The highest lottery win ever in Germany has been cracked: 42.5 million! But what now? Lutz Trabalski advises the new millionaires. And warns.
The train of millionaires. They all strode over these red marble steps in Lotto Berlin’s headquarters: the worried East Berlin pensioner whose biggest worry was whether, as a millionaire, he would still be allowed to be a guest at Volkssolidaritat, the four female colleagues in a state of exceptional alcoholism who wanted to know whether the champagne had already been chilled, the two catering brothers who first wanted to buy new pots with their millions, the woman with the Ruhr accent who kept asking: "Mr. Trabalski, you’re not kidding, are you?? Tell me this isn’t fun!" And many, many others.
[This text appeared in the Tagesspiegel first time 2019 and has interested many readers. For current occasion we provide it here once again.]
People who look happy for no reason are asked: Did you win the lottery? Lotto has become another word for luck. Yet the probability of winning the lottery is less than the probability of dying while bowling. It is 1 : 139.838.160 for a main prize, i.e. six correct numbers plus the super number. It is amazing that so many participate in a game with such miserable chances of winning.
Nevertheless, about ten to 15 Berliners stand before Lutz Trabalski every year, who is exactly that: one of 139 million. Lutz Trabalski is a winning consultant at Lotto Berlin. What kind of job description! Losers need advice, debtors need advice, but winners?
"I have won after all!", exclaims Father King in the Ruhr series "The Lotto Kings" when an employee from the "Winners’ Service" introduces himself to the brand-new millionaire. The winning advisor is by no means a TV invention, only he doesn’t usually come home, but the lottery ticket holder with the extravagant combination of numbers in his quivering hand has to appear before him. Otherwise there is no money.
Lotto Berlin so, close to the Adenauerplatz. A large fifties building, architectural duckism, but with a will to power, protected as a historic monument. Lutz Trabalski, head of customer service, responsible for "big win processing," is one of those people in whose presence you feel even smaller than you already are. When he wants to speak to others, he usually has to look down deep, probably many a new millionaire has been frightened before him. But the big-winner has an approachability that in the end probably took away everyone’s fear of their own winnings.
Lothar. Lotto. Lamborghini
He probably also shows his clients the shell inclusions in the red marble steps. "The variety is incredibly expensive, they have spared nothing here!", Trabalski explains. For almost forty years he has walked these steps. And even for the millionaires-to-be these are the first into a new life. Trabalski makes sure that the next ones are also the right ones, if possible.
Maybe he’ll tell them about Walter Knoblauch, formerly a fire-eater, then an ambulant brush and shoelace salesman. When this house was built, the most legendary peddler of all time won the then unimaginable sum of 500,000 deutschmarks. He chose the tried-and-tested investment third sex& Drugs& Rock ‘n’ roll. After 22 months, the money was gone, and Knoblauch was selling brushes and shoelaces again. In the meantime, however, he owned a hotel in Jever that said, "Closed due to wealth". Or "Lotto Lothar" from Hanover, 3.9 million mark winner in 1994. He wore a thick gold chain with the three big Ls: Lothar. Lotto. Lamborghini. At the age of 52, he died of gastric perforation and cirrhosis of the liver.
Trabalski’s office is a chill. Brittle working atmosphere, clunky desk, blackboard. 17 degrees? "I’m probably more Norwegian," says the winning advisor and switches off the air conditioner. "That’s where my lucky kids sit," he adds, pointing to the gray delinquent chair at the front of the small conference table.
If Trabalski were to take a seat at the desk opposite, the interrogation situation would be perfect. But he does not. "I don’t want to sit confrontationally," explains the lay psychologist; rather, he prefers to sit flanking, that is, a little sideways, away from the table, casually.
A new life in six numbers
First Trabalski checks the lottery ticket. There are two types of winners. Some come immediately, with trembling hands. These are the ones who are afraid they might lose the ticket at the last minute. Maybe the apartment will burn down, after all, that’s a lot more likely than winning the lottery. Or the woman brings down the waste paper? No one can spend all day looking at a little slip of paper that says a new life in six numbers.
