A summer fairy tale
The summer of 1985. The realisation that backgammon was “my game”, that my (imagined) skills could be perfectly combined there, I had long since gained in boundless overconfidence. I had read through all the available books and developed another feeling: in a previous life I must have been a backgammon pro. The gradually accumulating tournament successes made the illusions grow and flourish.
Of course, I also knew that every summer the Backgammon World Championship would be held. Even more so in the players’ paradise Monte Carlo. And what had I not heard about Monte Carlo! I had even received some kind of invitation promising free accommodation. I became a little suspicious. What was the catch? There was one condition: you had to open an account, there, at the casino, in which 10,000 DM had to be available for gambling. Presumably, cautious care was also taken to ensure that the gambling capital was “converted”. Nevertheless: who actually says that you have to lose?
I thought about this offer for a long time. I didn’t have 10,000 DM, certainly not. But it might be possible to get it somehow? In the meantime, I had calculated the Black Jack completely and for the really very good Black Jack rules in Monte Carlo from the player’s point of view, my calculations spat out an infinitesimally small disadvantage of 0.3%. If you developed a little routine in card counting, you would certainly play without a disadvantage, and with perfect application of the winning strategy even with an advantage. But the prerequisite for this was also: capital. If I then considered the additional costs I would have to incur, such as travel and food, I could not seriously claim this as a “source of income” with a clear conscience.
So the dream remained. And playing in this world championship was actually only a dream. I knew that the entry fee would be about 1800 DM (6000 FF). Legends had also been heard about the prize money. Such unbelievable amounts as 100,000 DM for the winner. In addition, a boom had broken out. One could expect the number of participants to increase significantly. I also knew that the Americans, from whose books I had learned so much, were certainly far ahead of me. With my innate arrogance, it was relatively easy to talk myself out of it. But a potential sponsor?
I remember those days well: Late 1983 Learning to play. Backgammon At the same time, working out the Black Jack system. First tournaments with success in 1984. First attempts at Black Jack in the same year. But it was all a question of capital. But what I remember best is how I kept puzzling over why I did not manage to accumulate more than 1000 DM as “wealth” during that time. I often reached this 1000 DM, but never really decisively exceeded it. Were the costs involved in the “backgammon professional” enterprise simply too high? I was constantly on the road and, despite occasional private accommodation, I stayed mainly in hotels. As you can see, it was more like living “from hand to mouth”.
I was at entry level in all disciplines. But was I really capable of persevering through the professional career? At 26, you can still turn around, go back to university, get your degree and enter middle-class life. And then you can also count on plenty of pats on the back: “I knew you’d come to your senses one day.” But what did I care about being sensible? And what did the pats on the back to come know?
I wanted, I simply had to go to Monte Carlo. There had to be a way to find out for sure whether I should try to realise my dream of becoming a professional player. To compete with the best and to realise most of all that you can keep up?! And the dream of the big score, the 100,000 DM, fame, honour and fortune. And then one sees oneself “clearing” in the casino. Once equipped with capital, one could implement the winning strategy. “Many feel called. But only a few are chosen.”
Surely one makes considerations like, “What the heck, I have 1,000 DM, I’ll go to the casino, put it up somewhere, blackjack or roulette, it doesn’t matter, and if I’m lucky, I’ll win the 5,000 and can go. When they’re gone, nothing much changes.” But something stopped me. Hard work feeds… , or what’s the saying?
I still had an arrow in my quiver, but I still thought it was blunt:
Throughout my life’s journey, I always had a faithful companion who reliably supported me and believed in me: my uncle Klaus, a doctor of physics. He was hardworking all his life and had always earned good money. In keeping with his nature, he had also long since emigrated to Swabia. War generation, suicide mission, came back safely, marched 400 km. Not a penny was ever wasted. He had always appreciated my abilities, had encouraged me, and whenever we met, he would ply me with riddles. I took a chance. A phone call, a question, “Ungel, what do you think of…?”
I was sure he would grant me 500 DM right away, I had already experienced that once before when I wanted to play in a skat tournament. 1000 DM, well imaginable that he would say “yes”. But 5000 DM? That was exaggerated. He knew from chess that I was quite good. But backgammon? A game of chance? Why should he?
It sounded as if he had been lurking for it. I was his favourite nephew, he made no secret of that. He barely swallowed (noticeably) when he heard the amount. And transferred 5000 DM to me the same day! Only borrowed, of course, not given. But what the hell. That was my ticket to Monte Carlo! A dream could come true. Could the dream even become a fairy tale?
I had already made the acquaintance of Abi Rosenthal in Berlin. This was the only player who had played in tournaments before, even big tournaments, foreign tournaments. He could play the game, no question. But I felt I was a match for him, I was fully in the game. He had told me how and where to book so we could fly together.
I booked the flight, the first 700 DM were gone. Was I supposed to hitchhike? Hitchhike to high society? Then I had to buy a few new shirts, a new suit, of course, ties, shoes, even a perfume. The next 800 DM gone. I didn’t get out of my skin that quickly, but that’s just the artificial skin. And who was the first to think that these outward appearances make up a person? Clothes?
It was pure joie de vivre. I was as eager as the famous wild goose chase. I had gone through the Magriel, the “Bible of Backgammon”, once again. I was prepared. Let them come, all the Americans, I’ll show them where Barthold … or whatever his name was…
Everything was packed. To this day I’m still trying to find out where my heart actually is, because of course I wear it on my left side, but in the right place (show-off!) and on my tongue. But it beat, regularly, even if too fast. Head, oh, where is the head? I have to find it somewhere…? Oh no, here, on the neck. I also had legs with me, I had them under my arm, time was running out. There you go, check in, get on the plane and… pinch me, off to Monte Carlo! I can tell you the exact date: it was 7.7.1985. What’s actually been falling since there were no more pennies? Boris Becker was 17 and had just moved out of home, into his new living room. He was on the Centre Court of Wimbledon. And he had a pretty important match to play. His opponent: Kevin Curren, South Africa. The Wimbledon final. One spectator was missing. Little Pauli. Until then, I had watched every rally of Bobbele’s, I had fevered and trembled along with him. Today, fever and trembling had other causes.
There was no time, not even the possibility, to regret that now. Apart from that: we were amazed when the captain gave his usual speech, modified today by a tiny detail: “The outside temperature is -65 degrees Fahrenheit, our flight altitude is 12000 feet, our estimated flight time is one hour forty minutes and, (everyone listened up): Boris Becker has won the first set!” A little later: “We are on approach to Nice. We ask you to stop smoking and fasten your seatbelts. Boris Becker is one break ahead in the third.” At the airport in Nice, we could even see the end of the third set at baggage claim. Boris was winning it, he was on the winning track, it was obvious.
