A board game played by German soldiers in the trenches of World War One is giving modern computer games a run for their money – how has it managed to stay so popular for so long?
There is, we know, a very big centenary under way. In Germany 100 years ago there was a momentous development, and the revolution that ensued is being marked with great fervour in village halls up and down the land.
People sit down around tables. There is discussion and there are moments of reflection, punctuated with loud altercation.
I refer, of course, to the invention of the board game Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht. It was devised a century ago and became popular among German troops in the trenches.
Families back home ordered games from the manufacturer, who would then despatch them straight to the frontline.
The game was invented by Josef Friedrich Schmidt, an employee of the city of Munich who had three bored children to entertain at home. He devised the game with dice and counters and played it happily with an ever-widening circle, including his neighbours’ children.
After a couple of years of this amateur fun, he decided to put it on the market. It only took off during World War One.
Schmidt had the very bright idea of making hundreds of copies of the game and giving them to hospitals used by the war-wounded. Sales haven’t slowed down in the succeeding century.
There is, I think, something very German about the stubborn refusal of its citizens to move with the times. Of course, Germans embrace lots of aspects of modernity – "Vorsprung durch Technik" (Progress through technology) – but one of the charms of the place is that old habits die hard.
I shake hands with my colleague every morning and evening. There is a bakery on every street. We eat a proper lunch – a beef stew in the canteen, with sprouts.
They cook seasonally too – goose with red cabbage on the menu in restaurants at Christmas, cured herring in June, Pfifferlinge – a type of fine mushroom – in late August, pumpkin or Kuerbis in October.
There is a heart-warming eschewing of newness for the sake of it.
In the finance ministry the lifts are ancient. They are those open lifts which continually move in a belt and which you step onto with some trepidation, I find. Old-fashioned but effective – a fitting symbol for a finance ministry.
The German way: Improve what works but keep what pleases people – like a board game.
It comforted shell-shocked lads 100 years ago and it is giving computer games a run for their money today. How comforting.
Text and images from BBC NEWS magazine
Take a good look at the picture above of the family playing the game. Dad looks like a little kid enjoying himself and the rest of the family looks bored way into the soporific. But in Germany dads are still the boss, if he wants to play, they play – Ted
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