Walk into any student union bar in the UK and it won’t be long before you hear the name Jägermeister. The ‘get wrecked quick’ drink of choice for students aged between eighteen and twenty-four does, however, have a more than murky past which even the most politically disinterested student would baulk at if they knew.
The story of Jägermeister, or rather the Jägermeister ‘brand’ begins in earnest in 1930s Germany in the town of Wolfenbüttel in lower Saxony. For several centuries Wolfenbüttel had held a reputation as a centre for arts, culture and enlightened thinking (one of Europe’s first lending libraries was established in the town). It was here that in 1922 the NSDAP (Nazi Party) established their first constituency outside of Bavaria and over the following decade developed into a leading political force in the area.
A region of wide open spaces, gentle hills and forests, Wolfenbüttel became one of the centres for the Nazi’s ‘Kraft Durch Freude’ (‘Strength Through Joy’) programme, a politically motivated tourist company/charity that gave ordinary German workers on low incomes the chance to indulge in suitably agrarian outdoor pursuits such as hunting and fishing while sporting tight leather shorts and guzzling vast quantities of beer. Several of the leading lights of the Nazi Party attended these shindigs, with Josef Göebbels noting in his diaries the tremendous fun that was had by all.
Wolfenbüttel was also the hometown of local businessman and conservative politician Curt Mast. Mast had inherited the Findel-Mast family business in 1917 but the economic crisis in Germany that ensued after the First World War had seen the company teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. A keen hunting enthusiast, Mast is believed to have met Herman Göring sometime in the early 1930s and, sharing a passion for hunting, the two men became firm friends. At this point, the historical veracity of what followed starts to get cloudy. Mast held the seat of deputy minister in the local parliament, representing the Deutsche Volkspartei group.
On 1 May 1933, Mast left the DVP and joined the Nazi Party. The reasons behind Mast’s sudden change of allegiance are a matter of considerable conjecture. Political instability on a local and national level could have forced Mast into joining the National Socialists, or maybe he was, as he claimed after the war, merely a businessman wishing to exploit powerful contacts. The latter is certainly true of his association with Göring.
"Mast rebranded the herbal liqueur as the official drink of the hunt. Hence the distinctive label adorned with an image of a stag and the green glass bottle - the traditional colour of the huntsman."
In 1934, Göring’s role as interior minister allowed him to push through a private hunting bill known as the Reichsjagdgesetz (Reich Hunting Laws). Alongside the usual Nazi obsessions with building hierarchies of power (the law created regional Jägermeisters or ‘Master Hunters’ to act as administrators) stood some actually very progressive reforms in the area of animal rights. Hunting with dogs on horseback was banned, the killing of vixens with cubs was also outlawed and strict licensing controls were brought in.
Some historians have noted that Hitler and Göring’s hunting regulations actually had little to do with concerns for animal welfare and were merely part of a concerted attack upon the German aristocracy. Hitler and Göring had a dream of giving each of the Jägermeisters their own private hunting grounds as a symbol of their position of privilege within the Reich. Curt Mast became a Jägermeister and organised hunting parties for leading Nazi dignitaries at the Reichsjägerhof, Göring’s hunting lodge. Sensing an opportunity to rebuild his business interests on the back of his association with the new hunting fraternity, Mast rebranded the herbal liqueur that his company produced as the official drink of the hunt. Hence the distinctive label adorned with an image of a stag and the green glass bottle (green is the traditional colour of the huntsman).
The popularity of Jägermeister increased markedly during the years leading up to the Second World War with newspaper Braunschweiger Zeitung noting in 1938 that ‘Jägermeister is highly valued in all German districts and ships.’ The drink also became very popular with leading members of the German military, so much so that during the war it was often referred to by the nickname ‘Göring-Schnapps.’
At the end of the war, Mast was summoned to appear before the British military governor of Wolfenbüttel and called to account for his Nazi associations. Somehow Mast managed to convince the governor that he was never actually a fully-fledged member of the party and was not put on trial. Mast returned to politics a few years later as a member of parliament for the Christian Democratic Union. The popularity of Jägermeister dipped after the war but it continued to be produced in Wolfenbüttel until Curt Mast’s death in 1970.
Control of the brand then fell into the hands of Curt Mast’s nephew Günter. A keen sports fan, Günter set about building up the brand through shrewd sponsorship of his local football team Eintracht Braunschweig and by attaching the Jägermeister name to international motor racing events. More recently the brand has attempted to garner a more youthful demographic through the sponsorship of music events and festivals, most notably large tours undertaken by American heavy rock bands such as Slipknot and Mötley Crüe. The popularity of Jägermeister has rocketed in the last decade, especially in the US where sales have quadrupled in the last five years alone. All in all, the drink has come a long way from being enthusiastically guzzled at Herman Göring’s hunting parties.
'Slippery Tipples' by Joseph Piercy is out now. Click the link below to buy.
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