Abi was not in Monte Carlo for the first time. The flight was the first time I had time and opportunity to chat with him for a longer time. He was quite a businessman and always under time pressure otherwise. This time he sat next to me with his seat belt fastened. And he had made the mistake of choosing “Window”…
He asked how much money I had with me. I answered truthfully, about 4500 DM. He said that was far too little for Monte Carlo. The entry fee alone was 6000 FF, or 1800 DM. Then accommodation and food for a whole week, that was not enough. But he was prepared to help me out. He would pay half of my entry fee. Of course he would also get half of my (imaginary) winnings, of course. Then it would be just enough. But I would have to take a hotel a bit out of town, a cheap one.
Abi has always done good business his whole life. Was this just an act of friendship or did he really believe in me?
He knew what to do in Nice too: take a taxi, what else. The taxi took us to Monte Carlo. Cost: 60 DM. Per head, of course. I began to suspect what he meant, that 5000 was not enough. And I went in search of a hotel. I found a really cheap one that cost “only” 100 DM per night. Ok, but now to the tournament hall.
2) Monte Carlo
Registration, good, change francs, all right, 6000 FF, I play in the master tournament, of course. There were also “Intermediates” and “Beginners”. Geniuses like me naturally belong in the Main, you only become a world champion there, in the main tournament. Then I looked around: Two huge, beautiful halls, full of backgammon boards. Two at each table. Filled to the brim. But on this day, only with boards. So we still had to be patient. Arrival on Sunday, tournament start on Monday. But I could already have a look around. And: where do you find opponents here? Who play for money? I can’t go up to a complete stranger and ask him if he plays for money? But Monte Carlo can be enjoyed temporarily without playing.
At least I learned that the German backgammon legend Ulli Koch was there. Through him, the game had become a bit more popular in Germany. Because: He had become vice world champion the year before. The magazine “Der Stern” wrote a two-page article about him. He was a professional backgammon player. I had read a few stories about how much he had won, also in the tournament, and how his “sessions”, that is, when he had an opponent for moneygame, looked like. And even if it’s just a cliché otherwise. With Ulli it was really true, I could testify to it x times later: he played 60 hours in a row if he had to.
I had to let Sunday pass. I strolled a little through the streets of the city, of course I had my swimming trunks with me and used the late afternoon to go to the beach. Even though I can be called a “gambling addict” with some justification: these hours were by no means boring for me. I simply felt comfortable there. I felt I belonged to a certain elite. I adapted to the lifestyle. And also learned quite quickly that you only have to study the left side of the menu. There is a virus there that grips everyone who arrives: money doesn’t matter. You don’t talk about it, you have it.
And once you have seen the big casino from all sides, you understand why tourists from all over the world want to go there. The casino itself is a magnificent building, but the sea behind it, which sparkles in the sun during the day and where the most beautiful cruise liners regularly anchor, lends the whole thing a special charm and aura. Already on the forecourt, you can see such an accumulation of luxury cars that simply force you to stop. The tourists are all equipped with cameras, everyone wants to be able to boast about the motif in the background. Surely one must have something to tell the grandchildren?
Despite the apparent hustle and bustle, one senses a certain calm, and one is caught up in it. No one seems to be in a hurry. Everyone is in a good mood. Those who are there have arrived, they belong. What could one complain about?
I found something: when does it finally start???
3) The tournament
The wait was over on Monday afternoon. On that day, the tournament hall was completely filled not only with boards but also with players. Of course, I had no idea how such a big event runs. I didn’t have much except palpitations. And I had to hide that as well as I could. You looked around, tried to figure out how others were behaving, and found out: at the front there are the pairings and the board with the number where you have to play. You had to buy some precision dice with a number on them (so that the opponent could at least check the correctness of the dice). Everything has a price. These cost 20 dollars, no problem. Because everyone brought their pair to the board, manipulation was practically impossible. I had trouble keeping my mouth closed. I didn’t want to show my amazement and cluelessness with my facial expression.
It was played in a knockout system, like a tennis tournament, of course, I knew that. And I went into it full of expectation and hope. Very tense and excited. A Dutchman called Eittan was my opponent. He seemed experienced, but of course I didn’t want to be impressed by anything. And what came out of it?
I had no chance from the first throw… And when you have no chance, it is difficult to judge the qualities of your opponent. Even one becomes indifferent. I had played a lot of matzos and certainly lost a few. But like this? I was simply out. Over and out. Nix world champion. The dream was over. This is certainly not how I had imagined my first appearance. What a disappointment! No fight, no resistance, simply no chance. I had never experienced that before. What remained but frustration and shattered dreams?
I knew nothing about how such a big tournament works. But I was allowed to experience it: The next day there was a consolation round for all the losers.
All right, so, wipe away the tears, I’ll just be world champion next year, no problem. And I’m sure there’s money to be won in the consolation. Same scenario: Out, no chance, in the first round. Okay, what’s next? The depression grew. I was a little, clueless kid from Berlin who presumed to want to be in the big league. Punishment for arrogance?
4) The "Auction dinner
Tuesday was over, all hopes buried. Wednesday was also a tournament break. And my return ticket was only booked for Sunday! What was I supposed to do here? I used the day to hang out on the beach. I had already made the first acquaintances, at least I had a few people to talk to. And bathing in the 27-degree Mediterranean in this atmosphere is definitely something you can “stand”. Not that the frustration disappeared or my self-confidence was restored, but at least: I accepted that there was simply no reason to suffer.
Wednesday was also free for a reason. In Monte Carlo there is always the “Auction dinner” on Wednesday. You paid for the entrance fee with your entry fee. That was simply part of it, without asking. I didn’t know what to expect. You could see from the entrance ticket that it was worth about 135 DM, which had already been paid for (400 FF). So if you wanted to take your wife/girlfriend with you, you had to buy an extra ticket for that price. And there were certainly quite a few of them.
The ticket also said “black tie”. What was that supposed to mean? My experiences regarding dress code were limited to this: At the German Chess Championship, Grandmaster Ludek Pachmann, a naturalised Czech, once demanded that the participants at least appear “properly dressed” for the award ceremony. He was laughed at and no one heeded the request. But now with a “black tie”? I learned that it means “with a bow tie” but actually dinner jacket and bow tie. Well, I may have somehow taken precautions in acquiring halfway decent clothes. But God knows I didn’t have a dinner jacket with me and I wasn’t planning to get one. When asked, I was reassured that it was more symbolic and that it would be enough to wear a suit and tie of some kind (preferably black, of course). But still. Gradually, I really realised where I had landed.
And then there was the admission. From 8 pm onwards, the tournament participants and their companions gradually gathered in front of the club. And all those who had a suitable vehicle drove up in their luxury cars. There were quite a few of them. The celebrities, however, left the vehicle afterwards, accompanied of course by a beautiful woman. The lady in a long dress, the gentleman also according to the dress code. And as a matter of course, the vehicle was driven away by a servant without comment. After all, not everyone who deserves it can park in front of the door. Hi, hi, high society!
