Kilometres Make Champions*

30 May 2016

Tim Koch writes:

In a recent post, Göran Buckhorn wrote about Lennart Månsson, a sculler from Sweden’s Malmö Rodklubb, who logged more than 9,000 outings in the club’s logbooks in his 74 years as a member. Reading of this remarkable achievement prompts me to write about a piece of rowing memorabilia that I acquired from Germany last year.

Pic 1. The ‘Kilometer Preis’ (‘Kilometre Prize’) for 1915 given by Germany’s Dresdner Ruder-Club (Dresden Rowing Club) to the member that sculled the greatest total distance during that year.
The ‘Kilometer Preis’ (‘Kilometre Prize’) for 1915 given by Germany’s Dresdner Ruder-Club (Dresden Rowing Club) to the member that sculled the greatest total distance during that year.

Dresden is on the River Elbe in the east of Germany, near the border with what is now the Czech Republic, and its rowing club was founded in 1902. The inscription ‘Ohne fleiss kein erflog’ translates as something like ‘Without hard work there is no success’ (though ‘fleiss’ also translates as industriousness, application or diligence). The 18 x 22 centimetre plaque is very heavy, I think the wood is oak and the metal may be that most Germanic of materials, iron (evidenced by the fact that there is some rust to the rear).

Such awards seem to be a German tradition and perhaps an obvious one in a country where the idea of ‘touring’, rowing or sculling for long distances for the pleasure of it with no thought of racing, is a long established and widespread custom. I first came across such a prize when researching my recent piece on German – Jewish Rowing Clubs. The English version of Berlin’s Jewish Museum website shows a wonderful bronze or spelter statuette depicting a sculler in action. It was won in the 1930s by Fred Eisenburg, a member of Berlin’s Oberspree Ruderclub. The website explains:

The club awarded this challenge trophy annually to the rower with the most water kilometres. To determine the winner, the rowers kept a logbook in which they got someone impartial from a restaurant, gas station, or shop to confirm their location at the furthest point of their rowing trip. Fred Eisenberg was able to keep the prize after winning it three years running.

Remarkably, after 101 years the back of the Dresden plaque still has most of the paper label recording the winner’s name and the distance sculled – 1,314 kilometres (816 miles). Someone familiar with German surnames may be able to make out the name of the person who originally won it.
Remarkably, after 101 years the back of the Dresden plaque still has most of the paper label recording the winner’s name and the distance sculled – 1,314 kilometres (816 miles). Someone familiar with German surnames may be able to make out the name of the person who originally won it.

The plaque is signed ‘F. Adler’ (with the ‘e’ stylistically backwards). Though ‘Adler’ is a common name in Germany (it means ‘Eagle’), it could be Friedrich Adler (1878 – 1942), a German academic, artist and designer, who would have been 37 when the plaque was made. His great-granddaughter, Ma’ayan Alexander, has a Pinterest site which displays examples of his wide ranging work in furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass, silver, tableware and jewellery. She writes that, ‘He was especially renowned for his accomplishments in designing metalwork in the Art nouveau and Art deco styles’. I am not an expert, but I would describe the plaque as ‘in the Art Nouveau style’. Whoever designed it though, the Dresdner Ruder-Club clearly went to a lot of effort and expense to have this unique prize made and this was presumably a reflection of the esteem in which the winning achievement was held (I suppose it would perhaps be churlish to point out that, in 1915 most of the club’s fit young men would be engaged elsewhere).

The artist’s mark.
The artist’s mark.

As I have mentioned previously, for anyone who does not speak the language, any dip into German rowing history is a frustrating one. The Germanic states followed very closely behind Britain in enthusiastically adopting rowing as an amateur sport (also taking on some British ideas on the definition of an ‘amateur’). However, they very soon developed their own way of doing things and rapidly established distinctive traditions and customs. The ‘Kilometer Preis’ is certainly one of these and using these words plus ‘ruder’ in an Internet search seems to indicate that the tradition of awarding these prizes is alive and well, with many German clubs conforming to national stereotype and meticulously recording the distance covered for every outing made.

*A corruption of one of the many idioms of the famous rowing coach, Steve Fairbairn  – ‘Mileage makes champions’.

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