At this time of year it is even harder to go out of the house to do sport – I had to bring up an extra dose of motivation for my training today. I don’t know if I would have made it on that cold November evening if reinforcements hadn’t signed up. Because it’s difficult to go to the gym or yoga class alone in this weather. The only thing that motivated me to stick with my plans is my buddy Laurence. We have arranged to meet to play squash and I definitely can’t disappoint him and I just cancel on the grounds that it’s cold outside.
The gigantic letters of SQUASH HOUSE are easy to see even in the dark. I enter the huge sports complex and as soon as I see Laurence’s happy face, I’m glad I came here. Laurence loves squash. Since he was 21 years old and was bored in his hometown Stroud, in the west of England. He had just finished university and despite the beautiful scenery and charming little shops and cafes, Laurence and his friends got mad with boredom at home with their parents.
In the spirit of Urban Sports Club, even if we didn’t even exist back then, Laurence and his friends made a pact to try a new sport every week to get a change. “We went to our local sports club and tried everything,” says Laurence. “Badminton, table tennis, five-a-side football, the gym (which I didn’t like), swimming, and we played squash. And that was just a lot of fun for us – especially hitting the ball hard. And when you play with your buddies, a competition quickly develops to see who can hit the ball the hardest. ”
Squash House is like a leisure center, much like the one Laurence describes. On the border between Lichtenberg and Friedrichshain, in the east of Berlin, the Squash House extends over hundreds of square meters and the members of the Urban Sports Club can use badminton, squash, table tennis and bowling. All you have to do is call ahead, reserve the space you need, and then check in with your USC membership.
Laurence and I go to Court 8. The field has four walls and is so brightly lit that I have to blink for the first five minutes. The walls are littered with black scuff marks left by previous games when players hit the wall. The wall in front of us has two red lines that clearly mark when a ball is out of bounds. And even the ground has red lines that indicate where to stand when you serve. But as soon as the ball is in play, explains Laurence, the squash court is free-for-all – so you can run anywhere you want.
I’ve played squash with my roommate at university, but I’ve forgotten most of the rules. So Laurence starts teaching me how to serve. “You have to stand in that red box, look at the opposite corner, and hit her with the ball so it hits my corner,” explains Laurence. I make several attempts that go completely wrong, but after a while I hit the ball hard enough for it to bounce into Laurence’s corner.
When you hit that little rubber ball really hard against the wall, your brain will release serotonin. It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling. “It’s one of those sports that makes you feel good,” says Laurence as he hits the wall with his racket. “As soon as you are done, you feel exhausted, but at the same time euphoric.” Our squash game has become a little more difficult because Savannah is on the field to take pictures. We try to play carefully so that the ball doesn’t hit them or their equipment. But after two hits my competition side takes over and I can’t help but hit the ball as hard as possible against the wall. So Savannah paces back and forth across the field to avoid the ball and take photos at the same time. I keep apologizing, but I can’t help but hit the ball. Eventually, Savannah says that she has all of her snaps and quickly leaves the field. Urban Sports Club only works with the bravest photographers.
After about 20 minutes, I’m completely drenched in sweat. Squash is a very fast game – the ball can only touch the ground once and Laurence makes sure that I have to sprint from side to side with every stroke – back and forth. “It’s a really nice feeling, like you’ve had a real workout,” says Laurence. “And it’s not boring, but exciting, fast and full of action – I always love to play.”
Squash is a great winter sport. When it’s cold and dreary outside, I usually meet up with friends in bars or restaurants. But with squash you can have a chat and do sports at the same time. “That’s why I like it,” says Laurence. “It’s a really great way to hang out with friends, otherwise we just meet in the pub.” Laurence and his buddies usually book the field for 1.5 hours. The four of them always take turns. “We keep switching until we’re all exhausted,” he says.
45 minutes on the field are over and I feel exhausted and at the same time euphoric. Although I spent most of the time crouching against the wall for fear of the rubber ball hitting me, I had more fun than I initially thought.
After our game, Savannah, Laurence and I have a hot drink and sit in the common area of Squash House, where we talk about the fun of punching sports. And as I walk through the dark streets on the way back, I feel like a different person – like someone who has earned an evening at home with Netflix.