Opening of the Lasker Exhibition in Berlin

11/5/2005 – On the weekend from 20. October to 23. October the Lasker Society organized a big exhibition in honour of the only German World Champion. There were a lot of eminent guests, including one who had actually played against Lasker in 1935. The evening was rounded up by an Internet game Berlin-New York, two places where Lasker had celebrated great successes. Illustrated report.

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Emanual Lasker: The Delights of Thinking

Report by André Schulz,

Pictures by Benjamin Bartels, André Schulz, translation by Johannes Fischer

If you want to draw attention to the attraction of your sport in the more and more complex world of today, offering countless information and possibilities of entertainment, you need shining symbols. The Lasker Society might fit this role for German chess, even for chess in general. Since its foundation four years ago it has already done a lot for German – and not only for German – chess culture.


Dr. Emanuel Lasker

The symbol of the Lasker Society is the person, after whom the society is named: the mathematician, philosopher, and long-time World Chess Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker. Today Lasker would be a superstar, a kind of super-Kasparov. In his time he was exactly that: a superstar. His sister-in-law, wife of his older brother Berthold, was the poet Else Lasker-Schüler, the expressionist painter Max Oppenheimer painted portraits of Lasker, Lasker played chess with Max Planck and counted Albert Einstein amongst his friends.

When the National Socialists brought Germany into line, the Jewish World Chess Champion disturbed the image they wanted to create and they deleted his name from German chess literature. And in the ruins of post-war Germany people had more urgent problems to solve than to commemorate a World Chess Champion, and later, when they had more time to remember, his image had paled somewhat. And between him and today there still lingers the shadow of the Nazis hampering access to Lasker.

Maybe the one or the other thought about it, but after all it was Paul Werner Wagner, who committed himself to the idea to found a Lasker Society, an idea he realized in 2001 together with friends and like-minded in the course of a huge Lasker conference also organized by Wagner.


Paul Werner Wagner in his element

This society was quickly joined by a lot of chess fans, who do not only see chess as competition but most of all as a part of human culture and who care for chess history, Lasker being an important part of that. Right from the start famous grandmasters such as Viktor Kortschnoi, Yuri Averbach, Lothar Schmid, Wolfgang Unzicker or Wolfgang Uhlmann supported the aims of the Lasker-Society.


Yury Averbach

Anatoly Karpov joined the society recently, as did the chess historian Isaak Linder, who in 1935 played against Lasker in a simultaneous event in Moscow. Afterwards Lasker congratulated him for the good game (thus, everyone who shakes the hand of Linder is only one handshake away from Emanuel Lasker!). Plus a lot of scientists, chess historians, the chess collectors around the collector Dr. Thomas Thomsen, journalists, chess fans.


Issak Linder delivered greetings of the Russian federation


Averbach, Linder and Kortschnoi at the table on which Lasker and Schlechter played their match in 1910

When Stefan Hansen, managing director of the advertising agency Dorland in Berlin, joined the chair of the Lasker Society, new possibilities arose, because Stefan Hansen was able to provide rooms in the spacious premises of his agency, allowing the idea of a Lasker exhibition to turn from dream to reality – and one day this exhibition might easily grow to become a chess museum.


Stefan Hansen

After long and hard work everything was ready on Thursday, 20. October, 2005. Within the framework of a Lasker weekend the exhibition opened its gates in the Dorland building in Berlin Kreuzberg under the title "The Delights of Thinking", a quote from a Lasker manuscript.

The Lasker-Society sees this exhibition as the first step of a project during which a German, maybe even an European chess center is to grow in Berlin. Lothar Schmid's huge collections of books and Dr. Thomas Thomsen's huge collection of chess sets would be ready for sale to support this project. But without public money this cannot be realized. Now the hope is to present with this first exhibition – there are more to follow – the cultural treasure house of chess in an appropriate way to the public, or, to be more precise, to the public authorities to advertise the rich cultural heritage of chess. And basically an advertising agency is the best place to do so.

The person Emanuel Lasker is ideal for unifying the sometimes divergent forces in chess because a lot of people do have a lot of reasons to identify with Lasker and to make him their idol. He was born as son of the cantor Adolf Lasker, and his wife Rosalie Israelssohn in Berlinchen, now called Barlinek, a little place in Pomerania. At that time Pomerania was part of Germany, now it's part of Poland, and thus both nations have reason to celebrate Lasker. In Barlinek this opportunity is avidly used and Poland sent his ambassador to the Lasker conference 2001. Moreover, Lasker was one of the many German Jews who played a fundamental role in the culture and the dynamic rise of the young German state. Thus, it will never be possible to rationally understand the hate and its cruel consequences that followed. In his life Lasker visited and lived in many cities, e.g. Berlin, London, Moscow and New York. The Russian delegation with Yuri Averbach and Isaak Lindner, regular guest of all events of the Lasker-Society, again and again emphasize the great influence the German World Champion had on the development of chess in Russia by playing in tournaments and by staying in Moscow for a while.