Trabalski understands that. But others take their time. Like the two Neukolln work colleagues who hit the Euro jackpot in March last year. 42.670.719 million and 30 cents! The numbers were: 15 – 23 – 28 – 33 – 36, plus the Euro numbers 4 and 7. Trabalski waited, then finally one came, the other had to work. The 42.670.719-million-euro-and-30-cents peddler seemed at least as matter-of-factly cool as Trabalski’s office. Purely routine? Or he didn’t want to attract attention, not even the Trabalskis.
So there is no typical new millionaire look? " But no!", shouts the first supervisor, one does not make at all an idea, how differently millionaires can look. Very few of them have the showy, "I-own-the-world" look. The East Berlin pensioner who kept asking Trabalski if he could still play cards at Volkssolidaritat possessed a consistently deeply distressed aura of tendentious despondency, as if to ask: What am I supposed to do with so many millions??
Others already have an idea, after all they hand in their lottery ticket every time in a frame of mind of anticipating wealth, but then still don’t exactly look like winning types: What if I’m just dreaming all this??
Trabalski advises his clients to do two things right at the beginning, and that is to do the opposite of what people usually answer when asked: What would you do if you won the lottery??
First I’ll quit my job, then I’ll throw a big party, go on a trip around the world and go shopping only!, is the standard answer.
Keep as much normality as possible
"Quite wrong! Completely wrong approach!", says Trabalski. Just don’t quit your job! Trabalski likes to say "my winners". And then he explains to his winners that in the completely abnormal situation they are currently in, it is all about maintaining as much normality as possible. "I have tomorrow free!", ponders Father King in the "Lotto Kings", pauses briefly, then corrects himself as follows: "Wrong! I am always free now!" And he writes his arrogant boss a haughty letter of resignation. The letter is already gone when his winning consultant explains the same thing to him as Trabalski does.
However, not everyone immediately thinks about quitting. A lady in her mid-fifties asked Trabalski what he asks everyone when they leave his office: "And what are you doing now??"For only when his clients step out of this room again, is the profit official, are they really nailed-down millionaires. Three days later, the millions are in the account, guaranteed tax-free! Cash payments are not provided. The woman looked at him scrutinizingly and said, "Well, I’m going on the night shift!"She could also justify it: "Duty is duty," she said, "and schnapps is schnapps!"Trabalski had never thought of it that way. He was impressed.
But welfare recipients also often think very conservatively. A two-millionaire winner explained to the big-winner that he could not do without his social security, however, because otherwise he would no longer be covered by health insurance. Trabalski’s objection that social welfare was not invented for millionaires was not implausible to him, but it was too short-sighted. What if the two million are gone after a year, and he doesn’t even have health insurance anymore?
This is a perfectly justified concern, as the example of "Lotto-Claus" shows. The Thuringian tiler had won almost 1.6 million marks in 1997. Seven years later, the police arrested Thuringia’s busiest serial burglar: the 1.6 million had long since run out, and as a millionaire – well, ex-millionaire – laying tiles again had Claus W. Can’t reconcile with his social prestige.
"Tell no one about it!", guesses Trabalski
That’s what Trabalski’s initial consultation is all about: How do I start so that I’m still rich and myself next year?? Or at least someone I might be sympathetic to? "Above all, not to tell anyone about it!", Trabalski advises. In no case like Claus W.s mother put an ad in the newspaper inviting friends and acquaintances to the "millionaire’s hill" for a drink. Don’t tell my friends, don’t tell my neighbors, sometimes not even my partner, let alone my children.
A Berlin father felt so sincere, which is why he had informed his 15- and 17-year-old children about the family’s rather novel wealth circumstances. Trabalski paled, rightly so. Hints from their teachers that they would have to make a little more effort if they were to make something of themselves were soon acknowledged only with a highly ironic smile. The two shareholding multimillionaires considered advice from losers to be completely out of place. Only the poor learn for life.