We were all gradually invited inside, I rather like that, completely unaware, swimming with the crowd, without any escort, not even male. Then I had to hand in my entrance ticket. Right behind the entrance door. A gentleman in a dark jacket asked my name and then looked in a huge book. He found me, clapped his hands energetically twice, whereupon a gentleman in a white jacket appeared. Without a word, he invited me to his side and led me to a table, which was therefore mine. I sat there, rather lonely, abandoned and lost in the big, wide world of the rich, beautiful and important.
At least I had the opportunity to look around a bit. And you realise: it’s simply incredible, inconceivable, overwhelming. The huge hall of the “Sporting Club” is situated on a headland that juts out into the sea. The roof can be opened, as can the sides, quasi windows, but so gigantic that the word “window” simply doesn’t fit. I have never seen it closed. In the rain, perhaps? The rainy day in Monte Carlo is scheduled for November, as far as I know. So you sit in a gigantic hall, but look at the evening to night sky or the sea. In addition, at this time of year there are always some kind of fireworks, near or far away, on the sea. An absolutely gigantic spectacle!
Little by little, my table filled up. I didn’t know a single person, everyone else felt the same. I guess we were the table of lost souls? It was a gigantic buzz of voices. There must have been 1000 people in the room and that’s how many had turned up. Plus an estimated 300 waiters (I hope I didn’t offend anyone with that?), so they were pretty much looking after you individually. I even gradually got into conversation with my table neighbours. Since I am often the first to reveal my absolute cluelessness with stupid questions, the ice was quickly broken. Unfortunately, my table neighbours understood just as little. At least the ignorance gave rise to hilarity.
The waiters were extremely attentive and you could hardly manage to empty half of a glass before it was refilled. In addition, a menu was served in 7 courses. One more delicious than the other. I tried to work out what was being served during the first courses. But when you get answers that only raise more questions, you eventually refrain. Not a single dish of it had I ever had on my plate before, probably not even a spice of it. But it tasted, and how!
There was a stage in front where a real show was still going on. Performances by dance groups, or artists perfectly staged, perfect acoustics Fascinating. And I even recognised some of the artists. How was that possible? I remembered: they had been sitting at the breakfast table next to me, were in the same hotel as me. I confess that I hadn’t readily recognised the one man as being able to climb up a pole. Well, you might have been able to do that. But he had his legs stretched out to the side, his whole body including his legs! Most probably David Copperfield was backstage and conjured the man up there. In any case, it took your breath away and probably your spit too.
Then Lewis Deyong took over the microphone. And Lewi, as I may call him today, was really a legend. Among other things, he had written the “Playboys book of Backgammon”, which I devoured. I can also really recommend it to you. It is not (only) about backgammon, but about numerous entertaining stories around it. Pure entertainment, not strenuous study. And of course he was a luminary in the game itself.
So Lewi spoke, and he was not chosen as a speaker for nothing. He just could. I felt brilliantly entertained, but still had no idea what it was all about. And this was not primarily due to a lack of language skills. I gradually tried to find out what was actually going on. And I understood more and more: the individual players who were still in the “main” tournament of the World Cup were being auctioned off! So this was the “auction” for which the dinner was organised! In the end, it’s always about money, isn’t it?
There were still 64 players in the main draw at that point. Some of these 64 players were grouped into groups of 4. In the groups of 4 were all the lesser known players. But “seeded” were the celebrities, the backgammon legends. And each of these seeded players was presented by Lewi in the most dazzling colours with all his successes. And huge amounts were called for the individual players, also for the groups.
I gradually understood that this was absolutely analogous to the tournament. If you had bought a player, a group, at an auction, you had bought his (her) share of the prize money. So you had bought one (up to four) little horses for the duration of the tournament, for which you could then cross your fingers. And also settle, of course. A bit of “side-action”, as the Americans like to call it.
But every participant who was bought at auction had the right to buy back up to 50% of the sum bid for him from his owner. So you could bet even more on yourself in this way if you wanted to (the entry fee is also a “bet on yourself”).
So, in short, a unique, all-round successful event. The best food ever in my life, the most beautiful women, the best show, the most impressive personalities, the best wine, the best food, the best, most beautiful thing I had ever experienced!
5) The second half of the tournament
Thursday. In the morning, we had got used to it and I didn’t have too much to do with sleeping anyway, off to the beach. We met a few people, strolled a bit, later went to one of the fantastic restaurants on the beach promenade, then time went by until the afternoon, when the tournament finally continued. There was another consolation round. The so-called 2nd Consolation, the second consolation round. You guess right, my fate remained the same: Out in the 1st round. I had lost all my matches. All the money gone. I used to be a real backgammon pro… I should have listened to my parents!
And in the evening or all night long you could still play Mini Jackpots. Small jackpots, 8 participants, knockout system, winner takes all, minus 10% for the organiser. Or you could play money game, for money, free games. But only if you found an opponent. There were plenty of them. But who was good, too good? I watched other games, sure. But as a rule, the money was not handed across the table. The points won in the money game were noted down and the financial done later, I had to assume.
I had no idea about anything. So I played mini-jackpots. Always lost, too. I had my streak, a real streak. A losing streak. Was I really that bad? (When I once fell into such self-pity at a chess tournament and complained to my friend and now grandmaster Klaus Bischof about my bad luck after losing a game: “I’m so bad.” He replied in his best Ulm dialect “through and through”).
Well, there were still two days. And there was one last tournament, for all those who had been eliminated, all the losers from the main tournament, all the losers from the 1st and 2nd consolation. All those who were not in the prize ranks in the other competitions. And there were a lot of them, almost all of them to be precise. And it was called “Last Chance”. The last chance. Of course I was there. What’s wrong with vinegar?
These were mini-matches, only to 5 points (the others were to 15, 17 or 19 points). So that it went fast. The tournament only had two days left. Of course, you can also play those well, the luck factor increases anyway, of course. So, whether lucky or deserved, I won the 1st round. I won the second round. My opponent didn’t show up for the third round. On without a fight. The 4th round, I won. The 5th round, I won again. Another round, gradually it seemed to me that the winner was predetermined. I also won the sixth round. Had the bishop made a mistake? It seemed so simple all of a sudden. Move the stones around, throw the dice, done! What was the problem all these days?
The day was coming to an end. I ventured to the tableau at the front, where all the pairings were posted. How far had I got? I was already in the last eight! Wow, there it was again, the palpitations. And then I risked a look at the prize distribution. Unfortunately, no one had the presence of mind to take my picture as I picked my jaw up off the floor. The winner received $11323! The runner-up also received $5662. And you have to know that the dollar exchange rate was at a record high just this year. It peaked at over DM 3.20 per dollar. More than 30,000 DM were in the offing!
