Drawing lines before the Wall... some chess scenes from postwar Germany

Drawing lines before the Wall... some chess scenes from postwar Germany


As a prelude

Right after the end of World War II, the Big Three [Churchill, Truman and Stalin] met at the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam of the occupied Germany, a city almost connected with Berlin. There the Potsdam Conference was held during 17 Jul - 2 Aug 1945, where inter alia was decided the division of Germany in zones of occupation by the allies for administrative purposes. So the American, British, French and Soviet zones appeared. Berlin, being in the Soviet zone of occupation, was accordingly divided in four sectors. The three of them [Soviet excluded] constituted later West Berlin.

On May 23, 1949, few days after the Soviets ended the blockade of West Berlin [an event that probably hastened Berlin's division], the Federal Republic of Germany [West Germany-FRG] was formed. And few months later, on Oct 7, the German Democratic Republic [East Germany-GDR] was proclaimed. Cold War was starting...

The years 1952 - 1953 could be considered significant. Since May of 1952 East Germany, after Stalin's encouragement, started to seal the borders between the two new states. As result West Berlin's area was cut to a degree from the rest of FRG, being in the middle of East Germany. On the other hand, the sealing of the inner German border made West Berlin the only gate for East Germans to the West. However Berlin retained some unity as a city in the 1950s, at least to some point, and probably was divided gradually. The total division came later in Aug 1961, with the rising of the Berlin wall, after GDR had secured the existence of an independent railway system.

In March 1953 Stalin died and in Sep 1953 Ernst Reuter, the first Governing Mayor of West Berlin (SPD). Some change in the policy, at least regarding Berlin sector borders, seems that was expressed by Soviet Union right after Stalin's death, supporting less guarding [or at least not increasing]. Possibly after some early Khrushchev's de-Stalinization policy?! However the events of the East German uprising of 1953 [June 17] brought temporarily some enforcement of the martial law and sealing of the Berlin sector borders [under a fear of provocation]. Berlin seems to be gradually divided...

for the previous among others I based on Uprising in East Germany 1953 by C. F. Ostermann, Bringing Cold War Democracy to West Berlin by S. H. Krause, The Ghosts of Berlin by B. Ladd, The Berlin Wall and the Intra-German Border 1961-89 by Gordon L. Rottman

Workers-strikers-people are gathering in Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, June 17, 1953, found in https://www.bundeskanzlerin.de/bkin-de/mediathek/volksaufstand-am-17-juni-1953-in-der-ddr-610888!mediathek


Postwar chess in Germany

Chess events in Germany after WW2 seem to come along with the aforementioned history line... at least to a point. Although, I can't always easily approach them in a proper way.

"Then, on July 20-22 [1949] at the FIDE Congress in Paris, the readmission of Germany was discussed, but a decision was deferred. Dr. Voellmy of Switzerland reported that 95 percent of German chess players were ex-Nazis, while Ragozin said that 'purification' had taken place in the Soviet Zone. The British Chess Magazine said that 'there were still too many Nazi elements amongst the German players and organizers.' However, R.G. Wade, who attended the Congress, clarified matters in a letter to the English periodical CHESS. He stated that Germany was not readmitted 'due to the question of final agreement by the Foreign Ministers as to the form of a new German State and doubt whether the present German Federation is fully representative of both Zones.' He also pointed out that after he and Dr.Euwe - 'the only members who had visited Germany for chess' - made statements to the general assembly, Dr. Voellmy’s report was modified." Kurt Richter by Alan McGowan, p. 260

Only three overall championships were held in Germany during these years. Last one in 1953. After this, the next came with the reunification in 1991. At the same time separate championships were taking place in the two zone-states. Specifically:

[I follow the information given by the official DSB siteWikipedia  and teleschach seem that they aren't separating in the same way the west zonal championships with the all German ones.]

