"Schwalbe" - history tour of the German chess problem society

by Siegfried Hornecker
9/25/2021 – In football, the German word "Schwalbe" (the swallow bird, and the football term for "diving") is an attempt by a player to feign a foul by deliberately dropping himself in a tackle with an opposing player to gain an unfair advantage. The Schwalbe in chess, doesn't mean that players fake a fall to the ground, and knock off the chess pieces to work out a mate in four. Columnist Siegfried Hornecker shows us the way on how to solve chess problems with the thematic idea of the Schwalbe, and takes us on a journey about the history of the German chess problem society. | Photo: www.dieschwalbe.de

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Study of the Month: September 2021

It is 13 September 2021 when I start writing this article. I recently reflected on my life, and the German chess problem society "Schwalbe" is a big part of it, as I am a co-editor for endgame studies since over a decade there. So while I still have to learn CQL (see last month) I invite you to learn about the society's history.

Wolfgang Dittmann wrote "Der Flug der Schwalbe" (The flight of the Schwalbe; being a pun as Schwalbe means the bird Swallow), and the second version of the book 2018, updated by Thomas Brand and Hans Gruber (Wolfgang Dittmann had died in 2014), is the source for the information presented in this article. Interested readers unfortunately can only receive this book in the German language, and as it is a very special topic, only 500 copies were published, nearly all among "Schwalbe" members. Some copies are still available from Ralf Krätschmer, Schwalbe bookkeeper (see the information at the end of this article).

For a long time, it was unknown where exactly the Schwalbe was founded, but Michael Burghardt invested a week of research with insisting questions and visits in the "Haus der Essener Geschichte" (House of History of Essen) to find the exact location. Wilhelm Maßmann, one of the early members, reported in the Essener General-Anzeiger in his chess column that the "Schwalbe" was founded on Sunday, 10 February [19]24, in A. Rolf's restaurant "Zum Schwanen" (To the Swan), Witteringsplatz, Essen.

The building where the Schwalbe was founded has been demolished in 1964.

Sketching of the restaurant "Zum Schwanen". | Photo: www.berlinthema.de

Founding members included Anton Trilling (Vorsitzender, i.e. chairman; essentially president), Walter Usath, Wilhelm Karsch, Ernst Skowronek, Wilhelm Krämer, among others (Der Flug der Schwalbe, 2nd edition, p.5). On page 97 a complete list of founders is given, the others are: H. Sannowitz, W. Burchard, A. Stemmer, Hugo August, Alfred Jakubzik, J. Ruczinski, J. Kolorz, Johannes Hinsken, H. Eichholz, Fritz Mascher, Fritz Rudolph. Sadly not all first names are known.

Wilhelm Maßmann was not a founding member of the Schwalbe, but is considered her "father", as he offered his legal and financial support. The first issue of the magazine "Die Schwalbe" opens with his words as an introduction to the newly founded club that originally was intended to be a new school of chess composition in the more common sense of the word, i.e., a club that promotes chess composition and is aimed at the support of this art form ("Förderung der Aufgabenkunst").

It is nearly unnecessary to quote the world-famous problem by Kohtz and Kockelkorn that gave the "Schwalbe" its name, as everyone already will know it. Yet, if I wouldn't quote it, readers would point out it is missing, so it is reproduced here.


Johannes Kohtz & Carl Kockelkorn, Festschrift des Akademischen Schachclubs München, 1911. Mate in 4. "Eine Schwalbe" (A Swallow)

We will not delve into the terminological discussions that later were held (especially some commentators failed to see that 1.Qh7? is refuted only by 1.-Re4!), but rather just show the solution:

1.Qf7 Bd5 2.Qa7 Ra4 3.Qh7 Re4/Be4 4.Qh1/Qh4 mate

The threat 2.Nd3+ and 3.Qb3 mate forces the bishop over the "critical" square e4, the rook is forced over it afterwards, then one of the pieces is forced onto it to block the line of the other (this obstruction is called a Grimshaw theme). The entire thematic idea - the critical moves plus the Grimshaw theme, all forced by queen moves - is known as the Schwalbe theme. (As a small note, it apparently was lost to history why the authors chose that motto for their problem. Did it remind them of the way a swallow flies? Or did they even play on the German proverb "Eine Schwalbe macht noch keinen Sommer." - "A single swallow doesn't make Summer arrive."?)

