There are many theories as to how Germany's board game market became so much more dynamic than in any other country. Certainly, the Spiel des Jahres, the German Game of the Year award, plays a major role in keeping good designs in the eyes of the mass market here, as well as pushing publishers to seek out original and engaging designs. But there may be other factors I was previously unaware of, according to Titus Chalk's recent article, "Serious Fun", in the online German Times.
In the article, Klaus Teuber, creator of board game catalyst The Settlers of Catan, points to the tobacco company Krone, which began some of the first gaming clubs in Germany: “The idea was to offer something else you could do with your free time," says Teuber, and Chalk adds, "Presumably while you puffed a packet of the brand’s finest tobacco products."
In addition, I discovered that the German Board Game Championships were also initiated by Krone, and they even partnered with Schmidt Spiele and ASS to co-produce their own board games (thanks to Guido from Tric Trac for the link). It seems odd to credit modern board games to a cigarette company's PR campaign, but we can at least be thankful that they were not satisfied with simply advertising Poker games or clubs that stuck to Germany's own national card game, Skat. In fact, it would be interesting to find out more about how the decision was made to focus their advertising on board games instead.
But that isn't the only influence mentioned in the article. Carcassonne creator Klaus-Jürgen Wrede describes how West Germany's activist culture may have opened the door to board game sessions as a pastime in between heated political discussion (or perhaps during anti-Cold War sit-ins).
“Phenomena like the German peace movement in the 1970s and 1980s also had an important influence,” he claims in the article. “People met up, ate together, talked, discussed and also played a lot,” he said. One can clearly see how, at the very least, the peace movement influenced the low-conflict "German style" of board game, with its emphasis on building.
Although the relationship between tobacco and board games has since disappeared, especially now that smoking is outlawed in public buildings, Germans still take their political demonstrations seriously. In fact, I seem to run into at least one demo each week in Berlin.
I suppose that if I really want to increase participation in my local gaming groups, I need to start introducing games to these people while they are parading through the government quarter. Perhaps, in between protesting the things they are against, they'll discover board games they can support.