Part of the exhibition


Old and new books


A model of the Lasker house in Thyrow, that is to be rebuilt


A historical picture of the original Lasker house


The Lasker family in Berlinchen (today Barlinek)


Lasker medals


Chess art with a handwritten statement by Albert Einstein about his friend Lasker

The exhibition already brought some new insights after some hitherto unknown correspondence of Lasker was found, revealing that the only German World Chess Champion did not leave Germany after the Nazis came to power but before, because the worldwide economic crisis had robbed him of his livelihood in Germany. In 1929 Lasker no longer lived in Germany.

The exhibition shows a number of items directly related to Lasker: the books written by him about chess, bridge or skat, the game of Lasca he invented, or manuscripts from his correspondence. One topic of the exhibition is "Chess in War and Captivity". One chess set on show is linked to a moving, partly tragic story, which the guest of honor Edzard Reuter detailed in moving words.


Petra Kortschnoj

Petra Kortschnoj, who in 1946 in Vienna was hijacked by the Russians as an alleged follower of a catholic student leader, and who subsequently was forced to spend ten years in Russian camps in Siberia, provided documents of her captivity – a book received for winning a chess tournament in the camp and a document issued in Vorkuta, Siberia.

The guests of the opening were immediately captivated by the special atmosphere of the exhibition, generated by numerous loving details. In the center of attention was a writing table, which as "interactive element" (Poldauf) represented Lasker's writing table.


Lasker's writing table

Terrible disorder reigned on the desk, centered around an old typewriter still holding a piece of paper with many corrected typing errors – inducing everyone who writes to feel immediate sympathy with the author. Old books about all possible topics were lying all around. Next to the typewriter a thick cigar lay waiting to be lighted and smoked, which, thank God, did not happen, though it might well have been permitted to do so. To one of the white walls the handwriting of one of Lasker's letters was transferred in huge letters.


Demonstration board

Special thanks went to Susanna Poldauf, who with her immense dedication gave the exhibition a special outlook and in her speech expressed hope that the "showcases do not break down". Thanks went also to the sponsors: apart from Dorland these were among others ChessBase and Raj Tischbierek's publishing house Excelsior. Paul Werner Wagner honored the person of Lasker and described how everything began.


Curator Susanna Poldauf

Dr. Matthias Kribben spoke as representative of the the Berlin Chess Federation and Isaak Lindner read a greeting from the Russian Chess Federation, which, as mentioned above, had a special relation to Lasker. Finally, guest of honor Edzard Reuter spoke about the role of chess as lasting idea in a world, in which globalization and neoliberal capitalism will only be transient episodes. And he revealed how one of the exhibits, a little chess set, found its way into the exhibition.


Chess board with picture of Wilhelm Leuschner

The small chess set, which despite its nice wooden pieces is hardly particularly valuable, might easily have got lost in the dark years up to 1945, particularly so because one of its owners, Wilhelm Leuschner was executed in 1944 in the aftermath of the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on 20. July. However, Leuschner's heirs kept it and it was passed on from generation to generation within the family. Finally it was stored in a box and vanished from sight. But eventually a granddaughter of Leuschner found the set when clearing the attic, and when she opened the wooden box, which could be used as a chessboard, she did not only find the pieces, but also the names of Ernst Reuter and Wilhelm Leuschner, and thus rang up Ernst Reuter's son, Edzard Reuter.

Immediately after the National Socialists came to power they started to arrest dissenters – politicians, artists, intellectuals – and put them into camps. The two arrested labor leaders and social democrats Reuter and Leuschner met in the concentration camp Lichtenburg. Leuschner had already been arrested and mistreated several times before by the Nazis. In the concentration they were given permission to play chess. To testify to this their names were marked on the board. Both were released in 1934. Reuter went with his family, among them his son, the six-year old Edzard, into exile in Turkey while Leuschner stayed in Germany. As owner of an aluminium factory holding a couple of patents which were important for the war-effort he came into contact with the resistance movement around Stauffenberg. After the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in July 1944 Leuschner was executed September 29, 1944 in Berlin Plötzensee. Reuter returned to Germany in 1946 and began his political work. He became mayor of West-Berlin and was a symbolic figure for the spirit of perseverance the people from West-Berlin showed during the time of the blockade. His speech in front of the ruins of the "Reichstag", in which he asked the Western powers to stick to Berlin is famous: ("Ihr Völker der Welt.., schaut auf diese Stadt..."). When he suddenly died in 1953 at the age of 64 after having suffered an attack of influenza, the people in Berlin spontaneously put candles into their windows. One million people came to his funeral.

Ernst Reuter was very fond of chess and during his time in the concentration camp of Lichtenburg chess played a special role for him. His son Edzard, from 1987 to 1995 executive chairman of the Daimler Benz AG played chess when he was very young but had always kept a relation to his early love ("It is as these things are: You never forget your first love but you no longer have it."). His friend Dr. Thomas Thomsen brought him to join the Lasker-Society and through him he knew of the plans of Paul Werner Wagner to organize an exhibition about "Chess in War and Captivity ".

