the content of these galleries is a private property
neither the text nor the pictures may be republished, nor used for any purpose, without the author's permission

back to the

~~ Gallery 12 ~~
Regional Cards

Germany and
Central Europe

ˇ page 1 ˇ

Germany  -  I

page 2
Germany - II
page 3
East Germany
page 4
Central Europe
go to the

I wish to thank André Müller for his valuable contribution to this section

The traditional German decks, often called Skat decks after the most popular game played with them, feature four specific suits: Hearts, Bells, Leaves and Acorns, respectively corresponding to Cups, Coins, Swords and Batons (Latin suits) and Hearts, Diamonds, Spades and Clubs (French suits).
The Hearts are very similar to the ones found in international decks, but one of their halves is shaded, and also the other three signs share the same feature. The Bells belong to the local folklore: they are the round type, with a small stone inside to make them sound, and a ring for being tied, sometimes called hawk-bells. Also Acorns and Leaves are signs related to rural tradition.

shapes of German suit signs from some patterns:
Fränkisches Bild, Tell Bild, and the Czech Jednohlavé
The decks used in the northern areas of the country for playing Skat are made of 32 cards, each suit running from 7 to 10, and an ace; actually, the last card is not a real ace, but it has the same rank, as will be said further on.
Instead in the southern areas of the country other popular games are played: Tarock (whose rules are similar to the classic game that requires a 78-card tarot deck, but without the use of the trumps) and Schafkopf ("sheep's head"): for these ones a 36-card pack is needed, featuring the same subjects of a Skat deck, but whose suits start from 6. In either case, these decks have no jokers.
There is a third kind of deck for playing Doppelkopf ("double head"); this name does not refer to the double-headed courts, but to the fact that all subjects are duplicated: the suits are reduced (9, 10, three courts and the ace), so the total number of cards is 48.
Lastly, one half of the Doppelkopf deck is used for the game of Schnapsen ("booze"), and 24-card editions are also available from different manufacturers.

The three courts in German-suited cards are a knave with a U index for Unter Knabe ("low knave"), one of higher rank with an O index for Ober Knabe ("high knave") and a king with a K for König ("king").
Not all patterns have indices: for this reason, the ober and unter knaves are told by the position of the suit sign, which appears below (U) or above (O) the featured personage.
The highest card of each suit looks like a 2, and is traditionally called Daus ("deuce"); this card has the same rank as an ace, and in several patterns it even has an A index.

The patterns used in central and northern regions of Germany are made for playing Skat, and have 32 cards, while the southern patterns are Tarock - Schafkopf decks, with 36 cards.

Sächsisches Bild (by A.S.S., Germany); in each row
the third card from the left is a daus (of Acorns and Bells)
Doppelkopf decks, instead, exist in several patterns, mostly Württenbergisches Bild, Neues Altenburg Bild, and the French-suited Berliner Bild, according to the different manufacturers.

the extinct Darmstädter Bild
(courtesy of André Müller)
The following map shows the location where all German patterns were created, as of the 19th century. Two of them no longer exist: the pattern from Ansbach (described further down in this page) and the one from Darmstäd are now extinct. Instead the Rhineland pattern is now barely used in Germany, but still extant in other countries (as will be said further in the page).
All the names recall their geographic origin.
            GERMAN SUITS   
  1. Ansbacher Bild  ("Ansbach pattern")
  2. Bayerisches Bild  ("Bavaria pattern")
  3. Darmstädter Bild  ("Darmstädt pattern")
  4. Fränkisches Bild  ("Franken pattern")
  5. Neues Altenburg Bild  ("New Altenburg pattern")
  6. Prager Bild  ("Prague pattern")
  7. Preussisches-Schlesisches Bild  ("Prussia-Silesia pattern")
  8. Sächsisches Bild  ("Saxony pattern")
  9. Württembergisches Bild  ("Baden-Württemberg pattern")
             FRENCH SUITS    
  1. Berliner Bild  ("Berlin pattern")
  2. Rheinisches Bild  ("Rhineland pattern")

In this list the official names are mentioned, but some of the patterns have alternative ones too.

With the exception of the Württenbergisches Bild, the latest one created (c.1870), all the German-suited patterns were born single-headed; but since players found themselves more comfortable with double-headed designs, all of them gradually turned to the latter scheme, starting with the Preussisches Bild and Fränkisches Bild (second half of the 19th century) and ending with the Bayerisches Bild, which steadily became double-headed around 1950, or shortly later.

Preussisches Bild by ASS (Germany), a northern pattern
The Preussisches Bild is the only pattern among the ones now extant that partly remained single-headed: its pip cards alone maintained the old design. The space at the bottom was originally filled with with naive genre scenes; then, as of the end of WW I, they were replaced by town views. The knaves, instead, reflect Germany's 19th century social structure, with rich bourgeois playing the part of ober knaves, and members of the middle-low class (a waiter, an inn-keeper, etc.) representing the unter rank.
Both the Preussisches Bild and the Sächsisches Bild are still in production, but they were largely replaced by the Neues Altenburg Bild when the latter was introduced, in the 1960s (see page 2 for details).

Preussisches Bild: details of a few town views from F.X.Schmid's edition; the first one on the left
features Danzig, now in Poland, but German by the time the Prussian pattern was created

All the southern designs sprang from an early single-headed pattern called Altbayerisches ("old Bavarian"), by gradually acquiring subjects and details from other German and non-German designs, such as the German Tarock, and the French and Dutch national patterns.
Because of this, the list of German-suited patterns may also include the Prager Bild ("Prague pattern"), presently used only in the Czech Republic, as this Bohemian design too sprang from the Altbayerisches cards; in the past, editions of this pattern were also made by some German manufacturers, either for the Czech market or for the benefit of Czech immigrants.

