If you are anything like i was a year ago, you read the word “Ludothek” and were left with a line of ???? The term comes from the Latin root “ludus” meaning “game” and the Greek “theke” meaning “counter.” German speakers will recognize the general flow of the word and it’s meaning based on the word “Bibliothek” which is library. So… any guesses what a Ludothek might be?
Yes! You rock.. that is totally right- a Ludothek is a library for board games instead of books. It works much the same… there are many, many games, more than even my most dedicated friends have, all available to be checked out and played at home. It is a concept that started in Switzerland in the 1980s and has been spreading since.
The Ludothek here in Leipzig was opened in 1993 and has around 3000 games available for members. It was one of the projects started after the reunification of Germany by a club called Freizeitshäuser e.V. to keep the kids-clubs (called Pionierhäuser in East Germany) open and non-profit. These had been one of the better programs developed by the Communist regime as they provided free after school activities and courses for all children. The Ludothek is what is left of this in Leipzig, and follows in the same spirit as a non-profit organization carried by the membership fees of it’s members and the good will of the board gaming community. A year’s membership will cost you just 25€ and allow you to check out up to four games at a time for a month (and up to 3 if you renew on time and no one has requested that game).
I first found out about the Ludothek here in Leipzig a few years ago through my husbands best friend. Unfortunately, her invitation to their monthly “long night of board games” (from 7pm to 2am) had to be cancelled. There had been another break-in- and this time the thieves had decided to cover their tracks by spraying everything with fire extinguishers. There was a foamy mess all over the rooms and games. Who would break in to a club that just wants to help you have fun?! Evil people, that’s who. Actually, we don’t really know. The cops found one suspect but there was never any further pursuit of them in court. This meant that the Ludothek had to close it’s doors for a while to clean up and try and repair and replace all of the damaged items. The process cost them a lot of money out of pocket and even more stress. Their insurance was only able to cover the cost of professional cleaners- about 10,000€.
About the time they were finally ready to reopen, the owners of the old building they were renting space in decided that it was a good time to renovate and modernize. That sounds great, doesn’t it? Well… the Ludothek had juuuust finished getting cleaned up and ready to reopen. Instead, they packed up everything they had and moved into temporary housing in a library on the very far side of the city. This was supposed to be for a few months. It took over a year to get back to their own space. Just this month the doors reopened, and Saturday will mark the first event.
It seems like a lot of effort and stress to go to in order to provide a service for a community… especially a non-profit one. So why do the volunteers at the Ludothek do it? I asked Marcus Bautze, the head of their board. For him it is about becoming part of a community that he loves and enjoys. The Ludothek has been a part of his life since his parents first started taking him to game days when he was a teenager. He became more and more involved in the club, so when a position on the board opened up, they asked him to step in. Now he can often be seen on social media updating the community of events, stocking the shelves with new games, or trying to get their outdated computer equipment back online.
I have two main reasons for sharing this story. First of all, i think Ludotheks are the greatest idea since bathtubs. There really should be more of these! I am glad to hear about libraries starting to have board game sections, but dedicated board game libraries are even more exciting as they offer the chance to host special events and larger numbers of games.
Second, I was telling the people I worked a booth with at Essen Spiel about our Ludothek and it’s troubles, and they responded with love. (in the form of actual board games) I believe their generosity should be noted…. even if it did take me four months to pass along the games.
Many thanks to Tim Fowers (of Fowers Games) for donating Wok Star, Fugitive, Hardback, Paperback, and Burgle Brothers to the Ludothek! The Ludothek didn’t have any of his games in stock (a shame!) and was very glad to be able to offer them now. I expect Burgle Brothers and Wok Star to be big hits. The language based games might have a hard time catching on, but most Germans do know some English. If you are unfamiliar with his games, you should definitely check them out. [not biased at all here. i just work their booth at Essen and consider the entire Fowers family to be my friends and awesome people… oh.. ok.. so slight bias. But still check them out.. like this video about their other new game, Now Boarding, which unfortunately sold out at Essen]
I also met an incredibly outgoing and interesting character as we were cleaning up our booth… Steven Michiel Rijsdijk from Sunny Games in the Netherlands. Their focus is on co-op games for kids and families. They have a very user friendly website, so if this type of game interests you, go check that out for sure. They say, “We foresee a world where co-operation is more important than competition. Our games help in a playful way to achieve this.” The Ludothek draws a large number of families, so i know these games will be well recieved. Steven was kind enough to run all the way across the convention hall to unpack the German versions of these three games from their transporter to gift the Ludothek!
If you happen to be inspired and want to donate games to the Ludothek, i’d be honoured to pass them along as well. 😉