Tennis - A Cultural History (2nd edition) - Heiner Gillmeister

Tennis - A Cultural History (2nd edition) - Heiner Gillmeister

Lawn Tennis under the Kaiser

Tennis - A Cultural History (2nd edition) - Heiner Gillmeister

Heiner Gillmeister [+-]
University of Bonn, retired
Heiner Gillmeister is retired Chaucerian and linguistics scholar of the University of Bonn and a world authority on the history of ball games. That is why he was invited also to teach sports history at the German Sports University, Cologne. His theory that Association Football has its roots in Renaissance Italy and that golf and even cricket originated on the European continent has created an international stir. The German academic is a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Oxford English Dictionary and to leading German newspapers such as Die Welt and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.


According to the order book of Wingfield’s partners, French & Company, the first to receive his boxed tennis set in Germany were, strangely enough, no Germans but an English lordship on holiday in the spa Bad Homburg and the German Crown Princess. She was as English as any since she was the eldest child of Queen Victoria. Her attempts to secure a place for an English sport in the martial education programme of her children – among them the future Kaiser William II - were frowned upon by the Prussian court. She was suspected to ween away her husband from Prussia’s military tradition and eventually even to upset the Prussian monarchy and to rule the country after the model of Britain. In the course of the 1870s lawn tennis became more and more popular among the steadily growing English community of Bad Homburg where an English lawn tennis club existed by 1876. Soon other German spas such as Bad Pyrmont and Baden-Baden followed the example of Bad Homburg and in the north the big cities of Berlin and Hamburg had become lawn tennis strongholds by the early 1890s. Of these Hamburg soon played a leading role due to the activities of one of her citizens, Carl August von der Meden. He has justifiably been called the Father of German Lawn Tennis. Von der Meden had as a young man settled in England and had eventually established himself as a Japan merchant in the city of London. On his daily travels from his office to his residence in Middlesex his train passed the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon and it is likely that he not only became aware of the sporting activities going on there but that he may even have been a witness to the inaugural tournament of 1877. Having returned to his native city Hamburg after his business had failed he joined the Eisbahnverein auf der Uhlenhorst, a skating club, on the grounds of which lawn tennis was played in the summer. As a member of its lawn tennis sub-committee he agitated for the introduction of lawn tennis tournaments in Germany after the Wimbledon model. From 1892 until 1896 only Germans and Austrians could compete for a Championship of the Germans, and from 1897 onwards these were contended alongside a Championship of Germany open to foreigners as well. Owing to the skating club’s financial straits both championships were transferred to Bad Homburg in 1898 in which year an open German Championship for the ladies was added to the list. It was in Bad Homburg that through the ingenuity of the spa’s inspector of parks and gardens the red clay courts of today came into being. The foundation of the German Lawn Tennis Federation in 1902 saw the return of the championships to the Hanseatic City where they were to remain until the Second World War. In the first decades of lawn tennis in the Fatherland two Germans and one American gained prominence. The first of the Germans was an aristocrat from Mecklenburg, Count Victor Voss. Belonging to the entourage of Grand Duchess Anastasia who used to spend the winter on the French Riviera he had the opportunity to play against the English tennis aces of the time and to outshine his tennis playing countrymen. After the turn of the century, however, Count Voss was as a player put in the shade by Otto Froitzheim whose lasting fame is due to the fact that in 1907 he was the first to wrest the open German championship from an Englishman, Major Josiah George Ritchie. The American was Charles Adolph Voigt the long forgotten manager of the famous Bad Homburg tournaments. He is worth being remembered for his having suggested as early as 1896 to contend the international tennis trophy which later became known as the Davis Cup.

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Gillmeister, Heiner. Lawn Tennis under the Kaiser. Tennis - A Cultural History (2nd edition). Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 285-370 Feb 2017. ISBN 9781781795217. Date accessed: 15 Jun 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.30662. Feb 2017

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