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December 2005

Curl Power

It’s time to go play on the ice...

For a game that mixes the worst aspects of both housekeeping and lawn bowls, curling can be curiously compelling. Perhaps it’s the way the polished granite stones rumble across a sheet of ice or the pleasure that comes from a perfectly executed shot, one that curls gracefully from the hog line into the tee. Then again, it could be the pure satisfaction that comes from smacking the hell out of your opponent’s stones, sending them scattering out of the scoring target, or the “house.”

“Curling is a mix of strategy and psychology, and the older I become the more fascinated I am with it,” says Jane Boeke, a 41-year-old teacher who has been playing the game since she was 12 years old. “It is a team game and there is a strong social component to it. It is a game of traditions and etiquette and friendly chatting and mixing between teams, which seems to be lacking in many other sports today.”

Originating from Ontario, Canada, Boeke competed with Team Schöpp—a leading German team based in Garmisch-Partenkirchen—and has also represented Germany in both the European and World Masters. Growing up, Boeke says, there was never any question that she would take up curling. Canada boasts the world’s largest curling population, over one million devotees who get out there and play the game, at least once a year, at one of the country’s 1,200 curling clubs. Switzerland, the second largest curling nation, can only claim some 20,000 curlers. “It is just so much a part of the culture and the lifestyle,” maintains Boeke. “It’s almost impossible not to get involved.”

By comparison, Germany—considered a middle-level curling power—is home to only 1,000 people who curl regularly. Despite this country’s abundance of ice-covered lakes in winter, the sport’s popularity is affected by the local variation known as Eisstockschiessen, which claims up to half a million adherents.

Similar to bocce, both games are team sports that involve either placing your own stone or Eisstock closest to a target (a bullseye-type design for curling and a marker known as a Daube in Eisstockschiessen) or knocking your opponents’ out of position. Points are awarded to the closest landing shots. The main difference between the two games is that Eisstockschiessen has no sweepers—the broom-wielding curling team members who furiously polish the ice in front of the stone so that it travels further. The slow spin delivery of the curling stone is also more refined and genteel in comparison to the fury and power of the Eisstock delivery.

Both games are believed to be at least 450 years old. The most contentious point surrounding them is the question of whether or not Eisstockschiessen inspired the creation of curling, or if curling was independently developed by the Scots. Mid-sixteenth-century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel depicted what appear to be Eisstöcke in some of his works. Proponents of the European origin theory, therefore, argue that it was Flemish immigrants who introduced this game to Scotland, where the creation of curling was eventually inspired.

Whatever the origins of curling, it was in fact the Scots who, between the 16th and 19th centuries, nurtured the game, formalized rules and exported it to such countries as Canada. Today, curling is a recognized Winter Olympic sport. A host of teams, including those from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Sweden, Canada and the USA, competed in Salt Lake City in 2002. More than 40 nations—including China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Spain and South Korea—are recognized by the World Curling Federation, which is headquartered in Perth, Scotland.

Curling stones are made of pure granite. Many believe that the best stones are made of Ailsite granite from the Ailsa Craig, a small island off the Ayrshire coast. Because the tough material must be ground with diamonds, the manufacturing of this sporting good is rather expensive. Shipping is also inhibitive—a stone weighs 19.96 kg (44 lb) and a full set consists of 16 stones. This cost, as well as the fact that the game requires specially prepared ice in an indoor hall, has undoubtedly hampered curling from gaining a wider German participation.

Trying out curling locally has become difficult since the Munich club folded. It is now necessary to travel to Garmisch-Partenkirchen ( Europe’s best curlers will be in action in Garmisch during the European Championship 2005, to be held from December 9 to 17.

It is far easier to find a place in which to sling an Eisstock. Those who wish to have a game can go to the Neuhausen canal located near Nymphenburger Schloss (, the Hinterbrühler See (79 52 69) or the Kleinhesseloher See in the English Garden. Prices range from € 2.50 to € 5 per game and a limited supply of equipment can be rented on site. A complete list of venues, available at, includes indoor pitches at the Olympia-zentrum and the Ostpark.

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