The Schellenbaum & Tambourstock…

Perhaps one of the most characteristic and instantly recognisable feature of the German military band was the Schellenbaum (literally ‘Bell Tree’), which, like the military bands themselves, could also be traced back to ancient Turkey. Nick-named ‘Jingling Johnny’, the Schellenbaum began its life as an actual instrument that could be shaken and rattled in percussive fashion; however, somewhat reminiscent of the standards carried by the Roman legions, it gradually evolved to carry a small banner at its top and so became the symbol of command in the Janissary armies of the period…

Having been appropriated by Turkey’s enemy Austria in the 18th century, the Schellenbaum became a feature of the armies of Poland and Russia. Ultimately adopted by the German army, the Schellenbaum was to eventually be regarded as the formal and official standard of the German military band under orders to be paraded, wherever and whenever it performed, and was to be seen in many differing forms and designs, until a form of standardisation took place in 1932, followed by a formal specification being laid down by the German High Command in 1936 shortly after the creation of the Third Reich’s new Wehrmacht in 1935…

Paraded with the band and displaying its name or unit designation, the Schellenbaum was often bought by the local military veteran’s organisation or indeed by the townsfolk of the band’s garrison or shore-based naval establishment and given as a gift to the band to cement the bond between band and the local population.

Despite a Wehrmacht order of 1936, which attempted to rationalise Schellenbaum design, individual ornamentation continued to vary from unit to unit and between the differing branches of service. However, the standard Schellenbaum consisted of an eagle & swastika, made from an aluminium-coloured, light alloy known as helumin; suspended on a hanger from the eagle’s beak hung the unit or garrison banner, whose individual decoration was left up to the unit concerned. Normally this small banner was made of silk and was elaborately decorated on the front by hand, with the town’s coat of arms or the branch of service eagle and swastika emblem, together with the name of the town or garrison hand-embroidered in gothic letters to the reverse.

Under this was fixed a large hollow sun in polished tombac with either a swastika or Kriegsmarine/Heer/Luftwaffe emblem in the centre. Under this hung a crescent, also produced of tombac, with an eagle’s head made of silver coloured argentine at either end. From both these beaks hung trails of brightly coloured red, white & black horse or buffalo hair, whilst hanging from the lower edge of the Halbmond was a row of silver-plated brass stars or swastikas, and under the Halbmond hung a large bell in tombac from whose argentine rim hung another set of small silver-plated stars or swastikas.

The whole affair was mounted on a long handle of black polished wood and whilst not heavy, the full Schellenbaum was certainly unwieldy. Therefore, the carrier had to wear a 2 inch wide black leather carrying strap over the right shoulder with a small cup at the front, into which the lower end of pole could be placed in order to keep the whole structure steady.

Due to its height, the Schellenbaum holder was usually a non-musician chosen from amongst the tallest men in the regiment; in the case of Adolf Hitler’s SS Bodyguard Division, the Leibstandarte, it was an SS-Mann by the name of Gerhard Staubel, who measured in at an awe-inspiring 6’8″ tall! As unofficial members of the band, the holders were not allowed to wear the musician’s swallowsnests, though the author has seen photographs where they were patently being worn against regulations!

Variations to the 1936 official regulations on design included that of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, whose Schellenbaum was patterned on an older version used by the Imperial German army which sported an eagle holding lightning rods in its talons in place of a swastika, and those of some ship & shore-based bands who paraded Imperial German Navy Schellenbäume, displaying the Imperial naval eagle at the top instead of the eagle & swastika, together with an anchor to the centre of the sun instead of a swastika.

Other variations, (including this superb Luftwaffe example, left), included an eight-pointed star in place of the sun; but it was not unusual for a Schellenbaum to be paraded, unadorned, without the garrison or shore-base banner being displayed from the top eagle, (as in during musikkorps marching practice).

Not strictly a flag or banner, the Tambourstock was both a ceremonial mace & signalling device by which the drum-major issued orders & movement directions to the band under his command and it is an instantly recognisable feature of the German musikkorps.

The body of the Tambourstock was composed of a 51 inch length of brown Bengal cane, with a weighted ball and neck at one end and a point at the other, both of which were made of polished Argentine. Heer, Waffen-SS & Luftwaffe Bataillonstambourstöcke were decorated with two cords black/red/white wool each ending in a tassel with a fringe whilst the Kriegsmarine version was decorated with cords and tassels of a golden-yellow colour

During the pre-Nazi era, the army of the Reichswehr limited the use of the Tambourstock to military parades, guard duties and ceremonial tattoos (Grosser Zapfenstreich). At all other times the battalion drum-major would use his signalling bugle, held out in his right hand at arms length.

However during the Third Reich, the Tambourstock became a more regular and more commonly used item, though with its increased popularity came more stringent rules on its usage, with the German High Command ordering that it should only be used with ‘full military dignity’. Any ostentatious use, such as throwing it up into the air and catching it, was definitely frowned upon and resolutely discouraged!

