We've interviewed machine designers, authors, historians and players here on The Pinball Blog for our series of Pinball Heroes. But what about people who collect the things and play a part in the social side of the hobby? There are a number of well documented collectors in America, so we're taking a cyber-trip over to mainland Europe and interviewing a guy who lives in Groebenzell near Munich, Germany and was the co-founder and long time president/vice president of the German Pinball Association. Martin Wiest.
The Pinball Blog: Let's start at the beginning. How did you get into pinball, what was your first machine purchase and when did you realise you'd moved from enthusiast to serious collector?
Martin Wiest: Being a small child I was already excited about all types of coin op machines. I checked every gumball machine for stuck coins and started early to check German money winning machines for loose change. Being about 14 years old I started to play my first games on pinball machines located in many bars and restaurants in Germany. My first coin-op was a money winning machine bought for about $100 when I was 15. In the upper 3 classes of german high school I had 2x2 hours of spare time every week. As my school was downtown in the city Luebeck (North Germany) we'd sneak around to find some amusement and finally started to play pinball during all of these hours. We played either in restaurants, grills and bars or we tried to play in arcades which was not easy as we weren't 18 years old at the time.
I really got addicted to pinball at that time as arcades were filled with EM games and then early electronics - showing new models every month. At 18, playing in arcades became easy and I checked for new games in about 10 arcades every week. In the summer holidays 1980
I worked for 4 weeks in a factory and with part of the earned money I bought my first game - a Williams Stratoflite. I did not last too long, then I bought my first electronic game, Trizone, starting my 'career' as electronic pinball enthusiast and repair expert.
TPB: How many machines do you have now, and do you have a personal favourite?
MW: For many years my personal collection was just 2 or 3 games, but as I moved into my own house in 1995 I started to fill the basement and then all spare rooms of friends and finally our first rented gameroom. Currently I own about 65 games, where 55 or even more are keepers that I like to keep forever. I cannot say which is my favorite game - this would be unfair as there are several games I like most and this changes over the months.
On my shortlist are Star Trek: The Next Generation & Twilight Zone great gameplay on wide body, Spider-man for the best STERN game, Revenge from Mars for great concept and humor, Safecracker for being so small and still a great game, Eight Ball Deluxe for great gameplay and sound, Flash and Firepower - for awesome speed and fun so early, Big Bang Bar for beeng the best Capcom game with great humor and some more.
TPB: I believe you're a Star Trek fan. Do the machines released under the Star Trek license satisfy both your pinball and trekkie cravings? Would you like to see another Star Trek pinball made and based on which series or movie? What unique mode would it have?
MW: The Data East Star Trek was my first DMD game as I am especially a fan of Kirk, Spock and Bones (and their dialogues). Although the gameplay is rather poor, the artwork includes pieces of so many episodes and the beam-up display are really awesome. STTNG was I believe my third DMD game and is one of the best games for gameplay in my opinion. The Bally Star Trek playfield and backglass are decorations on my wall. If I could design another Star Trek game this would be probably a mixup of all Startrek series - with a mode with Kirk & Spock, one TNG mode, one DS9 and so on - and all characters being shown on artwork and DMD. It would have a cannon to fire photon torpedoes and a device to beam the ball to another place ... where it shows up (which in fact is a second ball).
TPB: You're a Steve Ritchie fan and share a passion for motorbikes. I understand you spent some time with Steve and cooked some fish under the bonnet (hood) of a car, can you tell us the story?
MW: I met Steve a couple of times at Expo and we had some great mailing concerning my all time favorite Firepower. We (the GPA) invited Steve to the German Pinball Open 2007 in Bremen and just in time with the release of Spider-man Steve arrived in Germany. Steve, his wife Dianna, my wife Anja and I had some great days in Germany with lots of fun. We became friends and I wrote down all my feelings of that days - Steve commented on it and we had a story that finally got even published in the PinGame Journal. This includes the crazy smoked fish dinner:
Steve got 2 boxes of smoked fish as a present from in fan in Bremen. Being on the highway to the Netherlands for the next 4 hours I decided to buy some rolls, some water and eat the fish out of the box on a parking lot near the highway. We ate the fish with fingers out of the box and it was absolute fun!! After those days in Europe my wife Anja and I were invited by Steve & Dianna to visit them at their house in California. In May 2008 we made this real, rented a BMW bike nearby and had 4 great days together with the Ritchies and made 3 awesome bike trips in the area of Hollister on great roads with great nature. Steve will stay friends forever and I hope to see him as often as possible.
TPB: I've not been to Expo (yet) and it's a must-see event for pinball enthusiasts. What emotions did you experience on your first visit and what have been your Expo highlights?
