In the years 1985/1986 I also had a few gigs on the Berlin Kiez. I think that the book should not be without an account of what it’s like there. The only peculiarity here: I will be a little more sparing with the names of the people involved. I’ll keep the reasons to myself….
1) A SevenEleven game with a huge advantage
The SevenEleven game is a real neighbourhood game. I’m even dedicating a separate chapter to it, because it’s also excellent for learning the basics of mathematics. If you don’t know it, you should read this chapter (“SevenEleven”) first.
The game is also offered in real casinos, but not in German ones. For the “private casinos” in the Berlin underworld scene, tables were even specially purchased that are also used in (more distant) casinos.
So I entered, one could say almost inevitably, one of these establishments at some point. You can’t tell from the outside that this is a backroom gambling establishment. It’s more like an almost ordinary pub, but it’s in the neighbourhood. And Berlin’s neighbourhood is something special. Tough, maybe, but Hamburg is a bit tougher, I’d say.
Of course, the operators of these casinos are in principle interested in new “clientele”. Only there are the following points to consider: They have certainly developed a special sense of smell for the so-called “Zivis” (plainclothes policemen, but who am I telling?), so you shouldn’t appear like that. But a complete “stranger” may always be eyed somewhat sceptically at first. On the other hand, the potential client should feel comfortable there. You qualify as a potential suitor if you do something to show that you have money (with you). The pretty waitresses are there to make you feel good.
I simply didn’t pass as a civilian. I didn’t have any money, but at least I always had my entire fortune with me and usually, a bit like a gambler, in my pocket and, perhaps even a bit ostentatiously at the time, took out the whole “dumpling”, the whole “wave”, to pay. On that day, it was about DM 1000 (on admission). Now it dawns on me why my father warned me so strongly against doing this job and probably always (or one day) saw me in his visions lying in some backyard with my skull bashed in.
But I already knew that there was such a back room in this pub. Word gets around, albeit cautiously, about such things. So I was allowed to enter the back room, accompanied by a nice girl. So the well-known underworld king was standing there at his dice table. It doesn’t cost anything to watch, does it? There were a few other gamblers standing around the table. The man began to roll the dice. There were quite a few hundreds on the table. Two nice, real, transparent, professional, red dice. He made his roll. It wasn’t a 7 and it wasn’t an 11. Then, according to the rules, he tried to re-roll the dice. The first three attempts failed. But there was no 7 either, which would have ended the game. Then he asked me: “Do you still want to go up?”
Well, mathematics and my birdbrain combined to produce a (very) simple (milkmaid) calculation: I have a huge advantage. Even if he had presented a 6 or an 8: the 7 simply comes more often. I couldn’t resist this temptation, me, the great mathematician, the gambling professional, washed in all waters, only I had forgotten to put on the sign “suitor” today, but I guess it was tattooed on my forehead that evening.
So I dug a hundred out of my pocket and put it on the gambling table. The man tried a few more times, then he had confirmed his number. Not a 7 rolled, but what he needed. The hundred was cashed. The next game began. Now it is customary that the person who has just had “a good one” may continue to roll the dice.
Long story short, he made another 10 good ones in a row. He always put in a number, tried to copy it, asked me after a few tries if I wanted to go up, I bet DM 100, he put in his number, the hundred was gone. Once, me being the clever one, a tiny bit of scepticism, but only irrelevant, because he too simply had to know that he would be at a disadvantage, asked back, “Why am I allowed to…?” Perhaps he hadn’t given the answer for the first time after all: “Because I’m on a roll.” Good reasoning, always sufficient for birdbrains. My money went back first to the gambling table and a short time later into his pocket.
Now you will surely have to laugh at my naivety. Myself too. And if I could manage it, I would even kick myself now. So I just hit myself in the head with my hand, as I did then, only much too late. But there was a reason I acted that way back then: In the first roll, he often rolled 7. So a 7 could come.
With one’s own stories of loss, one is usually a bit more careful about spreading them. So I only found out much later (only guessed that day), during a confession of stupidity on my part, how it was done there (at least that evening it was): There are two dice whose numbers cannot add up to 7. I spared myself more detailed consideration of this then and now. That’s just the way it is. At least one of the two (presumably both) were imperceptibly exchanged at the toss. The others standing around, cursing or despairing, were nothing but staffage. They were all in the same boat. They didn’t get too far with my 1000 DM, but maybe someone else came later?
