Chess composition in the German Democratic Republic II

by Siegfried Hornecker
9/26/2020 – In 1949, four years after the end of World War II, the Allies divided Germany into West Germany (the Federal Republic of Germany, FRG) and East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, GDR). In the second part of a series on the GDR composers, columnist Siegfried Hornecker continues to tell us how the chess composition scene was kept alive east of the Berlin Wall. | Pictured: Police personnel of the East German Volkspolizei wait for the official opening of the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 | Photo: SSGT F. Lee Corkran

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Study of the Month: September 2020

2020, just like around a hundred years earlier, saw a global pandemic. Travel restrictions are common, disallowing travelling abroad. Such was the situation in the German Democratic Republic, where officials had to approve each travel request to western countries. Instead of a pandemic, political reasons were the cause in the latter case. Chess magazines could usually be imported, and in East Berlin, the printing of chess literature was normal. Set before this background and with the composers from earlier times actively rebuilding chess after the lost World Wars, many talented composers emerged.

Germany splitWalls are interesting buildings. They can be used to keep people out, but also to keep people in. On the other hand, they can provide shelter, such as the walls to a house, or around a besieged city. The German Democratic Republic built a wall around West Berlin, an exclave of the Federal Republic, in the 1960s. Shortly after World War II, the Rosinenbomber airplanes of the Allies supported the city with chocolate and other supplies, creating just one of the memorable stories of the then young country.

Global political reasons such as the Cold War prevented the four zones to be re-united, and in 1949 the Federal Republic of Germany was founded from the United States’, British and French zones, while the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic. The battle between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization was felt every day, as two different countries existed in Germany, each with political leaders that had vastly differing ideals. Soviet knowledge about chess flew into East Germany and, long before the Cold War’s greatest battle on the chess board between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, chess boomed in East Germany, as did chess composition. A short overview — as told by Manfred Zucker — is included at the end of this article.

While previously I presented several chess composers who have already left us, as an exception from my rule to avoid writing about living composers today I will present composers who are retired now. I will only give basic information, as to protect their privacy, and as I often don’t have much more available. The book Problemschach, which I talked about in the previous article, lists hundreds of chess composers from East Germany. It would be far beyond the scope of this article to even try to make a selection of those, so I only make a selection of the study composers. By no means does the exclusion from this selection mean that a composer is not worth looking into. As I present more composers this month, only one study is selected from each to be replayed below.

One curiosity you will notice is that the German Democratic Republic most likely holds the record for the proportionally highest number of endgame study composers with the initials G.S. — in this article, I will list no fewer than three of them, and I did not seek those on purpose: they are all renowned for their works. Long-time readers may notice that I thematically repeat two names previously shown in this column: Walkewitz and Rubin, albeit with different works.

While the selection here is likely representative of the former German country, in no way is it complete: the names Heinz Vorwerk (*1935 in Annahütte), Heinz Schwind (*1951 in Werda) and Erich Thiele (2 June 1930 in Jessen - 7 November 2005 in Dresden) are also represented in the book Problemschach with one study for each composer, but I lack further information about them. It seems Vorwerk and Schwind are retired from study composition after having presented only one — good — study each. The database of Harold van der Heijden lists Vorwerk’s active time as 1980 (one study) and Schwind’s active time as 1971-1974 (three studies in total, but all with the same schema — one of the corrections was published as an original for the next informal two year tourney after the 1971 version and its correction was broken, winning the first prize in Schach 1973-1974). Thiele published ten studies (one of which is a correction but with a much longer solution by Garcia and Thiele in 2014) between 1960 and 1977. Rainer Staudte’s list of German chess composers holds many names — likely many more GDR composers also are included there, and he himself can count as one too.

SchachverbandGottfried Steckbauer (*1938) composed around half a hundred endgame studies published between 1969 and 1986. We talked about the history of the World Chess Composition Tourneys another time, and Steckbauer originally won the 1st place in the very first of those tourneys 1972-1975, but the study was later found to be unsound. As the confirmation period was over when the cook was found, the place and title remained. Another well-known study of his won the 1971 tourney of the Deutscher Schachverband (not to be confused with the Deutscher Schachbund, the Schachverband was the national organization of the German Democratic Republic). Said study is held in the Soviet style and features a geometric perpetual check, which Black could only refuse if running into a knight’s fork that costs him his queen. Steckbauer, owing to the pre-computer era, composed studies with a single point. For the demonstration I reproduce his well-known study, but also add another one, which demonstrates again how the single idea is worked out into the study, in this case a pawn mate.

