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The Association of German Students: Leipzig Students Remember the First Ten Years (1881-1891)

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Of the first four Associations of German Students – Berlin, Halle, Leipzig, and Breslau – all of which were founded in 1881, Leipzig alone enjoyed the advantage of being immediately recognized by the academic authorities, since the university president at the time, Prof. Luthardt, took the new movement under his wing, and virtually the entire faculty followed suit. As was the case in other university towns, in Leipzig the new movement was partially led by older students whose university days went back far enough to have witnessed the assassination attempts against Kaiser Wilhelm I in the summer of 1878. Since those days, there was an ever growing feeling that national accomplishments were in danger of wasting away and that it was the duty of all students to become aware, even as early as their university days, of the tasks they would subsequently face in public life. An entirely new student movement took shape and managed to unite both fraternity members and unaffiliated students. With some justification, Bismarck has been called the spiritual father of this movement insofar as his thoughts on the internal and external consolidation of the Reich provided the new academic thinking with its essential content. In his book The Associations of German Students. Twelve Years of Academic Battles,* published in 1895, our fellow fraternity member Hermann von Petersdorff provided a very elegant portrayal of the founding period, which he situated against the backdrop of general historical events; the book is to be warmly recommended to every fellow fraternity member.

The motive for the movement was the national idea. The external impetus was provided by the so-called Declaration of Notables of November 12, 1880, which was signed by 73 [sic] well-known citizens of Berlin, and which took aim at the antisemitic movement that had gained momentum primarily in the Reich capital, and especially at Dr. Bernhard Förster’s idea to send a mass petition against the Jews to the Reich Chancellor. The Declaration of Notables divided Germany’s educated world into two camps. On November 14, 1880, two days after it appeared, the election of the board of the Academic Reading Hall in Leipzig organized a forum in which like-minded students could exchange ideas, and the following day a twelve-member committee was appointed and charged with enlisting support for the student petition that was attached to Förster’s appeal by the student Dulon. The committee called for a student meeting in Trietschler’s Hall on November 22, 1880. This was the first impetus for the Leipzig movement, which obtained more than 1,000 signatures for the petition by December 25. Apart from Dulon, those most involved were above all Falcke, a native of Bonn and an inactive member of a dueling fraternity, and the subsequent members of the V. D. St.: the theology student von Langsdorff, the law student von Heyden, the history students Wilhelm Grotesend, Hans Groddeck, and especially Christian Diederich Hahn, who gave the first speech at the November 22nd meeting. The Leipzig Committee joined the preexisting Berlin Committee, which was regarded as the central committee, but remained the heart of the endeavor and developed an active recruitment effort at other universities as well.

The speakers at the first meeting in Trietschler’s Hall had already warned against disrupting the academic peace by demonstrating against Jewish students; they put forth the motto “Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo!” [“Resolute in action, mild in manner”] and emphasized that, as students, they were obliged “to acquire a thorough knowledge of – and the capacity to scientifically assess – those social questions that move our fatherland and toward whose solution we will one day be called to contribute to the best of our abilities.” On the recommendation of the Schleswig student Peter Jensen, the entire meeting sang “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,"** a song that had only been sung very rarely in Germany up to that point, and which has since become the banner song not only of the Kyffhäuser Association but also of Germany as a whole. On January 18, 1881, the Committee organized the famous student fraternity evening drinking session [Kommers] in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the German Reich. It was held in Central Hall, with Prince Ernst von Meiningen presiding as honorary chairman and Prof. Luthardt delivering the ceremonial address. The Deutschlandlied*** was heard again on this occasion. This Kommers, which drew 2,000 participants, represented the actual birth of the V. D. St. Leipzig. Its formal establishment eventually followed at a February 10th meeting at the inn “Stadt London,” and the academic authorities granted their approval within 24 hours. On February 15th, the first regular general meeting took place; the group informed Bismarck via telegram that the association’s motto was “With God for Kaiser and Reich,” to which Bismarck responded: “Sharing both the association’s aspiration and its motto, I extend my thanks.”

* Original German title: Die Vereine Deutscher Studenten. 12 Jahre akademischer Kämpfe – ed.
** “Germany, Germany above all,” the subsequent German national anthem – trans.
*** i.e., the German national anthem – trans.

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