Card playing with heart and mind

Friedrich Schiller and skat

No, Friedrich Schiller did not play skat – the game was only developed from 1810 in Altenburg. But the poet liked to play cards, night after night with friends. He spent the last years of his life in Weimar and became friends with Goethe. His most important places of activity from that period are now part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site Classical Weimar; the game of skat is in both the Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Thuringia State Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

He was ten years younger than Goethe and came to Thuringia much later. And at the beginning, there was nothing to indicate that the two poets could be united by an intimate friendship. They avoided one another. The turning point came in 1794: Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe became closer during a conversation in Jena and ultimately established Weimar Classicism through their relationship. The city on the Ilm was an important literary and intellectual centre in Germany where many works of international standing were created. For ten years, until Schiller’s early death, the two poets met, engaged in discussion, read texts to one another, and helped one another through creative crises. 

The value of friendship

In 1799, Friedrich Schiller moved from Jena to Weimar. All the authentic places that were once closely associated with the intellectual giants have been part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site Classical Weimar since 1998. During walks and museum visits, you can experience these attractions: when you go through Schiller’s study almost on tiptoes, visit the Goethe National Museum or stand reverently in front of the memorial to the two poets at the German National Theatre in Weimar – that makes an impression. And you find yourself thinking once more about the value of friendship.

When you play, you feel free

This does not mean that they liked everything about one another: for example Schiller criticised Goethe for living in sin with Christiane Vulpius. And Goethe did not like it that Schiller smoked tobacco and liked gambling. Which brings us to the subject of our World Heritage pairing: the poet met regularly with friends to play whist, an English card game that later evolved into bridge. He looked forward to it weeks in advance. And such events are supposed to have often only ended at dawn. There is the famous quote from Friedrich Schiller: “Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.” And even though he meant, to put it more simply, that man fully finds himself in art and it is only then that he feels completely free, he also expressed something important: it is not only when experiencing art, but also when playing that we particularly flourish. We expand our horizons, concentrate on one thing, and can relax. Reason and emotions come together.

A new round, new luck

“There are clear rules when playing – that is good in our increasingly complex world,” said the cultural anthropologist and games expert Toni Janosch Krause from the Schloss- und Spielkartenmuseum (Castle and Playing Cards Museum) in Altenburg. “And if you fail, it is not so bad. Then you have another chance in the next round.” The fact that the playing cards museum with its many game-related treasures is located in Altenburg follows a certain logic: playing card markers have settled in the city in East Thuringia since the early modern era. And finally, the rules of skat, which has been in the Thuringia State Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2016 – because it is unusually complex and requires logic and creative thinking, were developed there. 


The home of skat in Altenburg

In Altenburg, there is not just the playing cards museum, but also a large games company in the form of ASS. The Skat Court and the German Skat Association are based there. And when walking through the old town, you will inevitably pass the Skat Fountain at some point, which was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century. On this fountain, the four knaves from the German skat deck tussle symbolically for power. Meanwhile, the lucky pigs untiringly spout a kind of holy water. For anyone who holds their new cards – very briefly of course – under the spray is supposed to have luck in the game. And this cannot hurt, even when imagination and logic are required.

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