The German Champion Herbert Buhtz

Herbert Buhtz and his “Master” Coach, Tom Sullivan.

Herbert Buhtz (1911-2006) was one of Germany’s best scullers in the beginning of the 1930s. He began to row as a teenager at Ruderclub Alt-Werder Magdeburg, the rowing club in his home town of Magdeburg. Buhtz was only 18-year-old when he and his partner in the double scull, Gerhard von Düsterlho, became the club’s first German Champions in 1929. They repeated their success the following year. In 1931, Buhtz began rowing for Berliner Ruder-Klub, which was coached by the New Zealander, Tom Sullivan, who took Buhtz under his wings. Buhtz became German Champion in the single scull that year.

In 1932, Sullivan sent Buhtz and his fellow club member Gerhard Bötzelen to race in the Diamond Challenge Sculls at the Henley Royal Regatta. The Diamonds final became an all-German affair when Buhtz easily beat his clubkameraden. Later that year, at the Olympic double sculls final in Long Beach, California, Buhtz and Bötzelen took a silver after having been in the lead up to 1,800 metres, when they were passed by the Americans Kenneth Myers and Garrett Gilmore. The latter had taken an Olympic silver medal in the single sculls in 1924.

Herbert Buhtz also won the Diamonds at Henley in July 1934, while the single scull European Championships title in August the same year was won by the German champion in the single scull, Gustav Schäfer. However, the following year, Buhtz became the German champion again.

When Coach Tom Sullivan left Berliner Ruder-Klub in October 1936 to move to Austria, Buhtz wrote a long celebratory article in the German rowing magazine, Wassersport:

“Although a German rowing club engages an Englishman [sic!] as trainer, this is in no way a matter of national feeling. The main point is what the teacher is capable of imparting and not what mother tongue he happens to have. […] Tom Sullivan was entirely worthy of the great confidence we had in him. Of the 490 victories won by Berliner Ruderklub Tom was responsible for 224 during the eleven years he supervised the training of the club. He was known as a master of the hard English school, of strict discipline and exact method of rowing. [- – -] His work and mature art convinced everyone. He was an Englishman with an international outlook and an honest admiration for the Germans, a fascinating personality whom young and old under his jurisdiction respected and whom oarsmen from all parts of Germany were attracted. [- – -]”
(From Hylton Cleaver: Sporting Rhapsody (1951), pp 48-49)

In a TV programme from 1989 about the Henley Royal Regatta, which I watched the other night (on a DVD), Herbert Buhtz was interviewed at Henley by the British TV crew. This German gentleman was utterly charming and praised the Henley spectators for their enthusiasm for the 1932 and 1934 Diamonds winner, although he was not an Englishman. (He elegantly steered away from the interviewer’s question about rowing for Nazi-Germany…)

After the Second World War, Buhtz was one of the old members that re-established the Berliner Ruder-Klub, and for a time also acted as coach at the club. He died in Berlin at the age of 95.

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