Günter Scheffler (*1950) published his ca. 30 studies exclusively in the GDR chess federation’s official organ, Schach, between 1977 and 1982. Like Steckbauer, most of his studies have a single point, although in his case quite regularly said point is a stalemate idea. One of those studies is shown. A famous study that had two kings and 16 pawns with a pawn breakthrough later turned out to have duals.

Gunter Sonntag (*1945) is still actively composing and regularly sends originals to the German magazine Die Schwalbe, among other sources, so it is impossible for me to give a number of current studies, but they likely exceed 80. As of 2015, he had nearly 70 studies composed. Usually his studies are pointed and humanly solvable. Instead of showing a study from the database, a 2020 Schwalbe study is presented below where a bishop outwits a queen.

Hubert Walkewitz (*1934) is not only a composer of endgame studies, but also a prolific player. In 2016 he participated in the German Amateur Chess Championship, qualifying for the finals. In the first year of this column, I presented information about him. Nothing has changed since then — his number of studies as of 2015 is at 31, published between 1976 and 2000. His study shown below shows a surprising checkmate threat, leading to one of the freshly promoted queens being captured by the other.

Klaus Rubin (*1962) started solving chess problems already in 1972, but began composing in 1986 (usually moremovers, i.e. checkmates in 4 or more moves, often with zugzwang). His great solving expertise led to him winning the first solving championship of the German Democratic Republic in 1987/1988. His interest in endgame studies deepened in 2004 when he became part of a small regular Berlin endgame study meeting with Michael Roxlau and Martin Minski. Roxlau is the endgame studies editor of the Schwalbe magazine and, like Martin Minski, is also internationally renowned for his endgame studies. Rubin composed a few endgame studies as a co-author, yet his main fields of interest remain solving and composing moremovers. We selected a co-production with Martin Minski from 2014 to be shown below. Your author has regular contact with Klaus Rubin since 2003 and often received technical and other assistance by him. In his occupation, Rubin is in the field of machine-tool building as (managerial) electrical engineer. A few months ago I enjoyed solving his problem, reprinted here, where I got nowhere at first — but when I understood what to do everything fell in place. It is not easy, and if you don’t want to give it a try or if you believe you solved it, you might want to look at the solution replayable below.


The development of chess composition in the GDR

Part II: After World War II

ProblemschachWe continue our historic exploration, according to Manfred Zucker in the book Problemschach. 407 Aufgaben und Studien.

After the war, the chess composers who were already active prior to it rebuilt the organizational structures. Herbert Grasemann (21 December 1917 - 21 June 1983) started in 1947 to run a column in the Schach-Express magazine. His books Problemschach and Problemschach II led to a historic overview of German chess composition from 1946 to 1957. Official structures for chess problemists in the German Democratic Republic were founded rather slowly. On 20 October 1957 a meeting of the study and problem composers in Karl-Marx-Stadt (later Chemnitz) led to the foundation of the Kunstschach-Kommission (Artistic chess commission; Kunstschach, i.e. artistic chess, is another word for chess composition). Wolfgang Weber was the first president of the commission, which organized solving and new composers’ composing tourneys. The fourth special solving tourney in 1961 saw 9310 participants (1958: 585; 1959: 3035; 1960: 6320), whereas the composing tourneys saw fewer entries each time (1959: 26; 1961: 23; 1964: 14). The Wochenpost newspaper was the cooperating partner of the solving tourneys, thus attracting many of its readers to solve.

A big event was happening during the 1960 Chess Olympiad in Leipzig. From 28 to 30 October 1960, over one hundred chess problemists from many countries met while many chess problem events were held during the Olympiad. One of them, a composing tourney, attracted 1213 entries by 340 problemists from 31 countries. This major success led to many more tourneys organized in the following years. During this time, chess composers from the German Democratic Republic demonstrated their high skills by winning numerous events. Unfortunately, it isn’t listed how many composers from abroad participated. Later on, official tourneys were organized by the problem commission of the GDR chess federation Deutscher Schachverband. Those were won by multiple authors each time in 1966, 1968 and 1970; national tourneys were held each year afterwards until 1974. In 1981 the first official GDR composing championship was held, and it was won by Fritz Hoffmann (21 participants).

A note by Yours Truly: Fritz Hoffmann (20 October 1932 - 12 July 2016) was not only a great composer, but also a great promoter, publishing in various magazines, such as the Europa-Rochade — also known as Rochade Europa — which was the other major German chess paper, including a chess problem column when Köhler led it. After it was taken over by Hirneise in the early 2010s, it became less attractive for chess composers, as no more originals were published. Hoffmann used to publish a page in nearly every issue where he held a linguistic lecture, combining it with a chess problem. His deep thoughts that he shared in decades made him one of the most original columnists in the German language, and despite this major work he also wrote several books, one of which is a collection of some of his chess problems. End of note.