2) Backgammon in the disco
That was also in 1985, when I was constantly on the road, again in Berlin, looking for “games” somewhere. It was clear that there was gambling. But I had problems finding opponents. Especially when word gets around about growing playing skills (to which tournament successes also make their dubious contribution), the choice doesn’t necessarily get bigger. Apart from that, I had neither a special charm nor otherwise the necessary entertainment value that could open doors. In this respect, the quality of the games was occasionally rather questionable.
That evening I was out with Peter, my partner at the time and very much passing by. We had heard of a man who would probably quite like to play. Another passing acquaintance would have located the man. His nationality was that of a not-quite-nearby, rather cold, but nevertheless eastern and also very large country. In addition, the two we met had rather stately statures. But the partner was German, so that the match was guaranteed.
Well, one of them was the owner of a disco on Lietzenburger Straße. So, without further ado, the game was played inside the disco, in a somewhat remote location but with at least 70% music influence. Peter had to deal with the foreign partner, I with the German.
Peter was also quite a decent player and seemed to dominate his opponent. I also won, small, small. At some point, we both asked quite shyly for a payout?
We should have saved ourselves this insolence and presumption. The bottom line was this: In the end, we could definitely be happy to leave the restaurant at all, halfway unharmed and still with our own money. For apart from a slap in the face, which I got on the way and which happened to send me straight onto the dance floor (we were already leaving), we got almost nothing.
The miracle of this story was this: I met my playing partner several weeks later in another venue on Ku-Damm. And he was extremely friendly, even apologised and paid me another 400 DM! That’s really unbelievable, because I wouldn’t have exerted any pressure anyway, in fact I couldn’t do such a thing at all. The man was simply honest to the extent that he regarded the gambling debts as the famous “debts of honour”. In the evening at the disco, he had certainly come under pressure himself , starting from his partner and had to act symbolically, because we had both offended, so to speak (what, you dare to ask me about money?).
3) Baccarat in Grolmannstrasse
I just have to get this little story off my chest as well. Grolmannstrasse was the famous gamblers’ street with several small bars like this. Baccarat was actually a casino game. A card game whose rules I don’t want to explain here and now. It is a game in which the bank is guaranteed to win because the players at the table “fight” among themselves and a percentage is deducted for each coup won.
If you play the game yourself in an official casino, the bank advantage is rather small but consistent. If you play it on the kiez, then a whopping 10% is deducted from the payout, according to my recollection. That’s what they call a “razor.” You simply can’t win.
Once, however, I had too much money and went to a private casino. The people there received me in an extremely friendly manner and there was no cause for concern. It was nice to see a new face. And there are plenty of “honest cheats”. At baccarat, as I said, you don’t have to worry that cards are marked or that you are otherwise “on a roll”. The bank wins anyway, without a doubt. Whoever gets involved must know what they are doing.
So I took a seat. I was also convinced that I would certainly not lose much. Eventually it was my turn. In the game, everyone in turn becomes the banker, there were maybe seven players. They all played with small money. I risked 30 DM for the score. This was then “held” either by the next player or later by the sum of all the players. The cards were dealt, I won. The stake is now DM 60 minus 10%, or DM 54. I left everything.
The DM 54 came together, I won again. 108 DM – 10% makes about 97 DM. I left it. I won. 97 * 2 = 194. 194 DM – 10% = approx. 175 DM. I left it. The sum of 175 DM was collected again by the other players. The cards were dealt. I won. Now there was DM 350 in the middle, minus the 10% = DM 315. I left everything standing again. Now one of the players must have started to get annoyed. He shouted: “Banco” or “Banco solo”. Both mean something like: “I’m holding everything, and I’m holding it alone.” You’ve seen that in a James Bond film, right?
In any case, this guaranteed that I would play for everything one more time. That was not necessarily to be expected, nor was it customary. It would rather have been expected that the other players would perhaps gradually gain respect or that the money would become less and they would only “get together” parts of my stake. That would then guarantee me the rest as profit. But I didn’t back down now either and left standing. Cincinnati kid says hello.
Long story short, I lost this coup. The coupe player was all smiles and invited me for a drink, because I had really “heated up” the game with my play. Apart from that, he had made quite a tidy profit in a very short time. If you add it all up, he made 134 DM in a few minutes (he also collected 10% of the last pot, the one I lost).
I accepted the invitation, but left the gambling table and shortly afterwards the place and never went into such a “gambling den” again. After all, I was on the verge of winning something…