Not Summer 1980-1982 or: How do you learn all German car registration numbers?
1) The Chess Bundesliga
As reported, I had found a club that guaranteed me a regular place in the 1st Chess Bundesliga. I was allowed to play on the 6th board. Team matches in chess are played on a total of 8 boards. These are usually arranged according to playing strength. So I didn’t necessarily have to expect the most difficult opponents. But Bundesliga is Bundesliga. At 21, when you have the feeling that everything is still open to you, but also that most things are still new, the excitement grew the closer the first match day came.
The chess season runs from October to May at the latest. So you play team matches for half a year (the dark season) and have a break for half a year. That’s how it is in Germany (better: has been since I can remember until today, 2008). 16 teams were in the 1.BL, you played against each one once, made 15 fights. These were played in such a way that one was paired with a travel partner who was geographically as close as possible, and always either visited two other such paired teams or was visited by them. That made two games per chess weekend, of course on Saturday and Sunday. In addition, there was always a singles round at the beginning of the year, where one had to play against one’s travelling partner. That made a total of 8 weekends from October to May, so pretty much one weekend per month. 72 bouts + 11 bout = 15. This was always exciting, because in earlier times, as reported elsewhere, a season consisted of either 7 or 9 bouts. 15 was considerably more and ideal for a chess enthusiast like me.
As for the financial conditions I spoke of, where agreement was reached quite quickly, briefly this much: Norbert Franke, the team manager of SG Bochum 31, had promised me a plane ticket for every match day. That was about 400 DM. Of course, I never flew (except once, for time reasons) but regarded the money as earnings. Norbert knew that I was always there on time. It didn’t matter to him how I arrived. For me, that made 8*400 DM per season, about 3200 DM per season.
The mode of transport I used instead of flying was, almost as a matter of course at that time, hitchhiking. So, as a rule, on chess weekends I left the university on Friday and set off for the autobahn. For Berliners, the place to go was pretty standard: checkpoint Dreilinden. At Dreilinden, one had relatively little influence on the choice of car and destination: there were always 50 – 100 hitchhikers there at the time, some equipped with signs, and whoever was willing to give one or more a lift stopped. The hitchhiker who stopped was immediately harassed and asked about his destination. Then there were either long faces or delighted ones. In any case, the person who stopped then told the number he was willing to transport. the rest was anarchy. But in such circumstances, I consider anarchy to be an extremely suitable means of determining the passengers. They usually came to an agreement quickly. They usually knew who had arrived earlier or for whom the destination was more convenient.
Personally, I also had my own attitude. If you have not read the booklet “Die Kunst des Trampens in den 80ern” by Dirk Paulsen, to be published by … Verlag, before 2020, then I will give you a brief insight here: I was almost indifferent to how close I got to my destination. I never, and I emphasise: never, had a sign with me. This provides a welcome alibi to anyone passing by. “Stuttgart? No, Stuttgart, I’m not going there.” It’s a scoundrel who drives to Stuttgart and still doesn’t stop: “He can’t know that.”
From Berlin onwards, I didn’t care how far the person drove. The main thing was that the rough direction was either Hanover or Nuremberg, depending on which border crossing I needed that day. I only wanted to get to “West Germany”. Once over the border, the person could drop me off at any rest stop, as I had already told him when I got on the train. Because at a rest stop I was almost at my destination.
This was due to a combination of qualities, as I imagine: First of all, I gradually learned all the German number plates (several disbelievers checked this with the help of the ADAC atlas and had to admit defeat after checking all the available number plates). Then I stayed in the area where people filled up. Not at the front, where most of them were standing, holding up their signs and trying to get the cars that had just restarted to stop again when leaving the service area. Such behaviour could cost several hours.
A few other qualities, such as pushiness, audacity, impudence and fearlessness, made me approach almost everyone. I also had the theory that you can tease out the humanity in anyone, that people are basically looking for it. So suits, machos, Porsche drivers or single, young ladies, older couples. I didn’t stop at anything or anyone. And usually opened the conversation with an allusion to the hometown, where knowing the – sign was essentially enough for me. Well, curiously enough, that alone often makes the ice break. Many feel flattered if you know their (often small) hometown at all. Then, fortunately, I was usually still informed about the geographical location. The fact that, with a certain amount of practice, I soon managed to almost playfully let my own intentions flow into the conversation, seemed to go almost unnoticed by my interlocutor. I was then invited as a family friend, colleague or long-time acquaintance as a matter of course. My chosen tone of voice, my charm, my eloquence, my attractive, well-groomed appearance, my humour, my quick-wittedness and my very obvious modesty were of course also responsible for my hitchhiking success. I always got away. The well-groomed exterior: long hair, never shaved plum, lumberjack shirt worn over jeans, the usual frock of the time, certainly also armpit sweat and bad breath. So much for irony.
