This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Flagship Orchestra

05 October 2012

The musicians of the Flaggeschiffskapelle des Kreuzergeschwaders pose on the dock beside their ship for their official postcard photograph. This band was stationed on the Cruiser Squadron Flagship of the Imperial Germany Navy or Kaiserliche Marine. Though more a light orchestra than a band, the string players in this small ensemble of 16 sailors probably doubled on brass or woodwind instruments too.

Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz

Navy bands are an old tradition in many countries, but the new nation of Germany, which was created in 1871 by the unification of the many German States, did not have any history of a real navy. Instead it developed out of the small Prussian navy, and since the King of Prussia became the German Emperor, it was the grandiose enthusiasms of Kaiser Wilhelm II which really expanded the German navy.

And the man who became the driving force for the Kaiser's ambition for German domination on the seas, was Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, who advocated for building a larger fleet with many more battleships and armored cruisers.  I'd think it was hard to argue with someone sporting such a  magnificent beard. 

The postcard was sent from Kiel, the home port of the German Navy's Baltic Fleet, on  18 April 1908. Though the penmanship is fantastic, the language style again prevents me from a translation. There is a  note on the front with something about Leopoldshall, which suggest a concert date perhaps.

The word Kreuzergeschwaders is crossed out and B.S.A. is written. I believe this may stand for Baltic Scouting Group, a division of the High Seas Fleet.  In 1908, the Imperial German Navy was still using many older ships, and in the next few years, just prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Germany would build dozens of huge battleships, in an effort to intimidate the British navy. So I don't think the ship in the photograph is one of the great dreadnoughts, and despite scanning the card at 2400 dpi, I'm unable to make out the ship name on their caps.

The Kapellmeister or band leader stands in the center with both his baton and sword. Conductors can be quite expert in fencing with musicians, but I think that cutlass would command a lot more attention from a wayward trombonist than a small pointy stick.

With seven strings, flute, two clarinets, two trumpets, two horns, trombone and percussion, this chamber ensemble probably played regularly for the admiral's meals and parties, as well as providing ceremonial music for the ship's company.

The idea that programs of waltzes and polkas were heard on board a battleship, really softens the image of a great naval power. Could Admiral Tirpitz have nodded his head in time to the music of these musicians?


The dashing beards wore by several of these musicians, resembles the imperial style beard of a musician in  another photo postcard I recently acquired. This elegant violinist stands in front of his music desk, presumably in his home, and though there are no markings or note to date or place him, I believe based on his aristocratic beard, that he is German and from this same period. With his frock coat and striped trousers, he is certainly a professional musician too.

If he had a sword, I'd even say he was the same man as the flagship orchestra's Kapellmeister.  Note the wedding band on his little finger of his left hand.

Since I have chosen a German naval theme this weekend, I must include another photo postcard which I recently acquired. They are sailors too, but maybe not so musical.

These four lads are Die Söhne des Kronprinzen am Maschinengewehr, or the sons of the Crown Prince on the machine gun. These boys, dressed in bright white sailor suits, are the sons of Friedrich Wilhelm Victor August Ernst, better known as Crown Prince Wilhelm the heir to the German Imperial throne. They are lying on a garden lawn, taking aim with their machine gun, and defending the fatherland sometime around 1917-18. Just the kind of patriotic postcard to send to grandmother.

The subtitle reads Eigenhändige Aufnahme Ihrer Kaiserlichen Hoheit Frau Kronprinzessin in Zoppot, or Handwritten Recording Her Imperial Highness Crown Princess in Zoppot.  My interpretation is that her Royal Highness the Crown Princess took this photograph herself. Did she let the boys use live ammunition?

Zoppot, or Sopot as it is now known, is a seaside spa on the Baltic in Pomerania, now Poland, which was part of Prussia until the end of WW1.

Sons of the German Crown Prince

Wikipedia provides another postcard image of the same boys dressed in army uniforms, but without weapons. The postcard publisher is the same, but the number is smaller so this may be a few months earlier. Their names are:
  1. Prince Wilhelm Friedrich Franz Joseph Christian Olaf of Prussia (1906 –1940) 
  2. Prince Louis Ferdinand Viktor Eduard Albert Michael Hubertus of Prussia (1907 – 1994) 
  3. Prince Hubertus Karl Wilhelm of Prussia (1909 –1950) 
  4. Prince Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Christoph  of Prussia (1911 –1966)

Mother must have been so proud!
Want to bet she collected the whole postcard series?

