What did a German Soldier of the first World War look like? We already know something about his uniform, equipment, etc. But what did the actual person inside the uniform look like?
First, a couple of observations on German soldiers are in order. German soldiers were not expected to maintain their kit in the same immaculate condition as soldiers in the British army--but neither were they as sloppy as the French soldier, who could go around with everything unbuttoned but his fly. German soldiers were expected to keep their weapons in good condition, free from dirt and rust. They carried their gas masks everywhere they went while near the frontlines. Out of the line though, the uniform was kept brushed with rips and tears being mended; the soldier's leather gear was also to be kept clean and oiled. Overall, a good appearance was maintained at all times without going to the extreme of keeping every button done-up and polished.
- Facial Hair--Early in the war, mustaches were common, as were goatees and even full beards. Later in the war though, around 1916, most soldiers were clean-shaven so as to make sure that the gas mask sealed to their face properly. Our only caveat on facial hair is that it must be of period style and worn according to regs.
- A note here: The German Army regs said: that "Mutton-chops" and "side-burns" were not allowed for enlisted wear.
- Hair--The truly authentic "Prussian" haircut has the neck shaved and tapered from the top of the ears all the way around and slicked back. "Crew-cuts" were also quite popular in the trenches. We realize these types of haircuts may be a little extreme, especially if we don't want to scare our families or the people we work with! [Well okay, some of us do find this amusing!!] So, all we require is that the hair be short enough on the sides as to not touch the ears (i.e. "whitewalls"), and tapered in back. This is very important, since at WWI there are strict rules on haircuts, and if you find yourself with too long hair at the event, the only options are to leave the event or... have the "field barber" cut your hair on the spot. If you have ever seen anyone who has been to the field barber, you will know that this truly is a more frightening prospect than it sounds.
- Tattoos--Yes, the Germans had them, especially those from the port cities (a sailor's trademark, we suppose). If your tattoos have German words in them, good for you. If there aren't any words in them, perhaps you're still all right. If your tattoo says "MOM" or "USMC," keep your shirt sleeves rolled down! Obviously, no visible modern tattoos.
- Glasses--Non-period frames are really noticeable and detract greatly from the unit impression. Looking through photos of WWI German soldiers, you will be HARD-PRESSED to find ANY with non-standard type eyeglasses. Occasionally you might see period civilian style frames, but you definitely would not find the little Rev-War or Civil War era style frames on the Frontsoldat! Your eyewear options are:
- Buy an original pair of Dienstbrille or Maskenbrille and have the lenses changed to your prescription.
- Get yourself a pair of silver, round-lensed wire-rimmed frames (flea-markets or antique stores are great for this).
- Wear contacts; or...
- Do without your glasses. If you are going without your prescription eye wear, make sure that our unit commander or your Gruppenführer (squad leader) knows. This is, of course, for your own safety as well as that of everyone else at the event.
- Weight--Take a look at original photographs and you will see that the men are quite thin. This is mostly due to their wartime diet but it also comes from being under the stress of combat. When we ask veterans to criticize our impressions, the bolder ones will always say: "You are all too fat!" Be conscious of your weight (which is something we should all try and do more of anyway!)
- Posture--We once showed a picture of a bunch of German reenactors to someone in the German military. He commented: "Look at that! He [one man] is standing like an American, slouched with hands in pockets!" Be careful of the typical casual American posture, the traditional German stance is much more upright.