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
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Kameraden in der Musik

04 July 2014

When four men share the soldier's life they become Karmeraden – Comrades. That bond is no less strong even if they happen to carry trombones instead of rifles. It was surely true of this quartet of hearty German army bandsmen with their arms linked together and trombones at the rest, as these musicians were from one of Kaiser Wilhelm's regimental bands. They stand in a large field that is perhaps a parade ground in some park where they are getting ready to play for a review of the Kaiser's troops and horse guards.

Their instruments are three tenor slide trombones and a bass trombone on the left. A trombone can be just as lethal as a rifle but is less reliable in sharp keys. It also has a tendency to jam in hot weather.

The back of the postcard has a message, presumably from one of the trombonists, that was written with invisible ink and is now faded. I have improved the contrast and above Lieber Freund! – Dear Friend! is a place and a date. I think it reads Charlottenburg which is a famous area of Berlin known for the Charlottenburg Palace of the Hohenzollern royal family, but the date is much less clear – 18.8.11 or 18 August 1911. It may be 1917 instead, but these men seem too cheerful for it to be the third year of the Great War. Was this photo taken on a parade ground near the palace?

In my experience, trombone players tend to be an affable and good humored lot, which I think we can see in the faces of this quartet. So it is not surprising that they would wish to send their picture and message to a fellow bandsman by SoldatenKartn or Soldiers Card. The surprise for me was that it was sent to a player of my instrument – Hornist W. Schmidt of the Pionier Battalion No. 24 in Köln.

Recently I acquired another postcard of one of the Kaiser's bandsmen. He is not Hornist Schmidt but he was a comrade too and a horn player. 

The photographer posed this young soldier in front of a very floral backdrop that undoubtedly was used more for photos of children, grandmothers, and wedding couples. The embossed name is difficult to read but it begins F. Neustettin. Neustettin is a city near the Baltic sea in Pomerania which was once part of East Prussia. Today it is in Poland and is known by the rather inharmonious name of Szczecinek.

On the back is some very stylized handwriting. On the left is the place – Neustettin and a year – 1910, or possibly 1915 or 1916. The postcard does not appear to have been mailed, so the address may be that of the bandsman. I read ?___ Meirich, followed by Musiker which is a bandsman's rank.

The young hornist stands at the ready as if waiting for his cue to begin a solo. He holds a single horn in F with 3 rotary valves. You can compare his instrument to those of the other army horn players in my collection who are from the same era, the Horn Player of West Kent  and the Belgian Horn Player, who used piston valve horns. Someone has penciled in some improvements to the curl in his mustache, and there is a fine reflection in the horn bell that I fancy is an image of the photographer. The horn player's tunic or Waffenrock is subtly different from the uniforms of the four trombonists, but includes the "swallow nest" on the shoulders which was an epaulet worn only by military musicians. Unfortunately the photos' sepia tone prevents us from seeing the colors on the bandsmen's swallow nest, collars, and sleeves which would identify their military units.

This soldier has no instrument but the fringed swallow nests on his tunic show that he too was a member of a Deutsches Kaiserreich regimental band. He has seen service in the war because tucked behind a coat button is the ribbon of the Iron Cross award.

On the back there is writing with a challenging cursive style. It is addressed to Familie P___(?) in possibly Gummersbach(?), which is near Köln. The year however is clearly 1916.

This photograph shows another bandsman of the German Reich who is also without his instrument, but he may not have needed one as I think he was a Militärkapellemeister or bandmaster. In his left hand he holds gloves and a sword hilt. The stripe on his trousers is actually the sword blade. Though many military bandsmen wore a short sword as standard equipment, this one appears to be longer and seems more appropriate for a band leader or officer. On his shoulders are the musician's swallow nests and there are two medals pinned to his chest.


The photographer was Wilm. Köhler of Posen, another city that was once in Prussian and is now in Poland. Today it is called Poznań.

Even without the photographer's address we could still discover where this bandmaster came from by looking closely at his distinctive Picklehaube helmet which he holds in his right hand. The Helmewappen  or helmet plate was a different design for each army regiment of the German Reich. This one is from a regiment in Preußia or Prussia and has the initials F. R. on the eagle's chest, which stands for Friedrich Rex. It matches this helmet found in Colonel J'.s collection, a website that has an extraordinary if not exhausting history on the military uniforms of the German Empire era.

Prussian M95 Pickelhaube

Comrades in arms and in music, these German bandsmen represent a military tradition of music making that vanished after the end of the Great War in 1918. Now all that remains of the German Reich era are the march tunes and the photos of shiny horns and Pickelhauben

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is a Kamerad ready to shake your hand.


La Nightingail said...

Never mind the sword. That pickelhaube helmet could certainly be a lethal weapon with its sharp point! Fun & interesting post!

Wendy said...

OK, so trombonists are "affable." When I think about the boys who played trombone when I was in high school, I have to agree. Now I wonder what personality traits you see in the other sections of the band.

I'm accustomed to looking for certain clues to date old photos, but you deal with an entirely different world in photos of musicians.

Postcardy said...

I'm glad you pointed out the reflection in the horn bell, because I wouldn't have noticed it.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

What personality trait do you see in euphonium players? Thanks for all the interesting information about the uniforms. How do you tell if disappearing ink was used or if it just faded naturally? Ah for the simpler days of yore. Now we have to deal with "disappearing" hard drives.

Barbara Rogers said...

Quite a great collection of photos and explanations. I will remember the swallows nests on the upper arms of those uniforms...that is a great tidbit. Well, the uniforms were certainly decorative, including all those identification traits. Your knowledge of horns is impressive as always.

Little Nell said...

What is it with people pencilling in moustaches? The handsome subject looks very young and probably struggled to grow the one he had without someone ‘photoshopping’ it to give a more distinctive curl!

Great post as ever MIke.

Tattered and Lost said...

There's something really wonderful about you getting all of the old band back together again. I like to imagine the joy they'd find in your post. The good ribbing they'd give each other.

Jeffery said...

"A trombone can be just as lethal as a rifle but is less reliable in sharp keys" -- hysterical (and true!)


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