Various American papers (such as the Washington Post) covered the recent 2009 Monopoly US National Championship, which was actually staged last week inside of Washington, DC’s Union Station. But people play Monopoly other places, too, as we are reminded by Matthias Wyssuwa of Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung with his coverage of the eleventh annual German national Monopoly champion competition (Go to jail).
Granted, America was the original source, in the 1930s, of this ultimate free-market, real estate buying-and-selling competition (looked at it that way, where else could it have come from?), and Wyssuwa informs us that all of this world-wide Monopoly tournament activity is in preparation for the World Championship to take place later this year in Las Vegas. That’s also a fitting choice, except that Atlantic City – whose street-names are the ones you find used in the classic American edition of the game, you’ll recall – would have been even better. Of course, it’s German street-names that are used in the German edition; for example, Hans-Georg Schellinger, the ultimate winner of this 2009 German championship, is said by Wyssuwa in the final round to build up a real estate empire “from the Badstraße to the Opernplatz.”
But the tournament’s organizers have taken one important cue from their American counterparts by also scheduling it this year, for the first time, at a German railway station – and not just any station, but at the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) of Frankfurt-am-Main, certainly Germany’s financial capital and second only to London as Europe’s. It seems an inspired choice to open up all the Monopoly-action, behind the appropriate crowd barriers, to interested passers-by this way. Soon, however, the competitors get exposed to a downside to that particular location which you would have thought the organizers could have predicted: just as happens every weekend in the German soccer season at city railway stations, a noisy and rowdy crowd of supporters of the visiting team (this time Borussia Mönchengladbach) come along and throw a bit of a hitch in the goings-on with their loud team chants, supplemented with the odd – but most-unwelcome – shouted Monopoly strategy tips. Ultimately, though, they’ve got an important soccer game to attend to and eventually go away.
This Hans-Georg Schellinger character, in real life a refrigeration-installer from Reutlingen, near Stuttgart, turns out to be the reigning German champion and has reached the top once before as well. And while the tournament’s head-referee, Sven Kübler, is willing to expound to a news reporter about how winning in Monopoly is all about not being afraid to take on debt, in his championship-final victory Schellinger demonstrates how his mastery of the game is a bit more subtle than that. In the beginning he lets his three competitors go wild with acquiring properties, mortgaging them for cash, and then building upon them. (Admittedly, Wyssuwa’s article hints pretty broadly that this may not have really been his explicit choice as a strategy, but his rolls of the dice basically forced it on him.) But the turning point comes when he is cooling his heels in a protected position in jail, while the other players start hitting each other’s exorbitant rents and need to raise cash to survive, by selling off their properties to him. “On the suffering of others he builds his real estate empire,” Wyssuwa expounds, and Schellinger goes through to yet another Monopoly Champion title and a date with news-photographers in the grand square outside the station, so they can catch the victor’s image against the background of Frankfurt’s famous bank-skyscrapers. Could this mere game-in-a-railroad-station be a parable for our times?