In the year 1890 you could become a „Fechtmeister“ if you bring 20 members to the “Deutsche Generalfechtschule” in Baden-Baden. If you open 10 own “Fechtschulen” or bring in 200 members you would earn the title “Oberfechtmeister”. You will get a fine certificate for the price of 50 Pfennige. No certification, no test, no examination needed.
It does not only sound like a modern pyramid-system (also known as snowball) it was as successful as such. In 1875 the “Deutsche Generalfechtschule in Lahr” was founded and the idea walked its way over Germany.
But they did not fight at this kind of “Fechtschule”. It was something completely different. The term “fechten” was latest in the 17th century an expression for walking up begging for money in the secret jargon of the thieves and beggars named “Rotwelsch” (“rot/ Rotte” for a gang + “welsch” for foreign/French). The term “fechten” was used because it was what was done by the companies of showfighters, displaying their fencing skills on places while their comrades walked through the ground begging for money or stealing it.
The “Deutsche Generalfechtschule” in Lahr, Baden-Baden, was founded to gather the money they would need for an orphanage. Seven years after foundation they were able to buy the manor house Gut Fallerstein am Altvater. It was enlarged by a 3rd floor and opened at the 25th Mai 1885 as the “Deutsches Reichswaisenhaus”.
This organisation worked well and they cared for the orphans quite until 1923 the Great Depression destroyed all the wealth collected so far. A great support from American organisations helped through the hard times until the organisation could maintain the orphanages themselves again.
The story ended – like many other good stories in Germany – in 1935. The National Socialist reorganised the organisation and destroyed it by this finally in 1941.