Two of my greatest passions – chess and football – had given way to a third that year. The game of backgammon had totally infected me. Not only did I feel as soon as I learned it that I had already been a backgammon pro in a previous life – learning came very easily to me and if you want to use the term “talent” and adulate yourself, you could say that I had quite a lot of it — no, the game could actually only be played for stakes, which encouraged another long-developed passion : gambling addiction. But it was also much more mathematical than chess. For the first time, I could “really do something” with the mathematics I had studied and my special field of probability theory.
So I had broken off the last serious attempt to finish my studies – for this purpose I changed university and place of residence to Freiburg. because in Freiburg there was only “gambling”, practically day and night. Freiburg was not exactly a gambler’s paradise when it came to playing for big money, and during a short trip to the chess café in Hamburg, I spontaneously fell in love with the charming Britta who was serving me there. In Hamburg, people really played, the chess café was a real gamblers’ den. I never got Britta, but that really doesn’t belong here (but that’s “written” somewhere else).
I quickly found a place to stay. In Hamburg in those years, the chess festival took place regularly in midsummer – with me as a participant and in the course of further recognition hunting, I may also mention that in an earlier year I managed to defeat Nigel Short there -, I had met the very wealthy flat broker Fritz Uhlmann there, who was able to offer me a “flat”. This was directly on the Kiez in St. Pauli. The house was dilapidated and the flat itself was in urgent need of renovation. Nevertheless, Fritz put me up there and we quickly reached agreement on a weekly rent of 50 DM.
There was only one habitable room in this flat. The living room could be nice if it were finished. So some Polish workers were constantly crossing the premises, so I was living really exclusively. There were three pieces of “furniture” in this bare but bright room: Two chairs and a television set, which the Polish workers had probably parked there for their sparse leisure time. In this exclusive ambience, I had the opportunity to watch the European Football Championship – shortly after I had been accused of “missing the point”, which was common in my school days. I sat on one chair and the TV was on the other. Romantic, right?
Friend and fellow chess player Rainer Grünberg, Lütt Kollau 2, had regularly hosted me on previous visits to Hamburg. I watched the normal group games “at home”. Rainer invited me and a few other friends to a small “Germany party” for the Germany games. Not only was Rainer nicknamed “Rübezahl” (Ruebezahl) for good reasons, but Rainer was extremely entertaining, unusual, charming and intelligent. His manner, his enthusiasm for sports and his art of formulation soon earned him a job at the Hamburger Abendblatt, for which he still works and writes today. I had long since ceased to be a “Germany fan” and was thus, surprisingly for me, an absolute outsider, but due to Rainer’s special and irresistible charm and his legendary vanilla-chocolate ice cream with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, I could not resist and went “into the lion’s den”. I had to spend the games of the German team in the circle of true enthusiasts who had above all the success of “our country” in mind – and smile painedly at the goals.
I shared the long faces at the mediocre performances in the first two games for show and smiled to myself instead. However, this was not even unusual: Germany plays weakly and still “cheats” its way through. Everyone seemed to be of the same persuasion. But when Maceda headed in the winning goal in the third group game in the 90th minute to give Spain a 1-0 lead, it was like a sudden cardiac arrest. The whole country was paralysed for a few seconds. There was no “oh God” or “Lordy”, no whimpering or complaining. Only bewilderment: Germany and elimination? That was impossible? That had never happened before and simply could not happen?
How the rest of Europe, no, the rest of the world, received the defeat of the black beast, I could only guess at that moment. Certainly, they did not immediately dare to break out into storms of jubilation and enthusiasm. One was just as paralysed, stunned as here. Surely this had to be a dream, a bad film? In Hollywood, the beast always returns, even when it is lying motionless on the ground, just when the hero and the chosen one are about to fall into each other’s arms? It seemed real and gradually relief spread. Except in the hearts of a few arrogant Central Europeans. If only at least a few had really been struck in the heart….
I knew beforehand that the reactions would not satisfy me. If only they could show the sympathy, the compassion, the regret, but also the recognition, the encouragement of real fans. “Gosh, guys, you’ve given us so much joy so many times. Too bad, it wasn’t enough this time. We still love you guys.” The media as well as the rest of the population. If I had seen just one person crying, I would have regretted, regretted my own sense of “schadenfreude” already.
No, such a reaction could not have been expected here, in this country so accustomed to victory. The black-red-gold flags were simply rolled up immediately, if not burnt. The rose-coloured glasses were kept on, however, and with them on their noses, kickers and those responsible were showered with malice and recriminations instead. “After all, you have committed yourselves to making us happy every two years along the lines of ‘no matter what’.”
Surely it can just happen? There is always a chance, a probability, against success, against victory.
Rainer’s parties were no more I could enjoy the rest of the tournament again in my dreamlike establishment above the roofs of the neighbourhood. Without any harassment from that lucky pig who always intervened when true footballing skills were called for. Platini could run his circles undisturbed and lead France to a truly deserved success and title.