Whether students are looking for a shared room or simply for parties, they often encounter the term “Studentenverbindungen / Burschenschaften”: These are German associations of students and alumni that place a high value on traditions and old customs in the form of a fraternity.
But those who are unaware of the circumstances surrounding these so-called fraternities can potentially find themselves in an unexpected situation.
The General Students' Committee (AStA) last warned about fraternities as an accommodation in an E-mail campaign in 2021. In response to an inquiry from campus-mainz.net, the AStA press office stated that no further similar actions on the topic of fraternities are currently planned. However, they classify housing conditions in the fraternities of the Deutsche Burschenschaft as clearly problematic, since these people often have associations to the right-wing extremist milieu. AStA continues to clearly oppose this anti-democratic ideology.
In response to an inquiry from campus-mainz.net, the press office of Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz (JGU) stated that the university is committed to the principles of tolerance, openness and equality between men and women in its mission statement and strategies. As part of its diversity strategy, JGU states that it strives to achieve actual equality of opportunity and respectful coexistence among all members. According to them, the Senate and the Presidential Board of JGU exhaust all legal and social means to avoid offering a platform on the university campus to people and groups who oppose the Basic Law and the values deriving from JGU's mission statement.
For international students, the anti-discrimination counseling center provides multilingual counseling, but there are supposedly no concrete information on student fraternities and sororities yet. Neither the AStA nor the university stated that they received any complaints about student fraternities in recent years.
In an interview with a former fraternity member, who wishes to remain anonymous for protection, campus-mainz.net investigated the special characteristics of student fraternities. In the interview, he emphasized that members of fraternities would often claim that people were agitating against them. By doing so, they would try to internally increase hatred against external people who speak negatively about fraternities. He expects a similar reaction to the following interview.
The fraternity advertised itself with cheap rent prices. For just under 320 Euros per month, you could get rooms in a large house that included your own kitchen, a gym, and a reverse pension system. Potential members were told that they would be subsidized in a fraternity. Allegations of right-wing ideas in fraternities were denied immediately upon first meeting.
The Fuchsenzeit (“fox time”) is a probationary period for prospective fraternity members during their first semester. Conditions include attending fencing practice, passing an oral exam, and holding a presentation. However, there was often a sense that the fraternity looked down on the Fuchsen. Although they regularly emphasized the brotherhood in the fraternity, a hierarchy was still noticeable.
For example, at pubs (traditional student celebrations that are common for fraternities), the Fuchsen had to provide drinks for the frat boys. The boys who had been around longer were generally allowed to get away with more. Even after graduating from the Fuchsen, this hierarchy remained and people who had been in the fraternity for longer were allowed to mess up more.
In a beating fraternity, the Mensur is practiced. The Mensur is a name for academic fencing, which is still compulsory in many fraternities. The fraternity I was in had optional fencing Mensur. Nevertheless, there was a lot of pressure to participate in the Mensur. This was presented as an honor. Serious injuries were discouraged, but minor injuries to the cheek were encouraged and acknowledged with pride. The Mensur was considered a spectacle. Even if you chose not to participate, it was mandatory to attend rehearsals for it.
There were interesting events, such as a trip to the Porsche Museum. In addition, the contact with the old gentlemen was special, because you felt supported by them.
The old gentlemen are professional, former members of a fraternity. The relationship with the old gentlemen was different from the relationship with the older boys. Towards the former members, I did not feel a strong sense of hierarchy, but instead felt that it was easier to talk to them.
The aforementioned hierarchical double standards were also reflected in the shared flat life. The older boys could do what they wanted. When I was too drunk in their opinion on Father's Day during a tour with the handcart, the older boys punished me: I had to clean the men's room, where one of the older boys had vomited a few days before. Afterwards I was explicitly told that they just needed a victim to clean up his mess and that's why they punished me.
Of all people, the member who initially denied that fraternities were radical right-wing later turned out to be an AfD (Alternative Party for Germany – a right wing party) voter. He also said he was against including women in fraternities because they didn't have the "facilities" to do so. Drunken members often made sexist and homophobic jokes, but this was generally just an undertone.
At events, such as the Christmas party, members were expected to bring women as guests. For those who did not bring female guests, women were invited in advance by the old gentlemen. These women were expected to dance with the lonely members. Women were seen as trophies and objectified.
My resignation from the fraternity coincided with my exmatriculation at my old university. The structures in the fraternity made it difficult for me to study at my former university and I couldn't find a connection to my fellow students.
The withdrawal was inharmonious. Towards the end of my time there, the other boys noticed that I missed more and more compulsory events and admonished me several times with punishments. Finally, I learned in an e-mail that, because of my absences, the boys planned to discuss at the next meeting whether I could still remain a part of the fraternity. I then informed them that I would be leaving the fraternity. I feel much freer in my new shared flat.
When I was looking for a new flat with roommates, I paid attention to whether there was a bar in pictures of the apartment. Bars in the apartment were a clear signifier for me that those flats belonged to fraternities.
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