Shooting to tenths of a millimeter, chains of medals, fresh beers, a lot of history – there are 14,000 shooting clubs in Germany, with 1.3 million members. The first were founded for self-defense in the Middle Ages, then the focus shifted to tradition and sport. This week the German Schützenbund, founded 160 years ago, is celebrating its anniversary.
“Germany was a patchwork quilt, you had to pay customs duties every 30 kilometers, there were other dimensions, that was very cumbersome for sports. That is why the Schützen decided in 1861, ten years before the unification of Bismarck, to anticipate this step in Gotha – similar to the singers and gymnasts, ”explains Stefan Grus (63), historian of the Schützenbund.
20 years ago there were still 1.5 million members – the trend is falling because there are not many young people coming. According to master metalworker Andreas Schiemann (52) from Aachen, sport can help overcome fear of exams. “It’s a seismograph. If you’re not doing well, you can tell immediately from the result. You learn to coordinate body and mind, to function on point. “
Corona has hit the clubs, after all, they are the center of life in rural areas. But slowly people are coming together again. BILD visited riflemen in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Thuringia.
Aachen, the elders
The oldest association in Germany, the Karlsschützengilde von Aachen (North Rhine-Westphalia), was founded before 1198. At that time the city was besieged because a king was to be crowned in the cathedral and the rulers behind the city walls did not want that. In a document it was stated that the shooters helped with the defense. “We assume, however, that we accompanied Charlemagne on hunts as early as 799,” says President Robert van Eisern (55).
Once a year the members shoot a massive wooden bird that dangles about 20 meters above the ground. This is called royal shooting. 300 to 400 rounds with a small caliber are needed for this. Whoever pulls out the last scrap has “shot the bird” and becomes the shooter king – hence the phrase.
But because that also brings with it duties and costs, one has to represent the club as “king” everywhere, some don’t want that and shoot past. This is probably due to the fact that some use the phrase “He probably shot the bird” in the negative.
The current king of 2019, after which Corona prevented the competition, is ex-carpenter Alfred Hilgers (72). He lost three fingers on his left hand in an accident at work in 1998. “The shooting brings relief to me,” he says. “You concentrate on it and everything else is gone.” As a wood specialist, he knows exactly where to hit the bird. “But in the end it is also a matter of luck.”
All shooters are happy that Corona is finally over. The members are vaccinated, you can be together again comfortably. President van Eisern: “It was particularly sad when our best sports shooter died during the Corona period. Actually, all the Sagittarius brothers and sisters would have given her one last escort. But that was not possible. ”
They don’t want gun fools with the Karlsschützen. “We’ll take care of that. Who is there with joy or who just wants a gun? We’ll send them away again, ”says sports shooter Norbert Jung (64).
Zellerfeld, the inclusive
Originally, the Zellerfeld shooting club in Upper Harz (Lower Saxony) was also founded for self-defense. Picturesque location between pine forests and mountain lakes, miners mined iron ore, lead and copper here in the 16th century. It went down into the tunnels for five hours and back up again for five hours. And in between work was done while dangers lurked above.
“Because the metals were very valuable, gangs of robbers camped in the woods and attacked the free mountain towns. Therefore rifle companies had to stand guard with heavy muskets. That is our origin ”, says Herbert König (72), Vice-Rifle Bailiff of the Schützengesellschaft.
The special thing here: Even people with disabilities can pull the trigger. Gudrun Gries (84) has had an eye disease for five years, has only three percent eyesight and can only see outlines. It is not enough to use the air rifle to identify and hit the 0.5 millimeter center at a distance of ten meters – “coiling a ten”, that’s what the shooters call it.
That’s why she shoots with her ear. An optical sensor transmits the aiming process acoustically to your headphones. “First there is a high-pitched noise. As I get closer to ten, it gets even higher. And when I’m exactly on it, there is a darker continuous tone and I pull the trigger. ”In the past, she could only sit there and listen to her husband shooting. “What he can do with the eyes, I do with the hearing,” she says. She shoots for the first time in a year and a half. “I missed that during Corona.”
Gotha, the founders
The Bund was founded in 1861 on the grounds of the ducal privileged Altschützengesellschaft zu Gotha (Thuringia). The oldest member, Dieter Brotrecht (92), says: “My father, who died a long time ago, was a member. I rejoined in 1990. ”Background: The Soviet military had banned all rifle clubs in GDR territory because they didn’t want German civilians to have access to weapons again.
The time since 2020 during the pandemic has been difficult. “Even the little ones shed a lot of tears during Corona. Because society is something like a second family, ”says Maximilian Große (18), who is a member as an archer.
50 of the 230 members are young people, which is more than in most other clubs. Lisa Nitschke (17) shoots air pistol. During the Corona period there was no training, the youngsters should keep themselves mentally fit with “brain training” – online arithmetic exercises, looking for numbers. “It’s a nice togetherness with us. We spent a lot of time alone at home during the measures. Now we’re finally getting back together, ”says Nitschke.
The youngest member is Leo Heustock (4). With a bow he can hit the target from ten meters away, and thread the arrow with his little fingers. “I enjoy it,” he says.
In the early evening over Gotha beer, Große, Brotrecht, Oberschützenmeister Jürgen Frankenberg (65) and Ralf Schöler (61) sit together, behind them a banner from the 19th century donated by the “Jungfrauen Gothas” (single women). “I haven’t had a gun for three years because of an eye problem. But I’m still coming, our club is a mainstay of the city, ”says Brotrecht. “For many, it’s a big part of social life,” says Schöler.
Then more and more members come in the evening, meet outside and celebrate the 160th anniversary. Because Corona has become less dangerous thanks to vaccinations, the shooters can finally be sociable again – and elect a king.