by Walt Vogdes
My wife and I are ones who eagerly watch the goings-on when door prizes are handed out at convention, craning our necks but never being asked to come forward. Never, that is, until the 2004 party thrown by Erste Gruppe in Long Beach, CA. Wonder of wonders, both my wife and I received door prizes! My wife received a very nice "hospitality" type basket, filled with lots of goodies including a couple bottles of California wine. My gift-wrapped prize, however, turned out to be the topper for the evening – a half-liter Mettlach tapestry stein which had been donated to the convention by Erste Gruppe member, Ruthe White. I was almost speechless, but did manage to stammer my thanks to both the chapter and the donor.
Mettlach stein model 1698 is a tapestry half-liter showing the façade of an old building. The background is pebbled and bluish-gray in color. The base marks include the Mettlach Abbey trademark, the model number, and the date (18)87. Fittingly, "The Mettlach Book, 3rd Edition" describes the scene as "Old building." The sole clue to the building's identity lies in two words appearing above the front door – Alte Fink, or "Old Finch." In 1994 the identity of this building was a mystery to two well known Master Steinologists, and it wasn't until two German members of Alte German came to the rescue that the mystery was solved. The Alte Fink is a tavern or local which was a favorite of university students in Göttingen. Although it has been relocated and reconstructed at least once, the tavern still exists in the city center today, operating as the Alte Fink Europa.
The pewter lid of this stein is inscribed with a student dedication:
Fr. von Klenck Z!
z. fr. Erg.
5-7.VIII. GA 1887
In this inscription I have used Z! to represent the Zirkel of a student society, and the "GA" is actually a fancy script ligature which can be seen in the illustration of the lid.
Now that we know where this building is located, that it was frequented by students, and Herr Bobsien and Herr von Klenck have been kind enough to leave a couple of additional clues, what else can we learn?
First the abbreviations, which are very common in student inscriptions. "s/l." is an abbreviation of seinem lieben, or "his dear," in other words, Bobsien presented this stein to his dear friend von Klenck. "z. fr. Erg" is shorthand for zur freundliche Erinnerung, or "in friendly rememberance."
The easiest clue to decipher is the GA ligature. The formal name of the renowned university in Göttingen is Georg-Augusts-Universität. It was founded by George II, King of Great Britain and Elector of Hannover in 1737. The international reputation enjoyed by the university today is the result of many eminent professors who are commemorated by statues and memorial plaques throughout the town. For example, in the 19th century, Carl Friedrich Gauss and the brothers Grimm taught there. More recently, forty-two Nobel Prize laureates studied or taught in Göttingen and many students attained a place in history – for example Otto von Bismarck, who studied in Göttingen in 1833 and lived in a tiny house on the "Wall" (according to oral tradition, he lived there because his rowdiness had caused him to be banned from living within the city walls), now known as "Bismarck Cottage," and the American J. P. Morgan.
Now to try to identify the Zirkel, the special cypher designed for each student association to serve as its own symbol. Zirkels are complex designs, and many of them differ in only small details, so identification using nothing more than visual comparison of the symbol requires some luck. This Zirkel appears to be based on the letter "B," and using some detailed records of student associations I identified three of them whose name starts with that letter – Corps Bremensia, Corps Brunsviga and Burschenschaft Brunsviga. Thankfully, an examination of the Zirkels for those societies proved successful – Bobsien and von Klenck belonged to Corps Bremensia Göttingen (see illustration).
One final piece of interesting historical trivia was learned by searching the internet. In mid-June of 1887, a scant 6 or 7 weeks prior to the dedication date of this stein, another student society in Göttingen, AV Palatia, was having a celebration when they were set upon by members of Bremensia. Following the fight, members of Bremensia were sentenced to 14 days in the Carcer (the student "holding tank"), while the Palatians got off with only 8 days – and a suspension of three months! I have not found any record to indicate that Bobsien or von Klenck played any role in this dust up, but they were certainly nearby at the time. There must be more to this story than meets the eye.