AMHERST, N.S. – It’s a game that goes back generations in the Bavarian Alps, and it’s beginning to catch on in Cumberland County with the creation of the area’s first eisstock club.
Eisstock, somewhat similar to the more familiar game of curling, will be showcased during Amherst’s fifth Winter Carnival on Wednesday, Feb. 13 on the downtown skating surface.
“I love it because you can get outdoors and have fun with friends,” Sylvia Fairbanks said during a fun game in Amherst on Jan. 29. “It’s such an easy game to play and it’s something everyone of any age or any skill can play. There’s also a lot of laughter involved. I think that’s why I like it so much.”
The only thing she recommends is wearing a helmet because you never know when you could take a spill on the ice.
While Fairbanks has been playing for three years, Bart Butler is relatively new.
“I’ve only played three or four games, but it’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s a great social sport and a great way to enjoy a winter day. Anyone can play, you throw one rock and you’re hooked.”
Morris Haugg remembers playing the game as a young person growing up in Bavaria, He was re-introduced to eisstock and is pleased Amherst has included the event in the winter carnival.
“The town has been so enthusiastic in endorsing our event as part of their winter carnival,” Haugg said. “We will have one or two ice surfaces, or bahns, and people are invited to watch. People are also invited to try it out because it’s a very easy sport to play.”
If the weather co-operates, Haugg said, another game may be organized for Heritage Day Monday, Feb. 18.
Eisstock is played in other parts of Canada, including Ontario and Quebec, but he thinks the local club – the Cumberland Eisstock Club – is unique in eastern Canada.
“We may be the only club in Atlantic Canada. There are a lot of teams in Ontario and I just learned there are some playing in Quebec, but I’m not sure if there are any in this part of the country. The more we brag about it, though, hopefully we can get more clubs and more people playing,” Haugg said.
Toni and Lisi Reitmaier of Mount Pleasant emigrated to Canada from Bavaria in 2000 and brought the game with them after a return visit to Germany in 2002. They and a group of friends have been playing for years on a frozen lake near Oxford.
More recently, with the help of Haugg and the Reitmaiers, others have been invited to play and it is growing in popularity because it’s a very social game to play.
“We have people from Mount Pleasant, Amherst and Tidnish and Lorneville who get together regularly to play,” Haugg said. “A lot of people have come and watched it and played it and have enjoyed it.”
At present, the group has 21 eisstock and there enough players for a couple of teams.
Haugg said the sport grew in popularity in the Alps of Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland and Italy because it was something that was easy and inexpensive to do for those who couldn’t afford alpine skiing.
“Where ever there was an ice surface they took these eisstocks and found an ice surface and played,” he said. “In some cases, kids would get an eisstock or Christmas. I remember when I was growing up in Bavaria I played until I left for Canada when I was 17. There were people there of all ages playing, some of them were into their 80s. The eisstock weighs a few pounds, but as soon as you learn how to swing it, it’s very easy to play.”
Reitmaier started playing when he was playing soccer in Bavaria many years ago. He said it can be played in winter on ice, or in summer on asphalt.
“We had winter and summer clubs in Bavaria and eisstock was part of it,” he said. “It’s popular because it’s fun and it’s easy. It’s not too expensive to play. That’s why everyone plays it.”