Fat Red Tape Sunday

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February 3, 2013 by anelim

There is nothing like a good dollop of red tape if you want to get your perfectly average boring Sunday spoilt.

On a drab winter Sunday, having lived in Berlin for 4.5 months (crikey, has it been that long?), yours truly finally made the final resolution to join a gym.

Now, don’t you for a moment assume that I am a sloth. Rest assured that inclinations and inklings and even true desires to establish a regular gymnastic routine have steadily accompanied each single day of my German residence. I even rode to work on a bike while the weather was warm (in the first half of October), visited a local swimming pool (once), and managed three days of home-based ballet and yoga exercises when my back was in pain. I went to the gym three times while I was abroad and stayed near my former university. But the lack of local Berlinische lore conspired with the freezing and dark winter weather, backed by my multiple other demanding engagements and several episodes of illness, consistently overrode the simple nature call of my achingly idle muscles and bones. In other words, I hadn’t seen a gym on my usual and unusual routes to and from work, and so I didn’t know where to go.

Google came to the rescue. I waded through tens of gym websites, most in German. It turned out that most didn’t have a price list and instead expect you to turn up and declare your desired schedule and tailor a solution to your needs. Easier said than done, when you just want to have a membership pass so you can show up any time of day you like, between zero and thirty-one times a month, and use some of the machines, the stretching space and the shower. Or to go and pay every time you train. Or to pay once a week or month. No, these options are rare. You have to commit yourself to a routine and pay for it in advance. That is to say, most gym memberships are obscenely expensive. Another peculiarity of Berlin gyms is that quite a few of them seem to be gender-restricted (to women only) for reasons I cannot comprehend (they don’t say why that is, and there don’t seem to be men-only gyms, so it can’t be a religious thing). Probably there are enough women who like women-only gyms, otherwise they wouldn’t survive. Anyway, the ones I saw online were way out of my price-range.

Next, having been introduced to the Humboldt university excellent Mensa, I looked at the Humboldt university page. But – probably because my German is so lousy – I just couldn’t understand for sure whether visiting researchers can use facilities, how much they cost, are they available for periods less than 12 months, what documents are needed, and – most importantly – where the heck they are located in this not very small city. I gave up on the education route and because I spent the last two months constantly travelling, I put the (now, ironically, increasingly slim) idea of a gym on the shelf for the time being.

A month ago – after the Xmas break – I brought all my gym clothes to work one day. I tried to enrol myself into a gym located around the corner from my job but it turned out to cost the incomprehensible 630 Euro a year (360 for 6 months) because they had such amazing aerobics courses, tracked your fitness goals, and offered a sauna. I didn’t give a toss about fitness courses, didn’t want to share my fitness or other goals with strangers, and had never been to (or intended to visit) a sauna. At least not in the context of doing sports. Maybe on a day I’m not doing sports. I’d rather they had a swimming pool in the same building, but no, German gyms don’t have pools and pools don’t have gyms. We need to keep things organised, you see. Granted, I have been to a Japanese onsen and it was one of the awesomest things in the world, but it was a relaxing herbal bath full of old ladies and gentlemen and their kindergarden-aged grandchildren and not a sporting activity. But what really put me off (in addition to the price) was that the pink brochure had a range of goals: from ‘fitness’ (self-explanatory German word) through ‘wellbeing’ (another self-explanatory German word) to ‘Spass’ (fun). The “fun” list had several items including socialising, enjoying movement, and getting out of the house, and a neat list of pink boxes to tick. Next thing, they will introduce a “Spass” tick-box list of aims and objectives for sex, requiring one to track their weekly progress throughout the year. Uh, no, thanks.

You’d imagine this would have been enough to make me give up a middle-age sporting career and content myself with hand-lifting pint-glasses in the pub. Not at all. After a few more tiring physically idle weeks, I was done waiting. I spent an hour of my Sunday googling, and found a more or less local gym which claimed to work 24 h / day, even on Sundays. It didn’t say how much things cost, but didn’t seem too posh. So there was hope, two metro stops away. I rose from my comfy armchair, packed my trainers in an Anthropology Conference linen tote which used to belong to the previous tenant of the flat, and headed out into the cold with all 179 Euros that I had in cash.

Sadly, this is not a happy end story, so get another biscuit before you read on. I got to the gym (located in the third floor of a dead-looking shopping mall – remember, it is Sunday and no one shops on Sundays). It wasn’t very obvious from the street, so I had to do a few rounds, but that’s another story.

Now I’m worried that you’ve all built up to expect some grand climax, either imagining me successfully trodding along on a treadmill, or an earthquake swallowing the gym and the street and the whole of East Berlin. No, all that happened is that I encountered some red tape. They only offered a one-day pass costing 10 euro, or an annual pass costing 240 euro or so. Nothing in between. And, for the annual pass, they need your Residence Registration Certificate (Landeseinwohneranmeldung), your international passport, and a German card or other statement that you own a German bank account. I didn’t have any of the above on me, so I sighed and decided to go for a single ticket. But even for that they wanted a passport identification. Silly me, I did have enough money for the one-day ticket, if not for the annual one, but I had left my ID-card and passport at home because I thought it wouldn’t be safe to leave one’s passport in a locker. It didn’t occur to me that a gym could have the right to ask for my identity.

I got home thinking that I’d fetch my registration certificate and passport and bank card and go back. I would register for 12 months even though I’m only here for another almost 6 months. After all, only 2 stops on the metro, and 18 (in effect 36 euro) a month, I can live with that. Alas, the coveted certificate must be in the office, because I can’t find it anywhere.

Fat, fat red tape, and not a treadmill in sight today. Time for a beer!

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