This is my nautical contribution to Sepia Saturday,
where you might discover a whole wave of vintage maritime stories and photos.


Peter said...

What a great post! Sometimes I wonder whether it is at all possible that Alan comes up with a theme for which you have no suitable card in your collection :-)
With my limited knowledge of German I read the back of the card as follows:
Fröhlichen Feiertagen
wünscht dir nebst
Dein Freund
G. Werner
Your friend G. Werner wishes you and also family happy holidays.

Christine H. said...

I was also able to read the second card, but not the first, which is probably the more interesting one. Great post as always. I wish there was a reference book to identify hairstyles, mustaches styles, hats, shoes etc. over the years.

Wendy said...

I knew you'd give us something far more creative than a discussion of the orchestra on the Titanic! Orchestras on a battleship strike me as distinctly European. Here's a little article about German script that you might find helpful

Mike Brubaker said...

Thanks so much for the translation, Peter. The holidays could be either Easter which fell on 19 April in 1908 OR Passover which was 16-22 April. If it was Passover that was meant with the plural "Holidays" it makes it more a poignant message given Germany history in 30 years.

And yes Christine, I wish there was a history of hairstyles too. Beards were often connected to navy service, but compare their imperial mustache and chin beard to the Kaiser mustache of the German soldier.

And thank you, Wendy, for the link, which was very interesting on the change in German script. Sometimes we just need a code-breaker clue. The Gothic font on the 4 Princes card was a bit of a challenge and I had to look up some similar old fonts to be sure.

With the old cards that come from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I'm often not even certain of the language, only that it is not German!

dawn-in-nz said...

When I saw the first photo I thought you had posted for next week's prompt until I read on. You could double up for both weeks! But I'm sure you'll come up with something even more interesting next week, if that is possible.

Brett Payne said...

Another fascinating story behind the photos, Mike. I have to give up reading the remnaining Sepia Saturday posts, because I get so distracted by yours, there's never any time left ... until tomorrow!

Bob Scotney said...

I saw the title before scrolling down and was half expecting to see the Titanic. What a pleasant surprise to see a band on a battle ship. Looking at the beards and moustaces I thought there were all trying to get on the right side of their leader. I just hope that machine gun was a toy.

Karen S. said...

Yes, my most favorite are your last two photos, they are adorable. The others well now they certainly (most of them) could be joining the facial hair club for men, or as is going on right now the Bearded Mens Club (I forget the real name but my FB has it!) You always find the best of the best photos, that really make a person wonder and learn about days long ago! Great post!

Little Nell said...

A great selection again Mike and I love the idea of the conductor disciplining the wayward trombonist with a sword. The crown princes' photographs are very interesting, especially the one with the gun!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

As always, so interesting and informative. Not only about orchestras on war ships, but also about the history of Germany.

Thank you,

Kathy M.

Wibbo said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your post. I find the machine gun photograph rather chilling though!

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

Very interesting and I always learn something from your posts - wearing the wedding ring on the little finger, for instance. It is hard to imagine waltzes being played on a battle ship - but then again, how comforting a connection with the real world would be while putting your life on the line in such an other-worldly place.

Postcardy said...

I love the first photo. You seem to have a band or orchestra to fit any theme.

Kathy said...

Several of the men have mustaches like that of the orchestra master, but not the complete pointy beard. They look like they aspire to his job. Thoroughly enjoyable once again!

Jana Last said...

Quite an interesting post. I was struck by the Admiral's beard and how it mirrors his hat - open in the middle.

Kristin said...

The young princes with military aspirations are certainly looking more polished than my father and his group of ragamuffins this week.

Kathy Hart said...

A battleship band - how fascinating!


As expected, you came out with something just right!!
What a legacy though as German history was to embark on a dark journey. Ambitions will be the loss of Man... But it is now a world so foreign to us, in a way... even if we still have our share of megalomaniacs nowaday!!
I hope you eventually find out which ship they belonged to.

Tattered and Lost said...

Oh I'm wondering if the band was a rowdy bunch. I'd like to think they had the hearts of artists stuck inside those uniforms.


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