German playing cards

Bay herz.svg
German playing cards are a style of playing cards used in some parts of Central Europe. Playing cards (Spielkarten) entered German-speaking lands around the late 1370s. The earliest cards were likely Latin-suited like in Italy and Spain. After much experimentation, the cards settled into new suits of Acorns (Eichel), Leaves (Grün or Blatt or "Laub" or "Gras"), Hearts (Herz) and Bells (Schelle or "Schell") around 1450. Closely related Swiss playing cards are used in German-speaking Switzerland. The French suit symbols were derived from the German ones around 1480. German-suited cards spread throughout Central Europe into areas that were once under German or Austrian control (Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Transylvania, Banat, Vojvodina, South Tyrol, Transcarpathia, and parts of Poland). They were also produced and used as far east as Russia until the early 20th century. German-suited decks are not well known all over these countries including parts of Germany itself as they have been undergoing strong competition from French playing cards since the late 17th-century. Traditional card games in which the German suits are used include Skat, Schafkopf, Doppelkopf and Watten.

German suited decks tend to have fewer cards than either the French, Spanish, or Italian sets. The typical northern German pack goes from ranks 7, 8, 9, 10, Under Knave (Unter = inferior / sergeant), Over Knave (Ober = superior / officer), King (König), and Ace (Ass) for a total of 32 cards. Southern patterns have 36 cards by including the 6.

In Bavaria, Austria and South Tyrol, the 6 of Bells is known as the Weli or Belle which is often used as a wild card. The Weli first appeared around 1855 in the discontinued Tyrolean pattern and later the Salzburg and William Tell patterns. The 6 of acorns is known as the Spitz or Soacher and is of comparable use, with the Weli being the higher card. For instance, in the Bavarian Watten game the top three cards following the respective trump ace are - in descending order: Maxe (= the King of Hearts, nicknamed after Bavaria's first King ), Belle (or Welle) and Spitz. With the exception of the New Altenburg pattern, all cards with the rank of 10 include the Roman numeral X on the top center of the card.

The ace in German and Swiss German sets have a peculiar history. Aces disappeared from German decks during the 15th century. When the ace was promoted above the King in French packs during the 16th century, the deuce did so as well in Germany leading to the conflation of the ace and deuce. This is why in some sets the ace depicts two pips and is also called a daus (deuce). Confusion is avoided when the 7 or 6 became the lowest card in most packs during the 17th and 18th centuries. Players also avoid confusion by alternatively calling the Ace/Deuce a Sau (sow).

Many regions have their own pattern (Bild) which features their own unique artwork or number of cards. Some patterns are descended from much earlier ones like the Saxon pattern which can trace their ancestry to the 15th-century Stukeley type cards named after their identifier, William Stukeley, in 1763.

Northern patterns have 32 cards and are used to play Skat. In northern patterns, the acorns are red. The only traditional northern pattern still in production is the Saxon pattern where only pip cards have corner indices. It is a product of a long evolution from the primitive Stukeley type cards imported from Nuremberg. They have been marginalized by the New Altenburg or German pattern, created by Walter Krauss (1908-1985) in former East Germany, which added corner indices to every card but the Aces.

This page was last edited on 24 May 2018, at 20:41.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

Related Topics

Recently Viewed