Hilton Blogs From Dresden
By Jonathan Hilton   
November 18, 2008
The famous Bermuda party, held every Olympiad, took place last night.
 Photo FM Mike Klein

Greetings, fellow Americans! Right now, I am at the A&O Youth Hostel and Hotel in Dresden, Germany for the International Youth Camp, which Germany is sponsoring in conjunction with the Olympiad. So far, I have made friends with other young men and women from Germany, Sweden, Turkey, France, Austria, Greece, and the United Arab Emirates, just to name a few. Right now, some of my German friends and I have just returned from the famous Monday-night Bermuda party, where I had the opportunity to briefly meet Van Wely and Topalov, among others. They are telling stories in their mother tongue; sometimes I can pick up enough words to understand, but other times, as I have learned to say, “Ich kann nicht vershtehen.”

The purpose of the International Youth Camp is to bring young people of different cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities together for one week in Dresden. In some ways, it is an experiment; as far as anyone here knows, this is the first year such an event has been held in conjunction with an Olympiad. There are 42 of us in total, so there is never a dull moment. Although the vast majority of attendees speak decent English, our backgrounds are so different that we must constantly come up with creative ways to express ourselves. During a scavenger hunt around Dresden today, my group—two Germans, one Turk, a Swede, and a citizen of the United Arab Emirates, and myself—had to write a song together. By the time the song was finished, we had found dozens of word pairs to rhyme in each others’ languages! The spirit of the camp is upbeat, and I’ve already learned several ways to ask for a high-five, including schlagt ein (German for “Hit one!”) and Salam (used as a greeting in both Arabic and Turkish).

So far, our first two full days have been devoted to touring Dresden. I’ve made it to the Olympiad playing hall twice so far, but the organizers of the International Youth Camp are hoping to have us bond quickly with each other for a few days before turning us loose on the world’s most exciting chess tournament. We’ll be spending one more day together tomorrow—a road trip to Berlin—and then most of our time will be free to roam the Olympiad as friends. Two days into the camp, the organizer’s plan has already proven successful on my end; here is just one example. I now have one particularly close friend, Marwan, who hails from the Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), who is actually my “twin”. We were both born sometime in the evening on October 25, 1990. “My brother from another mother,” Marwan commented to me when we discovered our common birthday. “I heard them say this in an American movie, ‘Rush Hour III’ I think it was.” The two of us met on a boat ride down the Elbe River on Sunday, when I sat at a table with the entire U.A.E. contingent. Sometimes, Marwan and I are just typical American teenagers, talking about films and school. Other times, we have deeper experiences to share. Marwan was in Baghdad visiting a cousin during the start of the Iraq War, and over dinner tonight he told me about how he fled the country over a grueling car ride to Jordan. Neither of us claims to have any solutions to the world’s problems, but by sharing our own histories and perspectives, we are fulfilling the International Youth Camp’s mission—bringing the world a little bit closer to understanding one another, one chess player at a time.

A large contingent from the International Youth Camp attended the Bermuda party tonight. I had a chance to meet up with both GMs Yury Shulman and Varuzhan Akobian on the dance floor, and I would say that our country’s team spirit is high after our victory today. Both Grandmasters were ready to let loose and kiss their tournament stresses good-bye. I had a video camera with me and grabbed a picture of Akobian early on in the night—the lights were actually turned too low for it to come out usably—but later on during the party, Akobian shouted to me from the dance floor, “Jonathan! You have stopped taking pictures now, right? It’s time to just party!” I certainly didn’t need any more convincing, so I briefly set aside my journalistic duties to dance for a few songs myself with my friends from the Youth Camp.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the week, as we participants from the International Youth Camp strengthen our bonds and watch the Olympiad together. After all, even if we sometimes have trouble communicating with words, chess is our common tongue. I am confident that however the games go at the Olympiad—we root for each other’s teams whenever we can, of course, but as chess fanatics we of course heavily favor our home teams—we will be found laughing and crying together when the week ends. Friendships seem to come easily here, even with the language barrier. As I wrote for the German chess press today, as the old saying goes, everyone smiles in the same language.