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'I was a lazy student, that's how this started'

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"Superbrain" Boris Konrad helped Germany to victory in the World Memory Championships. Photo: Boris Nikolai Konrad/namenmerken.de
12:02 CET+01:00
Nobody puts a name to a face better than he can. Boris Nikolai Konrad helped Germany to victory in the World Memory Championships by recalling 106 names in 15 minutes. The 29-year-old "Superbrain" is The Local's German of the Week.

Whilst the individual championship title went to Swede Jonas von Essen, Germany's three-man team of Konrad and team-mates Johannes Mallow and Christian Schafer beat 31 other countries and around 120 rival brain-boxes to defend Germany's title as world memory champions in Croydon at the start of December.

Konrad also holds the world record for remembering names and birthdays - 21 people in two minutes. 

The teams were pitted against one another in events such as memorizing numbers, names, words and birth dates.

This year's competition had been tougher than usual, Konrad told The Local. “In recent years it was often pretty easy for us to win, because few other countries had a good overall team, just one or two strong members," he said. “But this year Sweden, Mongolia and the Philippines all had really great teams – it's getting harder all the time."

Germany still came out top overall by a wide margin and Konrad's individual win in the "remembering names" category – in which contestants are given a file of headshot photos with fore- and surnames to memorize and repeat – contributed to their storming victory.

'I was just a lazy student'

The feats of name memory are made possible by special techniques he has mastered, but there is no deep mystical knowledge involved, he insisted. "These are not secret methods – the Greek rhetoricians knew about them 2,000 years ago,” he said.

And his original motive for mastering his memory was far from winning international competitions. "I started just before going to university,” he said. “I had heard about the techniques and I just wanted to make university life as easy as possible," he said.

"I was actually just lazy, and that's how I discovered this whole thing," Konrad added.

The researcher, who studied physics and IT at Dortmund's Technical University and Reading University, uses different types of thought association to remember long strings of data.

For the name memory event, Konrad constructs a picture in his head and then links the picture to the person.

Another trick is to associate the data with items in a story. When he recounts the story he can then remember which bits of the data are associated with each parts of the story.

But the hardest discipline for him is an event based on holding long sequences of numbers in your head for a whole hour. "It's especially difficult because you have to hold such a high level of concentration for so long," he said.

Konrad works at Munich's Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry researching the effects of memory training on subjects. "I teach the methods to a student, they have to practice them half an hour a day for six weeks, and I investigate how much they improve," he explained.

The research comes alongside selling training materials, including his book "Superbrain: Memory training with a World champion" – and preparing for his Spring 2014 seminar tour, for which tickets for a day-long seminar will cost €390 per person.

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Since growing up in Hattingen, near Essen in western Germany, Konrad has made television appearances in several countries.

And in 2006 he took the helm of MemoryXL, which his website describes as the largest memory competition club in the world, aiming to spread awareness of the little-known brain training sport and, "similarly to the German Chess Association, unite as many memory technique enthusiasts as we can under one roof."

"We're active across Germany and have members in six other countries," Konrad said. "We promote memory-sport, run championships and events…training seminars and beginner tournaments," he added.

"I always try to create as much publicity as possible for the sport," he said.

READ MORE: German Nobel Prize winner yearns for home

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