I didn’t even try to sleep. I must have had my run now. On to the mini-jackpots. And I kept winning. One match after the other. And then I only played bigger ones, the ones with 500 FF entry fees. The calculation was simple: 8 participants, 500 FF entry fee each, 4000 FF minus 10% = 3600 FF. After two matches the final, Les Boyd, the organiser then always: “Do you guys wanna split?” “Yes, we split.” In the final we split. 1800 FF for each. And it went on, all night long. “Paulsen, you wanna split?” “I split.” 1800 FF again.
My pockets gradually filled up with 500 FF notes, 150 DM each approx. What a feeling!
A few hours sleep in the morning, a few hours sun on the beach. Then it was on to the next round. Quarter-final of the Last Chance. My opponent asked me if we wanted to do something. “Do what?” “Would you like to settle a little bit?” Oh, yes, gladly, a good idea. I hadn’t heard that before, but it sounds good. How much? How much? “200 $? Winner pays loser.” Okay, winner pays loser $200. All right, if he says so? Agreed. He was lucky in the sense that he still got $200. The match was mine.
Semi-final. Again a settlement, this time a bit more. Again he won. But only the settlement.
Then the final. This time no settlement, because we both had a nice amount of money. We started the game in the normal tournament room. But it was already quite late, one of the last matches to be played. The tournament room was only reserved until a certain time, then there was another event there. But I found myself on the winning track quite quickly. The match went to 11 points, longer than the others. At 9-5 in my favour, we had to interrupt and move to another hall.
Kent Goulding, a legend in his own right, author of many fantastic backgammon books and for many years the bookmaker who also offered bets at this tournament, used this opportunity to talk me into a small bet. He offered me odds of 4.0 if I would bet on my opponent. So 4.0 that I would still lose the match. At that time and in my condition, I was not capable of calculating that. My experience with betting itself was still limited at that point. I was surprised, but I didn’t think I had an advantage, it’s not like that. Kent already knew what he was doing. I dug 7000 FF out of my pocket, part of the jackpot winnings, and bet on my opponent. So I would have collected 28000 FF (on top of the 2nd prize) if I lost the match. (The correct payout would have been 5.0 by the way, Kent the Fox knew that of course).
Fortunately, I lost the bet. I won the match, easy. Award ceremony in the evening. It was absolutely unspectacular. I was used to chess tournaments where everyone was more or less silent, the winners were called on stage one by one and everyone received their obligatory applause. The rich and beautiful obviously do it differently. In a chess tournament, you already have enviers if you win 200 DM. In the world of the rich and beautiful, however, even $11323 is not much to brag about. You don’t talk about money anyway, you have money. And the brilliant achievement of winning a Last Chance was simply not appreciated by the assembled society.
But what did I care. I was called up, heard my name with difficulty in the babble of voices, went to the front and received an envelope. It was a really big, fat envelope. Larger notes than 100s were not traded at all anyway, and even those were not traded willingly. My envelope was filled to the brim with dollar notes. Until then, I had only known such sensations from Scrooge McDuck and his legendary money baths. Pinch me one more time, please!
Abi got his share. I went to his hotel, the Hotel de Paris. All gold, all shiny. Abi was already a millionaire. His room – a dream. He knew about the settlements in the quarter and semi-finals. That was self-evident and were only small amounts. But he didn’t know about the bet at Kent’s, how could he? Oh, the things that can happen in a gambler’s life! How was it to be settled? Was he in or was he out? After all, there was over DM 2000 to be determined. Abi had the right question ready for me. And I’ll tell you this one, because the problem can (and has) come up often, but since then I’ve always raised at least this question, for myself and also for the other person involved: “What would you have done if you had lost the final? Would you have told me about it then too?” There’s something of Solomon about that. One is still dependent on honesty. Honesty, even with oneself. What would he answer if I said, “Of course I would have told you too and settled the score with you like that.” But whether it’s true? That’s especially critical if you’re not thinking about the problem and your partner at the very moment you’re making the settlement.
But Abi was in a good mood and gracious anyway. I was also honest in that I said I didn’t know, It’s hard to put yourself in the situation. I would have lost the final. I would have gone to Kent, cashed in. Now why would Abi have been there? You can make a lot of things up… So Abi was there voluntarily, the FF 7000 lost as a result was also divided by two. Our friendship flourished.
6) After the tournament
And my streak was not over yet. More jackpots that night, I kept winning. More and more franc notes. I don’t know if you know this dream, but I’ve dreamed it exactly like this many times: you find a coin. It’s a nice feeling. But you look around. Another coin. Oh, there are more. Suddenly there are heaps of coins, you just have to collect them! What happiness, what a feeling! Unfortunately, you wake up at that moment… But this dream seemed to have become reality.
I later calculated that I had won 21 out of 23 matches in the last two days. That’s what I call a run! And my pockets were overflowing. I was overflowing with happiness. Well, I didn’t have to think too long. I had arrived in the big wide world, in the gambler’s paradise, and I belonged to it. I even had a computer printout of my then already “finished”, usable, Black Jack programme with me. And I could play Black Jack there too, I really wanted to. The rules were very favourable, I knew that. Besides, I had already met another legend, but this time a Black Jack legend: Dennis Carlston. Dennis was also an ace at backgammon. He also stayed at the Hotel de Paris, was Abi’s best friend. Dennis told me he had made his first million playing blackjack. One is inclined to believe him, but more on that later….
So, in a nutshell, I was standing with Abi at the Hotel de Paris. The taxi to the airport was ordered. Our suitcases were packed. Abi got in. I just said to him, “Abi, I’m staying.”. I stayed, I had to stay. My ticket expired. Many backgammon players had stayed. I just wanted, had to keep playing.
I was alone in my little “flophouse”, no other players. I had already checked out. And where does a newly rich person move to? To one of the luxury hotels, of course. The Beach Plaza was just right. Hotel with its own beach. Many of the remaining backgammon players were there. And sometimes you could see Stefanie von…
It really is easier to play with a little money in your pocket. The run continued. Backgammon was played almost the whole day. I had found many opponents. Something always came up. Backgammon was “in” in those days, was also played by less talented players, locals or people passing by by chance. According to the motto: “Backgammon? Yes, I know it. Shall we play a few games?” And I wasn’t too bad, I think. The fact that I went on to win at backgammon was perhaps not even luck.
But that I also started winning in Black Jack in the evening? And, I admit it honestly: I almost completely gave up card counting. I didn’t even know the technique properly. And that would have been work, too. Who needs that kind of thing? I knew that with the rules that were very favourable in Monte Carlo, I was only at a maximum 0.3% disadvantage, with the best possible strategy. So why not just gambol a bit?
And it worked. I was swimming on the wave of luck. What could be better than simply winning? I slept until noon, then went downstairs to the lunch table, which was already ready, had a coffee, a water and ate the menu of the day (145 FF). I sat in the sun and enjoyed life. Several times a day I jumped into the sea, swam far out, then the way back with the view of picturesque Monte Carlo. It was like a dream. And win, win, win.
