19 February 2019
By Nigel Longley
In a two-part article, Frankfurt Germania member Nigel Longley reports on his club’s 150 year anniversary, which is partly going to be celebrated at Henley Royal Regatta this summer.
As part of the sesquicentennial celebrations of the founding of Frankfurt Germania in 1869, a 50- (or so) strong delegation of “Germanen” (members and committee) is planning to travel from Germany to visit the 2019 Henley Royal Regatta. There they will cheer on Germania athletes, who will be compete at the regatta, enjoy the unique atmosphere and – with a lucky Germania-VIP crew in an eight-oared boat – participate in a celebration row-past during the Saturday, 6 July, tea interval.
As Henley Royal Regatta commemorates the centenary of the 1919 Royal Henley Peace Regatta, and Europe finds itself in significant turmoil over Brexit, Frankfurt Germania is particularly pleased to be present at one of the most historic and international rowing events in the world. Each year, Henley brings young people from different countries and cultures together in a spirit of friendly and fair competition.
This year’s trip across the English Channel to compete at the regatta is the latest episode in a long tradition of Henley participation by Frankfurt Germania. The beginnings were rather inauspicious indeed. The first plans to enter Henley Royal Regatta were laid in 1876. However, the club decided at the last minute not to submit an entry form – it was deemed “too risky” to compete in a coxless boat! One “Germane” – a certain 22-year-old Adolf Meixner – attended that year’s regatta in Henley as a spectator and proceeded to order a skiff, in which he rowed very successfully over the next years.
At the same time, Frankfurt Germania was convinced of the superiority of the “English style” of rowing and the superiority of English boats. As a result, boats were ordered for the club from Searle’s boatyard in Lambeth. In 1882, an Englishman (!), William Drory, was elected Chairman of the Committee of Frankfurt Germania. In 1884, he was promoted to Honorary Chairman – a position he held until his death in 1922.
In 1880, Frankfurt Germania became the first club from continental Europe to enter Henley Royal Regatta. In the Grand Challenge Cup, the Germania eight lost by one length to London Rowing Club but beat Kingston Rowing Club – at the time there were three lanes at Henley.
Achilles Wild, six-time German champion single sculler, was part of the 1880 Germania eight. In 1881, he entered The Diamond Challenge Sculls – unfortunately with, decidedly, mixed fortunes.
Wild was not impressed by the experience of the so-called “British sense of fair play”. As it was recorded in the Germania chronicles of the time:
To begin, we need to explain that the rowing course at Henley is the most adverse course imaginable with on average 14 of the 18 daily races being won on the no. 1 station and even the most exceptional crews often losing on the no. 3 station. The decisive factor in achieving success seems unquestionably to be in being allocated the best station (no. 1) and should we ever again be in a position to send a crew to England, then we will avoid Henley, even it is the most important regatta.
While Achilles Wild was leading the field, the race was stopped after a collision between his two opponents. Wild agreed that the culprit responsible for the collision was allowed to take part in the re-row. The culprit – an Englishman – was awarded the good station, Wild the bad station and promptly lost. Again, as recorded in the Germania chronicles of the day:
The tributes paid to him (A. Wild) by the English public as a result of his dignified conduct led to an expectation of certain indebtedness to Wild. However, the reality proved to be somewhat different when his endeavours to enter the Great Marlow and Metropolitan Regatta were abruptly rebuffed. We have here on the one side an unabashed disregard of existing rules while on the other side a fearful barricading behind the very same – our (Germania) members will be able to find their own necessary commentary.
Frankfurt Germania’s aversion to Henley Royal Regatta in fact lasted for quite a while…
The second part of Nigel’s story will be published tomorrow.