21 March 2019
By Stephan Ploke
Stephan Ploke, president of the Akademischer Ruderverbindung Westfalen, writes on a rediscovered piece of German rowing history.
The rowing community is indeed a global village – a few days after Tim Koch had published his article “The Grosse Wiener – and Ruder Things”, which featured a picture of a victorious crew from ARV zu Berlin which was taken from a German illustrated magazine covering the Grünau Regatta of 1912 and which I had never seen before, Tim pointed out to me that he had spotted the original in a photo folder, which was on sale in an antique bookshop in Germany.
Dedicating such albums was a popular, yet very expensive tradition around the turn of the last century in richer clubs and fraternities in Germany, and these albums are extremely rare to find nowadays. As my club, the Akademische Ruderbindung Westfalen in Münster, considers itself the Lord Privy Seal of the German Academic Rowing Clubs, it was immediately clear that we had to purchase the album in spite of its proud price of €1,600 (£1,390/$1,800). After a quick call for donations, I had collected the respective funds and some days later I was holding the huge album (which is almost two feet tall!) in my hands.
The Akademischer Ruderverein Berlin (ARV Berlin) was founded on 29 June 1891 as a student rowing club and was originally located in Stralau, a borough east of the historic city centre of Berlin. In 1903, the club moved to the Berlin suburb of Grünau, where the regatta of the 1936 Olympic Games was held. The following article seeks to illustrate both the club’s early years and to provide an overview of the watersports scene in Grünau with the help of selected pictures from the album and a couple of contemporary postcards. Whilst briefly alluding to some boathouses in the close vicinity, I assume the numerous boathouses and regatta buildings along the Grünau regatta course would be well worth a dedicated article.
Richard Assmann was a renowned meteorologist and invented a psychrometer for the accurate measurement of atmospheric humidity and temperature free of any distortions by wind or solar radiation which is still used today. Assmann was also a committed member of the Berlin Regatta Association and drew Kaiser Wilhelm’s attention to the young student cub, which resulted in his support for the club’s new boathouse, as well as in the establishment of the “Akademischer Kaiservierer” Race, an event that was open to university crews only.
The total costs for the new building amounted to 80,000 Marks, this at a time when a racing four cost 500 Marks, an exorbitant sum for a club that was merely 12 years old! The project could only be realised thanks to significant donations out of Kaiser Wilhelm’s own pocket and from Julius Martius, the director of the Berlin photo and film company Agfa, who was rewarded with a noble title in return.
During a visit at the regatta in Grünau, Kaiser Wilhelm II stated that boathouse shall stand next to boathouse on the shore of the river Dahme along the regatta course. Hence he dedicated the land to be exclusively used by water sports clubs and his vision soon became true – in 1906, Sport Borussia moved into their new home, which was even bigger than the ARV house, and about half a dozen other boathouses followed in the next years. Sport Borussia won the German Championships in the eights in 1921 and 1924 and in the coxless fours in 1923 and 1925 as well as multiple other medals in these years and was one of the dominant clubs in German rowing in the 1920s. After the war, Sport Borussia merged with Berliner Ruderverein 1878, which is located in West Berlin.
The peculiar caps worn in the picture above look like fezzes, but they have no specific tradition in German academic rowing. I believe it was simply a “fun picture”, they were very popular at that time. For the 1936 Olympic Games, when the regatta was held just in front of the boathouse of ARV, the veranda was closed with windows to provide enough inside space for all members and their guests in case of typical German weather (and according to the book The Boys in the Boat, it was actually a very chilly summer that year)!
As the above shows, the interior of the ARV Berlin boathouse was mainly styled in the rather plain version of German Art Nouveau, particularly reflected by the lamps and wallpapers showing the typical cogs used by the Hanseatic Union. The Kaiser manifested his great affection for water sports in general and for the young ARV in particular by dedicating a signed portrait of himself, an honour that was only bestowed on ARV Berlin and his own fraternity, Corps Borussia Bonn.
The Sailing Club Ahoi was situated on the banks of the river Dahme in Grünau, just on the finishing line of the regatta course, and can also be seen on the famous picture of the finish of the eights race at the 1936 Olympics. The splendid house survived the war, but lost its two little towers over time and is home to the Yacht club ‘Wendenschloß’ today.
The race was followed by the Kaiser in this royal yacht Alexandria and the victorious crew would moor at the yacht and receive the trophy from the Kaiser’s hands. This picture was shot near the finish line of the race course and the boathouses of ARV and Sport Borussia are visible in the background.
The Emperor was an enthusiastic supporter of watersports, and his and his family’s personal attendance made Grünau the most prestigious and important rowing regatta in Germany at that time. Similarly, he was a keen sailor and likewise supported the ‘Kieler Woche’, the annual sailing regatta in Kiel and the Kieler Yacht-Club, which are still the dominant institutions in German sailing nowadays.
At the end of the boathouse row in Grünau, at the 1000-metre-marker of the regatta course, the so-called water sports memorial was built in 1896. An appeal to contribute stones with respective club names carved-in was sent to all German water sports clubs and more than 300 clubs send their stones to Berlin, which were then used to build the memorial. It was torn down in 1973 in the preparations for the World Youth Games in 1973, as a relic from Prussian times did not fit the ideology of East Germany’s communist rulers. After the Berlin Wall came down, several stones were found and were brought to the water sports museum in Grünau.