The Chess Village


Schachdorf Ströbeck

What makes this village somewhat peculiar, somewhat different than anyplace else in the world, is its deep and time-honored chess tradition. This tradition isn't merely a show, but more a way of life for the 1200 villagers. The town itself is known as Schachdorf Ströbeck, or Ströbeck, the Chess Village.
The story begins almost 1000 years ago, but the tradition is a mere 180 years old.


The Hartz Mountains remained uninhabited until almost 1000 AD. Ströbeck itself was built around 995 AD when Otto II donated some land to the monastery in Drübeck. Later Heinrich II donated a piece of land known as Ströbeck to the Quedlinburg Foundation. In 1268 Ströbeck became the property of the bishopric of Halberstadt and became part of the medieval trade route. In the year 1011, a Slavic nobleman by the name of  Duke Gruncelin who was Wendish (The Wends was a tribe Slavic people who lived in Spreewald, a region northeast of Dresden and southeast of Berlin - another story mentions Prince Kunzelin of Meissen.) placed under arrest in the stone tower of Ströbeck by order of Heinrich II of Germany. He was an educated man and the prison life was a boring existence. To pass the time (and legend has it, to earn his freedom) he fashioned a crude board with chaulk and pieces he whittled from wood and taught his guards a game, that he used to play at court, called Schach. Of course it was a medieval version of the game whose rules differed from today's game of chess. Still, the game, which at that time was reserved for royalty and clerics, caught on as the guards taught it to their friends and family. The entire town seemed to enjoy the game and even taught it to travelers passing through. The village gained a certain measure of renown which didn't go unnoticed by the rulers who exempted the village from certain taxes on the condition that they maintain and pass down through generations their willingness to always offer travelers a game of chess. Many traditions developed over the course of time.


In 1823 when Germany, as well as other parts of Europe, were building public schools, the Ströbeck school asked that a certain amount of money be set aside to provide awards of chessboards and chessmen to the winners of the end-of-year tournament.
This is also the year that chess education became compulsory. Children carry their chessboards with them to school along with their bookbags and lunchbags. The children today receive an hour of required chess each week, but more would certainly not be frowned upon.


I copied this small fragment from my own page about Schachdorf Ströbeck, which details some of the peculiar traditions as well as offers many more photographs of this wondrous place.