Christmas dinner on a train – meet the ChessBase team

12/23/2003 – Once a year the ChessBase staff take a break for a traditional Christmas get-together and dinner. Normally this is at a restaurant with has a "Kegelbahn" (a German version of bowling). But this time we took a train ride around Hamburg. Here's a pictorial report you can use to get to know the ChessBase team.

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Normally only the office staff and the programmers attend our Christmas dinners, but this time Rainer had actually rented a train, with a lot of space for a lot of people. So we decided to include a wider circle of guests and friends, people who work peripherally with and for ChessBase. It was a merry ride in relaxed atmosphere. Join us and get to know the people behind the programs.


Rainer Woisin is always on the look-out for interesting occasions or events. As head of the office he is in charge of most commercial decisions. He is also the man that gets the 18 different components that go into the production of any ChessBase software package to come together at a specific time and specific location. Would you have thought of the stickers with the serial numbers for the inside of the jewel cases?


This is what Rainer came up with this year: an historical underground train which has been fully restored and turned into a stylish restaurant. The train actually goes into the service loop between regular passenger trains, travelling all the time in a giant circle. At stations it slows down but doesn't stop, since people may otherwise try to board it.


The Hamburg central train station in the late evening


"Do not board the next train" says the sign. Jeroen van den Belt knows this does not apply to the ChessBase staff and visitors. The next train is for us!


Waiting for the guests to climb aboard: our two charming waitresses


They greet the guests with orange juice and champagne


Inside the historical underground train, with little booths, tables and benches


This is really pretty cool – Frederic Friedel, Yvonne Gerstorff, Mira Kowalski and Gisela Jäger (mugshots and bios follow below)


The buffet with delicious (seriously!) American finger-food.


Food and drink in communicative atmosphere – on the rail


We even had a jazz trio, provided by our printer Ulrich Leupelt (in the jacket)


Ben Bartels, Stefan and Ines Huschenbeth, Jeroen van den Belt with his beloved Sony DSC-F717


Look who missed the train – Peter Schreiner, whom we contacted by cell phone. He caught up an hour later when we made an unscheduled stop at the main station. Peter is one of our technical support people, who also works in documentation. He has looked after many chess programs and engines, and as such is an excellent tester and debugger.


Martin Fischer is a Hamburg attorney who moonlights as the chief (and very ambitious) tournament director on the Playchess.com server. Lutz Nebe is one of the core ChessBase programmers, responsible among other things for the database text editor and the Javascript replay board that has become ubiquitous on HTML chess sites.


Martin Friedel, design and programming, Gisela Jäger, orders and shipping. Details below.


Matthias Wüllenweber, one of the founders of ChessBase and chief project manager. He is most recently responsible for the Playchess server, which has become the fastest-growing chess server in the world. Matthias looks at the giant Man vs Machine events mainly as a test of how much load the server can take and how much bandwidth we are going to need in the future. On the right is Dieter Steinwender, a computer chess expert who together with Frederic Friedel founded the world's largest magazine on the subject twenty years ago. Computerschach & Spiele is still going strong.


Mathias Feist joined the company in the late eighties and was responsible for moving us from Atari ST into the DOS/Windows world. Mathias integrated the first engines into the ChessBase interface, turning this into Fritz in 1991. He has became involved in engine programming and reads machine language source code like other people comic books. Mathias has played against all the strongest chess players in the world – Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, you name them – with excellent results. A minor detail: he is always assisted by Fritz in these games.


Yvonne Gerstorff, one of our youngest. She came in as an intern and now, together with Mira Kowalsky, is in charge of billings and finances. Yvonne is cheerful and positive, and always good for practical advice.


Ésta es Nadja Woisin, the only person in the company who speaks fluent Spanish. Which probably explains why she looks after our Spanish and South American operations. Nadja makes great travelling arrangements. She is married to Rainer.


André Schulz, who for many years ran the ChessBase hotline, fielding around 100,000 calls from customers requiring assistance, advice or simply companionship. Today André, who is a 2100 player, almost single-handedly runs the German language web site of ChessBase.


