Extra, Extra, Wrede All About It: The Ludwig Wrede Story

"Magnificent posture, huge swing and impressive jumps worked together to make his freestyle level with Grafström." - "Wiener Sport-Tagblatt", March 11, 1924

Ludwig Wrede was born on October 28, 1894 in Vienna, Austria. He first took the ice as a youngster at Eduard Engelmann's rink and soon joined the Training-Eisklub, where he excelled in both hockey and figure skating. In his youth, he was good friends with Alfred Berger, the pairs partner of Eduard Engelmann's daughter Helene.

Ludwig made his competitive debut prior to the Great War, winning the Wanderpreis competition at the his home club in January of 1912. In the process, he defeated two-time World Bronze Medallist Leo Horwitz and Rudolf Kutzer, the future coach of many Austrian World Champions. He suffered an injury the following season, but managed to finish second behind Ernst Oppacher at the Wanderpreis des Arbeitsministerium in Troppau. At the age of nineteen in 1914, he finished fifth in his first trip to the European Championships. Three judges had him in the top three in free skating, and it really looked like he was going places. Then the War broke out. 

Great War military record for Ludwig Wrede. Photo courtesy Carl Kotlarchik.

Like many other young men in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ludwig joined the kaiserlich-königliche Landwehr, which was the Austrian faction of the Landstreitkräfte Österreich-Ungarns. He served in the Schützen-Regiment 1 of the Wehrmacht, reaching the rank of Fähnrich but was wounded more than once. It was actually quite remarkable he continued to skate afterwards as his injuries took a toll on his overall health and strength.

Ludwig returned to competition in 1922, placing third in the men's and pairs events at the Austrian Championships. With Melitta Brunner as his partner, he took the gold in both pairs and men's the following year. He placed fifth in his first trip to the World Championships in 1923, but was a strong second in the free skating. A talented athlete, he was known for his strong Axel and loop jumps and fast spins. He even created his own jump - the Wrede - which took off from a back outside edge, with one and a half revolutions in the air, landing on a forward outside edge on the opposite foot. His downfalls were that he tended to get nervous when doing his school figures and lacked a sense of presentation in his free skating. Gunnar Bang recalled,  "Ludwig Wrede skated with speed and made many respond to [his] jumps and pirouettes, but he did not succeed in captivating the audience. Despite his skill, his program became dull and dry."

Ludwig lost the Austrian men's and pairs titles in 1924, but rebounded to take the silver medal at the European Championships and place fifth once again at the Worlds. Had he not had momentarily forgotten how to do one of his figures, he might have placed even higher. 

Herma Szabo and Ludwig Wrede. Photos courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

The following year, Ludwig formed a new pairs partnership with Herma Szabo, the reigning Olympic Gold Medallist and World Champion. Herma and Ludwig were a great match and from 1925 to 1927, they won two Austrian and two World titles, as well as the bronze medal at the 1926 World Championships. 

Top: Herma Szabo and Ludwig Wrede. Bottom: Ludwig Wrede, Herma Szabo, Pepi Weiß-Pfändler and Willy Böckl.

Ludwig continued to compete internationally in singles during this period, placing in the top eight at four ISU Championships. By this time, he was training under Pepi Weiß-Pfändler at the Wiener Eislaufverein.

Herma Szabo and Ludwig Wrede. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria. 

Two weeks before the 1928 Winter Olympic Games, Herma Szabo announced her retirement, forcing Ludwig to scramble for another partner at the eleventh hour. Officials at the Wiener Eislaufverein asked Melitta Brunner if she would skate with Ludwig again. In an interview with Harrington E. Crissey Jr. for "The Journal of the Figure Skating Historical Society" in 1994, Melitta Brunner recalled, "I replied that I'd do it but I considered it a great sacrifice as it would rob me of my practice as a singles skater. Because Wrede and I only had two weeks to practice before the Olympics began, I think we did pretty well to win the bronze medal. I did everything Wrede told me to, but during the competition I rose too soon from a sit spin. That may have cost us the gold. Wrede bawled me out afterwards. All I could do was apologize. We did one very difficult lift in the program. Wrede did a back outside rocker while he lifted and held me and then let me down. I don't think the general public realized how difficult that was. Just doing a back rocker on your own is hard. The music for our program was Waldteufel's 'Estudiantina Waltz'. We also did a sit spin side by side and another one holding each other in waltz position. Pepi Weisz helped us a little but Wrede and I, primarily Wrede, made up our programs... Back in those days, pairs basically coached themselves."

Though Melitta and Ludwig won a pair of bronze medals at the 1928 Winter Olympic Games and World Championships, but their successes weren't without their controversy. Theresa Weld Blanchard recalled that in St. Moritz at the Olympics, "Melitta Brunner and Ludwig Wrede of Austria made a most spectacular, although, some of us felt, a slightly illegal opening. They started way down the ice surface behind the ropes marking off the rink and he lifted her high in the air as they reached the boundary and glided in on a very spectacular spiral. Carry lifts were just coming in then and this one made a big impression on me."

Melitta Brunner and Ludwig Wrede. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

In 1929, Ludwig won the bronze medal at the European Championships in singles. He also won a silver and bronze in the World men's and pairs events, held that year in Budapest and London. At the time, he was thirty-four - much older than his peers - and a married father of two young girls. He was a trained electrical engineer and a very serious-minded, introspective man who enjoyed writing poetry in his spare time. He was a firm believer in training outdoors. He thought the air was "harmful" in indoor rinks, "perhaps all right for the last three weeks [before a competition] but not for a season." 

Top: Sonja Henie, Karl Schäfer, Andrée (Joly) and Pierre Brunet, Julius Edhoffer, Melitta Brunner and Ludwig Wrede at a carnival at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society in 1930. Bottom: Karl Schäfer, Sonja Henie, Ludwig Wrede, Melitta Brunner and Georges Gautschi.

Ludwig's final international competition was the 1930 World Championships in New York City. He placed a creditable fifth in singles and second in pairs with Melitta Brunner. He and Melitta's swan song was beautifully skated to Strauss' quintessentially Viennese "Blue Danube" waltz. Two years later, he staged a comeback at the Austrian Championships, forming a new partnership with Olly Holzmann. The duo placed a disappointing third, but managed to outrank former World Champion Otto Kaiser and his new partner Hansi Kast.

Ludwig Wrede (second from left) at the 1930 World Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Ludwig finally decided to call it a day and in January of 1935 opened the École Internationale de Patinage Artistique in Villars. His old friend Sonja Henie came and skated at the school's opening. Ludwig remained in Switzerland for some time, teaching both serious figure skaters and high-society types wintering on the Continent. One of his students was Lady Kennet (Elizabeth Young), a well-known British author and artist. 

After World War II, Ludwig served as a judge at both the 1954 and 1959 European Championships. He had actually been first named as an international judge by the Austrian Federation when he was still competing. He passed away in Vienna on New Year's Day, 1965 at the age of seventy, and has yet to be honoured with an induction to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. 

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