The Chess Academy That Was

Brief Encounters: Tales of Everday Life, Jul/Aug. 2012

On the last night of my father’s recent visit to Vienna, we set off to do what we’ve always done: play chess. Even as a child I remember setting up the pawns, knights and bishops, revelling at the friendly competition, whose thrill had coloured my childhood.

Although I see my father much less than I would like, the tradition lives on, and our bi-annual visits are never complete until we whip out the chessboard.

So, I thought, what better venue than the former Chess Academy, otherwise known as the Café Central in the 1st District? Known until 1938 as “Die Schachhochschule” from the many fine chess players among its patrons (who included Leon Trotsky and Sigmund Freud), what could be more appropriate on the eve of my father’s long journey home.

With soft piano music reverberating through the vaulted ceilings of the café and the aroma of coffee on the nostrils, we set up the pieces, my fingers feeling the rush of excitement as I moved my first pawn-to-king’s-fore.

Suddenly, a waiter appeared at our table. “I’m sorry Sir, but you can’t play here. House rules.” What? My German father shrugged.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

William Wessling

For more on chess in Vienna see “Constructing the Game” in TVR Sept. 2011.

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