The era of the Third Reich saw some drum-majors continuing to use older Imperial army, Imperial navy or Reichswehr Tambourstöcke, whilst several Prussian regiments were known to carry similar staffs that were captured from French regiments during the Franco-Prussian wars of the Napoleonic era.

In the German army bands of the new millennium, modern versions of both the Schellenbaum and the Bataillonstambourstock are paraded with pride and élan, as was captured here in the UK in October 1996 when the Bundeswehr’s Heeresmusikkorps 10′s Schellenbaum was paraded at Pembroke Castle, as a part of the military ceremonials marking the German Army’s Panzerkorps withdrawal from their long-time base at the Royal Armoured Corps Tank Ranges down at Castlemartin in South Wales…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Military Music of the Bundeswehr…

Continuing the theme of widening out Tomahawk‘s WW-II German Archive to just before the First World War, then coming forwards to the German Democratic Republic up until the Fall of the Berlin to complete our story of that county’s military music, along with our post-war East German  CD ‘Behind the Iron Curtain’, we also released an exciting a CD containing military music from the West German Bundeswehr’s first Musikkorps and its maiden studio recording from 1957 to keep the balance:

The new German Federal Republic was created 8 years earlier on September 7th 1949 with the formation of the Bundestag under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer but it wasn’t until 6 years later that this new West German state was permitted by its former enemies to raise its own independent Armed Forces. However the first West German military in-take did not take place until November 12th 1955 and that primarily comprised volunteers from the Federal Border Guard, with all candidates pre-screened to prevent former Third Reich-era Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS members from re-enlisting in the new post-war military.

Nevertheless, I know from my various discussions with senior Bundeswehr military musicians that despite this tight screening, at least four former musicians from Hitler’s bodyguard division, the Musikkorps SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ and a number of younger Wehrmacht musicians were known to have ‘slipped though the net’ and it was these experienced WW-II veterans that would help continue Germany’s famous military musical traditions into the early days of the fledgling Bundeswehr in the late 1950s and so keep the ‘Janissary’ feel of their pre-1945 counterparts, at least for a few more years.

However it would, sadly, eventually be the Germany’s Greens and their allies who would, in later years, almost single handily destroy the whole historic might & pomp of West Germany’s Prussian military music by watering everything down to an almost unrecognisable image of its former self.. and indeed it was those self-same politicians that were behind the decision to remove the most obvious German Military musical uniform accoutrement, the Schwallbennesten (bandsmen’s swallowsnests), as well as also initially banning the other great totem of the German Musikkorps: the Schellenbaum (’Jingling Johnny’) and of course the ‘goose-step’ with all its Third Reich connotations

So it was odd that their East German counterparts, (who had a pathological hatred of the Nazi era), retained not only the Schwallbennesten & Schellenbaum but also the ‘goose-step’.. in fact  NVA Musikkorps even retained the distinct-sounding musical instrument, the Schalmei that was a favourite of early Sturm-Abteilung & Hitler Youth bands of the 1930s… but whenever this was raised, the brusque answer was always: “these are Prussian Traditions, not National Socialist!” )

However back to 1957 and that early, brief window when the newly formed West German musical arm could still perform in its proud, pre-1945 janissary style and the creation of the Stabsmusikkorps der Bundeswehr (Staff Band of the Army) on February 16th 1957 under a training designation, or Lehrmusikkorps, at Rheinbach near Bonn, initially with 16 musicians.

Some 4 months later, on June 16th 1957, Hauptmann Friedrich Deisenroth took over musical command and just a month after that increased this new musical strength to 50 bandsmen, with their first duties being to play alongside the Bundeswehr’s Wachbataillon Honour Guard in the new capital city of Bonn. In September the Stabsmusikkorps gave its first  performance in public and then in November 1957 it undertook its maiden studio recording session…

Tomahawk’s stirring CD Mit Trommeln und Pfeifen..! is that very recording, played in the true, pre-war Janissary style that harked back to the musical glory days of the Third Reich and includes the wonderful Der Badenweiler and a differing rendtion of the newly de-nazified German National Anthem or Nationalhymn as it was known then.. and as I say a rare and very short-lived window in time before the Germany’s Green Party got their hands on the Bundeswehr’s re-built musical arm and, (according to those former West German musicians I have spoken with), totally neutered and effectively wrecked what was always a very proud tradition within the German’s military psyche…

Indeed when the ‘dust had finally settled’ after the massive upheaval surrounding the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a number of former East German NVA musicians enlisted in the Bundeswehr, but were absolutely horrified at how far their janissary style of music had slipped and were appalled at the ‘lightweight’ music they were now expected to perform in the musikkorps of the newly reunified Germany… and so it is that this 1957 West German recording lives on as a well-preserved example of how military music would still have been played in todays’ Bundeswehr, but for political interference…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013