Now, as we want to concentrate on endgame studies, only a small general history of the Schwalbe follows. The chairmen and their time in office (in brackets) shall be talked about shortly. From the beginning, the magazine "Die Schwalbe" ("Die" being German for "The") was published, from 1925 to 1927 together with the magazine "Funkschach" and the "Deutsche Schachzeitung". As such, Germany was the second country worldwide with an own chess problem society, and both of them - the British Chess Problem Society that was founded in 1918 being the other one - published own club magazines, albeit "The Problemist" (January 1926) is younger than "Die Schwalbe" (August 1924). Both magazines will have their 100th anniversary in this decade.

Trilling already gave the chairman position to Eduard Birgfeld at the end of 1927, and Birgfeld's era (1928-1939) saw the Schwalbe under pressure by the National Socialist party that ruled since 1933, undermining the work of the organization. This didn't hinder true patriots (a sadly misused word nowadays) from still keeping their friendship with jews, most notably Dr. Adolf "Ado" Krämer, who was a SS member, with Erich Zepler. In 1935, Zepler fled to England, but their friendship remained, and after the war proved frugal, as for example their book "Im Banne des Schachproblems" can testify to, where both masters published a selection of their problems. Chess truly transcends everything.

After Birgfeld's death in May 1939, Wilhelm Karsch interim took the office until 1945, as the war prevented a voting on a new governing body. By giving in to the demands of the dictatorial government, Karsch enabled the survival of the organization but had to remove all non-German and jewish members, as otherwise the Schwalbe could have been banned and persecuted.

Carl Schrader (1946-1959) rebuilt the magazine and organization: He obtained a printing license from the British military offices that after the war governed the relevant part of Germany. With great support from Maßmann et al. he managed to print the magazine. A the time Maßmann, despite being busy at his occupation, held multiple offices within the Schwalbe.

Until the currency reform on 21 June 1948, paper was a rare commodity, so obtaining the 20kg paper for each issue of the magazine - equal to 100kg of recyclable scrap paper - was a Herculean effort. The printing crisis was only postponed, however: In 1958 Schrader was unable to print a single issue of the Schwalbe, as likely his health was failing.

Schrader died in 1959, and Werner Speckmann (1959-1982) was elected as the Schwalbe chairman. Known as a composer of miniature problems, i.e. such with seven or less pieces, he managed to bring the Schwalbe to relative success. Examples included separating again the offices of the chairman and the main editor ("Schriftleiter") while finding good main editors, and as a law professional managing to successfully negotiate the Schwalbe becoming a member of the German Chess Federation in the legal status of a state federation. The same profession also helped getting the government to recognize the Schwalbe as a non-profit organization for the common good (in German: "Gemeinnützigkeit"). This helped also to ensure financial strength that - when Speckmann stepped down - was passed down to interim chairman John Niemann (1982), who however at the time concentrated on his helpmate collection so he didn't want to be elected at the annual meeting, so Wolfgang Dittmann (1982-1988) inherited Speckmann's Schwalbe. As he lived in Berlin, Dittmann had to get the non-profit status confirmed there as well, with which a federal tax ("Körperschaftssteuer") would not apply to the organization. During his time as chairman, Dittmann deepened the connections to the German Chess Federation and also researched the Schwalbe history, leading to the first edition of my source, the book "Der Flug der Schwalbe".

Hemmo Axt (1988-2006) was elected when Dittmann couldn't afford the necessary time anymore to be chairman. He made Munich the permanent residency of the Schwalbe, preventing that each change of a chairman would lead to renegotiations of the non-profit status with the chariman's state government offices, now the recognition in Bavaria was enough. Axt led the Schwalbe into the digital age, using electronic means since 1995 to create the magazine. In 2000 the website of the Schwalbe went online. When Hans Gruber (2006-2014) took over, my affiliation began. Gruber, who had to endure every Die Hard movie villain joke about his name later :-), invited me to visit the annual Schwalbe congress in Forchheim in 2007.

