I always love going to board game conventions, shows, conferences or whatever you want to call them. Just walking into the halls and seeing lots of excited people who share the same hobby is invigorating. The prospect of catching up with friends whom I might not otherwise see is wonderful. Finally meeting the people I only know from social media face-to-face is fabulous. Board game events are always very much like a home from home. Yet, my visit to Berlin Brettspiel Con 2023 and the Spiel des Jahres awards a few weeks ago took this to another level.
First off, Berlin is my hometown. I was born there and spent all of my childhood and youth there. I saw the Wall, that everyone expected to always be there, finally come down. I saw the masses of East Germans come over to West Berlin in their Trabants or on foot. I saw them queueing up in front of banks and building societies with their passports to receive their welcome money. I saw how the long-divided city grew together again, much quicker than the rest of Germany did. I was able to finally walk through the Brandenburg Gate. I saw Germany united again, at least on paper, even when the Wall still remained in many people’s heads.
So going back to Berlin is always filled with a lot of very mixed emotions: pride, happiness, anger, frustration, hope, nostalgia, homesickness, excitement and sadness.
Berlin, Berlin, Dein Herz kennt keine Mauern
The prospect of spending a long weekend in my hometown and visiting a board game convention added even more emotions into the mix. I was really looking forward to playing games with fellow hobbyists, meeting people for the first time and generally immersing myself in the world of board games. I knew it would be a lot of long days that would be very tiring. At the same time, I knew I would feel very invigorated by talking to like-minded people.
The location of Berlin Brettspiel Con 2023 was also very exciting. Gleisdreieck is very much steeped in the history of Berlin, giving the event a certain atmosphere that is hard to find or replicate. The station’s name literally means “railway triangle” and marks the spot of a major train hub that opened in 1902. It is a set of viaducts, where the train tracks are lifted above ground. During the War, the structure suffered heavy bombing and it was totally destroyed during the Battle of Berlin that marked the end of World War II.
After the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the lower platform became the terminus of the U2 underground line, until service was finally discontinued in 1972. It wasn’t until 1993 that the line restarted its service. Now it’s a relatively busy intersection for several lines.
I never really visited Gleisdreieck until the convention. So seeing the station in use and visiting the convention located right next to it, but of course, on the ground and not up on the viaduct, was really wonderful. It feels a bit out of the way of everything, but in reality, Potsdamer Platz, the location of major redevelopment popular with tourists, isn’t too far away.
To visit Berlin, I only had to pay for the flight, food and drink. I got a press pass for Berlin Brettspiel Con and stayed at my parent’s flat. Now that’s not the flat I grew up in. That one is in a building right next to the one I stayed in. So I could see the window that I had often looked out of when I was playing in my room, but I was unable to go back in. I felt nostalgia and a pinch of loss.
It also felt quite weird staying in my parent’s flat. It’s a small studio flat, so my parents had gone away to let me stay there by myself. Yet, on my previous visits, my parents had been there and I had been with my wife and daughter. Additionally, board game convention visits are intrinsically linked with staying in a hotel or B&B. So being in my parent’s flat, all on my own, was really strange. I was at home, but also very much not. I was visiting a board game event, but I wasn’t in a hotel room.
The advantage of staying in the flat was that I didn’t have to pay for expensive breakfasts or other food and drink. I could pop to the shops and get what I wanted, relatively cheaply. That’s when the feelings of nostalgia and loss kicked in again. It’s of course no surprise that the supermarkets and corner shops I knew in my childhood were no longer there. I knew the neighbourhood like the back of my hand, but the little kiosk selling sweets, ice-creams and sticker book stickers wasn’t there anymore. The corner shop I sometimes had popped into was now some sort of office. It was all very different.
At the same time, there was a lot that was familiar. The sound of housemartins in the hot summer’s air. Hearing crickets chirping in the trees lining the streets. The noise of ambulances, fire engines or police going by with their sirens blaring. The odd plane or helicopter flying overhead. The general noise of the streets. Going on a bus or underground train. It all felt the same and took me back to my childhood and teenage years.
I had forgotten that people smoked in the street. Seeing people with bottles of beer in their hands outside a restaurant, happily chatting and generally being merry was great. People were even having a can of beer on the underground or S-Bahn on their way home from work. It didn’t feel threatening or weird. It’s just what people do in Berlin. Even seeing people begging on the underground, loudly telling everyone their story as they walk past, felt normal. It’s the colourful palette that is Berlin.
So, in a way, not much has actually changed.
Thank you, Berlin
In the end, I settled into it all and had a really wonderful time. I am grateful that Berlin Brettspiel Con 2023 gave me a free press pass. I feel very honoured that Spiel des Jahres invited me to the awards ceremony and the press conference the next day. Bumping into Ben Maddox from Five Games For Doomsday was great and his offering to play a game of Blood Bowl Team Manager with me during the game night before the convention meant a lot to me. Seeing Uli Blennemann from Spielworxx in person for the first time and receiving such a warm welcome from him was very special. Speaking with exhibitors and getting demos, forging new contacts and getting a glimpse of new and upcoming games was so invigorating. I think I even made a couple of new friends, if I may be so forward.
So, yes. Thank you, Berlin, for having me back and looking after me. I am so proud to be a Berliner. I hope to see you again soon…
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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.
Music by AShamaluevMusic.