Sir Henry Cooper recalled meeting the former champion in London in the 1960s.
"Max came up to the Thomas a Becket gym on a PR visit and I remember what a striking figure of a man he was," he said. "It is a great shame to lose one of boxing's characters who will go down in history as one of the best."
The promoter Frank Warren added: "Max was tough and boxing did not do him any harm. He was anti-Hitler and a really good human being. He has got to be up there amongst the finest European heavyweights."
The German chancellor Gerhard Schroder said: "For me Schmeling the sportsman and the man will not be forgotten."
Schmeling, who was born in Brandenburg in 1905, claimed the vacant world title on a foul after being hit low in his match with the American Jack Sharkey at New York's Yankee Stadium in 1930. After defending his title against Young Stribling, he lost the crown in a rematch with Sharkey.
His greatest moment came in 1936, when as an apparently fading force he was matched with the unbeaten American Joe Louis. The German shocked the world by knocking Louis down twice on his way to a 12th-round stoppage victory.
Schmeling was reluctantly held up as an example of the Aryan ideal by Adolf Hitler in his homeland, but refused to join the Nazi party and would not bow to pressure to sack his Jewish manager, Jim Jacobs.
Nevertheless when he had earned a rematch with the new world champion Louis in 1938, he found himself cast as an ally of the German leader. Schmeling was knocked down three times and stopped in the first round by Louis in a fight which effectively ended his top-level career. He later joined the German paratroopers but saved many Jews from the concentration camps, hiding two brothers in his own Berlin suite before shipping them off to the US.
In retirement, Schmeling headed Coca-Cola's European operation in Germany, and used some of his money to help pay Louis' medical bills.
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