Hilton Blogs from Dresden, Part II
By Jonathan Hilton   
November 27, 2008
Courtney Jamison, Tyler Hughes and Jonathan Hilton at the International Youth Camp in Dresden. Photo Helen Jamison
“What’s the drinking age in the United Arab Emirates?” I asked my “twin brother”, Marwan Alawadhi, over dinner one night at the International Youth Camp. Michael, the Swede with impeccable table manners sitting across from me, was struggling to swallow a mouthful of water while he laughed at my naïve question. “It is forbidden, man!” Marwan replied. “Islam forbids it.” A chorus of chuckles, giggles, and snickers filled our small portion of the Olympiad dining hall. I laughed too.

I have made many a faux pas while in Europe, from doing a Superman pose for the camera that—to the Germans—looked embarrassingly similar to a World War II salute, to finding myself unable to obey commonplace European fork-and-knife table manners. My eager, enthusiastic naiveté led me to be christened by my new European friends as “the perfect American” on Day 1. As someone with almost undying energy, I sought to embrace this stereotype to the fullest during the International Youth Camp. No matter how ridiculous my question, I always asked it; my mission was to learn as much as I could about the twelve different countries represented there.

Over the week, this easygoing, “fat penguin” attitude made me highly approachable—I was always able to “break the ice”, so to speak. Questions about the United States came pouring in as other participants began to follow my lead and shed their inhibitions. “Does it ever snow in the United States?” one of my new friends asked. “Is it allowed for a man to take more than one wife there?” asked another. There were still more questions about our President-elect, Barack Obama, and our two-party political system. Yet, for all our discussion of culture, politics, history, and religion, we spent just as much time on simple childhood questions. Dogs, cats, sheep, pigs, and ducks all say different things in different languages, so a conversation about animal noises could last for an entire tram ride or longer. “How does the cock crow?” proved a particularly hot topic for debate early on in the week. “Coo-coo-coo,” said Lara Armas, a stunning young lady from France. “Coo-coo-RI-coo,” opined Magdalena Bator, a Swede born in Poland. “W say, ‘cockle-doodle-doo,’ in the U.S.,” I added. No sooner had I said this than everyone started trying to imitate this “difficult” word—the girls seemed to go a little crazy over it, and were constantly asked me to repeat it for their friends. I’d like to publicly thank whoever first coined the phrase “cockle-doodle-doo” for providing me with hours of entertainment during my trip to Dresden.

Lena Armas (France), Jonathan Hilton & Courtney Jamison (USA), Magdalena Bator & Johann Borre (Sweden), Lara Armas (France), Florian Pracher (Austria), Paul Lieber (Germany), Tyler Hughes (USA), Ingmar Olfmanns & Andreas Gefinder (Germany), Photo Helen Jamison

In my previous blog, I reported that, during the first few days of camp, participants had been kept busy with sightseeing around Dresden. Wednesday was the last day that we devoted entirely to tourism, and it featured a much-anticipated daytrip to Berlin. I’ve long been fascinated by the Berlin Wall and the struggle Germany underwent to reunite as a democratic state.

Group photo in front of the Bundestag, seat of Germany's government in Berlin. Photo Helen Jamison

My interest in Berlin piqued last summer when I attended a program called “Adventures of the Mind” with WFM Abby Marshall. There, I had the opportunity to meet sculptor Veryl Goodnight , who crafted the seven-ton sculpture The Day the Wall Came Down outside of the Allied Forces Museum. Although I didn’t have a chance to see this particular symbolic representation of East Germany’s struggle, I did see the graffiti-covered remains of the Berlin Wall. One particular piece of graffiti went perfectly with my theme for the week, that of overcoming language barriers by smiling. There was a painting of a heart and a smile along the top of the wall. I pointed it out to one of my new friends, Emel Kaya from Turkey, and she understood it instantly—no knowledge of English, German, or even Turkish required.
Courtney Jamison at the Berlin wall. Photo Helen Jamison

After a Wednesday trip through Berlin, our free time drastically increased. I spent most of Thursday and Friday afternoon and evening at the Olympiad working on entries for the Chess.FM Blog. I was fascinated with the press room, which was tucked away behind the playing hall. I spent as much time there as I could, my eyes glued to the rows of journalists from various nations reporting on the world’s most exciting chess tournament. On Thursday I attended my first press conference, and on Friday night I interviewed Japanese-American Shinsaku Uesugi, a familiar chess name in Maryland, and William Hook , who, at age 83, has been the oldest chess Olympian in history for many consecutive Olympiads. I wasn’t the only junior who reported from the Olympiad, however. Several other members of the International Youth Camp wrote about their experiences for the German Chess Youth website, including our own Courtney Jamison from Dallas, Texas. You can find her article and many others on the camp’s homepage.

While cooking traditional German food, we decided to test the theory that a watched pot never boils. Photo Helen Jamison

The last day of camp was Friday, and many participants, including myself, decided to make do without sleep on Friday night. After concluding my interviews and heading back via tram to the A&O Hotel, I joined the official International Youth Camp Party on the top floor, where I joined in the revelry and festivities. For the closing talent show—which included an impressive dance routine by the girls and some skilled marshmallow mouth-catching by the guys—I sang one of my favorite Scout camping songs, “Ghost Chickens in the Sky”. Although everyone applauded for this routine, which I’ve honed over years of rainy spring camp-outs, the applause grew even louder when I announced that the Internet Chess Club was giving away six free months of ICC membership to each of the camp’s nearly fifty participants to help us keep in touch. Since I was working for ICC during my trip to Dresden, I asked Joel Berez, the CEO, if he could give away free memberships for the camp. “No problem,” he said, and just like that it was done.

Sometime around one o’clock in the morning, the hotel staff wanted the party to quiet down a bit so that the rest of their customers could get some sleep. As one of the louder ones in the group, I obliged them by returning to my room. This meant saying dozens of tearful goodbyes a few hours early. As I parted from my new “foreign” friends, I wondered how many of them I would ever see again. The chess world is small, so it seemed unlikely that all of the good-byes would be permanent. Still, I felt a sharp, emotional pain as I prepared to leave.

At the start of the week, Eike Schwede—one of the German Chess Youth officers in charge of the camp—told me, “When you’re talking about the camp [to the media], be sure to mention we’re trying to bring about world peace and stuff like that.” I skeptically promised I would. Yet, as the week drew to a close, I began to wonder whether the goings-on of one small chess camp in Dresden, Germany really could help bring the nations of the world closer together. Reflecting upon my own experience, I could instantly note how my own world view had expanded. I left the camp feeling open and optimistic about the future of world politics. For one week, twelve nations had lived as best friends in the same hotel, laughing, loving, and playing chess. No matter what our cultural differences, we could always join each other around the chessboard or the dinner table. “Wir spreche eine Sprache”, meaning, “We play a language”, has been the motto of this year’s Olympiad. I, for one, am proud to be fluent in it. And though there’s not exactly any “Thanksgiving” holiday in Germany—“We just sort of have a day for eating a lot of food,” one German told me—I know I’ll be counting my time in Dresden as one of my many chess blessings on this national holiday.