Seconds to knockout - or checkmate
In Berlin, there is time and space for original ideas such as chess boxing – a combination of two taxing mental and physical challenges, meant to provide a new take on masculinity
ON A SWEATY SUMMER evening in Berlin, tourists with rockabilly hair and tattoos are enjoying beer and burgers outside “White Trash Fast Food” restaurant.
Beside them, at the “Platoon” art hall made of shipping containers piled four high, hipster locals head into a talk with the founder of Berlin’s “Tresor” techno club.
Behind the art hall painted military green, in a scrappy courtyard, two dozen men are taking lunges at each other.
We’re at a training session for Berlin’s intellectual fight club – the world’s first ever “chess boxing” association. There are more than 100 members in the German capital, from writers and estate agents, students and jobless people; other chapters elsewhere in Germany and around the world – from Los Angeles to London, Reykjavik to Russia – have taken the number of members to more than 1,000. The founder and president Lepe Rubingh, a bearded, bespectacled Dutch performance artist and promoter, is watching the training session ahead of the chess boxing tournament in three days’ time.
“We need a new concept of masculinity in our society, in a time that demands ever-greater levels of specialisation,” says the 37-year-old. “Chess and boxing are the most taxing mental and physical challenges going and, by combining them, we feel it is possible to provide a new take on masculinity, to present oneself in a much broader way with a good combination of brains and brawn.”
The essential characteristic to succeed at chess boxing? “Cold-bloodedness,” he says, grinning. “And mercilessness.”
In the open-fronted hall, 21-year-old Berliner Tilman Kohls, sweat dripping in sheets from his shaved head, takes a break from training.
“I’m a lazy oaf really, I only came across this when I had a look to see who trained at the hall and heard they offered chess boxing,” says Tilman, whose sporting background lies in jujitsu. After a year in training, he says he’s ready for his rookie bout.
“The challenge, which I like, is to concentrate entirely on the chess after a round of boxing, not to allow oneself to be rushed and make a bad move, to force yourself to come down and concentrate.”
Across the open hall is his future opponent, Sven Pueschel, a long-time chess player.
“To balance out the mental exertion, chess players often look for a physical compensation, so chess boxing is perfect for me,” he says. “But this isn’t gentleman-like, it’s real boxing. You have to be dedicated, train hard, and bring the same ambition to both disciplines.”