German chess championships 1946 - 1953
FRG GDR All German
  • 1948 Essen (West zone ch) ~ Wolfgang Unzicker

  • 1949 Bad Pyrmont (West zone ch) ~ Jefim Bogoljubow

  • 1950 Bad Pyrmont (1st FRG ch) ~ Wolfgang Unzicker

  • 1953 Berlin (2nd FRG ch) ~ Wolfgang Unzicker
  • 1946 Leipzig (1st Soviet zone ch) ~ Berthold Koch
  • 1947 Weißenfels (2nd Soviet zone ch) ~ Lothar Schmid
  • 1948 Bad Doberan (3rd Soviet zone ch) ~ Rudolf Teschner
  • 1949 Bad Klosterlausnitz (4th Soviet zone ch) ~ Wolfgang Pietzsch
  • 1950 Sömmerda (1st GDR ch) ~ Rudolf Elstner
  • 1951 Schwerin (2nd GDR ch) ~ Georg Stein
  • 1952 Binz (3rd GDR ch) ~ Berthold Koch
  • 1953 Jena (4th GDR ch) ~ Reinhart Fuchs
  • 1947 Weidenau ~ Georg Kieninger

  • 1951 Düsseldorf ~ Rudolf Teschner

  • 1953 Leipzig ~ Wolfgang Unzicker


The Soviet zone seems that was better organized. However in the Western zone during these years some international events took place, like Heidelberg 1949, Dortmund 1951 or even FIDE zonal Bad Pyrmont 1951. And players like Rossolimo, O'Kelly, Gligoric, Prins, Golombek made their appearance. From the three all German championships, the first two were on the western part and the third [and last before reunification] on the eastern. However after Leipzig 1953 a remarkable chess event took place in Berlin, but more details on this subsequently.

Berlin seems that followed the aforementioned history line too. In the city championships were participating players from both sides at the beginnings, something gradually vanished. Especially after 1953 when the city championship became more clearly a western affair [according to Berlin's chess club official site the last all Berlin ch, before the reunification, took place in 1952]. However some exceptions occurred.

It's also noticeable that during these years players from both sides can be seen playing in the other zone's championships too, even if not as a rule. In the same spirit in 1951 in Leipzig [GDR], took place an all German U20 championship where new chess figures made some first notable appearance like Uhlmann, Fuchs, Darga, Bialas and others...


On some games I've liked

I've looked in the games of the period played in Germany and found some really beautiful...

Unzicker vs Stein, Essen 1948, West zone ch

Wolfgang Unzicker [1925-2006] a great player and leading figure of West Germany chess world during the postwar years. He was for decades on the 1st board for FRG in the chess Olympiads. Georg Stein [1909-1980s ca] can be considered a unique case. Representative of Koblenz chess of West Germany before war, but with Weißenfels & Sömmerda [GDR] mentioned as postwar places too. He participated mostly in the first Soviet zone - GDR championships. And actually he won the 2nd GDR ch in Schwerin 1951. But also in events like this one, Essen 1948 west zone [although many times this event is mentioned as the 12th all German championship].


Georg Stein vs Wolfgang Pietzsch within 2nd GDR ch 1951, found in https://www.schachbund.de/news/id-100-geburtstag-von-georg-stein.html


Pietzsch vs Elstner, Sömmerda 1950, 1st GDR ch

Wolfgang Pietzsch [1930-1996] a great player from East Germany, participating many times on the 2nd board in chess Olympiads. Rudolf Elstner [1893-1966] winner of this event and one of east Berlin players, hero of a rather sad Berlin story [in detail afterwards].


Bialas vs Uhlmann, Leipzig 1951, all German U20 ch

Some youth chess championships seem that took place separately in the zones before 1951. This one was an all German one. Wolfgang Uhlmann [b. 1935] won, leading figure of chess in East Germany, 1st board in Olympiads for decades. In this event Reichard Fuchs [1934-2017] also stood out, east Berliner and great player of GDR. Klaus Viktor Darga [b. 1934] too, a significant player of West Germany, being on the boards of FRG for many Olympiads. Wolfram Bialas [1935-1998] was an other great player of West Germany making his first moves.

All German U20 chess championship, Leipzig 1951, photo found in https://www.schachbund.de/news/reinhart-fuchs.html from Archiv Budrich


East Germany team in Havana 1966 chess Olympiad. Possibly from left to right but with a doubt Lothar Zinn, Burkhard Malich, Wolfgang Pietzsch, Reinhart Fuchs, Heinz Liebert, Wolfgang Uhlmann. Photo found in Bohemia 28.10.1966 p. 48


Two games from Leipzig 1953

The last all German championship was held in Leipzig [GDR] during Nov 1953. Unzicker won. On first round he faced Otto Benkner [1909-1996], representative of Saarland, a brief life protectorate in the French zone [1947-1956], later united with FRG. It's noticeable that Benkner participated in 3 chess Olympiad on the first boards for Saarland, but after the union with FRG, no games are found. He was editing the chess column of Saarbrücker Zeitung till 1991.

