It's Wirth Reading About Max Wirth

"The most wonderful thing to think about is to fly over the glittering ice on a beautiful evening in the face of the mountains of the Höggaus bathed in the glow of the sun." - Max Wirth, "Die Gartenlaube", 1867

The eldest son of Regina Magdalena (Werner) and Johann Georg August Wirth, Max Wirth was born January 27, 1822 in Wroclaw, Prussia. He had a rather dramatic childhood. Max's father was a well-known lawyer, writer, economist and politician and one of the leaders of the Liberal movement in Southern Germany in the early 1830's. In 1833, his father was sentenced to a two-year prison term in Kaiserslautern for insulting domestic and foreign authorities. Max's mother fled to an Alsatian commune with her children and Max and his brother Franz took up studies at the French Lyceum. After his father was released from prison, he fled to France to join his wife and children. The family later settled in Constance.

Max's father

As a young man, Max returned to Germany to study economics at the University Of Heidelburg. After graduating, Max began working at the stenograph bureau of the German National Assembly after his father's election as a representative for Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg. Just two months into this arrangement, his father passed away of lung disease and Max turned to journalism.

Throughout his life, Max wrote, edited and published for several German newspapers while toiling away at his own writing projects - a series of important economics textbooks. The most famous of his books, "Geschichte der Handelskrisen" (a history of economic crises) went through four editions. He married fellow writer Bettina Greiner, a novelist who later acted as the Viennese correspondent for the "Daily Times" in London.

Max's work as a writer offered him numerous opportunities to travel throughout Europe. His work as a war correspondent during the Second Italian War Of Independence might have been his most perilous assignment, but the time he spent in Austria and Switzerland introduced him to a life-long passion... figure skating.

Photo courtesy Dr. Matthias Hampe

Though he'd first enjoyed 'touring' on skates as a young man at Lake Constance and skated on frozen rivers and lakes throughout Europe for many years, Max was formally introduced to figure skating at the rinks in Bern and Engelberg, Switzerland in the mid-1850's. In 1861, he served on the founding committee of the Frankfurter Schlittschuh-Club with his brother Franz - perhaps Germany's first formal skating club. Dr. Matthias Hampe recalled, "The club was very popular, so that after only a few days, the 'number of members already approached the second hundred'. These paid then an annual contribution of three marks. At appropriate temperatures, the club set up an ice rink... above the old Main Bridge, ensured the visitors' safety from ice break-ins and 'ice rink amenities', organized ice festivities such as torchlight rides, ice races and, above all, sociable tours on the frozen Main." 

Max went on to help organize a public skating society in Bern while working at Switzerland's National Statistics Office. In 1868, he  teamed up with a Stuttgart hardware manufacturer named Albert Stotz to develop three new models of skates - one for pleasure, one for figure and one for speed. These models were based on already existing American styles, using brackets instead of straps to attach them to the boot.

A chance viewing of one of Jackson Haines' performances in Vienna led him to join the Wiener Eislaufverein. Max played a very powerful role in generating interest in figure skating in Vienna in the 1870's and 1880's. At the same time he sat on the executive of the Wiener Eislaufverein and judged and organized its competitions - including The 1882 Great International Skating Tournament - he was the editor of the "Neue Freie Presse", one of the city's leading newspapers.

An avid reader, Max regularly pored over news clippings mentioning figure skating from as far away as Nova Scotia, England, Russia and Norway. He marvelled at George Anderson's accounts of the Glasgow Skating Club and stories telling of new covered artificial rinks in Canada. He also devoted considerable time to researching the early history of skating, dating back to accounts of bone skates being used in Scandinavia and Holland. He uncovered a skate made from a horse bone at the city library in Bern in 1871 and later fashioned over a dozen pairs of skates based on antiquarian illustrations to conduct experiments on the ice. If you read translations of Max's writings on skating, it's clear that he approached the sport with an inquisitive mind and a great affection for all aspects of the art.

Max's daughter Stephanie, who was also a skater at the Wiener Eislaufverein

Max frequently contributed articles regarding the sport and its history to German and Austrian newspapers. In 1881, he joined forces with Demeter Diamantidi and Dr. Carl von Korper von Marienwerth and wrote "Spuren Auf Dem Eise", a book that was considered one of the most important texts in terms of popularizing the Viennese School of figure skating at the time. The book built upon the tradition of Jackson Haines and introduced the school of compulsory figures that was later used by the International Skating Union.

As a sportsman, Max was no slouch either. He was a strong swimmer and back in his university days, he joined the fraternity Corps Rhenania Heidelberg, where he qualified as a master of fencing. He later was one of the founders of the first fencing club in Vienna. As a figure skater, he was credited with introducing the 'doppelspiral' with a change of edge to the Viennese School. In 1867 he remarked, "One of the most beautiful movements, which I learned after many hardships only two years ago, as a result of a friend's question whether the spiral could be wound up again, is the double spiral drawn on one and the same foot. It is actually a spirally elongated S on both sides and is done in the same way, only it requires more effort. At the S, as soon as you draw an arc outward, I want to suppose that you have thrown forward the merely floating foot as far forward as possible. In this way, the force of turning away comes out into the inner arc to complete the S. In the double spiral one cuts first outward, then inwards a snail and in the middle meets the S-Schwenkung. Of course, you can not make a fourfold circle in each of the two spirals without interruption. But a double spiral with two circles outwards and three inwards can be carried out with certainty, and I had complete control of the movement after the practice of a winter." In 1887, he competed in a figure skating competition at the Wiener Eislaufverein and placed an impressive fourth of the nine men who entered. He was sixty five at the time. He skated well into his seventies and his obituary in the "Neue Freie Presse" noted, "He was a sportsman in all circles of the Viennese Society who became known and popular, and on the ice all the young ladies swarmed for the old Worth, the most elegant and chivalrous skater."

Photo courtesy Wiener Eislaufverein

Sadly, in 1900 Max suffered from a fall from a carriage that left him paralyzed. He suffered a fatal stroke on July 18 of that year, passing away at the age of seventy eight, twenty six years before his wife Bettina. Though rightfully better remembered for his efforts as a journalist and economist, the German and Viennese Schools of figure skating likely wouldn't have flourished as they did during his era had he not come around at the right time.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":