by Master Steinologist Walt Vogdes
This article uses an amber glass stein enameled with the emblems of
Corps Bavaria to introduce the topic of student association steins.
More commonly made in porcelain or stoneware, these colorful,
historical and somewhat mysterious steins are very collectible.
A student association
stein is one which displays the insignia for
the German student society. These steins were frequently given as
gifts, in commemoration of friendships, or in honor of the special
relationship between a mentor and a student. At one time there were
over 4,000 student associations in the universities of Germany,
Switzerland, Austria, Bohemia and other nearby regions. Today,
approximately 1,000 are still active.
Universities have always been hotbeds of strong debate and political
expression, but never more so than in Germany, where during the early
part of the 19th century the student associations encouraged
nationalism and resistance to Napoleon's domination. The members of
these societies took inspiration from the early Germanic tribes which
fought the Romans over German rule. Many of the associations engaged in
the practice of dueling, although not all of them, by any means. Those
that did required their members to engage in at least one duel before
they were granted full membership status.
Dueling with sabers was a means by which the students were able to
demonstrate their manhood, courage and willingness to take up arms in
the interests of Germany. Duels, fought between "brothers" of the same
fraternity, were held as a ritual, and the participants were judged on
the way they conducted themselves during the duel. Duelists were to be
combative and strike fierce blows at their opponents, but when struck
themselves, were to stand firm without flinching. Cuts were frequent,
probably more so because they were a badge of honor. So much was this
the case that salt or another substance to retard healing would
frequently be rubbed into the wound to promote scarring. A facial scar,
or Schmiss, was an important symbol of belonging. Fencing, on the other
hand, did not involve cutting your opponent, and was practiced as a
The German student associations surrounded themselves with the
trappings and emblems of their particular association. We now look at
the Zirkel, shield and coats-of-arms with which their steins were
What is a Zirkel? This is the term for a
symbol or cypher which was
especially designed for each student association. These symbols are
based on letters of the alphabet, but they are combined in a unique
flowing script, with the letters intertwined. In many cases the Zirkel
is made from one unbroken pen stroke, although that is not the case
with the Zirkel shown to the right. The first letter of the association
name (e.g., Bavaria) may be used as the basis for the symbol, or the
University name may be used (e.g., RC for Ruprecht-Carls-Universitšt of
Heidelberg). The letters c, v and f are always included, sometimes in
obvious fashion (like the f and the v in the Zirkel to the right),
othertimes only by suggestion or visual suggestion, as the c-shape in
the vertical stroke to form the B. These letters stand for the Latin
words crescat, vivat and floreat, or grow, live and flourish. An
exclamation point also frequently appears, representing the Latin
symbol for eternity, expressing the enduring bonds of brotherhood and
Student associations also developed their own
in keeping with heraldic tradition, had as their basic element the
shield. The shields were typically quartered and sometimes contained a
smaller additional shield super-imposed at the center (the fess point
in heraldry, the "heart-shield" in German terminology). The shields
almost always displayed the Zirkel, but included other symbols
pertaining to the origin, location and interests of the particular
chapter, as well as the colors they displayed on their clothing and all
other paraphernalia of their student life. The associations which
engaged in dueling competition displayed crossed swords on their
shields. Other interests which may be incorporated into these shields
include singing and athletic competition (4F). The shield also commonly
includes the date the association was founded, along with a wide
variety of additional letters and symbols.
called a Wappen, is much more elaborate. The beauiful enameled coat of
arms appearing to the right appears on the amber glass stein
illustrating this article.
The Zirkel, shield, and colors seen here belong to the dueling association Corps Bavaria of Munich. In keeping with traditions of
the shield was normally surmounted with a jousting or knight's helm,
surrounded with tattered mantling, and topped with a crest. The crest
is typically comprised of two to four feathered plumes, and both it and
the mantling display the colors of the association (appropriately in
this case, white, blue and white for Bavaria).
This glass stein also shows the phrase "Bavaria sei's Panier!" above
the coat-of-arms. This phrase simply means "Bavaria is our banner!" (Note: this expression refers specifically to the name of this association, not to the state of Bavaria.)
There is no complete record of the Wappen and Zirkels which these
associations used, and they are frequently difficult to identify.
All aspects of these insignia were a source of pride and
and the Zirkel was frequently used as part of a student's signature,
especially on anything related to student life and friendships.
Steins were frequently inscribed as a gift from one association
member to another. These gifts may have been between student
"brothers", or between a mentor and a student, or between members of
two different associations who had formed a special bond, perhaps as a
result of a duel. These inscriptions may be handpainted on the sides of
a stein, or on the inside of a porcelain inlaid lid, or may simply be
engraved in the pewter rim of the lid. Inscriptions normally include
the date, the names and the Zirkels of the parties.
It is also common to find the pewter rim of a student stein has been
deliberately cut or nicked, sometimes to both the right and left of the
tang. Popular speculation interprets these marks as indicating the
number of duels fought, or the number of cuts given or received in a
duel, but no specific rules for these marks are known.
* German Fraternity Steins, Ron Heiligenstein, Prosit, March 1987.
* Student Association Steins, The Beer Stein Journal, February 1995.
Revised April 2002 to use correct terminology for the separate parts
of the coat-of-arms, or Wappen.