MW: For enthusiasts like me the pinball expo is a must! I am really sad that I did not know that earlier than 1999 during the high times of pinball. Besides the experience to see the factory where machines are built, it is the spirit of pinball coming from the the people who were and are behind pinball that makes it worth visiting expo. I never play many games at expo - only very rare games are attracting me - it is the talk to the people behind pinball and to people from all over the world that makes me visit.
TPB: I understand in the 1980s German operators could only use machines less than 2 years old which resulted in a number being exported. Does that make it more difficult for German collectors to find older machines?
MW: The 2 years rule was only valid for money winning machines, pinballs could be operated longer.
Nevertheless, most operators did not want to sell games to private owners, as they thought these owners would never spend money on operated games .... and would call every week for technical help. Due to these facts many games were just trashed - even burned in the garden of an operator or just sold by traders to foreign countries. Still, as there were so many games operated in Germany in the early electronic time - it is still easy to find a Firepower, Flash or other successful games from that time.
TPB: You're ranked 5th in Germany and just outside the top 50 in the World as a player which is quite a high standard. You're coming to the UK in the summer for the IFPA World Championships. Are you hoping to win it?
MW: I am not a bad player - sometimes really good, but I am playing in another league than Lyman Sheats or Keith Elwin. So am really honored that I was positioned well enough to qualify for the IFPA 2009 and so I took the chance to enter. I hope that I get a place in the middlefield which I would see as a great success already. My objective is to see the TOP 10 players playing, to talk to them and to have fun. Usually I am lacking the time to play, as I am fixing my games or fixing circuit boards for friends all over Germany. During tournaments in Germany since 1997 I've often been organising the events - so I could not play or at least not concentrated - I am planning to play more in the future - 47 is old, but not too old for pinball.
TPB: You spent some time with Roger Sharpe at the GPO recently and we've heard you know Steve Ritchie, but who is your own Pinball Hero?
MW: Knowing them both know very personally I can only say - they are both my pinball heroes.
Steve, because he designed some of my favorite games that i already played 30 years ago - knowing nothing about pinball and the world behind it. Steve designed great games from the seventies right up until recently - that makes him a real hero. Since the GPO 2007 (see PGJ #127) we are friends and are in permanent contact. I like Steve very much and we are a similar kind of human being in many ways.
Roger Sharpe is pinball from foot to head. He can tell pinball stories all day long without stopping! He lives pinball. Roger is a good player, tournament organizer, designer, collector, worked in the industry for many years (still doing WMS licenses), is a pinball father .... is there a pinball role that he does not fulfill? He is Mr. Pinball in person.
TPB: Germany has always been a big market for pinball, is there now a large enthusiast community and what is your role?
MW: The German market was a big market and the arcades were full of pinball from the end of the 70s. In the beginning 90s the pinball comeback in Germany was tremendous - many games were operated. Today the commercial importance of pinball is low - caused by many facts - but years and years with many games on the road 'infected' people in 70s (like me) and in the 90s (So many people who call me remember starting to play on The Addams Family and their first question is: Do you have an Addams Family game?). In 1996 a pinball friend of mine, Bernhard Wagner, organized the first German Pinball Convention. 26 players and collectors met and decided to found a club - which became the GPA 'German Pinball Association' - founded 1997 in Munich. From 1996 we organized 2 pinball events each year - a spring event with the German Pinball Open (call GPO first time in Cologne 2000) and the GPA championship in autumn. To spread the word - and make pinball popular in all regions of Germany our events took place in many different cities and locations - small and big - more private or with extreme PR (like Munich 2003). From the beginning in 1996 I have always been one of the main helpers - first in the background, but then more and more in the foreground. As GPA vice president and president, as convention organizer, GPA parts and lists responsible and much more. My wife knows how many hours that work took - and with the beginning www our community grew and grew. Currently the GPA has more than 200 members - I am no longer in direct responsibilities but I am doing a lot of background work and action. I am also a moderator in the forum www.pinballz.net (which has also english parts!) that is cooperated by the GPA.
TPB: Who, that we haven't already featured, would you like to see interviewed for Pinball Heroes and why?
MW: I would like to hear Eugene Jarvis being interviewed. He did the software in the early days of pinball together with my friend Steve Ritchie. As I am a software Engineer - I like to hear pinball software stories and stories of the great time of pinball (and also video - like Defender).
TPB: Finally, we always ask our Pinball Heroes to sum up their involvement with pinball with one word or sentence.
MW: For me pinball is more than a passion - it is part of my life and after family and work the most important thing in my life.
Many thanks to Martin Weist for his great answers. There's a big ol' world of pinball out there yet the same few people have touched the lives of so many.
More Pinball Heroes coming soon
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