Wachtmeister (German for master-sentinel; watch-master) was a German, Austrian and Swiss military rank of non-commissioned officers. The rank of Wachtmeister was used in Germany and Austria, up to and including the Second World War, where it was a cavalry and artillery rank equating to a Sergeant-major (a Feldwebel in the infantry). The rank continued in East Germany until 1970. The rank is used in Austria and Switzerland in the present day. In the German navy, the term is the equivalent to a Kompaniefeldwebel or Hauptfeldwebel as the senior NCO aboard a ship, usually tasked with administration.
The rank was also adopted into Russian Army vakhmistr (ва́хмистр) and was used as Sergeant-grade rank in cavalry (until 1826), then Special Corps of Gendarmes and Cossack cavalry and Cossack Leib Guard units. Also, the Polish army used the rank Wachmistrz as a cavalry-specific title for Sergeant. This was similar to calling cavalry Captains Rittmeister (Ger.) or Rotmistrz (Pol.).
Wachtmeister was also a German police rank. It is in this function the title is mainly known for, and "Herr Wachtmeister" is the traditional address for a policemen, comparable to an English "sir". Nevertheless, as practically any policeman now has ranks higher than Wachtmeister, its use can now even be considered an insult (which is an offence).
In old German universities, Wachtmeister was a kind of doorman or caretaker. He stood in the classroom and kept everything in order. He also collected fees from students and sometime released students from fees if the lecturer (Privatdozent) deviated from the topic of the lecture.
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