It’s a windy, rainy Saturday morning, winter is officially here, but that’s why it’s extra important that we bring the USC community together.
Today Urban Sports Club has teamed up with Berlin’s latest underground institution for an extra sweaty event. In the heart of Potsdamer Platz, behind a Lidl and next to a coffee shop, is the latest venue where you can blow off steam with friends after work or at the weekend. Today is special because Basement Boulderstudio is opening its doors to welcome the USC community.
Urban Sports Club community events are an opportunity to meet like-minded fitness fanatics in your city, to learn a new skill and to become acquainted with new partner venues. Today we’ll be working with three of Basement Boulderstudio’s trained climbing professionals to learn bouldering basics, get acquainted with the climbing walls and put our new skills to the test.
Urban Sports Club’s event dream team greet attendees at the door of the studio and hand out Urban Sports Club t-shirts. Basement Boulderstudio is cool in every way. One of the benefits of being in a basement is that the temperature can be controlled all year round – so the space is always the perfect temperature for climbing. It’s also cool aesthetically – with its black and white aesthetic and industrial decor, it feels very much like a Berlin underground institution.
It’s 10am, impressively early for Berliners, and about 50 USC-ers gather in the cafe space chatting and getting to know each other. I chat with a couple of people from Munich and discover today is their first time climbing. I tell them it’s a great idea to learn in this environment – USC community events are for all levels. Soon USC event hero Dario welcomes everybody to the studio. “Thank you for coming,” he says “Today you’re going to be taught the basics of bouldering. You’ll learn the ropes, have some free-climbing time and then afterwards we have some special guests from Black Roll to help iron out those muscles. And then… lunch!”
We follow the bouldering instructors on to the freshly-laid mats and begin a challenging warm-up of jumping jacks, push ups and some gruelling shoulder work. Afterwards we divide into teams of about 12 – today Luke is showing my team the ropes.
He demonstrates how we climb by keeping our bodies close to the wall, twisting with each move so we don’t lose our balance. Then he shows us how to fall off the wall properly by landing on our feet and rolling backwards on our butts. We take it in turns to fall off the wall, something I find surprisingly fun.
We start by climbing the green routes but it’s not long before the group is itching to move on to the yellows. We soon split up into groups of twos and threes to test our climbing limits and explore the rest of the gargantuan boulder hall. I team up with Jackie and Tom, a couple who are also new to climbing. We try out different routes together, encouraging each other to keep going. At one point I’m stuck halfway up a wall – but Tom points out where to put my leg to get to the next point so I can make it to the top. Without his direction I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Bouldering is a satisfying sport. The routes are called “problems” as you must figure out how to reach the top. Something I couldn’t do minutes previous, I’m able to do upon a second try – it quickly becomes addictive.
Chris Redlich is one of four founders of Basement Boulderstudio. He tells me that it took almost four years to find this venue which was formerly a laser tag. Chris started bouldering in 2012, and from the first time he tried it he was hooked. “It was one of those things – it was as if someone had turned a switch in my head. I knew it was the sport I wanted to do.”
Prior to climbing Chris loved volleyball and judo, but bouldering is what truly spoke to him. “There’s the physical aspect, there’s the mental part, like the risk – and then there’s the problem-solving aspect. And every route is different.”
Chris met Thomas and Fabi, the owners of Bright Site, when he started teaching climbing there. Thomas and Fabi told Chris they wanted to open a more central bouldering studio that’s accessible for climbers of all levels – and is easy to get to. “That was our intention,” Chris says. “Not to exclude people either from their physical level or their geographical location.”
But the location isn’t the only thing that sets Basement apart from other boulder studios. “Every gym in Berlin is full and crowded,” Chris says. “So here there’s a lot of space. We learnt that it’s very important to have lots of space between walls so people don’t fall on each other.” Chris says that climbers actually spend about 80% of their time on the mat – looking at the wall, trying to solve the boulder problem from a distance. “So if the mats aren’t big enough a gym can feel crowded even if no one is on the wall.”
There’s no risk of that happening here – Chris and his co-founders have focussed on creating a breathable space for people to climb, as well as a facility to train. He says in recent years demand for training facilities has increased – but in most boulder halls the space is very limited. “Here we have 150 sqm of training area,” Chris says.
Basement Boulderstudio are committed to opening up all levels of bouldering to the masses. “We also have an LED wall for beginners,” Chris says. “So you have a grid and under each hole there’s a light and you can practice different routes. We have it in two angles so people who aren’t super strong can also try it. We have so many people who are interested in it and we don’t want to exclude them from training and becoming better – our training tools aren’t just for the elite.” This sense of openness emanates from the friendly climbing instructors and accessible, scaled climbing routes.
At about 12:30, after almost two hours of climbing, we gather in the training area for the Black Roll part of the class. We spend the next 45 minutes using foam balls and rollers to iron out our muscles from head to toe. It’s shocking how painful these exercises are, but as our trainer Leon explains, “these exercises are vital to ensure your muscles recover in a healthy way.” During Black Roll I bond with a girl next to me from Canada who also seems to find the process agonising. We discuss our lack of flexibility and love of flammkuchen in between yelps of pain.
Afterwards, it’s time for a well-earned lunch of vegan and vegetarian bagels. We each take home a USC goodie bag full of insect snacks (yes seriously) and healthy smoothie shots. And as I leave the boulder studio, feeling refreshed and energised, I say goodbye to my new friends with the feeling that nothing can spoil my afternoon.
Our community events take place all over Germany. Keep an eye on our social channels to stay up to date.
Urban Sports Club has tons of climbing partners all over Europe. Take a look at our site to see what’s on in your area.