In a north eastern corner of Nuremberg, on the outskirts of Erlenstegener Forest, you’ll find a bouldering gym that takes climbing to the next level.
Founded in 2011 by Reto Faulenbach and Hannes Huch, Cafe Kraft is Nuremberg’s first bouldering gym and one that’s ideally placed; just 30 minutes away is Frankenjura, one of the worlds most highly regarded and challenging outdoor climbing areas.
As a result famous climbers from all over the globe train at Cafe Kraft and then take their skills outdoors to the challenging and diverse routes of Frankenjura. In fact Cafe Kraft is so well-respected that their trainers and climbing partners have published numerous books about bouldering, climbing and the psychology behind the sport.
The first thing you’ll notice when you enter Cafe Kraft is a large image of two dudes high-fiving. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” the website reads, “and the picture above, showing Wolfgang Güllich and Kurt Albert, expresses exactly what we would love to offer to all of our customers at Café Kraft: partnership, fun, cosy hospitality, sportiness and new paths far from the beaten track.”
The second thing you’ll notice is the hospitable and friendly atmosphere. The smell of fresh coffee and croissants hangs in the air and the staff behind reception smile as you enter. Friends chat on the vintage sofas and although it’s 11am and the gym has only just opened, an energetic buzz fills the space.
My bouldering trainer today is Ralf who doubles up as a climbing expert and Cafe Kraft’s marketing extraordinaire. Ralf has been climbing since he can remember. “I was raised between rocks,” he says. He’s about 6 foot 2, laid-back with kind brown eyes and, like many climbers, is instantly warm and open. We sit around a coffee table munching biscuits and sipping frothy cappuccinos as Ralf explains the story behind this world-renowned climbing institution.
“We just celebrated our 8th birthday a few months ago,” Ralf says. “We had a big party.” Since opening in 2011 the gym has built a strong community of climbers, many of whom come to train with the world-class professionals who work here. “A lot of pro-climbers come here,” Ralf explains. “We’ve got two very famous trainers here who founded the concept of training for climbing. They wrote books about it, that’s why we’re famous for it globally.”
To Ralf and many others, bouldering is more than just an activity. “Bouldering is a lifestyle sport, like skating or surfing in the 90s. The bouldering lifestyle is a little bit of a dirtbag lifestyle – we want to get out and enjoy nature and we do it properly. We respect and understand nature.” Bouldering has become increasingly popular in recent years for that reason – people crave a closeness to nature and want to respect their surroundings.
Cafe Kraft is a centre for bouldering innovation, spearheading the global climbing community and pushing the limits of training and technique. Ralf explains that there is a lot more to bouldering than climbing – it’s a psychological skill too. “You have to be positive and visualise being on the top. There’s a lot of philosophy in climbing that you can pull into your own life as well.”
Today I must get into a positive mindset – as Ralf is going to guide me through a bouldering session and I’m really afraid of heights. After we put our climbing shoes on Ralf shows us around the expansive bouldering hall. This gym is unique as an entire level is built above the wall as decking. This means you climb up, over and onto the decking, climbing down via a ladder, which makes the climb realistic, like an actual outdoor wall, and much less dangerous. Sometimes climbing down can be more difficult than climbing up.
I however, will struggle with both. The walls here are many and varied. Some are straight, some are curved and some have overhangs. There are different levels for routes – green is easiest, yellow is more challenging, then purple and so on (I have no plans to go beyond purple.)
Ralf picks a yellow route for me to start with on a wall with a slight incline. He demonstrates first, placing both hands where the yellow tags are with both feet off the ground. He clambers up it as if he’s walking up some stairs. “Easy!” I say, as he drops to the floor, light as a feather. I start climbing and find it relatively easy until I come to the slight overhang. I freeze. Ralf is shouting encouragement from below, telling me where to put each leg, but he isn’t aware that I don’t know my left from my right which is why I keep making mistakes. Eventually I get too scared and clamber down the wall. “Next time,” Ralf says, slightly perplexed over why I found that so confusing.
The second wall Ralf suggests is less of an incline. He demonstrates how to do it and I follow suit – and this time, with Ralf’s guidance, I climb over the top. The adrenaline rush is immediate and gratifying. “Let’s try another one!” I say as I clamber down. “Take a rest first,” he says laughing. But I’ve got the bug now.
“Let’s try a more difficult route,” Ralf says. “This wall is all about balance rather than strength.” Ralf leads me to a purple route which goes sideways instead of upwards. He demonstrates how I must keep my body very close to the wall and he expertly holds the tiny grips as he shuffles along to the end. “Now you try it,” he says. I get about half way along the wall until I get to a thin grip which I can barely hold. “Make space for both your feet and distribute your weight evenly,” Ralf says. I try, and fail.
I try several more times but repeatedly fail. “Okay let’s try a different route,” Ralf says. Every time I try a route Ralf gives a steady stream of instructions and encouragement and every time I make the right move he’s so delighted it’s as though he’s the one who’s just completed it.
Ralf is unaware that there are three things that hinder me from being a good climber: 1. I do not know my right from my left. 2. I am afraid of heights. And 3. (the most obvious in my opinion) I am really short.
Ralf suggests a purple route which spreads over two walls. He demonstrates the climb and I stand below him literally shaking my head. There’s no way, absolutely no way, that I am able to do that. Ralf’s legs were stretched their full length and he’s 6 foot 2. I’m 5 foot 5 at a push.
“Just try it,” Ralf says. I feel like I’d be genuinely hurting his feelings if I didn’t at least try this impossible route. So I place my hands on the two purple holds and begin to climb. As suspected, I get stuck halfway up. To get to the next boulder my leg has to reach an impossible distance – I’ll have to leap to get there. “Hold on with your left hand and stretch!” Ralf says. I stay frozen to the spot. “I can’t do it!” I yell down. “If you fall I promise you won’t hurt yourself.” He says, positioning himself to catch me. I’m faced with two choices. 1. Climb down and disappoint Ralf. 2. Jump and risk crushing Ralf. I realise that Ralf’s crushing disappointment is the worst outcome of them all so I take a deep breathe and leap.
Incredibly, miraculously, I make it to the boulder. Ralf punches the air and yells with triumph. I clamber up and over the top, legs shaking, genuinely euphoric that I made it – but most of that joy comes from seeing how delighted Ralf is. When I’m back on the ground we high-five. “Amazing job! Well done! I knew you could do it!”
After this I’m a little tired and my hands are sore. We try a wall with a crazy overhang and I make it a little of the way up and then I fall on my ass. To be honest, after all the excitement, I’m absolutely exhausted.
I wipe the chalk from my hands, take off my climbing shoes and look up to see Ralf scaling a cliff face by his fingertips. And I realise the reason I achieved so much today, more than I thought possible, was because Ralf believed in me – much more than I believed in myself. And there’s nothing more motivating than that.
If you’d like to try bouldering, Urban Sports Club has tons of bouldering partners across Europe.
And check out Cafe Kraft’s website to learn more about the amazing work these guys do.