I did not expect to find myself in Berlin at the weekend, nor did I think I would still be here at the time of writing, having originally booked my tickets to fly back early Monday morning.
I came to visit my cousin to help her recover after an appendicitis operation, but this week had other things in store for us. Just two weeks after the op, she ended up having another one. Of course, I couldn’t leave as early as I had planned and ended up extending my stay, because there is nothing worse than leaving someone you care about alone in a hospital after such a stressful period.
Undoubtedly, this has been a stressful experience for me too, as anyone who has watched a loved one in pain can imagine, but apart from worrying about Eva I have had all the comforts I need – her (huge) flat to stay in for free, internet in the hospital for work, and her travel ticket so I don’t have to spend money on going back and forth from home to hospital. The only thing frustrating me in my day-to-day life here was that I couldn’t climb.
My addiction has now escalated to a level where I feel like the only thing that can calm me down and provide focus if I’m really stressed is climbing, so naturally being here has made that longing as strong as ever.
So, on Sunday afternoon, as Eva wanted to take a nap, I decided to explore the closest gym to the hospital. It turned out to be a place called Der Kegel, a bouldering gym a few stops away from the hospital, not far from Frankfurter Tor (a station on the U5 underground line). A friend of Eva’s had told me about this gym the previous day, while I was worrying myself sick waiting for her op to finish. Knowing it was so close to the hospital, I couldn’t resist.
I turned up at around 2.30pm and found it quite quickly. And the most remarkable thing happened. Just walking into a climbing environment helped me relax. I didn’t even have to touch any holds. I instantly felt better!
The gym is hidden within hipster market, in what looks like an old factory complex, surrounded by stalls selling vintage kitch and street food. Graffiti covers its walls, depicting a female climber on what looks like a horribly pumpy roof climb.
The staff at Der Kegel are super relaxed and the guy at reception spoke to me in perfect English when he realised I wasn’t from Berlin. He didn’t seem at all bothered about me signing any paperwork, despite it being my first time at this climbing gym. I paid for my session (€7 for adults, €5.50 for students), and went for an exploratory tour, with German hip hop blasting out over the speakers.
The indoor gym itself is quite compact, but much of the climbing is outdoors with a roof semi-covering the bouldering areas. There are two of these, and a top-rope wall outdoors too, which according to the pictures on their website becomes an ice climbing wall (!) at some point in the winter. But my favourite bit was the graffiti, hands down!
Indoors, there is also a cafe and a small climbing shop, a children’s bouldering area and a training room, with fingerboards, rings and all. I got a little overexcited about the rings, as I usually do. My abs hurt the day after, though maybe that’s just a result of having a forced rest from climbing for a week…
The one thing I found a bit weird was the grading. Instead of the usual V grades, all routes seemed to be on a colour scale from “relatively easy” (green) to “relatively hard” (black), six colours in all. There were also some randomly coloured routes in places, where the grade was entirely anyone’s guess. I managed some blacks without difficulty. I failed on some blues (third level of difficulty), miserably. So it would be fair to say the grades are really varied.
Climbing “outdoors” was really good fun though. Part of the outdoor bouldering area is visible to the general public, and I felt so cool working on my routes while random people stopped and watched. There is even a “real” rock wall here, which feels a little more like proper outdoor climbing. So much so that I promptly made myself bleed by scratching the back of my hand on it. Just like my usual outdoor experiences!
Luckily, the weather was perfect at this point – mild, and sunny. I imagine this place isn’t so great when it’s wet, cold and windy outside, as there isn’t enough space and variety indoors to make it worth a proper training session (in my humble opinion).
I only spent a couple of hours at this place, as I needed to hurry back to the hospital, but I got a nice feel for it. And I even took 10 mins to appreciate the coffee and cakes. They were serving brownies and homemade vegan energy balls, which were a really nice post-climbing snack, and a regular coffee was only €1.50! It came from a proper coffee machine and all.
All in all, I would really recommend this place on a sunny afternoon. I don’t know if I would enjoy training there regularly, but it was perfect for a light weekend session in between loads of other chores.
I really want to check out other climbing gyms in Berlin now though – I am told there is one called Magic Mountain which has some great ropes climbing. Perhaps next time, and in better circumstances – watch this space!