Honored by the invitation, I accepted, and when I heard that Michael Roxlau could use an assistant as he was busy with his occupation, I agreed to become his co-editor for the endgame studies. While Roxlau does most of the work - mailing, selecting studies, etc. - I help with testing and finding predecessors, as well as sharing the actual writing for the magazine (solutions, a short blurb about the originals).

Back to Hans Gruber. The 2008 Chess Olympiad saw a composing tourney, organized by the Schwalbe. His era also denoted the publication of the Problem Database PDB, worked upon by several Schwalbe members such as the technical part by Gerd Wilts. It later became officially hosted by the Schwalbe. His occupation took its toll, leaving him not enough time also to be chairman anymore in 2014, and so Bernd Gräfrath (since 2014) was elected. The so-called "Dresden Chess Summer" in 2017 saw many events organized by the German Chess Federation, to which the very good relations were intensified even more. One of those events, hosted by the Schwalbe, was the 60th World Congress for Chess Composition. Two special issues of the magazine were printed for this event. Gräfrath not only acts as a chairman but - like other chairmen before him - also actively researches and writes about topics in the world of chess composition. Among other fields, problems with the Losing Chess condition and retrograde analysis are his specialty.

The place here is too short to go into details on every office, although every single one is important to the inner workings of the organization. Instead, only the names and office times of the endgame study editors shall be given hereafter. As far as possible, for each one of them an own work was selected to be replayed below.

There were three main periods of the magazine "Die Schwalbe" so far: From the beginnings to the end of "Funkschach" (1924-1927), the new Schwalbe (1928-1969), the modern Schwalbe (since October 1969).

"Spielschach", which was apparently practical play and endgame studies, was first edited by Erich Woehl. In issue 14, June 1926, Alfred Brinckmann joined as a co-editor.

It seems that the second period wasn't kind to endgame studies as a separate art form. When the Schwalbe issues started counting new, the first editor was Werner Speckmann starting in a double issue (May/August 1959). then Hans-Hilmar Staudte (since January 1963). Longtime readers will know Staudte as one of the authors - with Milu Milescu - of the book "Das 1x1 des Endspiels", unrelated to the ChessBase product of the same name. After the end of the column was announced, Hans-Dieter Weichert took over in July/August 1968, and the column was ended in October 1969.

Karl Junker revived the endgame studies as a separate column in February 1977 (issue 43-48). Following the issue and time period is given (in brackets, with roman numerals denoting the month). A year later Joachim Reiners took over (49-58, II/1978-VIII/1979). After a vacancy, Gerd Rinder (67-117, II/1981-VI/1989) edited for 51 issues. Michael Pfannkuche, best known as world solving champion, followed (118-156, VIII/1989-XII/1995). Jürgen Fleck's endgame study below is one of my absolute favorites (157-185, II/1996-X/2000). With the relatively high fluctuation of editors, it is understandable that Michael Roxlau (since issue 186, XII/2000) whose work in a bank during the economic crisis must have become intense was allowing Yours Truly, i.e. Siegfried Hornecker, to become his co-editor (since issue 235, II/2009). After over 12 years, for me it still is a great honor to be entrusted with this work by the Schwalbe.

Many more offices exist within the Schwalbe, either for the organization or the magazine, such as editors for twomovers, threemovers, moremovers, helpmate, selfmate, fairy chess, as well as retro problems and proof games. The magazine's main editor ("Schriftleiter" in German) each time collects their work and that of other writers, and creates a new issue in LaTeX, which then is reviewed at least twice by all editors. Yet, still some errors slip through the cracks sometimes, attesting to the difficulty of creating a magazine in the first place.


Many thanks to Bernd Gräfrath, Thomas Brand, Hans Gruber for proofreading the article and offering valuable corrections.

My source "Der Flug der Schwalbe" is copyrighted and published in 2018 by Schwalbe, Deutsche Vereinigung für Problemschach e.V., München (Munich). Some issues are still available from Schwalbe bookkeeper Ralf Krätschmer. E-Mail: ralf.kraetschmer@t-online.de

Schwalbe is not in any way associated to ChessBase (apart from me writing for both organizations).

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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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