The dueling scar, also called schmiss or renommierschmiss (bragging scar), was considered a mark of honor. Young fraternity men proved their valor in these duels, which were considered an essential rite of passage into high society for government officials, doctors and professors.

Source: Real Men Have Dueling Scars

I did some post graduate work at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität and am intimately aware that there are societies who arrange both public and clandestine rendez-vous's near the ruins of the ancient castle which now forms a part of the Heidelberg Municipal Park.

Source: GFDL 1.2 and CC-By-SA 3.0 (Pumuckel42) via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes taking place at these events are sabre duels conducted for sport, pleasure, and bragging rights. And one desired outcome of a sabre duel is rakishly attractive duelling scar. When delivered in the right setting, these scars are 'authentic' because they echo a centuries old tradition in central European folklore. Also, not just Heidelberg, there are (or were) hundreds these societies throughout central Europe and all of them can stake a claim to 'authenticity'. There's an interesting photo of a contemporary dueller with a fresh wound here.

Also this one...

My own!

I never gave a thought to whether or not these activities were accessible to tourists. And in all cases, if there are any legal boundaries that might intervene one's plans.

Question: how would a tourist go about arranging an authentic duelling scar on relatively short notice? Say 'short notice' means 3 months or less. I am aware that I could go to a doctor or even do it myself, but this would not be authentic.

Also, these things hurt and in addition to requiring stitches, you can't shave that side of your face for about 12 days (most often and counter intuitively the left side, but sometimes the right side). Are there other precautions a tourist should take note of (e.g., applying local aesthetic prior to the event or stocking up on pain killers or getting one's clothes cleaned afterwards or what to wear)?

Note that protective clothing is handled as a part of the tradition and provided by the society. But protective gear in modern times is no where near as baroque as American novelist Mark Twain described it...

The duelers eyes are protected by iron goggles which project an inch or more. The leather straps of the goggles bind their ears flat against their heads and these straps are wound around and around with thick wrappings which a sword could not cut through. From chin to ankle they are padded thoroughly against injury; their arms are bandaged and rebandaged, layer upon layer, until they look like solid black logs. They resembled beings one sees in nightmares. Their arms which projected straight out from their bodies are so heavy that fellow-students walk beside them and help to support them.

Source: Mark Twain and Dueling Scars

Secondarily: is it legal for a tourist to participate in a clandestine sabre duel? Or even publicly announced sabre duel? I am informed that there are also public events, but do not know if the authorities will allow tourists to participate.

German military laws permitted men to wage duels of honor until World War I, and in 1933 the Nazi government legalized the practice once more.

(note from Popthem)

Further research: Wiki article, "Dueling Scar"

  • 41
    If you are asking about anaesthetic I think you have missed the point. It's supposed to be a sign of bravery.
    – RedSonja
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 11:08
  • 76
    You want a sign of bravery from a private institute... without joining the institute, and without feeling the pain?
    – user30997
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 11:31
  • 10
    There is no way to have it authentic and be a tourist. As for shaving your face, one of my older teachers had one, in the middle of his forehead. Imagine Harry Potter. And you do not have to worry about the authorities not letting you participate. The Verbindung will not. This is not for outsiders. (I am not at all fond of the practice, nor of the behaviour of those student groups in general, but this is how they supposedly see it.)
    – skymningen
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 11:36
  • 12
    “Is it legal for a tourist to participate in a clandestine saber duel?” That sounds oxymoronic.
    – Édouard
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 0:59
  • 12
    Sidenote - you say that the scars are "counterintuitively" on the left side of your face. Consider that the scar is, presumably, made by your opponent's blade, and they're standing opposite you, facing you, and (statistically) probably holding it in their right hand.
    – Tin Wizard
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 20:30

6 Answers 6


The short answer is: you can't.

As an "honorary" member of a Burschenschaft, I fought two duels in Freiburg in 1988, leaving me with a prominent Schmiss on my right cheek (11 stitches) and a small one (one stitch) that probably wont be noticeable even if and when I go bald. I've probably witnessed over 100 duels. Though a lot of time has passed since I did this, I suspect things haven't changed very much.

Here's what you would need to do to even have the opportunity to get a duelling scar:

  1. Join a duelling fraternity, or Schlagende Verbindung. Though I would later be offered full membership, I was able to become an "honorary" member of a Burschenschaft by virtue of a German great-great-grandmother (and because my father knew a German Navy officer who was an alumnus). A Burschenschaft is typically not going to admit you if you're not German. For the Burschenschaft that I belonged, you had to have completed your Wehrdienst, or compulsory military service - those who chose non-military service (at a hospital or rest home, etc) could not join. So you'd need to find a Landsmannschaft or some other duelling organization that would let you join. Most Verbindungen are NOT of the duelling type. You have to be a student at the university in order to join, but foreigners are more welcome in the Landsmannschaft and Corps organizations.

