Some famous names in todays America have German ancestors and made successful careers. Everyone knows, of course, Donald Trump, who comes a little Palatinate village calld Kallstadt, and the ketchup dynasty Heinz, whose roots also lie there.

But did you know that even the first bodybuilder and personal trainer in New York came originally from Karlsruhe and was a certain LUDWIG DURLACHER (born 1844 / died 1924) ?  Ludwig Durlacher, who also called himself “Professor Attila” (whether he named himself after Attila, the legendarily strong King of the Huns is not known), was a visionar and brillant  showman. As early as 1890, he started to shape the bodies of high society and was thus a pioneer as regards weight training.

Whether it was due to the invention of the light bulb that the rich and beautiful wanted to put themselves in the right light, remains to be speculation. In his youth, “the strong men” were still considered to be circus and fair attractions, and so he also let his muscles play for a while, broke chains and lifted weights. It is said that even the English Queen Victoria once hired him in 1897 as an attraction for an anniversary event.

At the end of the 1890s he finally moved to the USA and founded a “gymnastics studio” respectively a school for physical culture in New York. The influx was obviously enormous and soon he opened more “gyms” in Chicago and Detroit, etc.

Durlacher very well understood the principles of muscle building according to the still up-to-date scheme. It’s hard to say why his name was forgotten. If you want to know more about him, you will find it on Wikipedia (in German):

As a result, a certain EUGEN SANDOW (born in 1867 in Königsberg, Prussia/ now Kaliningrad) made a similar career as an international strength athlete and significantly refined the fitness concept including eating habits, exercise literature and training equipment.

In Brussels he had attended Ludwig Durlacher’s academy, where he was encouraged to travel to London in 1889 and take part in a competition. He won and soon he was known for incredible strength and an impressive muscle game. The “Great Ziegfeld” finally hired him for US $ 1,000 per week for various exhibitions/ shows. Sandow even appeared in a short film, which was one of the first commercial movies in history.

He also wrote books and worked intensively on the equipment to improve the exercises, i.e. he invented several devices such as elastic bands for stretching and dumbbells. In 1901, Sandow organized the world’s first major bodybuilding competition at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The three judges in the competition were Sir Charles Lawes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Eugen Sandow himself.

His perfect body picture corresponded to the Greek ideal of statues and sculptures, ultimately those images and proportions that we nowadays call “model athletes”. Based on training concepts that are still valid today, such as repetition, weight grading and  regeneration through baths, etc., he is considered the “father of bodybuilding“.

At this point, another “gymnastics father” FRIEDRICH LUDWIG JAHN from Prignitz in Brandenburg (born 1778 / died 1852) should not be forgotten.

He (educator, nationalist publicist and politician) initiated the German gymnastics movement, which was linked to the early national movement, in order to prepare the German youth for the fight against the Napoleonic occupation. As early as 1811, he opened Germany’s first gymnastics course in Berlin, i.e. a facility where you could run, throw and jump. Also available was gym equipment such as bars and rings.

It was him who was coining the well-known term: “Fresh, pious, happy, free”. Today one would say: lots of exercise in the fresh air in the sense of: “A healthy mind lives in a healthy body”.

I couldn’t find out much about the early fitness/ gymnastics pioneers among women. Probably because muscle-power was considered unfeminine until the 20th century. The most famous one among the “hard-working users” was probably Empress Elisabeth (1837 – 1898), who had climbing frames and a horizontal bar for pull-ups installed in the Vienna Palace very early and at a young age (in favor of a narrow tallie and/ or possibly for frustration reduction). What her training was alike or even images from Sisi in action (apart from some horse-riding pictures) do not exist as far as I know. However, the book entitled “Empress Elisabeth’s Fitness and Diet Program” may give more details.

The “falling metabolic rate” is a phenomenon that everyone knows starting from the age of 50 at the latest. Namely, when skirts and pants start to tighten despite healthy eating or calorie-counting and the tallie slowly disappears. Everyone has to decide for her-/ himself whether the following statement has a general validity: “Through fitness, the woman gains power over her body”. Nevertheless – if you can believe the current state of medicine, a certain control over body weight and condition to avoid various accompanying diseases undisputedly seem to have advantages.

With or without sport – stay healthy!


Write A Comment