I grew up in Bonn, the former capital of Germany. That’s very close to Cologne. Cologne is much bigger than Bonn and most people know Cologne better than Bonn, but Bonn is better at producing young go players. I think I first learned of the game of go in a chess book that belonged to my grandfather. He gave the book to me because he wanted me to study chess, but the book was so boring that I didn’t. I just played occasionally with a chess computer. My next contact with go is when I was about twelve. I was very interested in Japanese manga. There was a manga site that had a go corner where you could play go online. The first game I played was against Christoph Gerlach, who was German champion at the time. I played on a 9 x 9 board against him without even knowing the rules. That was my first experience with go. I then became very interested in testing my own skill, so I moved to the KGS website and continued to play there, nonstop. After a week I was 11 kyu, and after half a year I was shodan. Then I began to search out local go tournaments and slowly became integrated into the go community. In this way I found more opportunities to improve; playing offline really helped my game. Once I got started, I never quit. It’s hard to say why, but perhaps it was because of my admiration for the game and perhaps because of my desire to test myself, to see how far I could go.
This has caused some problems in my life, however, because once you put so much time and effort into one thing, there’s an opportunity cost: you have to sacrifice something else. For me, when I was in middle school I was just studying go all day, more than twelve hours a day, I think, so my marks dropped from best in my class to medium level, and my parents weren’t very amused by that. So I had some problems at home, but because of the people I met I got integrated into a great community of players and friends, who became like a family to me. I think that has been the most important part of my go career, that and the game itself, which I still love after playing it for nine years. It’s given me the chance to visit many countries and make many friends. It’s just been great. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. I’ve met so many interesting people through go. It’s hard to single out just one, but I think that when I was in Japan the most interesting person I met was Cho Chikun. When I was sixteen, I think, the Nihon Kiin gave some young European players a chance to visit them for two weeks. I went, I played on television, and I got to see one of the big title games. At one point we were in a room where we were observing the game on a television monitor, and I had to go to the toilet. I couldn’t find the toilet, but instead I found the room where the professional commentary was being held. It looked interesting, so I went into the room, and Cho Chikun gestured to me to come and sit down. I did, and started asking him some questions by gestures, and he very kindly replied. This was a great experience. It lasted only a few minutes — I wasn’t allowed to stay longer — but I still remember it, right down to this day. I’ve also met lots of very strong and kind players in China: Gu Li, Meng Tailing, Wang Yao, Liu Xing, and many others, players and non-players alike. And I’ve met many very interesting people in the European go world too.