My wealth grew, daily, it seemed to me. Of course, it was only perceived wealth, because how far can you get with 23000 DM? I also discovered that there was a life besides gambling. I had an almost daily game with Franco, the DJ of the disco, the “Jimmyz”. Franco, an Italian by birth, was a decidedly low-maintenance case. Because anyone who is allowed to DJ at the “Jimmyz” is guaranteed not to have a bad income. He was always polite and nice. He was also well-behaved at the table. He lost. Then he paid up just as smilingly. And then, as a true friend, he also invited me to the disco.
Does money really make you beautiful or what? Anyway, I went, soon every day. One day, when I went in, I saw a beautiful woman, blond and gold-clad, with a great figure. I didn’t even feel brave when I approached her. What else do you call it? The savoir-vivre? God, of all people, is supposed to have had it particularly good in France. The language check revealed that there was a single point of intersection: French. My school French had not been kept up very well and in Monte Carlo, unfortunately, there were few opportunities to polish it up. English was spoken. If I ever tried to order from room service in French and faltered the first time or didn’t know a word, they immediately switched to English.
She was Italian. I didn’t know Italian (yet). Her French was not outstanding either (reminds me of Tucholsky, German for Americans, there it says “I already speak fluent German, only sometimes I still break a little wheel.”). That was our conversation. At least it worked out with the drinks order, she was still in female company, so two waters, a glass of wine, 200 FF, 60 DM. Cheap, you say? After all, we are in the “Jimmyz”! And if I’d waited a few more days, I’m sure Boris Becker would have turned up too.
In view of the loud music and the language barrier, the conversation was not particularly fruitful. But what was the point of talking? If I had understood everything correctly when I said goodbye, she wanted to come to my hotel the next day, at 3 pm. I must have said my room number halfway correctly (trois-cent-quatre-vingt-dix-huit or whatever it was), because …
I had a room with a view of the sea and the car park, so to the side of the hotel. And I confess in all honesty: around 3 pm, I kept looking at the car park from my terrace, quite excited. I couldn’t really believe it. But I will never forget this moment and this sight, when I suddenly saw them scurrying across the street right in front of the hotel.
And who made up that stupid rule “Luck in the game, …? To my credit: I was 26, free and unattached, Britta didn’t want me.
So how do you say wannabe cavalier? The conversation was, also considering the language barriers, rather secondary… I could always find out what loud meant (away). But that was the television. I turned it down…
Afterwards we went swimming. We swam to the little bathing island, to the one far out. We went on board there. And if Sean Connery alias James Bond hadn’t got off at the same place with Ursula Andress before (Goldfinger), then the experience would have been really unique She was, by the way, the wife of the ex-coach of AS Rome. And a) do you know what my favourite team is today and b) isn’t that really called “the scent of the big wide world”?
I accompanied her back to her car. The farewell could not really be described as sad. She sat down in her Alfa, blew me a kiss and drove off towards Ventimiglia…
But that was not all. Today, I know what they call this: run down by luck. You didn’t order it, you didn’t work for it, it just runs over you. You don’t know what it means and don’t even think about it. You get into a frenzy.
One evening I was in the casino again, looking around, and there was another gorgeous woman at the bar. I looked at her for a while, she looked too, then all doubts were gone, I spoke to her. Again she spoke only French. And at the same time she referred to her husband, who was sitting at a gaming table. I hadn’t lost much in the process. But, alas, we continued talking and somehow she signalled interest. At some point I probably asked if we wanted to change locations? She replied something I didn’t quite understand. So I went to one of the gaming tables and asked an acquaintance who spoke English and French what it was called. The realisation came quickly: “C’est tot.” After all, it’s still early. She was going out to dinner with her husband and would be back. So I really had a date with her? I couldn’t believe that either, but it seemed like it.
She went off with her husband and I had to bridge the gap. So what did I do? I went to the blackjack table. I just played. Who needs card counting? I have a system: up with the chips, win, up again, win again. That’s a system! It’s that simple. Minimum bet at the table was 500 FF, 150 DM, as I said, minimum! That’s why I was allowed to play alone, the table had been opened especially for me. Just me and the croupier. The stack of chips in front of me grew and grew. A crowd even formed, spectators came, people wanted to see that. Finally, someone who really wins! I only perceived everything in a state of intoxication.
Then I lost two games in a row and stopped immediately. That’s what I had resolved to do, and that’s what I implemented.
At first I had to listen to some good advice from the bystanders as to why I was quitting, etc. I didn’t stop. But I didn’t waste my little bit of residual brain on answers, it was used to full capacity for the necessary discipline. The casino staff brought me another device with which I could transport the chips to the cashier. I was surprised, that wouldn’t have happened to you in Germany. But I understood: such winners are welcome. They create a spectacle, make sure that other people are motivated to play. And almost everyone, even and especially if they win, brings the money back anyway, in the form of losses, of course. I counted the winnings: FF 24,000!
Then the woman actually came back. And, I can’t explain it all myself, she walked out of the casino with me, she practically led me. I didn’t know where to go. We didn’t speak either. There wasn’t another bar here or anything, was there? Where were we going? It gradually dawned on me: we were on our way to her room! I can’t remember any dialogue at all. Only the following: We landed directly on her bed. The minimum required amount of clothing was discarded. We must then have been in at least a highly captious position when — suddenly the phone rang. She hurried to take the call, firmed up her voice and spoke halfway normally. I didn’t have to understand too much to know what was going on: Her husband! And he was Arab! I wonder to this day what would have happened if he had just come to the room instead of calling…. Well, sometimes life hangs by a thread.
The dress code was restored in a flash, her hairstyle was arranged in no time, we left the room and – we went our separate ways. But what was amazing was: she was from Marseille, pressed another piece of paper into my hand with her telephone number. I even called there once later, but didn’t get anywhere decisive, didn’t even know who I had on the phone (At least, the voice: female).
But even after that, it wasn’t over. I lived in France as if in a trance. I had met another woman, but only talked to her. In the evening we had an appointment at the cinema, an open-air theatre. She came with a friend. She herself had a boyfriend. Was this a matchmaking attempt? Anyway, we watched an English film with French subtitles. And I tell you, if you did that every day, after two weeks you would know both languages, I guess. It’s amazing what you learn!
Anyway, the first lady, a Colombian, left afterwards and I went with the other one. Where to? You guessed it. To the casino. And it went on. She sat next to me, I was the only player at the table, and I won. Could it be any more beautiful, life? I won another 11,000 FF. And once in between I asked her what she thought of my game, that’s all I remember. And she answered: “It seems that you know what you are doing. But I didn’t really know that well. I knew Basic Strategy, that’s all. But counting cards? Nix. I got the Pope in my pocket!
We went to her flat around 5 o’clock and finally I could show my true colours again: Separate beds, I made no effort whatsoever, although she was also really attractive, tall, slim. And then? An hour’s sleep, I knew there was a boat to St.Tropez at 7:30. Suitcases packed, checkout, off to the harbour, into the boat. I ran away. First run down by luck, then run away from luck.
