The scion of a wealthy German family with manufacturing interests, Hans Halberstadt took up the sport of fencing as a young man in his home town of Offenbach en Main. He competed for Germany at the 1924 Olympic Games on the epee and sabre teams and in the individual epee.
A raconteur and man on leisure, he claimed to have had a locker in every major club in Europe, so that he might travel freely without the encumbrance of a fencing equipment bag. A decorated war hero from the First World War, Hans was taken by the Nazis in 1937 and informed – he claimed not to have known – that he was of Jewish heritage.READ MORE...
Friends in high places or bribes got him out of an internment camp and eventually onto a boat out of Rotterdam that took him to New York. After a cross country bus ride, he joined his brother and sister who had earlier relocated to San Francisco.
Hans arrived in January of 1940, penniless and with no occupation other than fencing. He opened the Halberstadt Fencers Club in 1941, living in the back of the rented space, and remained there as teacher until his passing in 1966. His club became the center of the San Francisco fencing community and flourished in his lifetime. It continued on after his death and remains today the longest continually operating fencing club on the West Coast.
The Latin meaning of that, according to Google Translate, is “Wine of the Spirit”. As a philistine in the ways of Latin, I’ll have to accept it. No clue. Truly.
A number of people over the years have done impersonations of the inimitable Hans Halberstadt and they range wide in both style and substance. Charlie Selberg knew Hans well and would often quote him during fencing lectures or footwork drills.
Some interesting pieces of memorabilia got floated in front of me and I had to scramble to collect all the loose change under the floor mats in my car and count out pennies from the change jar, but I couldn’t resist making a deal for them.
I’ll say up front that I’m sick of my desk and computer. I still spend long parts of my day here, but motivation to string my thoughts together in a coherent way have been sparse.
Serendipitous. Is that a word? Spellcheck isn’t trying to correct it, so I guess I’m on firm ground. Serendipitosity happens a lot around here. I find one piece of information, an image, a packet of photos. Time passes. I find another piece that fits into that puzzle. Then, quite unexpectedly, something comes across my desk…
When I struggle with ideas for writing about fencing history for this site, I have a couple of favorite fallback topics. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you can probably guess most of them.
The above picture has been assumed to be Hans Halberstadt for a very long time. I thought so myself, even after scanning it (thanks Kathy Krusen!) at high resolution and having every opportunity to review it with a critical eye.
After spending the better part of this week running down stories that haven’t yet fully revealed themselves, I thought I’d revisit one of my many favorite subjects: Helene Mayer. There are a lot of photographs of Ms. Mayer out there, but several of the following are, I believe, unique to the interwebs until now.
I love running across old photos of fencers. It doesn’t matter who’s in them or what condition they’re in for me to be fascinated with the discovery and the challenge of putting names to faces.
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