In recent times, a revival of single-headed designs has brought back this version of the Bayerisches Bild (see page 2) and of the Sächsisches Bild.
The latter is also referred to as Schwerterkarte, i.e. "sword cards", after the shield with crossed swords, from the coat of arms of the archduchy of Meissen, found in the daus of Acorns and of Leaves. The former subject also features the name Schwerterkarte on a ribbon above the bear, sometimes maintained also in double-headed editions, despite in these ones the shield with crossed swords is no longer visible.
However, also for the Sächsisches Bild, as well as for the Bayerisches Bild, the more common variety is now still the one with double heads.

single-headed Sächsisches, or Schwerterkarte (by S.A.);
note the shield with crossed swords in the two daus cards

The Ansbacher Bild, also known as Nürnberger Bild, after the town of Nuremberg where it was originally produced, turned obsolete around the mid 20th century. It always maintained its original single-headed design, not very different from the aforesaid Prager Bild (see page 3); actually, Nuremberg is not too far from the Czech border.

the extinct Ansbacher (Nürnberger) Bild, by F.X.Schmid
This pattern is characterized by very naive illustrations, which faithfully reproduce the woodblock prints of the earliest editions. Curiously, in the suits of Hearts and Bells the daus cards are extremely simple (one of them appears in the picture on the left): their two pips are not accompanied by the usual decorations , whereas the 6 of Hearts is certainly more ornate than in other patterns.
Probably the Ansbacher Bild did not spring from the Altbayerisches Bild, as all other southern patterns, but developed directly from the first samples of German-suited cards (16th-17th centuries), thus claiming an earlier lineage than any other extant design. But instead of becoming double-headed, as the others did, it sadly disappeared.

Also two French-suited patterns come from Germany, although only one of them is still used. They sprang from different parts of the country: the Rheinisches Bild ("Rhineland pattern") is from the south-west, while the Berliner Bild (Berlin pattern) is from the north.
The Berlin pattern, also called Französisches Bild i.e. "French pattern", is slightly earlier than the other one, having been created during the first half of the 19th century, according to the graphic guidelines of the transitional style known as Biedermeier (c.1815-1840) that acted as a bridge between Neoclassicism and Romanticism. A few details, though, such as the harp held in hand by king of Spades, reveal that the French national pattern too undoubtly exerted its own influence on this design, in some degree.

Berliner Bild by F.X.Schmid (Germany)

Despite its name, the Berlin pattern originated in Stralsund, in the northernmost corner of Germany, first printed by the famous manufacturer Spielkartenfabrik Altenburg.
When in the early 1900s the latter took over another famous maker, Büttner of Berlin, the words Berliner Spielkarten ("Berlin cards") began to appear on the courts of the pattern, whence the name Berliner Bild it was labelled with ever since.

detail of the king of Spades in different editions (from the left: ASS, Berliner Spielkarten, F.X.Schmid);
note that the harp in the third edition has no strings

Berliner Bild (by ASS)
Today the Berliner Bild is produced by almost every German manufacturer; it is the main pattern used for playing Skat in a wide area, that includes the whole north and west of the country. In the modern editions by ASS, the sign of Diamonds is outlined (picture on the left).

The Berlin pattern also exists in a particular variety with suits in four different colours, called the Turnierbild ("tournament pattern"); despite being a regular pattern, it is featured in gallery 3, page 3, among the colour variants.

The edition shown on the left was made by the Spielkartenfabrik Altenburg around 1970, when the company was in East German territory. The colours of the courts slightly differ from those of most other Berlin editions, and their faces are vaguely reminiscent of the ones found in the New Altenburg pattern (described in page 3), which only a few years earlier had been created by the same manufacturer.
An even closer connection between the Berlin and New Altenburg designs is represented by the two-way Kongress pattern, described in page 3, as well.

Also the Rheinisches Bild was created by a famous manufacturer, Dondorf of Frankfurt. It was first printed around 1870, as a luxury pattern; this explains the richness of colours and the refined details of the courts.
Such an attractive look gave reason for its great success: the Rhineland pattern soon spread to several neighbour countries, among which Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, where most editions maintained the German indices "B", "D" and "K", while the original number of cards was often increased to 52, with jokers too added to the deck.

Rheinisches Bild (Dondorf's design reprinted by ASS)
In Germany, instead, the Rheinisches Bild subsided during the first half of the 20th century, so that the Berliner Bild remained the only French-suited pattern used in the country (not considering the Tarock, which is a tarot, and the international Bridge deck).

page 2
Germany - II
page 3
East Germany
page 4
Central Europe


actual translation
LAUB (GRÜN) (SCHIPPE)(green) (spades)LEAVES
DAUSdeuceACE (German-suited decks)
ASACE (French-suited decks)


non-standard patterns advertisement decks sizes, shapes and colours standard pattern variants tarots non-suited cards Mercante in Fiera Uta Karuta, Iroha Karuta, Dôsai Karuta Âs Nas
regional patterns: Italy regional patterns: Spain regional patterns: Austria regional patterns: Switzerland regional patterns: France regional patterns: Sweden regional patterns: Portugal regional patterns: China regional patterns: South-Eastern Asia regional patterns: Japan regional patterns: India uncut sheets mottos and proverbs

or back to
Historical Notes

Multi-language Glossary
the Fool and the Joker
Index Table
Regional Games
Playing Card Links