When Edzard Reuter received the call from Leuschner's granddaughter and heard about her discovery he was electrified. But as they did not immediately agree on a date for handing over the chess set, the whole issue was deferred. However, being so excited, Edzard Reuter noted neither name nor address or telephone number. After some time he met an old acquaintance who lived close to the place from where Leuschner's granddaughter had called, and Reuter told him the story. This man immediately had an idea who the granddaughter might be, and within a few days, he indeed managed to reestablish the contact.

Thus, this chess set that is encumbered with German history through a lot of coincidences came into the possession of Edzard Reuter and via him it came to the Lasker-Society and to the Lasker-exhibition. But there's one more coincidence.

When Edzard Reuter and Stefan Hansen met to talk about some details, and Hansen heard about the story of the set, he showed his card and asked Reuter to have a look at the address. The Lasker-exhibition in fact is in the building of the Dorland advertising agency. And this, an old senate's facility, is in the ... Leuschnerdamm.


Dorland house at Leuschnerdamm

To round up the official part of the opening of the Lasker-exhibition an internet chess match was played in the part of the exhibition-room, which was equipped by ChessBase and presented a little retrospective about the development of computer chess.


The computer area of the exhibition

For the Internet chess match satirist Matthias Deutschmann from Freiburg got ready in Berlin, whereas at the same time the four-time World Champion Zsuzsa Polgar, the oldest of the famous Polgar sisters, got ready in New York. In a modern way this linked two cities, which played an important part in the life of Lasker: for a long time he had lived in Berlin, while New York was the place of big tournament successes, and also the place where he died.


In Berlin: André Schulz and Matthias Deutschmann


In New York: Zsuzsa Polgar

In his youth Matthias Deutschmann was a very strong player, was part of the German junior squad and played for Zähringen in the Bundesliga. Then he made a career as cabaret artist, without, however, giving up chess. When the chess program Fritz learnt to speak it did so with the voice of Deutschmann and his snappy mockery. It happens that people, when hearing Deutschmann's succinct voice in a supermarket, are astonished and turn around to ask whether he has anything to do with a chess program.


Deutschmann in the game against Susan Polgar

When he was asked whether he as a prominent guest and as an experienced internet-player well-versed in handling the mouse - "Rasumovski" is a respected bullet-player on the Fritzserver – might not like to play a rapid game against Zusuzsa Polgar, he basically had no time at all. The next day he had a performance in the Pantheon in Bonn, and a hectic detour via Berlin, moreover, with his permanent requisite, a cello as luggage, did not really fit into his schedule. On the other hand: "Against Zsuzsa Polgar ...? And she accepted already?"


The audience during the game Polgar vs Deutschmann

However, in the days after having agreed to play he became somewhat nervous: On the one side the fully booked comedian, for whom chess nowadays is no more than a hobby, on the other side the four-time World Champion, who after becoming a mother took a break from chess but recently had a glorious comeback at the Chess Olympiad in Calvia.

Finally, it was time. The time-limit was 15 minutes. Deutschmann played with White and he did what he is famous for on the stage and on the chessboard: going at it sharp and with biting aggression.

He opted for the Blackmar-Diemer-Gambit, and soon burnt all bridges behind him. The World Champion in New York had to cope with great difficulties and had to defend carefully against Deutschmann, though she still took the time to let Deutschmann know that she teaches her pupils to castle as soon as possible.

Deutschmann's king remained in the middle, which, however, was a fate he shared with Polgar's king. Almost all of the 200 guests had come to the computer area of the exhibition to see the spectacle, which was commentated by Helmut Pfleger, who was witty as always.


Juliane Mieke from the school for Film and TV, Potsdam, who just finished shooting a chess film


Horst Metzing (German Chess Federation) and Helmut Pfleger

At the very end Deutschmann's attack ran out of steam and while he ran out of time and he lost the extremely exciting game. Zsusza Polgar commentated it and said that Deutschmann had always had a lot of compensation for his pawn and had managed to create ongoing threats against her king.


GM Dr. Helmut Pfleger

During the game Helmut Pfleger drew attention to a possibly missed chance of continuing the attack with the g4-g5 push. Therefore after the game Matthias Deutschmann took a small snack, snatched the next best chess board – a chess table, incidentally no lesser piece of furniture than the original chess table, on which Emanuel Lasker and Carl Schlechter played their match in 1910 – and analysed together with other chess enthusiasts missed attacking possibilities.


Postmortem of the Internet game

Click to replay the game (with notes by Susan Polgar)

The opening of the exhibition was followed by a couple of other events in Berlin. Those who read these lines and regret not to have taken part, can easily take care that things will be different next time by joining the Lasker Society. And companies, who believe that the slogan "The Delights of Thinking" or the aura of chess would well suit their products can contact the directors of the Lasker Society to guarantee that they and not their competitors appear in the right light when a Lasker museum or an European chess center will open.



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