A Burschenschaft (German: [ˈbʊʁʃn̩ʃaft]; abbreviated B! in German; plural: B!B!) is one of the traditional Studentenverbindungen (student fraternities) of Germany, Austria and Chile. Burschenschaften were founded in the 19th century as associations of university students inspired by liberal and nationalistic ideas. They were significantly involved in the March Revolution and the unification of Germany. After the formation of the German Empire in 1871, they faced a crisis, as their main political objective had been realized. So-called Reformburschenschaften were established, but these were dissolved by the National Socialist regime in 1935/6. In West Germany, the Burschenschaften were re-established in the 1950s, but they faced a renewed crisis in the 1960s and 1970s, as the mainstream political outlook of the German student movement of that period swerved to the radical left. Roughly 160 Burschenschaften exist today in Germany, Austria and Chile.



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. Like the Landsmannschaften or the Corps, a student association based on particular German region, the Burschenschaft members also engaged in duelling.[1] However, its main 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. Indeed, the group was known for its middle-class membership while the Corps' was mainly aristocratic.[1] 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.[2]

Its motto was “honor, freedom, fatherland” (German: Ehre, Freiheit, Vaterland),[2] and the original colors were red-black-red (what would become the national colours of Germany) 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.

19th century

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. It was also during this time until the 1890s when members turned increasingly towards anti-Semitic outlook since it provided an approach to achieving the fraternity's fundamental goal. Members viewed the Jews as a problem that hampered the unification of Germany and the achievement of new values the organization advanced.[3] There were members who resigned to protest a resolution adopted at an Eisenach meeting declaring that Burschenschaft "have no Jewish members and do not plan to have any in the future."[3] Historical records show that the fraternity again accepted Jewish members later on since it was not in favor of racist antisemitism.

Interbellum and Nazi Germany

In 1935/36, most Burschenschaften north of the Austrian Alps 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. However, he resigned two years after he joined because of the fraternity's antisemitism. [4] [5]


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.


Roughly 160 Burschenschaften still exist today and many are organized in different organizations ranging from progressive to nationalistic. Among the latter is the Deutsche Burschenschaft organization (DB), which represents about a third of the Burschenschaften. Others are organized in the Schwarzburgbund or the Neue Deutsche Burschenschaft (NeueDB). 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. Many Burschenschaften are not organized at all since they do not see an organization that represents their values sufficiently.

Because of the German emigration into Chile in the late 19th century, there are also some Burschenschaften in Chile, organized in the Bund Chilenischer Burschenschaften (BCB), 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.

Many 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.[6] 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".[7]

Notable Burschenschaft members

See also

Further reading

  • 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


  1. Pine, Lisa (2010). Education in Nazi Germany. Oxford: Berg. ISBN 9781847887641.
  2. 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.
  3. Zwicker, Lisa (2011). Dueling Students: Conflict, Masculinity, and Politics in German Universities, 1890-1914. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 65. ISBN 9780472117574.
  4. Kornberg, Jacques (1993-11-22). Theodor Herzl: From Assimilation to Zionism. ISBN 0253112591.
  5. Avineri, Shlomo (2013-12-12). Herzl: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State. ISBN 9780297868811.
  6. Interview H. Schiedel, In: Gedenkdienst 3/2003
  7. Tony Paterson (23 November 2012). "Germany's student duelling clubs face split over 'Aryan' ID cards". The Independent.
  8. Hayman, Ronald (1980). Nietzsche, a critical life. Phoenix Giants. p. 61. ISBN 1857991370.
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