German Student Corps

German Student Corps

Corps ("das ~" ("n"), pronounced|koːr ("sg."), IPA| [koːrs] ("pl.")) are the oldest still-existing kind of "Studentenverbindung", Germany's traditional university corporations; their roots date back to the 15th century. The oldest today still existing corps was founded in 1789. Although distinct, the corps are in few aspects similar to and serve many of the same purposes of college fraternities found in the United States and to a lesser extent Canada.


Corps are built upon the principle of tolerance: No corps may endorse a certain political, scientific or religious viewpoint. In addition, all members are solely chosen by their personal character. Neither national, ethnic or social provenance play a role.

"Corpsstudenten" (corps students) wear "couleur" (colored stripes and caps) and practice "mensuren", academic fencing with razor-sharp blades that can result in bleeding face wounds, "Schmisse". The corps are organized in two federations, the "Kösener Senioren-Convents-Verband" ("KSCV") and the "Weinheimer Senioren-Convent" ("WSC"). Together, they comprise roughly 170 corps throughout Germany and Austria. The corps usually bear names that reflect their former origin from certain German regions, such as "Saxonia" (Saxony) or "Guestphalia" (Westphalia). Formerly, when a distance of a few hundred kilometres between a student's home town and his university meant weeks of travel, students from the same part of Germany traveled together and formed some kind of "new family". The distance, plus the fact that they carried the money for a complete semester with them in a bag, might also explain why students began fencing, simply for self defence, for students, military officers and aristocrats were the only people allowed to carry arms.

Like all "Studentenverbindungen", corps consist of two bodies: The active part contains all members, that still study and have duties for the corps, and are not part of the "Altherrenschaft", those who graduated. A fundamental idea is that older students should help their younger fellows, and this principle dominates the relationship between the two bodies. The former keeps the everyday business of the corps alive, organizes gatherings, keeps the "Corpshaus" (Corps House) in order. The "Altherrenschaft", graduated students with regular income, provides a financial background. This usually means quite cheap housing for the younger members among other things. The "Altherrenschaft" has the power to intervene in the business of the active members, typically to ensure the principles and spirit of their corps.

The active body is headed by a panel of three "chargierte" (charged persons), who are elected by all active, full members at the beginning of each semester (or at the end of the former one). Their functions are called "senior", "consenior" and "drittchargierter" (meaning "third charged person", also named "subsenior" in some corps).:
*The "senior" is responsible for all corps affairs in general, but leading and heading gatherings and events in special; he supplements his signature with a single cross (x) (in some corps withs three crosses (xxx)) as an external sign of his duties.
*The "consenior" teaches fencing to all members of the inner corps and assures the execution of the mensuren in coordination with the conseniors of other corps; his signature is enhanced by two crosses (xx).
*The "drittchargierter" (also known as "Sekretär", Secretary) has administrative tasks like paperwork and often the task of a treasurer; his sign is three crosses (xxx) (in some corps one cross (x)).

Being the oldest and noblest of their kind, the corps tend to treat all other forms of German studentenverbindung with contempt; corps despise all mannerism and affectedness (e.g. the overly use of Latinisms) that other kinds of "studentenverbindung", esp. Catholic corporations and burschenschafts show. This does not mean, that they understand other corporations as their natural-born enemies. This might happen occasionally, but also vice versa.

Even with the principle of tolerance being a central aspect in each corps' self-image, every corps student is urged to develop his own viewpoints and stand for them and to strongly participate in society, be it in politics, economy or social affairs. This encouragement for an ethical and self-confident behaviour on one side and the absence of a limitation to certain views on the other side let corps students often show up as the leading figures of the most diverse political directions. The emphasis on individuality brought many corps students in opposition to totalitarian regimes, such as the Third Reich.

The Weinheimer Student Corps also maintain a confederation with Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, a college Fraternity with over 270 chapters in the United States and Canada.


A selection of famous Corps students


*Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Prussia, later of the German Empire, "architect" of Germany's unification, Corps Hannovera Göttingen
*Ulrich von Hassell, German ambassador in Belgrade and Rome, resistance fighter in Nazi Germany, executed by the Nazis after the failed July 20 Plot
*Wilhelm Liebknecht, co-founder of the German social-democratic party, chief editor of the "Vorwärts"-Paper, Corps Hasso-Nassovia Marburg, Corps Rhenania Gießen
*Karl Marx, socialist author and theoretician, inventor of marxism, Corps Palatia Bonn
*Wilhelm II of Germany, Last German Kaiser, Corps Borussia Bonn


*Alois Alzheimer, neurologist, Corps Franconia Würzburg
*Emil von Behring, physician, Nobel prize laureate, Corps Suevo-Borussia Hamburg
*Karl Ferdinand Braun, physicist, Nobel prize laureate, inventor of the cathode ray tube Corps Teutonia Marburg
*Alfred Brehm, naturalist and author (zoological encyclopedia "Brehms Tierleben"), Corps Saxonia Jena
*Justus von Liebig, chemist, founder of organic and agricultural chemistry, Corps Rhenania Erlangen
*Joseph von Lindwurm, physician and dermatologist, Corps Bavaria Würzburg

Economy and Engineering

* Gottlieb Daimler, engineer, Corps Stauffia Stuttgart
* Rudolph Hering, American engineer, Corps Altsachsen
* Alfred Herrhausen, CEO of the Deutsche Bank, murdered by Red Army Faction-terrorists in 1989, Corps Hansea Köln
* Wilhelm von Opel, engineer, Corps Franconia Darmstadt
* Hanns-Martin Schleyer, board member of Daimler-Benz, head of the employer's confederation and of Germany's federal industry confederation, murdered by Red Army Faction terrorists in 1977, Corps Suevia Heidelberg

Fine Arts and Culture

*Heinrich Heine, German poet and journalist, Corps Guestphalia Göttingen
*Georg Heym, poet, most important exponent of early expressionism, Corps Rhenania Würzburg
*Egon Erwin Kisch, Czech-German author und journalist, corps student in Prag
*Robert Schumann, composer and pianist, Corps Saxo-Borussia Heidelberg
*Ludwig Thoma, author, publisher and editor, Corps Suevia Munich
*Richard Wagner, composer, Corps Saxonia Leipzig

External links

In English

*Mark Twain describes [ his encounters] with German corps students in chapters IV to VII of his travelogue "A Tramp Abroad".
*Journalist Jonathan Green published [ this article] in the "Financial Times Magazine", covering both the traditions and the current role of the Corps at length.

In German

* [ Homepage of KSCV and WSC]

In the Lower Countries

* [ Flaminea Leuven - a Flemish Corps]

* Groninger Studenten Corps 'Vindicat atque Polit' - the oldest Dutch corps
* [ Utrechtsch Studenten Corps - another Dutch Corps]
* [ Hansa]

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