Team Europe Champion Ralph Eckert explores German pool history and some of the nation’s forgotten champions.

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Special for POOLHISTORY.COM By Ralph Eckert

Ralph Eckert

EDITOR’S NOTE:  In this article — the second of a two-part series — Ralph Eckert tells the story of German pool champs Erich Hagenlocher and Dieter Müller. Mr. Eckert is a pool champion, author, trick shot artist and esteemed trainer.  However, for American readers, Mr. Eckert may be best known as Team Europe’s captain during the 2023 Mosconi Cup.  This material was translated from the original German by Allan Wier II and appeared previously in the German-language Touch Billiard Magazine in Jan. 2022.

In 1913 Erich Hagenlocher (1895-1958), from Stuttgart, burst into Berlin’s vibrant, world-class billiard scene. Although the Kerkau Palace was still in full swing, Hagenlocher preferred the smaller Café Kerkau, which from 1910 through 1924 was called “Café Zielka” (and operated by player, instructor and promoter Robert Zielka), and which later (1926-1933) became the famous café “Moka Efti.” There were still a great many billiard tables in the building during this time, plus downstairs a dance and orchestra hall.

Hagenlocher of Stuttgart, Germany.

In 1913, young Hagenlocher practiced with and received instruction from Robert Zielka, Jean Bruno (owner of “Brunos” billiard hall on the corner of Jägerstr./Friedrichstr.) and Mr. Kodshi Yamada. Countless exhibition matches and money games now featured the young Hagenlocher. Crowds of enthusiastic spectators swarmed about the tables and the events were followed with great interest by the Berlin newspapers. In 1922 both domestic and foreign newspapers reported on a five-day, high-profile exhibition match between Hagenlocher and his Austrian mentor Jean Bruno at the Café Zielka, with the newspapers then characterizing Hagenlocher as among the world’s very best players. He beat Bruno in the challenge match, and shortly thereafter married Margaretha Zielka, the daughter of his other mentor, Robert Zielka. At the time Margaretha was the manager of the Café Zielka and also an enthusiastic, excellent billiard player. Their honeymoon took them to the USA.

BILLIARDS SUPERSTAR
There, Hagenlocher managed to win the 1926 and 1934 world championships and became a billiard superstar in the country, with a fame comparable to that of its basketball or football stars. As an example of his star power, a clipping from the Cincinnati Enquirer of November 1, 1933 shows Hagenlocher doing an advertisement for Camel cigarettes. During this period, Hagenlocher also earned gigantic sums, including, in 1932, $2,000 for one evening. That equates to more than $45,000 in today’s currency.

In 1936, Hagenlocher returned to Germany and outclassed his opponents in various exhibition matches and tournaments. During this period the German, and above all the Berlin billiard scene, had been severely depleted by the Nazis — particularly since Jewish people operated many of the smaller and medium sized halls. The general policy of destroying the coffeehouse culture in the German speaking world also impacted the billiard halls, where the best of all the amateur players socialized.

DARK PERIOD
What a dark, intolerant period of German history, in which so many Jews emigrated, fled or later were forced to suffer the consequences. Tragically, that’s how this must have played out in the billiard world, with the then-president of the German Billiard Association, Robert Court, definitely an adherent of the Nazi ideology. In fact, beginning in 1933 Court was no longer considered “president” of the billiard association, but rather its “Führer.”Swastika flags and the Hitler salute became obligatory at German tournaments, denunciation was widespread, and criticism was forbidden.

At the beginning of the war in 1939, Hagenlocher lived in Switzerland and continued to make waves in billiard circles there. It is not known what possessed him to return to Germany in 1942, in the middle of the war, as he was considered apolitical. In any event, returning to Germany required him to comply with a “service obligation” as a laborer, and that hard labor may have affected his game so much that after the war he hardly ever picked up a cue. In a letter to a friend, he only made vague allusions as to how difficult life was for him during the war. He eventually moved to his old home town, accepted a mundane job, and spent the remainder of his life in very modest circumstances. Hagenlocher died in 1958, at age 64, from a brain tumor.

Berlin’s Dieter Müller

A NEW CHAMPION
When Erich Hagenlocher died, Berliner Dieter Müller, the new future world champion, was a mere 15 years old. Directly after the war, with the people of Berlin having other things to worry about, the organized billiards in the city was non-existent. “Café Kerkau”, “Café Zielka”,
“Moka Efti”, “Jean Bruno’s”, “Café Woerz”, “Café Novak”, “Café Bauer”, the “Kerkau Palace” and other glamorous billiard parlors of the pre-war era either had fallen to ruin prior to the war or the buildings had been reduced to rubble and ashes during it. Where billiard table and billiard ball manufacturers once stood, there now existed new buildings or utter wasteland. 

But in 1966, at the age of 23, Dieter Müller opened his own billiards cafe at Nollendorfplatz, just kitty corner from the location of August Woerz’s billiard hall a half century earlier. Müller’s room remained operational through the mid 1990s. Müller would win the world title in 1977 and 1978. Germany also produced other world champions, both in carom billiards and in pool, so much so that it’s not possible to describe all of them in a single article. However, Kerkau, Hagenlocher and Müller — three of the country’s early greats — deserve to be highlighted because each is on the verge of being forgotten. 

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Ralph Eckert, author and competitor, was Euro Tour champion in Antalya in 1999, first in the European rankings in the Euro Tour in 2000, and the Champions League winner in 2004. In 2023, Mr. Eckert was named Team Europe captain for the Mosconi Cup. Read Part I of his two-part series here.

 

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