  2. After joining, you would need to do a lot of training before you would be approved for a duel. Its all about correct form and style - the objective is actually NOT to slice open the other guy (nor is it to get hit yourself !!) - and maintaining it no matter what happens during the duel. Typically you'll have your "basic" duel ("Fuchs Partei") in which only basic strikes are allowed; the "Burschen Partei" is the second type of duel, in which nifty things like horizontal blows are allowed. Training for this kind of duel typically takes a year.

  3. In a basic duel, often no blood is even drawn - and because the strikes must come only from above (in Freiburg - other universities can differ in their protocol), even if you are hit, the scar likely wont be visible afterwards. Its not until the advanced class of duels that things get interesting - the cheeks and foreheads (and top of the ears) are vulnerable to horizontal blows, which are much more difficult to defend against. Now, I'm sure someone, somewhere, at some point, actually WANTED to get hit during a duel. However, you're OBLIGATED to perform at your best, so willfully allowing your guard down in order to receive a sharp hit would be an egregious breach of protocol. But by the time you've prepared for an advanced duel, your training simply kicks in - there's no time to think about your reactions because of the extremely fast alternation of strikes.

  4. As with every endeavor in life, people will have different skill levels. So opponents are carefully chosen by a council of representatives from different Verbindungen (you never duel someone from your own) and you will face someone the same height, speed, and strength. You don't get to choose your opponent, and you don't go around challenging others to duels any longer. Duels are carefully arranged and there is no antagonism between opponents.

Let me comment on a few other topics in the OP :

Duels are categorically NOT public events, and instead take place inside a Verbindungshaus, in a large room that can accommodate the duellists, their seconds, the guy who cleans off your sword after each round, the doctors, and many observers. Attendance will be restricted to only those from other local duelling organizations - recognizable by the unique color band you wear across your chest as well as your matching hat. If you're not from a Schlagende Verbindung, wearing your colors (and a jacket and tie), you won't be allowed in. Period.

There are no publicly announced duels.

Duels are not fought with sabres any longer (sabres have curved blades) but with straight blades of varying weights about 1m long. Only the tip and about a third of the blade is sharpened, on both sides. Its entirely possible to hit someone with the flat part of the blade, which actually hurts more than getting hit with the sharp part. A blade ("Klinge") is used for only one duel.

"I'm aware that I could go to a doctor or even do it myself….but this would not be authentic…"

You are correct. (Hmmm)

"Protective gear in modern times is nowhere near as baroque…"

Actually, Mark Twain's description is pretty spot-on - though most serious duelling groups will have made an investment in chainmail vest ($$$), which gives a lot more freedom of movement than conventional old leather. Also its easier to clean the blood off.

The "iron goggles that project an inch or more" nowadays have a nose protector that can be attached, but otherwise probably look the same as when Mr. Twain described them. A leather strap holds the goggles to your head, and its cinched very tight to prevent a blade from taking out an eye. The neck is protected by a heavy leather collar also cinched very tight. Upper body is protected by thick leather and sometimes chain mail over that. Striking arm is protected by thick leather padding.

The top of the head and the cheeks are left unprotected - these are the target zones.

There is no lunging around. Opponents stand one blade length from each other and only the striking arm is allowed to move. You cannot move your upper body or head at all. The worst thing you can do is to try and duck a blow - you're automatically disqualified if you do that. It's not good.

Getting hit doesn't hurt. Getting sewed up without anesthetic does. Forget painkillers since they would make you too slow. You aren't even supposed to drink 24 hours before the duel and if you get solidly hit, you'll only be allowed a couple of cold ones after the duel.

"most often and counter intuitively the left side…"

Actually, think about that for a moment; it makes perfect sense - a right-handed opponent will strike most of their horizontal blows to their opponent's left side. A wound on the right side is normally the result of two lefties duelling.

"how would a tourist go about arranging an authentic duelling scar…"

You just can't. And three months would be way too fast even for a member of a duelling Verbindung - in Freiburg people would practice for most of the year before their basic duel, and then would work a couple more months on horizontal strikes before being pronounced ready for an advanced duel (I gained some notoriety back then as the only American who had fought two duels as well as the fastest time between basic and advanced - 2 weeks)

And remember, not every duel results in a scar!