It couldn’t go on like that, I must have had a brief waking moment to know that you can’t live on luck in the long run.
By the way, the hotel bill came to FF 20000 during the 3 weeks of my stay. I kept it for years afterwards. One day had cost me about 300 DM. And it was worth every penny.
And what does all this teach us? I am proud of myself and my self-discipline. I know for sure that other people have also had such lucky streaks. But whoever starts relying on luck at some point is the first loser. Because the days come when things don’t go well. And if you play with a disadvantage, as I did back then, at least at the blackjack tables, (even if only a very, very small one), then it comes even sooner than you think. And then you try to catch that lucky streak again or hope for the next one. And at some point the money runs out.
7) To Paris
To make it last a bit longer for me, I had changed my dollars into francs shortly before. The reason was this: The dollar rate suddenly plummeted. At some point it was at 3.20 DM, a few days later at 3.08 DM. And it was clear: this was going to continue. At about DM 3 I went to the bank. What could I do with the money. “Do you have an account?” No, what did he mean? I already knew that you also lose money when you change money, but the drop in the exchange rate, I had calculated, had cost me 200 DM in one day! So I had to exchange. So now I only had francs.
I wanted to go to St. Tropez first. I thought there were players there too, backgammon players. And there was no casino in St. Tropez, that was the advantage. The boat, a hydrofoil, literally catapulted you to St. Tropez. However, the hotel safe at the Beach Plaza was empty, so I had to take the money with me. I was wearing a pair of white Gatsby trousers, fortunately with huge pockets. And both front pockets were completely filled with these 500 franc notes. If you do the maths, I had about DM 23,000, which is about 70000 FF, so I had about 140 of these notes in my pocket. Today I have to ask myself if the people travelling with me suspected me of any kind of illness, swellings, ulcers…!
I arrived in St.Tropez. It was totally different from Monte Carlo. Later I got to know it from the other side, the beautiful side. On that day, however, all I felt was hectic, heat, tiredness. A taxi took me from hotel to hotel. Long, seemingly endless waits at the reception desk. Then always the same message: Everything is booked. The decision was quickly made: On to Nice, to the airport. At that point, I was not concerned with geographical details. Much later, I realised that the route from St. Tropez to Nice is about three times as long as the route from Nice to Monaco. Nice – Monaco cost DM 60 each way, two noses, so that was DM 120. St.Tropez – Nice came to about DM 360, over FF 1000. So what, how do millionaires move?
In my infinite magnanimity and kindness, I also ordered the taxi driver on the way to stop and invite a few hitchhikers, who were then all taken to their desired destination. I had it! I mean it, the extravagance.
At least I was able to use part of the longer journey to reduce my sleep deficit. So now I was standing at the airport. And I had already made a decision on the way: I would take the first plane, no matter where it went. And I immediately threw this decision overboard, under some pretext or other. The first flight was to Munich. Munich, how boring. I guess I told myself that the “boarding” sign was already lit up and that I was too late for Munich anyway. But I didn’t want to go there. The (first) second flight was to Paris. Ok, I’ll take that one. I just had to buy the ticket quickly and I managed to change the facial expression of the extremely friendly lady from a quasi-shrink-wrapped permanent smile to a hearty laugh. She had told me the price of the flight and, as usual for me, I outlined my life story in relatively broad outlines and short words that were absolutely appropriate for the situation, and then concluded with the most recent event, the taxi ride from St. Tropez. The flight ticket Nice – Paris, I informed her, would be about 300 FF cheaper than the journey! I could tell how sincere her laughter was from the fact that she immediately told her colleague and included her in our merry circle.
8) A day in Paris
When I arrived in Paris, I immediately called a taxi. The French that was now required was limited to the words “hotel”, the trick being to swallow the “h”. “Combien”, how many, and “étoile”, star I also had down. Luckily I could only count to “quatre”, four. Together they made the “Sofitel Bourbon”, combien? Quatre étoiles. A four-star hotel. That’s just good enough for Mr Neureich, isn’t it? 1000 FF a night. There must be some way to get rid of these ulcers, right?
After a restful midday nap, I first ordered a fillet steak. To the room, of course. Afterwards I pondered what could be done. I already knew what “An American in Paris” was about. Become a painter and fall in love. But me? A painter, of all things? No, even at school my teacher for “visual arts” was obviously not capable of recognising my artistic talent in the works “Negro Fight in the Tunnel” or “Polar Bear in the Snowstorm”, she gave me a straight 5. I gave up painting altogether. Falling in love ok, but how? Especially not on command.
I am a philistine in every respect, especially in art and culture, but also in general knowledge. Nevertheless, the name “Paris” triggered an association: Tour Eiffel. You see, it’s worth going to school after all! The next taxi took me there.
I had not come entirely unprepared. It was August. And August is the holiday month. So the inhabitants (I won’t say …) were on holiday. They had taken the opposite route. Paris – Cote d’Azur. So the city should be deserted. That may have been true in all the other places – but not at the Eiffel Tower. Well, the aforementioned peculiarity, i.e. walking the opposite way, is somehow innate in me. Anyway, I can never do what everyone does. Least of all queue. With the crowds queuing, I just wondered why I didn’t see a couple of tents at the very front.
I took a seat across the street, in a beautiful place called Montmartre right on Avenue de La Bourdonnais. My kind of education drew me there. I was mistaken, though. The street wasn’t called De La Bourdonnais at all, after the chess player (famous to me). But the queue did not get any shorter. So I left the place without having achieved anything. Will I ever get up there?
I consoled myself with a sentence from my French book at school. As son and father fly over Paris and the boy looks out of the window with excitement, he asks in surprise, “Papa, pourquoi est-ce-que la Tour Eiffel est-elle petite?” Why is the Eiffel Tower so small? — So it really is tiny, and I’ve been much higher, too…. I also learned in my English book how little size matters. When the children asked the fisherman on the west coast of England if he could see as far as America in good weather: “Can you see America from here?”, he replied: “We can see much further than that. Astonishment among the children. The fisherman: “We can see the moon.”
So what’s a paltry 324 metres? It was also a welcome excuse. Because during my occasional visits to radio towers in Berlin, at 160 metres, especially when it was windy, I sometimes felt a bit queasy. It was like when I was a kid in the open-air swimming pool and the 10 tower was just closed, or when you see a really pretty girl in the disco and you’re already trying to make something up, your knees start to go weak, and then you realise with relief that she’s with a (male) companion…
At this point I can once again give you proof of how helpful mathematics is in all situations. I had really estimated the waiting time at that time to be about 2 hours. I wasn’t prepared for that (I lost sight of the Japanese man I was trying to watch to find out how long it would take to get to his turn at some point). And just now I consulted my encyclopaedia, i.e. the internet, again about the Tour-Eiffel. And what did I read? In 2002, the 2 millionth visitor was welcomed. The tower was opened in 1889. 2002 – 1889 = 113. 113 years * 365 = 41245 days. Add 29 leap days (yes, 19 is not divisible by 4; so 1900 was not a leap year). That makes 41274 days. So on average there are 2000000/41274 visitors per day. That’s 4846. Dividing this by 24 makes 202 visitors per hour. Approx. 400 people in the queue (without cheating!). Makes a waiting time of 2 hours per visitor. Would you have queued?
