Climbing gyms almost always exude some sort of vibe. Here in Colorado Springs, for example, there are three prominent climbing gyms. City Rock, the family-friendly, all-around gym; Springs Climbing Center, the bouldering-only, intensive training gym; and Pure, a half-bouldering, half-American Ninja Warrior training center. Each gym entices climbers with different intents: beginners, climbers pushing their strength or endurance, those only interested in particular climbing facets, and climbers somewhere in the mix. Because the same general type of climber goes to each gym, one can feel out of place, at times, upon entering each one. Thus, the vibe matters.
Last block, I was taking a course in Germany, and as an avid climber, I was desperate to get on rock—albeit plastic. The course offered little free time, but we had a couple days essentially open for exploring. Naturally, I ditched the museums and historical sights to find some rock gyms, both in Berlin and Leipzig. I was a bit apprehensive about stepping into a different climbing scene, but I couldn’t resist. What I found was a climbing vibe that I highly envy as an American gym rat.
In Berlin, unable to comprehend the train system after several tries, I set out on foot to find Boulderklub Kreuzberg. The walk was rather unpleasant, along highly trafficked streets, until I came about five blocks within the gym. Suddenly, I was in a quiet residential neighborhood, an area of Berlin I undoubtedly wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I stopped at a supermarket, staring at Google Maps with a baffled expression; I had supposedly arrived. Upon further inspection, I found a staircase leading to the upper level of the building, the gym. I marched up the stairs, opened the doors, threw back a curtain, and entered the German climbing gym world.
At first glance, Boulderklub Kreuzberg was like any rock gym—a front desk, a small retail area, a café and sitting room, and the bouldering walls. I nervously approached the counter and asked, embarrassed, if anyone spoke English. The woman behind the counter smiled knowingly and nodded, having me fill out the waiver and pay for a day pass—six euros, approximately $7.50. That’s basically half of what American gyms charge. I already liked this place. And their café sold 16-ounce beers for $2.50!
I stripped off the countless layers I had used to block the penetrating cold outside and hit the bouldering walls. Europeans use a different grading system than Americans, who rate boulder problems from V0 (beginner) to approximately V16 (expert, professional level). Their boulder problems start at “1” and progress in difficulty up to “8,” with letters A, B, C, and D distinguishing nuances on the same number level. Boulderklub Kreuzberg made it even simpler: the color of the tapes marking the problems were arranged in a spectrum from “relativ leicht” (relatively easy) to “relativ schwer” (relatively difficult). I appreciated this system thoroughly. As American climbers, my peers and I can get obsessed with the numbers.
The entire gym was calm. No children screaming at their friend’s birthday party, nor ripped males practically harassing their buddies on the wall with, “C’MON, DUDE. YOU GOT IT. BREATHE. BREATHE!” Climbers, equally distributed by gender, conversed in various languages in quiet tones, working problems together in a civil fashion. In the background, light electronic music played at a moderate volume, only raising to the raucousness of Arcade Fire.
As for the climbing itself? Excellent. The boulder problems were unique, drawing on the climber’s technique much more than brute strength. Many of the problems used large features as holds, requiring difficult moves such as mantles and gastons. I was forced to battle slopers and awkward angles, and I actually liked it. Unlike the usual “gymtimidation” air so common in American climbing gyms, I didn’t feel like people were watching me and assessing my worthiness. I was content.
I realized that the vibe of climbing gyms really isn’t about the gym’s offerings or intent; it’s about its climbers. Boulderklub Kreuzberg seemed respectable enough to me—challenging, diverse boulder problems, professional set-up, a wide range of levels—thus proving just as legitimate as any standard American gym. However, it didn’t give off any arrogance, a need to “climb hard” and “send it.” The climbers there just came to climb and try the problems out; there was no sense of competitiveness nor frustration over failure. Just the love of climbing, plain and simple.
As a climbing gym monitor at CC, this is an energy that I truly admire and wish to cultivate. Climbing is an intimidating sport to enter, between its jargon and vulnerable environment. As a gym welcome to beginners, the Ritt Kellogg Climbing Gym strives to reduce that intimidation to a bare minimum. Unfortunately, I have found that it is not possible to maintain that welcoming vibe with just the work of monitors alone; all participants must acknowledge the energy they give off and how it may affect others.
So, to all climbers, new and old, I implore you: take a note from the Germans. Climb for the love of climbing, and climb for the love of a loving gym vibe.