(Although I suppose you could pay someone to hit you in the face with a duelling blade)

Ironically, this Italian documentary film from the sixties is still the best I've found. Skip ahead to 2:30 for the duel portion.

  • 4
    +1, great answer, and a personal attestation at that. Well done!
    – Gayot Fow
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 17:41
  • Are you sure, that you mean duel in each case you mention it? A duel ( e.g. a PC ("Persönliche Contrahage") or PP ( Pro-Patria-Suite) ) and a "Bestimmungsmensur" (kind of "dedicated controlled fight") are totally different things, not only in legal matters. When you say, you have fougtht two times, it is more likely these were "Bestimmungsmensuren". (?)
    – Philm
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 16:44
  • 1
    The film shows quite good the reality. And because of the tradtition things haven't changed much since the sixties. The only thing which is striking, is that this is a fight of two beginners, e.g. very slowly and a bit clumsy.
    – Philm
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 16:52
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    But I am not sure, if the injuries are real here. It depends on the rules (comment) of the city, but in a high number of comments, injuries are quite seldom. Three injuries in a slow beginner's fight like this is quite uncommon to me personally, but this can differ due to fighting rules (comment). In somewhat more safe comments an injury happens only in 1 of 10-20 fights or less, and the cheeks and ears are protected additionally. So this comment is one of the more aggressive ones.
    – Philm
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 17:00
  • 2
    @Philm - I guess my two duels fall in the "Bestimmungmensur" category, as they were arranged affairs. I haven't heard the other two terms (or cant remember, since it was a LONG time ago), but I'm assuming that a PC is a challenge...in other words, an antagonistic proceeding? If so, I know in Freiburg (at the time) these were highly frowned upon, the thinking being that people shouldnt settle their quarrels with blades...
    – stf
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 17:31

I am not a member of such fraternities, but my father was and my brother is, so I have some good second-hand knowledge of these traditions.

Such duels are always between two fraternities, so to take part in one you would first have to join one. Eligibility criteria differ from fraternity to fraternity, but practically all require that you are a student of a local university. Most (but not all) are very patriotic and often require that you are a German citizen (or at least a citizen of a German-speaking country). Some even require that you are a citizen by birth and will not accept naturalized citizens (which isn't uncontroversial even in the fraternity community).

Also, before you are ready for a duel, you will have to train regularly for several months. Going into a duel without proper training would be dangerous for you and shameful for your fraternity.

So as a tourist, you can pretty much forget about participating.

Are there other precautions a tourist duellist should take note of (e.g., applying local aesthetic prior to the event or stocking up on pain killers or getting one's clothes cleaned afterwards or what to wear)?

Not being afraid of the pain is part of the challenge (literally: Duelists are evaluated by their own fraternity after the duel, and it is usually considered more important to fight bravely than to fight successfully), so taking a painkiller before a duel would be against the spirit. It would also be a very bad idea because painkillers affect reaction and coordination, so taking them would be a huge handicap and likely lead to far worse injuries.

I was also told that the wounds one takes during a duel don't hurt at all at first due to the shock and high adrenalin levels. The doctor who is always present during these duels often stiches the wound immediately before the shock wears off, so a local anesthetic isn't even required. According to my father he only saw a doctor apply a local anesthesia once, and that was because it was a very unusual and complicated cut which took far longer to stitch than usual.

People wear protection clothing during the duel which protects the whole body up to the chin (plus goggles which protect the eyes and ears) which are usually owned by the fraternity, so whatever one wears under it is also protected from blood.


I'm not sure if you're aware, but these fraternities and their traditions are met with derision or disgust by a great majority in modern German society.

Besides that, these duels are usually carried out inside the fraternity houses. I'm surprised, but take your word for it, that some of them are open to the public. Anyway, they probably aren't attracting a lot of spectators. You seem to have in mind a big festival like a Knights tournament. It's definitely not like that.

I don't know if there are any exceptions, but the fencing is done by the members of the fraternity. To join you would have to be a student (usually at a university in the same city). I suspect that letting tourists participate would be so much against the spirit of these societies that you couldn't consider it authentic anyway.

According to https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensur_(Studentenverbindung), the duels have the same legal status as boxing fights, so as long as there are safety precautions and the participants know what they're getting into, there shouldn't be a problem. I see no reasons why this should be different for foreigners.