8) A Parisian night
Well, it was getting to be evening. And what do you do in the city of love in the evening? I’ll tell you a little digression about love, the venal one, behind closed doors.
The title is deliberately slippery. But who, apart from Charlotte Roche, dares to talk about such a subject? And she does it as a woman.
Prostitution is really and guaranteed an additional business. The state has to subsidise it enormously in order to maintain this profession, and that’s not even meant in the way you’re taking it. After all, I don’t know a single person who is subsidising love. Every day, half a page of telephone numbers in the BZ. But no one calls. Are even the ads subsidised? What’s the idea?
My own experience with it is quickly told: I really couldn’t imagine how and why I should touch a complete stranger, let alone touch him intimately. Or why I should want to be touched. Nevertheless, I made my contribution to the preservation of this craft. Once in Strasbourg, in 1978. We were quite drunk and a friend suggested we go to an establishment. I went along. He seemed to have a good time, with me the expected effect: 200 FF for nothing. Out of the question. Then once in Hamburg (where else?) I succumbed to the dubious charms of a curbside swallow. We went to her room. She was gone for an endless time with my 100 DM. When she came back and lectured me about what and what not, I was gone again.
Then once I had a nice talk with a lady in Braunschweig for only 20 DM. The time was fixed at 10 minutes. Another 10 minutes of such a nice conversation and we would certainly have become real friends….
Once I enquired on the Ku-damm. The nature and content of the answer were so devastating that any contact was ruled out. At least I learned, among other things: “60 marks.”
All these experiences were so depressing that they were always enough to deter me for a few years. I can’t, I can’t. I need wa(h)re love (just not at all) and still have a lot to learn in terms of “bracketing”. So you see, I am absolutely virtuous and decent.
Nevertheless, that evening in Paris, I asked the concièrge quite politely and modestly if he knew of any evening entertainment for a lonely person (I don’t say man, he could recognise my gender)? He knew. However, the price for this form of loneliness-fighting was equivalent to another night in a hotel. 1000 FF.
A very gentle, cautious knock on the door. Then a lady in the doorway of incredible elegance, beauty and grace. Then just two or three words, softly and delicately breathed, the money was already ready and disappeared into her handbag without comment. Then she was all woman. I don’t know how or what she did at all. The memory was suspended, she switched it off. She was incredible, irresistible. I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Then an equally silent farewell. If only such an experience could somehow be categorised as a conquest. Perhaps the whole business is not an add-on after all? And it dawns on me a little why men don’t like to talk about such “experiences”. Because: anyone can have that. Can they?
So what good are all my vows of fidelity and lip service? Once again I refer to Tucholsky, I have to refer to him. He once wrote, and at the age of 16 I absorbed it all, hopefully understood it, internalised it: Repent nothing. Today. This is your life.
Finally I knew why Paris is called the city of love.
In Monte Carlo I had met Ulli Koch. And Ulli was really a great guy too. We got along well, I visited him in his flat several times. He really lived there. And he had also given me his phone number.
I dialled it the following day. Ulli had already been to more places in the world than I had. I politely asked him how he was, told him where I was and asked him where I could play backgammon in Paris. Ulli knew what to do. He had the number of the club ready in a flash. Call, address and drive there were virtually one thing. What is a gambler’s life worth without playing? Besides, I was obviously a backgammon genius.
The conditions were such that you could virtually borrow the boards. You could play, but you had to pay a small fee every hour. That was quite understandable. A place like that couldn’t survive on gastronomy alone. I met players there again, what else. But it was difficult to play a game.
At least I met Vladimier Dobrych again. I had already met Vladimir in Monte Carlo. He was a very experienced player from Toronto. We talked about this and that, including which hotel I would be at. I named it, the Sofitel Bourbon. It was far from the club. He advised me to change hotels and come to his hotel. That would also be very nice, close to the club and at least we would be together. It would also be cheaper.
I did as I was told. I checked out of the Sofitel and changed rooms. The next morning Vladi asked me if I wanted to go jogging with him. I did. On our long run through the Bois de Boulogne, he told me all about health. I didn’t know too much about it either. But I remembered several of his insights, especially this one: “white flour” and “sugar” are not healthy at all and the body doesn’t need them. He explained it to me in more detail. But above all, his wisdom about life was catchy to me. If you were to live unhealthily, it would be like this: “You start off as a Ferrari. Then after a while you turn into a Volkswagen. And you say to yourself: Well, still everything is fine. Volkswagen is fine. But you could still be a Ferrari.” In the beginning you are a Ferrari. Then you sin and turn into a Volkswagen. You think, everything is fine, I’m a Volkswagen. But you could still be a Ferrari?
The things you can learn in Paris. You just have to keep your eyes and ears open! Vladimir wasn’t as one-sided as I was. He even managed to persuade me to do some culture. I agreed on one condition: We continue to talk about backgammon. Vlad complied, of necessity. One day L’Arc de Triomphe, one day Louvre, one day Sacre Coeur. And I also strolled up and down the Champs Élysees once more. And there I could see that August was the holiday month. It was really empty, nothing and nobody. No crowds, you can shop there: I bought a snow-white shirt, a tie and a pair of white shoes. I still have the tie for about FF 500.
I went to a Japanese restaurant with Vladimir for the first time in my life. Right on the Seine. With unbelievable lighting, open windows, mild evening air, you could see the passenger liners sailing up and down. And the waiter knew what you wanted before you knew it yourself.
Anyway, in the evenings we were usually at the gambling club. And then one day it happened. I’d better explain the rules of backgammon elsewhere. Also what a proposition is. But a position, almost a final position, arose in a game I was watching. One party had three stones left, the other two. I will never forget that position for the rest of my life. It came to a doubling of the cube, the other side took the cube. I talked about this position afterwards with Vlad, who was also a spectator. I said that the other side should not have accepted the doubling cube. Vlad disagreed, saying it was a take.
In such disputes, there is a simple way in backgammon to roll the dice. You sit down, one takes one side, the other takes the other side, and you back up your opinion with financial resources. I have played hundreds of propositions in my life and usually felt quite secure in my judgement. Here I don’t even remember how and why I came to the superficial judgement. But I immediately let myself go with it, on top of it, saying, “I feel like cheating.” I feel like cheating. Vlad, for his part, was willing to play it for big money, though. 200 FF per point.