Psychologists explain it this way: winning the lottery is one of the non-normative, i.e. critical, life events. They burden, unsettle, overwhelm. This is true for adults, but even more so for children. It slows down, let’s say, their natural performance behavior.
We have no natural performance behavior at all!, the new millionaire children could now object. That may be so, for those who are very young almost never believe that there is hardly a sadder form of existence than that of having to enjoy oneself every day. Youth think it’s hostile adult propaganda.
Everyone tells him their life story
Not Trabalski. I love going out for breakfast, he says, but the idea that he has nothing else to do every day but go out for breakfast scares him. With Trabalski, those who no longer need it learn to see with new eyes what they need. We have the most social contacts in our work, he postulates, so a dismissal means additional uprooting of someone who is already acutely uprooted.
Everyone tells him their life story. The longest conversation lasted nine hours. He is a confessor, psychotherapist and obstetrician all in one. I give birth to millionaires, says Trabalski.
Trabalski got his start in this house as a student assistant for manual lottery ticket reading. And has remained, in customer service, because actually the environmental engineer with diploma has always been much more interested in people than numbers. Especially those on the ejector seat to a new life.
This is probably the most disillusioning finding: the new millionaire doesn’t really fit into his life anymore. He is, in fact, dismayingly alone. "But I don’t want a penthouse!", said the East Berlin multimillionaire, I want to stay in my small prefabricated apartment! He knew everyone on his floor and the card players every Wednesday at the Volkssolidaritat – that was his family. And he should lose it now, just because of a few million to die alone in some penthouse?
Yes, if he could give his neighbors and the Volkssolidaritat a little joy, or, according to the circumstances, a rather greater joy? "Caution!", warned Trabalski. And there it was again, the admonition to maintain the greatest possible secrecy.
The work of happiness still lies ahead of them
It’s actually a paradoxical situation: If you’re happy, you want others to share in your happiness. He wants to share. This is probably because luck was invented before money. But Trabalski intervenes: "For heaven’s sake, just not that!"Besides, his winners are not happy, they are just lucky. That is a big difference. All the work of happiness still lies ahead of them.
"I’ve always said money spoils character," Trabalski’s grandmother regularly told her grandson. Everything that is straight in people makes money crooked. It tends to turn people who want to give away into noisy Ebenezer Scrooges from Charles Dickens’ "Christmas Story". The big profit processor sees it a little differently. The problem is that the situation can easily get out of control. Nobody asks habitual millionaires for money. They don’t give anything away, otherwise they wouldn’t be millionaires, many believe. It’s different for lottery winners. This is where happy communism comes in. Happiness must be shared. Into more and more pieces and in the end everyone finds his too small anyway?
But the finding remains that people from smaller backgrounds have a much greater need to give away, Trabalski observed. Probably because they know better what material worries are. The only strange thing is how many new worries a man who has just been freed from all worries can have.
Strangely, almost no one feels the need to create a foundation or donate a large sum of money. Trabalski can’t explain that either. Perhaps because winning the lottery is so incredibly concrete and personal that the anonymous gesture is distant?
Sometimes he wants to write a book
And then there is another danger: the chance that one’s own family will pass the test of unexpected great wealth is not readily available either. Because doesn’t a whole new life also include a whole new man, a whole new woman?? And even if not: What if the two left over from their old life think at the very beginning of completely different investments?
Sometimes Trabalski thinks he should write a book about "his winners". Unfortunately, he almost never knows what has become of them.
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Actually, those who become millionaires on their own have it the hardest. Trabalski remembers the tears of the man whose wife was terminally ill. "Why now??", he asked. And he thinks of the Berlin woman who saved all her life for her weekly lot, who had to watch her child die under a collapsing wall. "I have never been lucky in life", she said, it is the first time. The new millionaire knew exactly what she would do when she came out of Trabalski’s office. Step up to the fresh produce counter in the supermarket and say: 100 grams of foie gras and 100 grams of Parma ham, please! Nothing packaged, ever again. This, he says, is her concept of luxury.