Oliver Reeh, a strong IM (and Bundesliga player) who helps out with translations and multimedia. He also plays a lot on the Playchess server, claiming he is testing its functionality. He has been known to illicitly help André, who usually does his own extensive testing on an adjacent computer.


Rainer Knaak, a genuine, honest-to-goodness chess grandmaster, who is in charge of our data department. Rainer also produces ChessBase Magazine and looks after most of the training CDs we put out.


Ben Bartels, who started some years ago as an apprentice, and now has become our chief web master, in charge of practically everything that goes through the Internet. He is also the main weapon in our battle against spam. Ben's mother is from Oxford, England, so he is practically bilingual.


Anna Dergatschova, a strong chess player originally from Moscow, who lives in Germany and has become our roving video reporter. A number of multimedia reports on recent ChessBase Magazine were made by Anna, and she also sends us pictures and reports from tournaments all over the world.


Martin Friedel, elder son of Frederic, programmer and designer in his own IT company. Back in October 2002 Martin was confronted with the daunting task of providing live Internet coverage of Kramnik vs Deep Fritz from Bahrain – for up to five million viewers. In six weeks he developed the Flash system that was subsequently used in Kasparov vs Deep Junior and Kasparov vs X3D Fritz.


Helga Wellershaus, in charge of shipping and delivery. If you need to Fedex a digital camera to Uzbekistan you go to Frau Wellershaus. Watch out for the giant boxes and packages that fill her room, especially around four p.m., when the postal services and couriers are due.


One of our favourites, Gisela Jäger, in charge of orders and shipments. Always bright, cheerful and interested in everything and everybody around her. When you get a Fritz or ChessBase CD mailed directly from us it is Gisela who processed it.


Mira Kowalski, who has been with us as our "finance minister" for as long as anyone can remember. Mira is originally from Poland and her two daughters did their commercial apprenticeships at ChessBase.


Frederic Friedel, the other founder of the company (back in 1986), today in charge of contacts, PR and the English ChessBase web site. Together with Jeroen van den Belt Frederic is addicted to staging events that are too big for anyone's health or well-being.


Jeroen van den Belt, a relatively new ChessBase acquisition, who looks disconcertingly like a certain Governor of a west-coast American state. Jeroen is responsible for some of the coolest Playchess functions (e.g. the globe with NASA cloud pictures, the multimedia lectures), but he also created the 3D driver for Fritz – and more recently the X3D display for the Kasparov match. Like Frederic he is a sucker for high-tension events, where the two are generally responsible for everything that can go wrong.


Volker Rieck, who used to be the driving force behind Eidos in Germany and introduced Fritz to the mass market in this capacity. Today Volker has his own software distribution, Halycon, which periodically publishes some of our programs.


Steffen Giering, who is doing a PhD in philosophy and works in advertising, support and shipments at ChessBase.


Björn Lengwenus, one of the authors of our award-winning children's program Fritz and Chesster: Björn is a progressive teacher in a Hamburg school and the head of a chess club called Schachelschweine (porcupines).


Evi Zickelbein, who plays for the women's team of the Hamburg Chess Club and sometimes sends us photo reports from tournaments. Her father Christian Zickelbein is the head of the club and has done more for youth chess than probably anybody else in the country.


Silke Schubert, who does translations, in discussion with Rainer Knaak, who GMs


An intense philosophical debate between Frederic Friedel and Stefan Huschenbeth. The latter is a computer animation expert who created the remarkable photo-realistic 3D graphics for Fritz. Stefan is quite interested in esoteric subjects, Frederic is a militant skeptic. It was a tinderbox atmosphere, but fortunately it did not come to blows.


Now isn't that nice! Gisela Jäger, Anna Dergatchova and Evi Zickelbein enjoying the ride


And the band plays on... A final song at the end of the ride.

Report and most pictures by Frederic Friedel


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