And what happened? I got unlucky. Really bad luck. Extreme bad luck. I lost and kept losing. But I could tell I was unlucky. Everyone could see it. So, I lost and lost. And kept on playing. The bad luck has to stop sometime, hasn’t it? 100 units, 20000 FF it cost me until I gave up. I paid and went to my hotel room.
My night’s rest was decidedly short and poor, as you can imagine. I went to the breakfast room very early, with paper and pencil, and began to work out the position. And what did I find? The position was really relatively easy to calculate. And it turned out: I had really had bad luck. Gigantic bad luck. I lost 100 units. And what would have been the correct result? I should have lost 40 units on the number of games!
Well, what does that teach us, what did it teach me? If you play the wrong side and you are unlucky, you may attribute the loss to obvious bad luck. You don’t correct your assessment. If I had lost less, slower or without bad luck, I would certainly have realised more quickly that I had done something wrong. This is almost emblematic of a typical player’s career, albeit that of a conventional loser. There are the days when you win. You’re lucky, but you don’t perceive it as such. Life is simply beautiful. And there are the days when you lose. And on those days you are definitely unlucky. Because even if you play at a disadvantage, you are often guaranteed to lose more than you should. And on those days, in those moments, you feel that you are unlucky. And not enough that you want to “make up” for it, you have had bad luck after all, you also chase the feeling of winning, of happiness. And in the long run, you (supposedly) get what’s coming to you.
When I landed, I had to find out what to think, not only proverbially, about the nature of the ground of reality: It is extremely hard.
I spent the whole day with the usual self-doubt, thoughts about the meaning of life and my existence. Above all, thoughts about the futility of the profession “gambler”, which I had attributed to myself. “Fool” would have been more appropriate. But how does one become a “professional fool”? Jürgen von Manger might have managed that…
In the evening I returned to our hotel. Vladimir came to meet me. A woman at his side. A very pretty one. We talked. She was from San Francisco.
The three of us stood in front of the hotel for a while. I’ll leave you to speculate (wildly) about the reasons why Vladimir had left us so soon. Anyway, at some point we were among ourselves.
We may have talked about many things but definitely not about my job. I had to keep quiet about it, at least for that day, also as self-protection. I’m sure I said “student”.
She told me that he had hit on her the day before. She told about “this show-off, supposedly he’s a backgammon pro or something”. He had just won a large sum of money and so on. And whether he believed that he could get a woman into bed with money?
I acted ignorant, amazed and surprised. Professional gambler? Backgammon? What’s that supposed to be? A strange profession. And one can earn money with it?
And whether she sensed my sadness and despair at the stupidity I had committed, and was only out of pity…. Anyway, we ended up in my hotel room.
She stayed with me all night. And it was truly a night to remember. Even the morning… but that’s really not proper, even if I had to “file” the cavalier away long ago….
I never found out about his night’s rest. Excuse me, Vlad, I got lucky that time!
And if you now want to tell me something about “Yes, yes, bad luck at play…”, then I can only reply: “the dumbest pawns…”. Because this loss of money had nothing to do with bad luck….
She left, I left. She only returned once in my dreams.
Somehow I must still have been in a trance after that night, because I really can’t remember how I got there, only that I landed in Hanover. Yet the word “landed” possibly indicates a wrong means of transport. I may have travelled by train, the random principle may have decided or whatever. Somehow, though, I wanted to get closer to Berlin.
The internet, I’m gradually beginning to fall in love with it, was actually able to tell me exactly what day I was there. How does that work? Well, I’m using my routine of treading on details, so I’ll have to go a bit further again to explain:
Since I was again in a German-speaking country, it was easy for me to find a hotel in Hanover near the casino. I even seem to remember that I had discarded my “nouveau riche” image in view of the gigantic losses and used public transport to get around. As I said, memory still suspended, trance imported from France.
I went to the casino in the evening, what did you expect? And somewhere there the memory sets in again. I played blackjack, what else. And even tried my hand at card counting again, quite seriously. Then I noticed that the stadium next door was beginning to fill up. Oh, football? There’s still something like that! So I got out, got my ticket and went into the stadium. I slowly learned who was playing: 1st Bundesliga, Hannover 96 – VfB Stuttgart.
And now you know how much the internet could help me (my own database didn’t have it yet). I typed in “Bundesliga Saison 1985/86”, then “Ergebnisse Spieltag für Spieltag” until I came across the match. It took place on 4.9.1985, at 20:00. The final result was 1:3, which I still knew. I also remembered that Werner Biskup, the Hanover coach, could be seen in the stands having had something to drink. From memory, I would have thought that it was about his last game as coach there. The Internet taught me the same thing: He stayed on until 25.11. but outed himself as an alcoholic.
I also lost at Black Jack, although one of the female croupiers signalled to me at the gaming table that she wanted to help me (she preferred cards; I sat alone at the table; and no chaperones in the form of other croupiers). Apart from that, she was also very attractive and in any other state I would have interpreted the look in her eyes as “interest”. But I had become lethargic and I was in Germany. Sober again. Just a normal “loser”.
A last burst of energy towards the night. I went to the noble disco in Hanover. The atmosphere was really good thanks to Falco, “Amadeus”. I got talking to a mother and her daughter, 17 years old, but already busty, pretty, no wonder, with her mother? Who wanted what from whom? Gradually I realised something: the mother was up to something with her daughter. And I was her chosen one! Strange things happen, I was not prepared for such things. But that evening I was the real Pauli, the German one, virtuous. At least I wrote down the phone number.
In the morning I actually called. We made an appointment. The daughter came too, brought by her mother. We sat down in a café, without mother, and chatted a little. She was visibly excited and also smoked profusely, almost continuously. But do you know where the café was? The place was deliberately chosen by me: At the station. My train home was about to leave. I wished her good luck in her recognisable career as a “lady” and said goodbye with a kiss on the cheek. We parted ways. The mother probably had to keep looking, certainly not for long.
When we arrived in Berlin, we exchanged money and found that I was able to transfer his 5000 DM back to my uncle without any problems and even had about … as much as before.
So that was it: Pari back from Paris (for the sake of joke recognition, pronounce it in French just this once). Poor man – rich man – poor man. Still: two months of good living, a new shirt, a pair of shoes and a new tie, a few people met and a few experiences made. And a few memories. I’ll leave it to your own judgement whether they are worth telling. But even if it turns out negative: they remain with me.
By the way, it’s hard for me to sober up even when I’m writing. It was a one-time intoxication that I got into. And writing has awakened this feeling again.
I also gladly accept that the image created by the narrative — be it a desirable or less desirable but nonetheless false one — will be difficult to correct. This “summer fairy tale” is indeed a unique experience and behaviour, especially the treatment of women, and the “fairy tale” refers less to the truth content than to the perception of the experience. Just like in a fairy tale.
Well, and as a friend of proverbs, I’ll end with this: The first million is always the hardest. I think that’s true…