2) The chess side
The first season I played on the 6th board in the Bundesliga. And I really rushed from victory to victory. 15 games, of which I only drew 2 and lost 2. I won the other 11 games. The result, in chess language, was 12 out of 15. I was swimming on a wave of success. The team too. We reached a very surprising 4th place. That was much more than we could have expected.
In the second season, I was allowed to play on the 4th board. But a similar result there as well. This time I achieved 11 out of 15. But the sum of these two results even earned me a photo in the biggest German chess newspaper at the time, the Schachreport. My long hair was hanging over the board. My game was also called the “weeping willow system”. But still, underneath it said: “Dirk Paulsen, the most successful Bundesliga player in the first two years of the single-division Bundesliga.” Sure, the result was of course not directly comparable with the results on the higher boards. But nevertheless, the total number of points was outstanding. Since you’re not available at the moment, I’ll give myself a pat on the back. But you have to admit: I’ve had to take a few punches myself, so a little self-praise can’t hurt, can it?
3) The end of the season and my second flight
The season came to an end. As usual in May. Our final round was in Munich. As reported, from May onwards I was usually gripped by wanderlust. Making plans that were valid for longer than the next five minutes was not something I had been able to do all my life. I was young, had made a killing, was in Munich, was free and unattached and still had a few friends. Where was fate taking me this time? Definitely not home, that was for sure. University could wait until October. The sun was shining. And Stefan Kindermann, a chess friend since his youth, a true Munich native, now also a long-time grandmaster, was also in Munich. I had even beaten him that day. He wanted to go to the station when our analysis of the game was finished. “Where are you going, Stefan?” “Oh, a small tournament in Austria. In St.Johann in der Heide. The train leaves in 25 minutes.” “That’s enough to get there, get your ticket and travel with us.”
So we set off for the station, I had the DM 400 in my pocket. I bought the ticket to St. Johann. And off we went. However, it was an invitation tournament. I couldn’t play in it. The price for the overnight stay was about 80 DM. I could just stay for 5 nights. And what if I was hungry except at breakfast time?
Well, I stayed anyway. I watched Stefan and the other greats and enjoyed life. When Stefan had a hanging game against Danner, which could only be played the next day, and he entrusted me as his second with the analysis work, the game led to victory the next day due to my really good analysis, his decision was made: I would become his second if he qualified for a play-off match for the World Championship. Unfortunately, the implementation has failed so far due to his unsuccessful attempts to qualify. It was an accolade all the same, at least a perceived one.
The two or three days passed. Gradually, I began to get the feeling that things could not go on like this. The main reason: the limited financial means. From the point of view of my attitude to life, I could have stayed there for a long time. St.Johann, at least this one, the one on the heath, is close to Graz, though. So there were occasional spectator visits from Graz. I had a very unpleasant memory of one of them. The year before, he had inflicted a very severe defeat on me at the Junior World Team Championships in Graz. And in chess the same applies as in football: you simply can’t lose against Austria.
Fortunately, I was able to take revenge in a blitz match. But he was accompanied by other chess players from Graz. And among others there was my old comrade Walter Pilz, whom I had met in London, about whom I naturally asked. “Yes, Walter, of course he’s there, every day in the café where we also play chess every day”. So what could be more obvious than…? Well, I packed my things and took the ride, not without wishing my friend Stefan all the best and much success.
Arriving in Graz, I met other chess players, some of whom I already knew from the previous year, the Junior World Team Championships. And it’s not for nothing that the saying often quoted among chess players is “Gens una sumus”. We are one family (more precisely: one gender). And there may even be a certain hierarchy. After all, I was a semi-recognised top player as a participant. And a chess friend could possibly be proud to host a particularly strong player. In short: I easily found free accommodation. That was better than St.Johann, especially because it was cheaper.
But my old friend Walter Pilz would have had to tolerate another name variation, this time in “Walter Gspritzter”. Instead of Pils, as at our first meeting, he only drank Gspritzte. At least it also made this drink familiar to me, I followed him, blindly trusting his undoubted talent in “art of living”.
A little story just by the way: I may have been free and unattached, but that does not automatically mean having nothing to do with the opposite sex (sumus). On the contrary. I was either in a “relationship”, i.e. had a steady girlfriend, or I was in love. However, these two states do not exclude simultaneity.
At that time I was alone, so I was in love. But I hadn’t really found a way to connect with my chosen one. The infatuation only gradually became really noticeable, in the form of a mysterious longing that crept into my mind and body.
So Graz was great, just beautiful, and even the money could last a few more days. The longing stood somewhat in the way of the need to stay and enjoy Graz. Besides, as a semi-unknown (my reputation certainly didn’t resemble thunder), I even had a few lightning duels often enough, where I could polish up my pocket money a little.
