My vague connection with boxing legend Max Schmeling

German boxing legend Max Schmeling (1905-2005) in 1938

Germany´s most famous boxer Max Schmeling, later nicknamed “Black Uhlan (a light cavalryman) of the Rhine” because that’s where his career started, was born on September 28th, 1905 in the municipality of Klein Luckow in the Prussian Province of Brandenburg.

A heavyweight champion of the world between 1930 and 1932, his two fights with “Brown Bomber” Joe Louis (1914-1981) in 1936 and 1938 drew worldwide attention due to their political implications in Germany and the United States. They later became good friends and Schmeling provided Louis with financial assistance until his death.

During World War II, Schmeling served as a paratrooper and suffered a severe knee injury during Operation Mercury, the German landing on the Greek island of Crete on May 20th, 1941. Following his recovery, he was dismissed from active service and regularly visited POW camps.

After retiring definitely from boxing in 1948, Schmeling started working for Coca-Cola in Hamburg, later owning his own bottling plant and holding an executive’s position within the company.

In 1933, he married Czech actress Anny Ondra (1903-1987). Their only child, a son, died at seven months old, and therefore children were frequent beneficiaries of his generosity.

He attended the opening of a multi-purpose sports arena in Berlin named after him in 1996. The longest living heavyweight boxing champion in history died on February 2nd, 2005, aged 99.

So what’s the connection between this amazing sports star and me? Well, in the 1930s he lived with his wife in a mansion in the locality of Dahlem, in the German capital’s Zehlendorf district.

That’s where I started to study Sinology in 1985, an academic discipline that had been established at the Free University of Berlin in 1956. In 1971, the East Asian Institute moved into Schmeling’s former residence.

I remember a very homey feeling and during the first year of my studies, in one of the upper floors there was even a bath tub available to us. But at that time I still lived with my parents, I resisted the temptation.

After my return from my first stay in Taiwan in 1989, I moved into an apartment from 1909 in a poor neighborhood which had no shower. I might have reacted differently than before…

In any case, somehow my deep interest in Chinese culture was nurtured at a place that once belonged to an outstanding German athlete who wrote history, though never lost touch with reality.

In late 2001, the Libyan Embassy was relocated there from Bonn. During the massive upheaval in the North African country that ultimately led to the assassination of its leader Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, there were huge demonstration in front of the building. I’m glad that then I was back in Asia and Schmeling didn’t live to see that.


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