Whiskers Go Wild at World Beard, Mustache Games

Sean Markey in Albstadt, Germany
National Geographic News
March 25, 2005
Rainier Maute, a dashingly whiskered trucker from Albstadt, Germany, plans to compete in the Olympic Games later this year.

It may be surprising that the 48-year-old smoker has a shot at a title. But Maute says he follows a strict training regime to keep in top form.

Each morning the former world and European champion stands before a mirror, where he spends 15 minutes grooming his trim, Kaiser Wilhelm-style mustache. His training gear? "Hairspray … and hazelnut mustache wax."

The married father of two plans to showcase his hairy upper lip at May's Beard Olympics in Leogang, Austria.

The event will serve as a kind of warm-up for an Italian match near Venice ("The Italians are fanatics," Maute said) and the October 2005 World Beard and Moustache Championships in Berlin. (See pictures of beard and mustache champions.)

Maute, who has competed in beard and mustache contests since 1992, says he plans to continue "until I have the German championship, and then it's finished."

Hairy "Sport"

For those of you still scratching your chins, a few words on international whisker competitions.

Barstool bets aside, the phenomenon is relatively new. The first World Beard and Moustache Championship was held in 1990 in Höfen-Enz, Germany.

The event was organized by the First Höfener Beard Club, one of about a dozen beard and mustache fraternities in Germany today. The club sponsored a second championship in 1995.

Since then the competition has grown into a biennial event hosted by beard and mustache clubs mostly in Germany, Sweden, and Norway.

The whiskered compete in 17 officially sanctioned categories: 8 styles of mustache, 4 varieties of partial beard/goatee, and 5 appellations of full-beard.

Styles range from the historic (musketeer, Wild West, imperial) to the biographical (Fu Manchu, Garibaldi, Verdi). The truly weird fall into the freestyle categories.

While a few of the hirsute compete au naturel, most rely on sprays, mousses, and waxes—not to mention blow-dryers, combs, picks, brushes, scissors, or curlers—to stay in championship form.

A seven-member jury ranks competitors on a scale of five to ten with half-point increments. The highest and lowest scores are thrown out.

"The jury is looking at not only the beard [but] the outfit, appearance," said Maute, who wears a spiked helmet and a white military tunic with brass buttons during competitions.

"It's very difficult to get a ten," said Joachim Ott, a 42-year-old medical engineer from Grosselfingen, Germany. Ott competes in the Salvador Dalí mustache category.

Ott, the reigning European champion, and Maute are both members of the Swabian Beard and Mustache Club. Based in Schoemberg, Germany, the group claims 132 members—129 men and 3 women. (Don't panic: The women are honorary members.)

German Superstars

As for competitions, enthusiasts say Germany has emerged as a global powerhouse.

Phil Olsen, a lawyer from Lake Tahoe, Nevada, organized the 2003 World Beard and Mustache Championships in Carson City—the first time the competition was held on U.S. soil.

"The Germans are dominant in this event," Olson said in Harmony of Curves, a documentary on the 2003 competition. "Most of the world champions are German."

Today's reigning German superstars include Karl-Heinz Hille, a Berliner who walked away with the Best in Show and imperial mustache titles at the 2003 World Beard and Moustache Championship. Hille will look to defend his titles at the 2005 world championships in October.

Another top contender is Jürgen Burkhardt, a 48-year-old photographer from Leinfelden, near Stuttgart, who sports a curled mustache/muttonchop combo about the size of a boomerang.

Left unstyled, Burkhardt's mustache has a wingspan that stretches five feet (one and a half meters) from tip to tip.

The German washes his mustache three times before starting his 30-minute daily styling regime. Needless to say, hairspray factors heavily into its maintenance.

"A nice mustache, also beard, is the result of the perfect harmony of curves," Burkhardt wrote in a recent e-mail interview. "You must have good style with a good form and line."

During the 2003 world championships, Burkhardt placed third in the imperial-mustache category. (He switched to the freestyle class after a 2004 rule change barred closed-loop whiskers from the imperial-mustache category.)

The photographer, who also serves as the president of the Belle Moustache club in Stuttgart, says winning competitions is unimportant. Rather, it's meeting other beard and moustache enthusiasts from around the world that make competitions worthwhile.

Asked what inspired him to grow such fantastic facial hair in the first place, Burkhardt replied, "I am a creative [person]. So I want to show everybody that I think creative. People know me [for] this fabulous mustache."

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