’re well enough of to go on a skiing holiday) or winter (shows you also can go on holiday in autumn).

Nowadays, having a tan year round again can again show lack of status (uses a tanning bed because of lack of funds to go on holiday)

I guess obvious (but not too obvious) use of aesthetic surgery or Botox served as a status symbol at some time, too, but here, too, that signal is confusing nowadays.

> the lower and middle class started to duel in emulation of the upper class

isn't that a common effect, e.g. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/03/26/394339284/ho...

> customary analogous marker of status for women would be.

Perhaps speaking numerous languages, playing the Piano, dancing/ballet etc.?

This reminds me that as a young boy I romanticized facial scars, and that sentiment was shared by a friend of the same age. I also remind this as a bit of a taboo, and I felt connected with him when we talked about it.

Looks like those feelings did not entirely came from nowhere

I am old enough to have played as a child with G.I.Joe action figures, and they (all?) had a scar (on the right cheek) that looked like being "manly".

I remember watching a Joe Rogan episode and they mentioned this. Apparently it was a big nazi machismo kind of thing. https://youtu.be/3MZr5J5DOfk?t=550

Reminds me of an episode of Tales of the Unexpected set in a German university https://youtu.be/naiTvr8TICI

Medieval badge of honor. Today it seems so ridiculous.

> It was important to show one's dueling prowess, but also that one was capable of taking the wound that was inflicted.

The modern day engineering equivalent to this is HackerRank.

Was this to impress women or society at large?

Other guys in the peer group?

That might explain the origin of why so many fictional Nazis in movies have facial scars.

Feel very glad I live in a society where I don't have to mutilate myself for the sake of toxic masculinity.

Just wait until this hits mainstream social media.

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