Wolfgang Unzicker [1953]
Otto Benkner [1953]
in wikicommons in wikicommons


But on round 9 he lost by Fuchs...


East - West Berlin match Dec 1953

"The breakdown in chess relations during 1952 meant that what had been an annual match between Berlin and the GDR did not take place nor did it in 1953, but a slight melting of the icy conditions allowed for a double-round match on 5-6 December of that year between East and West Berlin, which involved men (53 boards), women (5) and youth (15) teams. And in the spirit of even-handedness the men played in Kreuzberg in the American sector, while the women and youth teams played in the Hotel Johannishof in the East sector. Richter was on top board for East Berlin, who won the men’s match 59-47." Kurt Richter by Alan McGowan, p. 278

At first read it gave to me the impression of some good will acts of the time. However, on second thought, I reconsidered to a degree. Firstly, we are informed that a Berlin vs GDR match was taking place in the previous years. I don't know for sure if it was all Berlin or East Berlin, but I assume it was all the city, as it's mentioned that in the years 1950 & 1951, Rudolf Teschner was playing on first board for Berlin right upon Richter [pp. 266-268]. Rudolf Teschner [1922-2006], significant chess player of FRG, seems that participated in the 1st Soviet zone ch and actually won the 3rd in 1948. However afterwards he can be found in West Berlin & Germany events, representing FRG on 1st board in Helsinki 1952. And since 1950 he was also the editor of Deutsche Schachzeitung, published probably in West Berlin.

So from an all Berlin vs GDR match we jump into an East Berlin vs West Berlin match in the end of 1953. Lines were being drawn I think...

Kurt Richter [????]
Rudolf Teschner [1960]
in chessgames in nationaalarchief


Anyway two games of this match are following between Kurt Richter and Rudolf Teschner for history reasons too, taken as were presented in the aforementioned book.

Kurt Paul Otto Joseph Richter [1900-1969], significant chess figure of the city since prewar years should be considered of East Berlin I think. He had also been an editor of Deutsche Schachblätter. A chess magazine that stopped being published in 1943, but was revived by Richter during 1948-1952 in Leipzig. In 1952 was stopped again due to lack of paper in GDR, in favor of the magazine Schach [edited by Berthold Koch]. Richter can be considered an all Berlin chess figure. During these years and after the Schachblätter's stop, was writing regularly in the Koch's Schach but also was joint editor with Teschner in the Deutsche Schachzeitung, at least in the 1950s. He participated in the Berlin championships till the limit year of 1952, but also can be found again afterwards in the one of 1957 [p. 279].


Three games from Berlin chess championships

As I've already written, the last all Berlin chess championship was held in 1952. Two games are following played till then. Pfeiffer [winner of this event] vs Voght, 1949, and Richter vs Darga, 1950...



A special mention should be made about Rudolf Elstner. Winner of the 1st GDR championship, can be found nevertheless playing in the West Berlin championships of 1958, 1959 & 1960 [after Richter ?? ~ info found in Chess Results, 1956-1960 by Gino Di Felice]. However...

"As a new decade neared and the political situation continued to deteriorate, the East German chess administration showed how closely they followed the party line with their rebuke of Rudolf Elstner, East German champion in 1950. Free movement between East and West Berlin had previously been acceptable, but the authorities in the East were by this time more suspicious of those who played chess in both sectors, no doubt considering them to be politically unreliable. Elstner, whom Richter had known since their time together at the Schachklub Springer-Berlin in the 1920s, had connections to the Kreuzberg club in West Berlin, but he also played for the BSG Enheit Pankow in East Berlin. This was frowned upon, but as 'warnings for unauthorised playing in West Berlin have had no effect,' Elstner was given a one-year playing ban from 1 April 1959 to 31 March 1960." Kurt Richter by Alan McGowan, p. 283.

So just a game of 1959 vs Kauder...



Hope you've enjoyed my journey in the German postwar chess. Finishing I'd like to give the following photo. Being in Berlin in Apr 2007, visiting some friends, I walked of course as an original tourist towards the famous East Side Gallery, where many artists painted the remainings of the Berlin Wall after the reunification. Entering Mühlenstraße, I noticed some graffiti paintings that since then I was almost sure that weren't of the East Side Gallery. The wall behind was of bricks. The Gallery was starting few meters ahead. However I really liked some. Trying to check the spot via google maps [2017], I think I managed to find it [here]. The graffiti, as it would be expected, doesn't exist...