La vida animada en los cafés de ajedrez de Berlín entre los años 1920–1933

por Alan McGowan
29/02/2020 – Berlín, la capital de Alemania, siempre ha tenido una vida vibrante de ajedrez, pero el período entre las dos Guerras Mundiales era particularmente interesante. Alan McGowan, el autor de una biografía muy popular sobre el maestro de ajedrez Kurt Richter (1900-1969), ha escrito un artículo sobre la vida de ajedrez en los cafés de ajedrez de Berlín. Artículo en inglés.

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Berlin Chess Cafés 1920–1933

No doubt many chess players have memories of the difficulties sometimes experienced in finding suitable, comfortable accommodation for their local club at a reasonable rent. This makes it even more fascinating to read of the kind of premises available to Berlin chess enthusiasts at that time.

A glance at a reference book of the time ─ Ranneforths Schach-Kalender 1925, for example ─ shows that a number of Berlin clubs met in cafés and restaurants throughout the city. However, there was an area which was of particular significance, namely the section of Friedrichstrasse between Unter den Linden to Leipzigerstrasse, and several cross streets.

The map shows the Café Bauer on the south-east corner of Unter den Linden at Friedrichstrasse. It had been an important chess venue in the 19th century, but by the period under discussion it had been sold. The Equitable building shown at the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Leipzigerstrasse was the venue for several cafés and numerous chess events, which will be discussed in due course.

The popularity of the cafes is tied to the formation of "chess circles" within them, some with well-known resident Berlin masters. These were casual or ‘free’ chess groups, not officially connected to the Berlin Chess Association and they were able to attract the leading masters of the day to give exhibitions and lectures, including Alekhine, Bogoljubow, Capablanca, Em. Lasker and Nimzowitsch.

I have decided to look only as far as 1933; everything changed that year under new political leaders, after which many of those who contributed to the success of the chess cafes were denied further involvement.

Kerkau Palast

While some of the venues used by Berlin chess clubs might have been of modest size, the more important locations were considerably larger with numerous rooms on several floors. One such venue was the Kerkau Palast at Behrenstrasse 48, built in 1910 and associated with the billiard champion Hugo Kerkau, who, along with his father, founded several coffee houses in Berlin.

Kerkau Palast

By 1912 the Kerkau Palast was under the new ownership of Josef König (an important figure who will be referred to later).1 Mr König, perhaps because of a friendship with the chess player, publisher, promoter and chess benefactor Bernhard Kagan (1886–1932), made the Kerkau Palast available for several important events during the 1914–18 war and beyond. It was also the venue for a few years for one of Berlin's leading clubs, the Schachverein 1876. 

Volkszeitung, 17 November 1912

In 1920 Mr König offered the Kerkau Palast as host for an international tournament being organised and sponsored by Mr Kagan, and also contributed financially to the prize fund.2 This tournament, held December 4-16, provided the opportunity for an outstanding success by Gyula Breyer.

Berlin 1920

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Total

1

Breyer

1

0

1

1

0

1

½

1

1

2

Bogoljubow

0

½

½

½

½

1

1

½

1

3

Tartakower

1

½

0

½

1

0

½

1

1

4

Réti

0

½

1

1

1

1

0

0

½

5

5

Maróczy

0

½

½

0

½

1

½

1

½

6

Mieses

1

½

0

0

½

0

1

½

1

7

Tarrasch

0

0

1

0

0

1

1

½

1

8

Sämisch

½

0

½

1

½

0

0

½

½

9

Leonhardt

0

½

0

1

0

½

½

½

0

3

10

Spielmann

0

0

0

½

½

0

0

½

1

The Kerkau Palast closed in mid-January 1921, but the general  chess community that met there was fortunate in quickly securing rooms at the Café Bardinet, in the Hotel Silesia, Friedrichstrasse 96, a short distance north of Unter den Linden. At the same time, these enthusiasts organised themselves into an informal group – Berliner Schachheim, Freie Schachvereinigung (Free Chess Association) – officially founded on 23 February 1921. The aim of this loose association, as their name suggested, was to provide a ‘home’ for Berlin s players, as well as providing a place for visitors to the city. It did not see itself as an ordinary chess club; its goal was to promote the game both as a mental activity in hours of relaxation, but also as Art and Science. The committee members were Würzburger, Dr B. Lasker (brother of Emanuel Lasker), P. Ladendorf, Arpad Bauer and Lucian Einbild. Press relations were handled by Mr Bauer and Dr Meyenberg.3

No time was wasted in carrying out their aims: the events they organised included a four-game match between Leonhardt and Bardeleben (drawn +1,-1, =2); a simultaneous exhibition by Bardeleben on 4 March 1921, his 60th birthday (+16, -1, =5), and a six-game match in June between Alekhine and Teichmann (drawn +2, =2, -2). The Schachheim remained at the Café Bardinet until 1924, when the group moved to the Café Zielka in the Equitable Palast.4

Café Schiller

A venue of some significance was the Café Schiller at Mohrenstrasse 31, another of the streets crossing Friedrichstrasse. The Schachverein 1876, mentioned above, had their clubroom in the Kerkau Palast for a few years. Then, by 1921, it was at the Conditorei Landau at Niederwallstrasse 33, a short distance east of the map area shown.

By 1924 the Schachverein 1876 had taken up residence at the Café Schiller, where the club's 50th anniversary Jubilee tournament was held 1925-26. This was won by Kurt Richter, ahead of Wegemund, Elstner and A. Wagner. Richter, whose first major club was Springer 1895, moved to the Schachverein 1876 at this time and it was here that he acquired the nickname Der Scharfrichter von Berlin (The Executioner of Berlin).5

Equitabke Palast

This impressive building, designed by Carl Schaefer, was constructed 1887-89 for the Equitable Life Assurance Society of New York on the north-east corner of Friedrichstrasse at Leipzigerstrasse. While many businesses chose to take office premises here, the building was particularly notable for its café and other entertainments. There were four cafes within the building that were important in Berlin’s chess life; Kerkau, Zielka, E.P. and Moka Efti.

Café Kerkau

This was managed by Hugo Kerkau, the billiards champion whose name was also associated with the Kerkau Palast. Germany's oldest chess club, the Berliner Schachgesellschaft (1827), had their clubroom within the Café Kerkau in the years 1902-1909, during which time many tournaments and other events were held there. Later, though, after being affected by financial troubles, Hugo Kerkau, who died in 1918, aged 43 gave up on it.6

Café Zielka

Robert Zielka, also a billiard player, rented space on the first floor of the Equitable building in July 1909. The Café Zielka became such a popular spot that, soon after, Zielka opted to rent additional space on the second floor for more billiard tables. Despite being called up during WW1, Zielka and his café managed to survive.7

The Equitable Palast building showing the Café Zielka sign.

The Café Zielka became significant as a chess venue when the Berliner Schachheim, mentioned above, moved there near the end of 1924. However, it was just at this time that Robert Zielka, who also operated another establishment in Berlin’s Grunewald district, ran into the financial difficulties that resulted in bankruptcy proceedings being raised against him in November 1924.8

While this heralded changes during the next few years, chess activities continued at the venue, which was often still referred to as Café Zielka. At the opening of the new space, Paul Johner and Teichmann alternated in a 15-board simultaneous display, scoring +13, =1, -1. This was followed by a 4-Master tournament, which began on 9 December.

Berlin 1924

 

1

2

3

4

Total

Johner, P.

■■

½1

11

4

Rubinstein

■■

Teichmann

½0

■■

½0

Mieses

00

½1

■■

2

Some reports stated that this event was to be played at the Café König, formerly Zielka, and sometimes giving the Leipzigerstrasse 101 address. The reason for this
seems to be that Josef König was planning to take over the space, but the Café Zielka’s creditors did not want a name change. Mr König then looked elsewhere.9

In October 1925 the members of the Schachheim welcomed the world champion, Capablanca, who gave two simultaneous exhibitions, each against 30 opponents. On October 27 Capablanca scored +19, =10, -1, and on October 28 the result was +22, =8.

The October 27 exhibition. Directly opposite Capablanca is Willi Schlage (1888–1940), and far left in the photo is Otto Wegemund, two well-known figures in Berlin chess.  Schlage defeated Capablanca in a 1911 simultaneous display during the latter’s previous visit to Berlin. Das Interessante Blatt, 12 November 1925, p4.

The same display.

Capablanca went on to Moscow for the international tournament, but passed through Berlin on his return journey. On 10 December he played 30 opponents simultaneously at the Café Zielka, scoring +27, =2, -1.10Visits by Spielmann and Marshall, both of whom had also played at Moscow, were also arranged at the end of 1925.

In 1926 there were a number of interesting exhibitions. On 23 April Alekhine and Nimzowitsch gave a display in which each of them played separate games against the same 25 opponents. Nimzowitsch scored +18, =7, while Alekhine scored +17, =4, -4.11

On 5 May Sämisch played 15 ‘blindfold’ games at the Café Zielka, scoring +9, =5, -1. And Nimzowitsch paid a return visit at the end of the summer, when he played 27 opponents, scoring +27, =5, -5.12

Adding to the significance of the Equitable building as a centre for chess, the Schachverein 1876 club moved there at the start of the 1926/27 season.

Café Equitable Palast

By the end of 1926 the café was under new management, and it tended to be described as the Café Equitable Palast or — appropriately for a chess venue — Café E.P. The Director was Mr Jakobs and the Chairman was Mr Würzburger, the latter having been involved with the Free Chess Association since its founding in 1921. Paul Krüger, writing in the December 15th issue of the Deutsche Schachblätter, describes the positive atmosphere and the range of nationalities found there. He pointed out that there could be 200 players per day, each paying 30 Pfennig, 20 of which went to the Café and 10 going to the club. The money thus raised meant that the club could continue to organise and fund significant events such as the Berlin tournaments of November 1926 and May 1927.

Berlin 1926 – Freie Schachvereinigung

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Total

1

Bogoljubow

½

½

0

1

1

1

1

1

1

7

2

Rubinstein

½

1

½

½

1

1

1

½

0

6

3

Ahues

½

0

0

½

1

1

½

½

1

5

4

Grünfeld

1

½

1

½

0

1

0

½

½

5

5

Spielmann

0

½

½

½

½

½

1

1

½

5

6

Colle

0

0

0

1

½

0

1

½

1

4

7

Johner, P.

0

0

0

0

½

1

½

½

1

8

List

0

0

½

1

0

0

½

½

1

9

Sämisch

0

½

½

½

0

½

½

½

½

10

von Holzhausen

0

1

0

½

½

0

0

0

½

Berlin 1926 Left, front to back: Grünfeld, Bogoljubow, Sämisch. Right: Rubinstein, Johner, Spielmann, Volkszeitung, 25 November 1926, p1.

Berlin 1927- Freie Schachvereinigung

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Total

1

Brinckmann

1

0

½

1

1

1

½

½

1

2

Bogoljubow

0

1

0

½

½

1

1

1

1

6

3

Nimzowitsch

1

0

½

1

1

0

½

1

1

6

4

Sämisch

½

1

½

½

1

0

1

½

1

6

5

Ahues

0

½

0

½

½

1

1

½

1

5

6

Enoch

0

½

0

0

½

½

1

1

1

7

List

0

0

1

1

0

½

1

1

0

8

Mieses

½

0

½

0

0

0

0

½

1

9

Schweinburg

½

0

0

½

½

0

0

½

½

10

Elstner

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

½

While these tournaments involved better known players, there were occasional reports of events played by members of the Free Chess Association. The May 1927 Deutsche Schachzeitung gave details of one such event: Enoch 9; Elstner 8; Kuhlmann 6½; E. Richter 5½; Ulrich 5.

The winner was David Enoch, who later played for Palestine in the 1935 Warsaw Olympiad. Rudolf Elstner (1893–1966) features elsewhere in this article, and Kuhlmann was a local club player. Fourth place was likely Prof. Erik Richter (1889–1981), better known for his chess problem compositions, and Ulrich was probably Bruno Ullrich (1907-1981).

In 1928 the Café E.P. and the Free Chess Association hosted several events, the first of which produced the following result:- List 10½, Enoch 10, Elstner and Rotenstein 9, Rellstab 8½, Wegemund 7, Dahl 5½, Kreisberg and Ullrich 4½ etc. (There were two other classes of play.)13

Berlin 1928 – Freie Schachvereinigung, July 1928

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

Total

1

Ahues

½

½

1

½

1

2

Richter, K.

½

1

½

½

1

3

Elstner

½

0

0

1

1

4

List

0

½

1

½

½

5

Mieses

½

½

0

½

½

2

6

Rellstab

0

0

0

½

½

 

However, the café was facing problems, necessitating a temporary closure (it was not clear whether it would reopen later). Observing the upheaval at the Café E.P., the Berlin Chess Association set up a ‘free chess traffic’ group for its members at the Café König on Unter den Linden (formerly the Café Victoria), the property Mr König acquired 1925 when he looked elsewhere – a clear invitation to the E.P. members.14

The Free Chess Association convened ordinary and extraordinary meetings in the course of a week to discuss the likelihood that the club would be forced to change premises. Bernhard Kagan, long associated with the club, proposed that if their current playing venue closed, the club should move to the Café König. He based this recommendation on two points; many tournaments and competitions were made possible because of Mr König’s financial support, and the Free Association had been promised benefits similar to what they were then receiving. He acknowledged that it would be up the new board (elected at the second meeting with Viktor Stahlknecht as Chairman) to decide.15

It was soon confirmed that the café would have to close, which it did in mid-August 1928. Since Robert Zielka’s bankruptcy in 1925 there had been several owners, but none had been able to raise the capital necessary for renovations. It was announced that the new owner was to be Peter Stüber, the owner of the café /dancehall Imperator.16 The Free Chess Association (Schachheim) did move to the Café König.   

Moka Efti

The Moka Efti café and roastery was established in Berlin in March 1926. Residents could not have failed to notice the work being carried out on the building at the corner of Leipzigerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse, as shown in an Italian magazine that heralded the upcoming opening of the café. However, despite providing a large format two-page spread with 11 photographs, there were no details about the company’s history or personnel.

L’Illustrazione Italiana, 28 March 1926, p355.

This was followed by a large advertisement in a leading Berlin newspaper for the official opening of the café on 31 March 1926, at 4 p.m.

Berliner Tageblatt, 31 March 1926, p14.

When the company was registered, the managing directors were listed as Simone Lutomirski, Milan, and Philipp Lutomirski, Berlin. However, by December 1927 they had been replaced by Nikos Orginos and Thomas Politis, both of Berlin.17

The name of the café is derived from Mocha, Yemen, a centre of the coffee trade in the distant past, and Giovanni Eftimiades, a Greek-Italian who was clever enough to allow people to refer to him by the easier to pronounce Efti.

Note: Soon after the Moka Efti was established in 1926, the investors acquired additional property on the west side of Friedrichstrasse at Kronenstraase. There are photographs available showing a lengthwise sign on that building. No chess events were held there.

Café Wien

Other developments were taking place around the same time. It had recently
been announced that a free chess circle had begun meeting at the Café Wien
on the Kurfürstendamm, a major thoroughfare in the city’s west end, with the
well-known Paul List as resident master. List and former world champion
Emanuel Lasker played an alternating 44-board simultaneous display at the
new chess venue, scoring +34, =8, -2.19

Emanuel Lasker during the exhibition at the Café Wien. Paul List is out of sight. Berliner Tageblatt, 12 May 1929, p2 (Der Welt-Spiegel)

In April 1929, the Moka Efti moved across the road to the Equitable Palast building. Their vacated space was very quickly occupied by a new establishment, the Café Mokadoro, which would later also become a centre for chess activity.18

There had been no chess activities at the Moka Efti’s first location, but not long after moving into the Equitable Palast it hosted hosting several events as a result of changes that were about to take place. 

On April 30th 1929, the Annual General Meeting of the Free Chess Association — the Freie Schachvereinigung founded in 1921 — was held at the Café König, their home since August 1928. An application by the previous chairman Stahlknecht to change the playing venue was not approved, the club choosing to remain at the Café König and maintain their new association with the Berlin Chess Association (Berliner Schachverband), who also used the venue.20

This prompted several members to form a new association — Schachheim e.V. — based at the Moka Efti and comprising of a board of directors of V. Stahlknecht (1st chairman), Dr Siegmann (2nd chairman), along with Kurt Pätzold, P. Krusius and J. Milos. The breakaway group raised some animosity in the chess community, particularly after the following photograph was published.21

Bogoljubow during a simultaneous display at the Moka Efti on 11 May 1929 (+21, =5, -4). Seated directly in front of Bogoljubow is Mr Efti – Giovanni Eftimiades. Denken und Raten, 26 May 1929.22

The picture resulted in an article appearing in the July 1929 issue of Schachwart — presumably by the editor, Kurt Richter. In it, the writer expressed annoyance that Mr Efti seemed to have been given ‘the big treatment’ by the photo spread. The writer also complained about Denken und Raten promoting the recently formed club — the Schachheim — as well as taking umbrage with the editorial board of the magazine over their reporting of the recent Berlin Championship. Further, it was also pointed out that the club at the Moka Efti was not a member of the Berlin Chess Association and that the ‘real action’ took place at the Café König.

Apart from the fact that it would be quite natural for the Berlin Chess Association and the Café König to worry about losing players to the new venue, it seems there was no real justification for complaining about the Moka Efti and its resident club promoting themselves in any way they saw fit. What appeared to have annoyed the complainants was the fact that Viktor Stahlknecht, a chairman of the new Schachheim, was a chief editor at Scherl, publishers of Denken und Raten, a puzzle and games magazine (The Berlin master Karl Helling (1904–1937), who edited the magazine’s chess section, was also an employee.)

Viktor Stahlknecht and Karl Helling

Left: Viktor Stahlknecht, Deutsche Schachblätter, 1 Sept. 1933
Right: Karl Helling Deutsche Schachblätter, 1 Sept. 1937

The Moka Efti wasted no time in promoting itself as a new chess venue. Capablanca gave a simultaneous display there on 25 June 1929 (+28, =3), Sämisch played 10 ‘blindfold’ games on 4 July (+7, =2, -1) and Capablanca returned on 4 December for another simultaneous exhibition (+25, =4, -2). It also hosted an interesting tournament December 6-17.23

Berlin 1929 – Moka Efti

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Total

1

Koch, B.

0

1

1

1

1

½

½

½

1

2

Schories

1

0

0

0

1

1

1

1

1

6

3

Johner, P.

0

1

½

0

½

½

1

½

1

5

4

Mieses

0

1

½

½

0

1

½

1

½

5

5

Schlage

0

1

1

½

1

½

0

1

0

5

6

Helling

0

0

½

1

0

½

½

1

1

7

Schweinburg

½

0

½

0

½

½

1

1

½

8

Rotenstein

½

0

0

½

1

½

0

0

1

9

Elstner

½

0

½

0

0

0

0

1

1

3

10

Enoch

0

0

0

½

1

0

½

0

0

2

The world financial crisis in late 1929 led to ownership changes in the company behind the Moka Efti as a result of the failure of their London bankers, Rodocanachi Sons & Co. It is not clear, however, whether this had any bearing on the decision of the Schachheim e.V. to move their club to a space set aside for them at the Café Imperator. The official opening in their new venue was on 15 March 1930, when former world champion Emanuel Lasker delivered a lecture.24

Despite the loss of the Schachheim club, there were several notable events at the Moka Efti in the remaining months of 1930. World Champion Alekhine gave a simultaneous exhibition there on 8 May (+21, =9, -5) and a 4-Master tournament was held August 6-14 to take advantage of the availability of two American masters who had played in the Hamburg Olympiad.25

Berlin 1930 – Moka Efti

 

1

2

3

4

Total

Kashdan

■■

11

½½

11

5

Helling

00

■■

11

Steiner, H.

½½

■■

2

Sämisch

00

00

■■

The Moka Efti continued to be a chess venue, but it seems that its significance diminished. One has to look hard for information about later events, such as the visit to Berlin in 1931 by Professor Milan Vidmar (snr) for a scientific lecture, during which time he gave a simultaneous display, scoring +18, =11, -1.26

Deutsche Schachblätter 1939 (p147)

The Moka Efti ‘closed’ at the beginning of 1933 and its chess traffic moved across the road to the Mokadoro. However, the reason for this was clarified when in September 1933 a new chess group was organised at the Moka Efti for Aryans only. The Berlin championship for 1934 was held here 31 November–13 December 1933 (=1st Ahues and Sämisch).27

Café Mokadoro

As mentioned above, the Mokadoro wasted little time in occupying the Leipzigerstrasse space vacated by the Moka Efti, moving into the building in May 1929.28

Looking west-east, the lengthwise Mokadoro sign is visible on the right. Across the road in the Equitable Palast building on the corner is the Moka Efti.

This venue did not appear in the chess lists until January 1932, when rooms on the third floor were set aside, to be managed by the 1920 Berlin champion Ernst Schweinburg. To celebrate the opening, a 6-Master tournament was held January 19-25.29

Berlin 1932 - Mokadoro

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

Total

1

Elstner

½

½

1

1

1

4

2

Ahues

½

½

½

1

½

3

3

Schlage

½

½

1

0

1

3

4

Koch, B.

0

½

0

1

1

5

Helling

0

0

1

0

1

2

6

Rotenstein

0

½

0

0

0

½

Café Trumpf

In 1932 a chess circle was established at this venue at Kurfürstendamm 10; Paul List was the resident master. At the opening on 14 November, List and Sämisch played a 45-game simultaneous exhibition, moving alternately. aThe score was +38, =5, -2.30

Café Imperator

This was located at Friedrichstrasse 67 at the corner with Taubenstrasse (see first map), a few blocks from the Equitable building. After establishing the Schachheim here in March 1930, no time was wasted in organising events. Courses in chess and bridge were planned for after Easter and Sämisch, who was to oversee chess matters, played an eight-game ‘blindfold’ exhibition, scoring +4, =1, -3.31

Friedrich (Fritz) Sämisch and the ever-present cigarette. Taken during the Berlin 1935 tournament (February 1–9). The pieces are the ‘Schachfiguren Bundesform’ introduced in 1934 from a design authorised by Ehrhardt Post.

Later, Ahues became the resident chess master at the Imperator. Carl Ahues (1883–1968), German champion in 1929, had been kept busy after that success. In 1930 he played in six major tournaments; San Remo, Berlin 4-Master, Scarborough, Hamburg Olympiad, Frankfurt and Liege. However, in his detailed reminiscences in a series of articles in Schach 1954 he pointed out that his tournament commitments were reduced in the following years few years because of his responsibilities at the café.

Carl Ahues, Denken und Raten, 17 March 1929, p345.

In early 1931, taking advantage of the presence in Berlin of Lajos Steiner of Hungary and Hermann Steiner from the USA, the Schachheim organised two very different events at the Café Imperator. On 31 January they held a problem solving competition, directed by Richard Steinweg, involving 2-, 3- and 4-movers. The 1st prize was won by Wilhelm Müller in 92 minutes; the second prize by Georg Schories in 99 minutes, with Rellstab and L. and H. Steiner following.32

The club also held a 6-Master tournament February 3-8, which included Berlin Chess Association members.

Berlin 1931 – Café Imperator

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

Total

1

Steiner, H.

1

1

½

0

1

2

Ahues

0

1

1

½

0

3

Helling

0

0

½

1

1

4

Rellstab

½

0

½

1

½

5

Sämisch

1

½

0

0

½

2

6

Steiner, L.

0

1

0

½

½

2

And Bogoljubow, who was often employed as a national chess trainer, organised training courses for beginners and advanced players on Tuesdays and Fridays, which were well attended by the members.33

The relationship between the Berlin Chess Association (BCA) and the café chess groups had always been tense. BCA members were not allowed to participate in Free Chess Association events unless official permission had been given (an example was the 1929 Moka Efti tournament, when association members Koch, Schlage, Schweinburg and Rotenstein participated).

The Deutsche Schachblätter (the official publication of the German Chess Federation) had pointed out in its 15 May 1930 issue that of the chess groups in Berlin's chess cafes, only those in the Café König belonged to the Berlin Chess Association, and thus to the German Chess Federation. If this was an effort to persuade the Schachheim at the Café Imperator to become a member of the BCA, then it seems to have worked, for members of the BCA had participated in the February 6-Master tournament. However, in Schachwart 1931 (p.174) the following announcement was made:-

The Berlin Schachheim E.V. association, which is based in Cafe Imperator, has been removed from the list of associations affiliated to the association because it has not made any payments since it became a member. The events of the association are now no longer open to members of the Berlin Chess Association.

But things soon changed after the Imperator gave notice that in future it would only support casual chess, which led to the Berlin Chess Association saying that ‘members of the Association are again free to participate in the events in the Cafe Imperator.’ (Schachwart 1931, p.197)

Café Koenig

This venue was located in a prominent part of the city, famous for having cafes on three of its corners. Originally it was the site of the Hotel Victoria/café (1859).

In 1925 it was taken over by Josef König (1864-1933) He had arrived in Berlin around 1910 and would go on to build an empire of coffee houses and entertainment establishments in the city. As mentioned earlier, Mr König, who took over the Kerkau Palast in 1912 and allowed it to become a chess centre, had always been a supporter and patron of the royal game. And it didn’t take long for the Café König to begin hosting chess events.

Berliner Tageblatt, 29 October 1925, p12.

Bogoljubow gave a 42-board simultaneous display on 19 January 1926 (+28, =10, -4), with another display planned for the 27th.34

However, it was 1928 that solidified the Café König as a premier chess venue. One of Berlin’s leading clubs, Springer 1895, had already established its clubroom there (more clubs would follow), and the Berlin Chess Association formed a ‘free chess group’ there to attract players from the closed Café Zielka. Even more significantly, the café hosted two major international tournaments that year.

Berlin 1928 (September-October) – Café König

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

Total

1

Bogoljubow

0

½

½

1

1

½

1

1

1

1

1

2

Sämisch

1

½

½

½

0

½

1

1

1

1

1

8

3

Grünfeld

½

½

1

½

½

1

0

1

0

1

½

4

Kostić

½

½

0

½

1

½

1

0

½

1

1

5

Ahues

0

½

½

½

1

1

0

0

½

1

½

6

Johner, P.

0

1

½

0

0

0

½

1

1

½

1

7

List

½

½

0

½

0

1

0

0

1

1

1

8

Richter, K.

0

0

1

0

1

½

1

0

1

1

0

9

Helling

0

0

0

1

1

0

1

1

0

0

½

10

Rotenstein

0

0

1

½

½

0

0

0

1

0

1

4

11

Steiner, L.

0

0

0

0

0

½

0

0

1

1

1

12

von Holzhausen

0

0

½

0

½

0

0

1

½

0

0

Berlin 1928 – October – Café König

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Total

1

Capablanca

■■

½½

½½

½½

11

11

2

Nimzowitsch

½½

■■

½0

½½

11

01

7

3

Spielmann

½½

½1

■■

½0

½0

11

½½

4

Tartakower

½½

½½

½1

■■

½0

00

5

Réti

00

00

½1

½1

■■

10

½½

5

6

Rubinstein

10

00

11

01

■■

5

7

Marshall

00

½½

½½

■■

8

Tarrasch

0

 

 

0

 

0

 

--

Tarrasch withdrew after three losses

The above tournament was sponsored by the Berliner Tageblatt newspaper. Attending the event as a journalist was the young Salo Flohr and it was during this period that he made a name for himself because of his abilities at Blitz chess. He participated with success in several Blitz tournaments held in the city, but it is alleged that he won a considerable amount of money in speed games with the masters at the Café König between rounds of the Master’s tournament.

In 1929, as previously mentioned, some members of the Free Chess Association left the Café König to form a new Schachheim (chess home) at the Moka Efti. But the café’s position was only temporarily weakened and it continued to attract members and tournaments. Play at the 1929 Berlin championship was shared between the Schachgesellschaft and the Café König, the latter venue hosting the final round on June 17th.

Berlin Championship 1929

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Total

 1

Ahues

1

½

½

1

½

½

1

½

1

2

Richter, K.

0

1

½

1

1

½

½

1

1

3

Koch, B.

½

0

½

1

½

1

½

1

0

5

4

Rellstab

½

½

½

1

0

0

½

1

1

5

5

Engert

0

0

0

0

½

1

1

1

1

6

Mieses

½

0

½

1

½

0

½

½

1

7

Rotenstein

½

½

0

1

0

1

0

1

½

8

Schlage

0

½

½

½

0

½

1

1

½

9

Babel

½

0

0

0

0

½

0

0

1

2

10

Dührssen, Dr

0

0

1

0

0

0

½

½

0

2

And further significant attention was gained when games 12-17 of the 1929 World Championship match between Alekhine and Bogoljubow were played at the Café König, commencing October 11th. Former world champion Emanuel Lasker was the referee, and the many visitors included Nimzowitsch and future grandmaster Andor Lilienthal (1911–2010), who enjoyed watching the games alongside Ahues, Kurt Richter and Kagan.

At the end of the Berlin match phase, Alekhine and Bogoljubow played alternately in a 41-game simultaneous display at the café, scoring +36, =5.35

1930 began with a Blitz tournament on 9 January at 10 seconds per move. The winner was the rising star: Flohr 6½, Helling 6, Kagan 5½, Pahl 5, Enoch 4, Rellstab 3½, Kipke 3, Richter 1½, Walter 1.36

There soon followed four-Master tournament held February 19–26.

Berlin 1930 – Café Koenig

 

1

2

3

4

Total

Rellstab

■■

00

11

Sämisch

11

■■

10

Ahues

■■

½½

3

Richter, K.

00

01

½½

■■

2

By this time, a number of other clubs had chosen to use the Café König as their playing venue, which meant there were chess activities six days of the week.

 

The Berlin Schachführer 1931, a pocket-sized record of Berlin chess edited by Kurt Richter, was published at the end of 1930.

The café now played host to:

  • Schachklub Springer 1895 – Tuesday and Saturday
  • Schachverein 1876 – Thursday, Sportliche Vereinigung Osram, Schachgruppe – Wednesday
  • Bar Kochba-Hakoah, Schachabteilung – Thursday
  • Deutsch-Russischer Schachklub – Friday
  • Schachklub der Deutschen Luft-Hansa – Tuesday
  • Berliner Schachverband – the Berlin Chess Association also used the Café König as its playing venue.

The Café König was also a regular meeting place for the Berlin group of Schwalbe, the chess problem society (though it would later use the Imperator). The members at the time were:

  • Bartels, H.
  • Kantorowitz, Dr A.
  • Sämisch, F.
  • Benkö, Franz
  • Keidanski, Dr
  • Schiffmann, A.
  • Brandt, Erwin
  • Koers, J.
  • Schildberg, Eduard
  • Brennert, Otto
  • Koslowski, W.
  • Schildberg, Otto
  • Dittrich, Dr K.
  • Metz, Dr
  • Schmidt, E.
  • Hasselkus, Ernst
  • Meyer, Dr K.
  • Sommer, B.
  • Heidenfeld, W.
  • Preuß, Otto
  • Steinweg, R.
  • Horn, W.
  • Richter, K.
  • Zepler, Dr E.

Towards the end of 1931 the Café König Blitz tournament was held over four nights; November 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th. It was won by the master who had a poor relationship with his clock in regular games. Schachwart reported the results as:

Sämisch 56, Helling 54, Rellstab 52½, K. Richter 52, Rabinowitsch 51, Rotenstein 50, Noteboom 39, Kreisberg 36½, Schenker 34½ etc. (16 players).37

The young Dutch player Daniël Noteboom was in Berlin primarily to participate in the championship tournament of the Berliner Schachgesellschaft. He had already shown his potential when he represented the Netherlands in the Olympiads at Hamburg 1930 and Prague 1931, but it is likely he had health problems during his stay. He left Berlin and travelled to England to play in the Hastings Premier Reserves, but took ill and died of pneumonia in London in January 1932, a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday.

The club championship of the Schachverein 1876 began on 22 October 1931 and continued into 1932. It was won by Kurt Richter with 13½, ahead of Charmatz & Landmann 11½, Vitense 11, Kuhlmann & A. Wagner 10½, Koslowski & Mischke 7, Brennert, Mai, Peiser & Seiffert 6½ (16 players).38

The 1932 Berlin championship began on 26 April at the Café König.

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

Pts

  1. Helling

1

½

1

1

½

1

½

1

1

1

½

9

  2. Rellstab

0

1

½

½

1

1

½

1

0

1

1

  3. Richter, K.

½

0

1

½

0

½

½

1

1

1

1

7

  4. Koch, B.

0

½

0

0

½

1

1

½

1

1

1

  5. Sämisch

0

½

½

1

1

1

½

½

½

0

1

  6. Ahues

½

0

1

½

0

½

0

1

½

1

1

6

  7. von Hennig

0

0

½

0

0

½

1

1

½

1

½

5

  8. Schlage

½

½

½

0

½

1

0

1

0

0

1

5

  9. John

0

0

0

½

½

0

0

0

1

1

1

4

10. Gumprich

0

1

0

0

½

½

½

1

0

0

0

11. Elstner

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

1

0

1

0

3

12. Rotenstein

½

0

0

0

0

0

½

0

0

1

1

3

At the start of the 1932-33 chess season there were still six clubs using the Café König. One of them, the chess section of Lufthansa, contracted Kurt Richter for a series of consultation games and simultaneous displays.39

Endgame

All the good work and support — practical and financial — that Josef König had given to Berlin’s chess life disappeared very quickly under the new government of the National Socialists in early 1933. Mr König, who was Jewish, fled Germany on 8 March because of threats made against him, leaving a colleague, Rudolf Gutmann, also Jewish, to take over the running of the premises. However, a committee enforcing laws recently introduced by the Nazis refused him access.

As both the above named were Yugoslav nationals, representations were made on their behalf by their legation in a note to the German Foreign Office dated April 4th 1933. This observed that on Saturday, April 1st, 1933 four cafes owned by Mr König were subject to a boycott. These were:

  • Café König, Unter den Linden
  • Café Unter den Linden (formerly Café Bauer)
  • Café/Restaurant Grüner Baum, Leipzigerstrasse
  • Delphi-Palast, Kantstrasse

It was pointed out to the German authorities that foreigners were meant to be excluded from such action, that assets owned by their nationals was now in the hands of people opposed to the owners, and that Mr Gutmann had by this time also left Germany. A document noting the reaction to this letter includes the comment that

"Both Mr König and Mr Gutmann should once again be allowed access to the businesses and, in particular, the notice against Mr Gutmann should be lifted."

The writer also noted that the possibility of counter measures against Germans in Yugoslavia should be borne in mind and asked that the Foreign Office be kept informed of the necessary steps being taken.

One web site has reported:

After the intervention of the Yugoslavian Embassy, however, management of the cafes was restored to Guttmann [Gutmann]. At this time, the German Reich was still attempting to shield foreign Jews from anti-semitic measures in order to keep up appearances and protect their international reputation.40

Josef König

Chess continued to be played at the café — most of the rounds of the 1933 Berlin championship were held there. Then it was announced in the June 1933 Schachwart that the café was under new management and had been renamed Café Viktoria. And in the August issue of the same periodical it was announced space would be available at the Moka Efti from 1 September — for Aryan chess.

The Café Viktoria continued to be a centre for chess through the remaining years of the 1930s, but like most of the buildings referred to in this article it was destroyed by bombing during World War II.

Notes

  1. Advertisement in Volkszeitung, 17 November 1912, p3.
  2. Deutsche Schachzeitung 1920, p233.
  3. Deutsche Schachzeitung 1921, pp68-9.
  4. Deutsches Wochenschach und Berliner Schachzeitung, November 1924, p242.
  5. Kurt Richter: A Chess Biography with 499 Games, p28.
  6. Berliner Tageblatt, 19 August 1928, p.26; Berliner Börsenzeitung, 5 April 1918, p6.
  7. Berliner Börsenzeitung, 31 July 1919, p3.
  8. Volkszeitung, 15 November 1924, p2.
  9. Berliner Tageblatt, 6 December 1924, p4; Deutches Wochenschach November 1924, p242 and January 1925, p14.
  10. Berliner Tageblatt, 28 (p5) and 29 October 19\25 (p5), afternoon editions.
  11. Berliner Tageblatt, 24 April 1926, p5.
  12. Berliner Tageblatt, 8 May 1926, p6; Deutsche Schachblätter 1926, Nr. 18, p384.
  13. Deutsche Schachzeitung, May 1928, p131.
  14. Deutsche Schachzeitung, September 1928, pp261-2.
  15. Kagans Neueste Schachnachrichten, July 1928, p268.
  16. Volkszeitung, 20 August 1928, p3.
  17. Berliner Börsenzeitung, 9 January 1926, p4; 19 December 1927, p7.
  18. Kurt Richter refers to Elstner and the Moka Efti in the Deutsche Schachzeitung, September 1966, p283. Carl Ahues, in an article about historic Berlin chess cafes in Engelhardts Schach Taschen Jahrbuch 1955, (p55) says Elstner was engaged by the Mokadoro. He also placed Schweinburg at the Café Wien, rather than the Mokadoro as reported elsewhere.
  19. Deutsche Schachzeitung, March 1929, p68; Berliner Tageblatt, 12 May 1929, p2 (Der Welt-Spiegel).
  20. Schachwart, June 1929, p116.
  21. Deutsche Schachzeitung, July 1929, p198.
  22. Berliner Lokal Anzeiger, 12 May 1929, p13-result of Bogoljubow’s exhibition.
  23. Deutsche Schachblätter, 15 July 1929, p213 (Sämisch); The Unknown Capablanca, by Hooper and Brandreth, p.191.
  24. Deutsche Schachzeitung, April 1930, p102.
  25. Deutsche Schachzeitung, June 1930, p165 (Alekhine’ score in exhibition).
  26. Deutsche Schachzeitung, June 1931, p169.
  27. Deutsche Schachzeitung, March 1933, p68; Schachwart, August 1933, p161 (‘closure’ of the Moka Efti, then the reopening for Aryan chess).
  28. Volkszeitung, 21 April 1929, p2 (Moka Efti moves); 12 May 1929, p3 (morning edition).
  29. Deutsche Schachzeitung, February 1932, p40.
  30. Deutsche Schachzeitung, December 1932, p362
  31. Deutsche Schachzeitung, April 1930, p102; Deutsche Lokal Anzeiger, 6 April 1930, p18.
  32. Deutsche Schachzeitung, February 1931, p42.
  33. Deutsche Schachzeitung, April 1931, p100.
  34. Berliner Tageblatt, 20 January 1926, p5 (afternoon edition).
  35. Deutsche Schachzeitung, November 1929, p327.
  36. Kagans Neueste Schachnachrichten, February 1930, p64.
  37. Schachwart, 1931, pp 197 and 238.
  38. Schachwart 1932, p80.
  39. Schachwart 1932, p199.
  40. Information about Josef König (and Photo) and Rudolf Gutmann from webpages at http://ojl.beuth-hochschule.de/en/sites/271 but they now appear to be unavailable.

Thanks also to Paul Brown, Andreas Lange, Ian Marks and Ulrich Tamm for contributions and clarifications.



Alan McGowan nació en Glasgow, Esocia y ha ecribió una biografía sobre el ajedrecista alemán Kurt Richter. Hoy en día McGowan vive en Waterloo, Ontario (Canadá).