But on the third evening, late in the evening, a chess enthusiast I also knew from the previous year entered the pub. He had already made some advances the year before. But not in the sense you imagine now. He wanted to play with me. During the tournament it was impossible for me. But today? He was not only willing, he was downright eager to play. He was an amateur player, or what should I call it? We quickly agreed that I would have to give him a time limit. We agreed on 2 minutes of thinking time for me, 5 minutes for him, for the whole game, of course. (By the way: in all big blitz tournaments, championships, the rule is 5 minutes for each player, for the whole game; whoever exceeds the time has lost immediately).
When he realised after the first few games that the time rule did not guarantee equal opportunities, we changed it. I had one minute, he had 5 minutes. If that doesn’t seem like much to you, let me briefly quote my old chess companion, also a grandmaster, Klaus Bischoff, who has also been German blitz chess champion many times. He was observing a game of blitz. He asked what time was being played. To the answer: “We play chess for 2 minutes”, he replied: “Oh, 2 minutes, that’s correspondence chess”.
Well, Klaus was (and is, even today, 2008) really one of the fastest. But 2-minute chess is not necessarily correspondence chess. You can play a game properly and also win normally, but you have to be damn fast. Klaus was the master, he was allowed to say that.
But the one minute I still had available is usually used like this: The opponent has moved, presses the clock and thus sets his own clock in motion. The hand is already over the board and only has to make the move that was planned long ago. Doing this and then pressing the clock (always with the moving hand, that’s what the chess federation, FIDE, wants) is more or less one thing. There is no room for surprises. The cerebellum and cerebellum cease their activity. It’s a waste of time. One plays “with the spinal cord”, so to speak. Mechanical conversion by hand, all a clock-pressing movement. Because: If you calculate that a normal game of chess lasts at least 40 moves on average (this does not include short draws), but that the opponent always continues to play until mate, even if he is heavily materially inferior, you easily arrive at an average of 60 moves per game. 60 moves, 60 seconds, that makes one second per move. You feel that doesn’t leave too much room for profound combinations?
But my spinal cord and my hand worked brilliantly together. The self-inflicted injections on the side were rather beneficial: thinking undesirable. The man didn’t get tired and he didn’t go broke. The morning dawned and much more. My wallet was filling up. At 8 a.m. I guess he finally had to move on (are you surprised that there are pubs in Graz that are open around the clock? I am, but there was. Or do chess players occasionally get fool’s liberty? In any case, they would be entitled to it…).
I made my way to my accommodation. My host also had to go to work. I didn’t want to be a burden on him any more. By the way, the cash register showed a profit of about 650 DM. The longing took up its activity again. I packed my things and set off for the train station. I had a new plan. And indeed…
The next train took me to Vienna. Breakfast in the dining car, slightly surreal in perception, but very tasty. Arrived in Vienna, on to the airport. There was indeed a flight to … yes, to where? To the honoured, to Berlin. The cost was almost exactly 500 DM. The train already had its price, and in Vienna the taxi to the airport cost more money. But I was a man with a mission that day.
The plane took me to Berlin. Home, to the telephone. Mobile phones? 1982? Nope. Call to the young lady. She actually answered. I quickly went on to my request: “Hey, I came back from Graz today, I earned the money for a spontaneous flight to Berlin to meet you (that’s how they wrote it back then). I wanted to take you to Burger King on Ku-Damm. Are you coming?” “Yes, ok. When?” “Right now?” “Fine.”
So I had my date. We met, had a hamburger as well as the fries and the obligatory strawberry shake at the time, it was all pretty new after all. Well, you’re eagerly awaiting the happy ending? You’ll have to watch a Hollywood movie. We didn’t become a couple. I don’t even remember why. At least I had enough money to pay the bill.
I was back to my favourite state: no money but happy. And I had experienced something after all?
4) The Generational Contract
Now you have experienced me as almost a pure freeloader. But I already had a philosophy at that time: There is the generation contract, but this one applies to hitchhikers. The idea was this: You have no driving licence and no money. You use the carpooling opportunities in the often vacant seats. Nevertheless, you profit, without anything in return. But maybe one day you can afford both a driving licence and a car. And then you can return the favour. Then you can pick up hitchhikers yourself, the next generation of hitchhikers.
I got my driving licence at the beginning of 1983 and often had a car. And I kept my part of the contract. I gave everyone a lift. I often drove out at night to all the rest stops to look for stranded hitchhikers, as long as there was still room in the car. And you also make the most beautiful acquaintances that way. I even took people to their destination or dropped them off as cheaply as possible, using my own experience as a hitchhiker. Or, when we came to Berlin, I gave them accommodation. I also often asked if they had a driving licence. If so, they were allowed, sometimes they even had to drive because of their own tiredness. Somehow it is also true here: once a freak, always a freak.
Watch the film by Jim Jarmush, “Down by law”, with Roberto Begnini, among others. He always has his quote book with him, picks up sayings and notes them down to quote them at the appropriate moment. And at his first meeting with Tom Waits, who had just been kicked out of his girlfriend’s house and was sitting lost on the street, he also took out his notebook and read out: “Its a sad and beautiful world.”
It’s a beautiful and sad world….