Kaiser, Leopold, Vetter and Weber (see Part I) early on were crowned as International Judges for Chess Composition by FIDE’s Permanent Commission for Chess Composition (PCCC; nowadays independent, but cooperating with FIDE as “WFCC”, World Federation for Chess Composition). Manfred Zucker (1972), Fritz Hoffmann (1975) and Dieter Müller (1979) later also received this honour, which requires six international tourneys to be judged. (For Yours Truly, this is the only title he holds currently, bestowed in 2014.) A complete list is found at the WFCC website. Unfortunately for deceased composers their field of expertise is not listed.

Regarding newspapers, Zucker reports that the chess columns in Volksstimme (later Freie Presse) in Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) as well as the Sächsische Zeitung were the most relevant columns. The former was founded by Zucker, Helmut Klug (28 January 1921 - 7 April 1981) and Herbert Küchler (30 December 1908 - 2 September 1964) in 1960, and the latter by Gerhard Kaiser in 1958, then continued by Hans Vetter from 1966 to 1973 and Gunter Schiller (31 October 1937 - 4 October 1992) since then. After Schiller’s death, Frank Reinhold took over the column. An article about Silvio Baier on the website of the newspaper (in German) confirms that as of 2017 Reinhold still led the column which by then appeared once every fortnight.

In 1972, the presidium of the GDR chess federation decided to create national titles for chess problemists. These were received as follows (in alphabetical order):

  • National Master of the GDR for Chess Composition: Siegfried Brehmer, Rudolf Leopold, Hans Vetter, Wolfgang Weber
  • National Judge of the GDR for Chess Composition: Helmut Klug, Erwin Masanek, Karl Pohlheim, Manfred Zucker

Wolfgang Weber, Kurt Galke, Karl Pohlheim, Erwin Masanek and Helmut Klug

Wolfgang Weber (1909-1981), Kurt Galke (1891-1971), Karl Pohlheim (1922-2014), Erwin Masanek (1926-2008) and Helmut Klug (1921-1981) circa 1963 | Photo shared by Manfred Zucker and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Since then many more titles were given out, but Zucker doesn’t specify to whom. As the organizations now don’t exist anymore, the time until the deadline for this article wouldn’t allow the research necessary, so this information might be added to a future article.

Finally, Manfred Zucker lists successes of the GDR chess composition team in the WCCTs, which were already given in the WCCT article. He closes his overview by pointing out that in 1977 a national meeting of GDR problemists was held — 51 participants exchanged ideas, held lectures, participated in a quick composing tourney, and had a great time in general. “Through the years, the German Democratic Republic went from a newly founded country to one of the internationally well respected chess composition nations”, he concludes.


Or a curiosity that can only occur in correspondence chess

After the historic retelling by Manfred Zucker, which here is retold not in all detail, Yours Truly wants to add an interesting curiosity.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the re-unification of Germany — officially the GDR joining the Federal Republic of Germany — the chess composers of the GDR now formally were citizens of the Federal Republic. An era of composition was not over but transformed into the greater picture of Germany, and the same went for all aspects of chess, or sports in general.

Some structures were integrated into the structures of the FRG and didn’t face major changes, such as magazines and local meetings. Others, such as the national federation, disappeared. And yet, in 1995, half a decade after the end of the GDR’s chess federation, not only the disappeared Soviet Union but also the similarly dissolved German Democratic Republic had their last chess success: the 10th Correspondence Chess Olympiad 1987-1995 was won by the Soviet Union, and behind England the third place was won by the German Democratic Republic. The Federal Republic of Germany, by the way, obtained sixth place.

When the 11th Correspondence Chess Olympiad 1992-1999 was held, this curiosity was repeated and even one-upped: Czechoslovakia, which was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993, won a gold medal.

CasablancaThe German team, by the way, since then won six of the next nine Correspondence Chess Olympiads, with one, started in 2016 per post, still running. The chess players, formerly split into the FRG and GDR, together reached higher successes than before.

Possibly when Germany re-united, the movie-ending words of Rick Blaine in the 1942 movie Casablanca, played by the great Humphrey Bogart, would have been very fitting:

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


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World Federation for Chess Composition

World Federation for Chess Composition (


Siegfried (*1986) is a German chess composer and member of the World Federation for Chess Composition, subcommitee for endgame studies. His autobiographical book "Weltenfern" (in English only) can be found on the ARVES website. He presents an interesting endgame study with detailed explanation each month.
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Zagliveri_chess Zagliveri_chess 9/26/2020 10:36
Nice article. "The battle between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization was felt every, " is missing a word before the comma.
Martin Minski Martin Minski 9/26/2020 09:14
What a fantastic study by Gunter Sonntag!