Frat boys gone ‘right’

6 Feb

Law students at the Free University of Berlin were receiving their diplomas at a ceremony on October 26. Among the attendees were four young men in militaristic uniforms. With their orange caps and black jackets, they looked like cadets, but in fact they belonged to one of Germany’s old-fashioned, right-wing student associations, or Burschenschaften – leftover “men’s clubs” in today’s Berlin.

Their presence at the ceremony caused a scandal. A student protested into the microphone – he couldn’t accept people from an “association that still requires an Aryan certificate!” Later, the head of the university wrote that the society’s uniforms should not be tolerated anywhere on campus.

Neo-Nazi sects? Not exactly. But these German “fraternities”, started as liberal patriotic collectives in the early 19th century, are much more problematic than their American counterparts.

“Burschenschaften have always been nationalistic, anti-French and anti-Semitic,” says Timo Meier, the anti-fascist officer of the student government of the Free University. “They are elitist and sexist, and many of them are right-wing extremists.”

Meier has demanded the dissolution of all Burschenschaften. “About 300 people protested against the national meeting of the Burschenschaften in Eisenach this summer,” he explains. The student government published a free pamphlet attacking the right-wing associations.

There are only half a dozen Burschenschaften in Berlin – none of whom agreed to a visit from Exberliner – but their networks are influential. Besides the students who live at the house (called the “Aktivias”), there are also the former students (“Alt-Herren”) who pay for everything.

These “old men” include Bild editor Kai Diekmann, federal transportation minister Peter Ramsauer and Berlin’s Minister of Social Affairs, Michael Büge from the conservative party CDU. Büge is a member of “Gothia”, the same group that caused the scandal at the Free University, The social democratic youth have called on him to resign, and he is considering giving up his Burschenschaft membership.

At the moment, the national association Deutsche Burschenschaft (DB) is on the verge of splitting, with a more liberal wing objecting to the majority’s refusal to distance themselves from fascists. “In the last two years,
they have gotten back in the news” because many refuse to accept
 non-Germans as members, Meier
 explained, and “today they have less 
than 10,000 members”.

Besides their political positions, they 
are also kind of strange. Their uniforms 
include colourful sashes and sometimes
 sabers, and many require that their
 members practice fencing, including
 getting a scar called a “Mensur” on the 
cheek. If you are looking for a room in
 a fancy old house with cheap rent, most
 Berlin Burschenschaften advertise they accept applications. But if you’re not German, don’t get your hopes up. JR



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: