Body Life is a family run fitness centre in the North East of Frankfurt, tucked near a Laser Tag warehouse and a ginormous bike shop. You can play all kinds of sports at Body Life – squash, ping pong, spinning, fitness – but today we’re here to try Badminton.
Although the sport was only recently added to the Olympic Games rosta, badminton has a long and rich history. The game was originally called Poona and was invented in India. It was adopted by the British Army in the 1870s and introduced to Europe a short while later by the Duke of Beaufort. Him and his pals played on his estate in the rolling English countryside where they re-established the rules and developed the sport into the format that we know today.
Body Life is the kind of sports centre where you are happy to spend your spare time. The place is airy and welcoming with a sleek reception bar area and a huge modern seating space where people can chill after a game of squash or badminton. Every weekend there’s a breakfast buffet that can be enjoyed here or in the leafy garden. The people behind the bar are warm and chatty and the place has a real sense of community and fun.
Before we play our first badminton game we meet with Nikolai, the manager of Body Life. “My father launched the business in 1989 – we celebrated our 30th birthday in November,” he tells us. Body Life was the first place in Frankfurt to open up private courts. “Normally you have to be a member of a badminton club or rent an entire hall or play outside,” Nikolai explains. “We were the first place where you can just turn up and play. And it was so crowded when we opened that there were no free courts for 3 or 4 weeks – everything was reserved.”
Badminton is a popular sport because it’s so easy to pick it up. “The really nice thing about badminton is that everyone can play it – from the beginning.” Nikolai explains that Body Life doubles up as a badminton court and a social space for Frankfurt’s bankers.
“Lots of people come here and play after work. In fact the most popular drink in here is Hefeweizen (wheat beer). So people come and do their workout and drink beer.” Nikolai laughs as he remembers “In our earlier days everyone was smoking in here and you came out stinking of smoke. The bankers were drinking here until 1 or 2am – shots and everything.”
Body Life is riding the wave of a new sport phenomenon that’s hit Germany called Speedminton. “You play badminton on a badminton court but with a squash racket – it makes the game faster.” But these guys have taken it a step further: “We’ve changed it to Blackminton. So you play Speedminton but in a dark room.” So just to confirm, I say, you play Badminton with the wrong racket in the dark? “Exactly.” Nikolai laughs. “It’s fun because you paint your face with neon colours and you can only see each other’s faces. A lot of children have their birthday parties doing it. It’s really funny. And the shuttlecock glows too – it looks like you’re smashing a glow worm through the hall.”
Sadly we will not be playing Blackminton today. We are here for a classic badminton lesson. Nikolai leads us to the ginormous badminton hall. “Soon we’ll open up doubles courts but these are just for single games,” Nikolai says. There are three courts, brightly lit and squeaky clean. Nikolai shows us how to hold the badminton racket: “Hold it at the very bottom of the handle,” he says “and you serve by dropping the shuttlecock and sweeping the racket under it.”
I try it out and completely miss. The shuttlecock drops to the floor. I try again, and again, and again. On the fifth try I hit the shuttlecock and it glides high in the air and circles down. Fritzi runs and smashes it over the net. “I used to play this at school,” Fritzi says.
The rules are simple – there are 21 points in a game and whoever wins a point takes the next serve. It’s easy to get the hang of hitting the ball and, because the shuttlecock travels slowly in the air, you have plenty of time to position yourself for the next shot. It doesn’t take long before Fritzi and I are able to have a decent rally. “Okay,” she says, “let’s have a match.” I serve the ball and Fritzi absolutely smashes it over my head. 1 – 0. The next point she wins by tapping it so gently over the net it’s not earthly possible for me to get there in time. That’s when it hits me: Fritzi plans to absolutely kick my ass at badminton.
I start paying attention to her tactics. She takes advantage of which side of the court I’m on and will hit the shuttlecock to a totally different side to win the point. Other times she’ll just smash it over and behind my head, somehow managing to keep it within the court line. I’m having to sprint all over the place to keep up and after about 10 minutes I’ve worked up a sweat. Fritzi has barely moved. It turns out badminton is definitely a good cardio workout, especially if you have a competitive streak.
I start mirroring Fritzi’s techniques and soon we’re able to have strong rallies. I’m surprised by how much fun it is to smash a shuttlecock. It makes a satisfying thwack and soars through the air high and slow. The game doesn’t have the same frantic urgency and speed as tennis or squash. It’s still fast and it still makes you run but without feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack or get seriously injured.
Fritzi wins the first game by a significant margin. “I’m warmed up now,” I say. “Let’s play a real match.”
I lose our second match by an even larger margin. “Another game?” I say to Fritzi. I can see how this game can become addictive. Fritzi agrees. Unsurprisingly I lose again, by an identical margin as before (21 – 7 if you must know).
“Another game?” I ask hopefully.
“I think you’ve done enough losing for one day,” Fritzi says. And she’s absolutely right.
If you’d like to try Badminton Urban Sports Club has many partners across Europe. Take a look at our site to see what’s on in your area.
And check out Body Life’s website to see everything they have to offer.