  • 18
    @Philipp: The “dirision or disgust” is not (only) about extreme political views that some fraternities may or may not support, but very much also about many of their traditions – not the least these duels, but drinking habits and steep hierarchies inside the fraternities also come to mind.
    – chirlu
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 14:58
  • 3
    @Philipp: Agreed. I didn't intend to promote prejudice. I just think that the question is based on false assumptions on the acceptance of fraternities (especially the ones that duel) in German society.
    – user19361
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 15:48
  • 6
    @Gayot Fow: I could have moved the first paragraph into a comment, but, as I said, the question seems to be based on false assumptions. Also, I didn't state my personal opinion, but rather my perception of public opinion. So I don't think "judgemental" applies.
    – user19361
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 8:19
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    @GayotFow: I don't know anything about a bounty. I actually thought this was an honest question and not a competition. If there really were a would-be tourist who thought a duelling scar would be a nice authentic souvenir from Germany, the information that it's not would certainly be of value to him.
    – user19361
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 8:43
  • 9
    Not "how and why", but I witnessed one guy with an 'authentic' duelling scar being attacked on street for it without further questioning. You really should consider this angle.
    – npst
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 10:38

No fraternity would allow what you want. Your wish seems to me more boyish than masculine.

Like in dangerous sports like archery: The first what a responsible person would do, if others seem to not taking things serious enough, is to stop them to participate.

Just to rectify some things: I am a member of a Corps (political neutral and other nationalities welcome) which is a "fighting" fraternity. True is:

  • Dueling is not only illegal, but also morally considered as bad by the vast majority of us members of "schlagende Verbindungen". There is only a quite small group practising it.

  • What we still do as a tradition, is the "Mensur" ("Bestimmungsmensur" where you are not allowed to chose your opponent to avoid duels for example), mostly as a prove of commitment to the fraternity: It is "fighting" with sharp blades, but with a number of important rules to minimize injuries, some of them imply for example, that only opponents of same size, speed and skill are allowed to fight each other, more harsh rules apply to distance, stance, technique, and so on.

  • It is a good habit to get acquainted to your former opponent (always from another fraternity) after the fight, to even get friends, and least exchange a silver plate (or similar) as a reminder on that.

  • For me, I have seen strong advantages for the cohesion of the fraternity because of this. But I am not fanatic in this point, I see the disadvantages too. For me fencing was never a main point, but this differs for others. True is, there is a difference between fraternities who "fight" and others in cohesion and team spirit, this is the main point in my eyes, why we continue with that, besides tradition.

  • Everybody sees it in their own way, but for me, a scar shows no proof of being a man, more of being a bad or at least careless fighter.

  • Fraternities are often critized as mentioned above. One point is, there are as many types of fraternities as political parties, some are very right-wing, that's not false, and there are not few who love excessive drinking, but that can happen in the twenties... At least one cannot judge all fraternities at once. We have had also teetotallers, conscientious objectors, and others as members- both not the majority, clearly :-)

One thing mentioned above is definetely untrue: "steep hierarchies.." I don't see that. There is an initiation phase where you have to work more, this is true, but the "leaders" and positions are changing every semester, every member has the chance and is expected to accept duties and charges, after some time. In the opposite, German fraternities have a long (often > 150 years) democratic tradition, this was one reason of their existence, and there are some similarities to a parliament process in the fraternity life. Fraternities were forbidden by the Nazis for example.


I started a very similar society at Cardiff University during the early 199os,we were all members of the Officers Training Corp , and were based loosely on German Corps rules . As a result now have a scar across forehead (20 stitches) and left cheek (10 stitches), the hardest part was sourcing the swords and other equipment from Germany.


enter image description hereI agree with all above that you would need to attend a German/Austrian university and then be invited to join a fencing fraternity, and train for 6 months or more in order to be allowed to fence a Mensur and risk getting a scar. Additionally, initial bouts are usually limited to high strike on top of the head and you would have to wait to fight a second Burschenmensur in order to be subject to horizontal strikes directed at the face, mostly likely some months later. So all in all, 1-2 years at university as an active member in good standing of a fencing fraternity. @stf, would love to exchange stories about fraternity life in Freiburg in the 80's. I too was an American member of a schlagende Verbindung (Sängerschaft Guilelmia-Niedersachsen) in 85/86 and fought Mensur in the Freiburger Waffenring. Not many of us in the world from outside of Germany!

  • Undeleted after edit. Still a minor answer but good to have personal experience. (I would edit out the chatty bit starting with @stf, but I will leave that in the converted comment.)
    – Willeke
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 15:36

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