Erwin Glonnegger (born May 19, 1925 in Aulendorf, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, died February 6, 2016 in Ravensburg) was a game designer and writer from Germany.
He taught European adults to play
Erwin Glonnegger passed away on February 6, 2016, at the age of 90. Without him, Europeans would probably not be enjoying MEMORY (CONCENTRATION), MALEFIZ (the German game of BARRIERS) or even jigsaw puzzles. Glonnegger was a key figure at Otto Maier Verlag, better known throughout the world as Ravensburger, one of the largest game companies in Europe, headquartered in Germany. Only six years ago, he said in a radio interview that his wife thought he was married more to Ravensburger than to her. Ravensburger began as a book publisher in 1883 and produced its first game, VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD, in 1884. Up to last Christmas, Glonnegger, who began working there in 1949, was still playing the games he introduced through the company.
Bruce Whitehill and I (Geert Bekkering) spoke to him when we toured the European toy (and game) museums in 1997. Glonnegger was such a nice person – cordial, open and conversational. He told us how he worked during the war in a bookshop and played forbidden games in a back room at night. The shop sold books criticizing the Nazis, which necessitated careful staffing, and anyone applying for a job at the bookstore was required to play a game of MONOPOLY, since “more could be learned from that than any written job references or certificates.” He started at Ravensburger as a representative for their educational books. Traveling through Germany, he saw many old Ravensburger games sitting unsold in the attics of shops. He bought them and used them to build the wonderful Ravensburger games collection. Eventually, he was moved to the company’s games department, that becoming his total responsibility in 1959; he was now in charge of Ravensburger’s complete line of games. It was that same year that he discovered and published the game of MEMORY.
With the Ravensburger games collection as a start, he wrote books on game history worldwide. Because of his experience as a book editor, he sent copies of new game releases to journalists, the same way he had with new books; this resulted in the first time that articles about games appeared regularly in the press.
On a 1964 trip to the USA, he went into toy stores, literally stumbling over piles of jigsaw puzzles for adults. He tried to introduce that “game” into Germany, but was turned down by the Ravensburger board; they said that such an idea was unthinkable for a company associated with educational material because even illiterates could assemble puzzles. So he had his first puzzles made by the Dutch company, Jumbo, and packed them in a box with the Ravensburger logo. He asked shops in Northern Germany (far from the Ravensburg home in the south) to sell them without telling the Ravensburger bosses. These first jigsaw puzzles needed an instruction leaflet on how to assemble them – Germany had hardly seen any puzzles since World War II. They sold well and fast. That seduced the Ravensburger board to get into the jigsaw puzzle business. Ravensburger became the initiator of the European jigsaw puzzle craze; they were – and still are – the biggest producers.
The Marshall Plan resulted in a rapid increase in prosperity and, in the 1960s, gave Europeans higher income and more spare time. That’s when Erwin Glonnegger introduced games for adults, and shortly after, the German “Spiel des Jahres” (Game of the year) prize was initiated. Glonnegger was one of the first in the business to recognize and acknowledge the role of game authors (game developers/inventors) in the industry, and he developed contacts with games inventors worldwide; he was responsible for the release of David Parlett’s HARE AND TORTOISE, the first game to win the “Spiel des Jahres” award (1979). In 2013, he was awarded the Dau Barcelona Award, an honor given by Spain’s Barcelona community for his lifetime achievement in games.
Erwin Glonnegger readied his gravestone long before he died. It shows the Memory game at the top. He was the man who brought that game into the Ravensburger program after Jumbo had refused it. When I spoke with one of the directors at Jumbo (Mr. Hötte), he said he still regretted having passed on it, because this, along with the puzzles, was the game that was the ‘eternal seller’ for the Ravensburger company. Glonnegger, in a video interview, said people will always have the desire to sit at a table and play games with each other and not with a machine. “The type of games I hold in high regard will never die out.”
By Geert Bekkering
(with additional text by Bruce Whitehill)
- Bundesverdienstkreuz (Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland) 1985
- Dau Barcelona Award 2013