Pulling Plastic in Berlin: The Best Indoor and “Outdoor” Climbing in the City

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Berlin isn’t known for its fantastic highballs, limestone tufas, splitter hand cracks, or really any other type of outdoor climbing beyond a bit of illegal buildering. There isn’t any good climbing directly outside of the city either. The Frankenjura is over four hours away by car, the Alps are a 10-hour bus ride south, and a two-hour flight (plus at least five hours of waiting in airports) will get you to Fontainebleau–it’s about 10.5 hours away by car.

I’ll admit: I did not pick the best summer study abroad location for outdoor climbing. However, pockets of the Berlin climbing community have done their best to create unique spaces for newbies and seasoned senders alike to meet up, train, and relax. My favorite of the city’s eight climbing gyms is “der Kegel.

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The outdoor lead wall.

Located just southeast of the city center in a progressive, street-art-filled neighborhood and less than a ten-minute stroll from the Ostkreuz Ring-Bahn station, der Kegel is easy to get to and interesting aesthetically. However, the graffiti art and multiple vegan café options in and around the gym are just a bonus. The site includes indoor and covered outdoor bouldering, a short outdoor lead wall, a training room with weights, hangboards, rings, and yoga mats, a climbing-specific training room where one can invent one’s own project-specific problems, and, of course, a café with homemade snacks, cheap but delicious espresso, and a small wine and beer selection.

What more could you ask for? Well, it’s also the least expensive gym day-pass-wise in the city. The Monday to Friday early bird special (you must arrive before 3 p.m., but you can stay as long as you’d like) is only €4 for adults and students–€ 2cheaper than any other gym in the city–and the normal adult day price is €7, while students pay  €5.50 (€0.50 less than other gyms’ early bird specials).

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The climbing-specific training room.

More reasons to go: The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed. You can go to boulder alone and jump in on another group’s projecting session or bring a few friends to climb and still make a new acquaintance or two. With two sections of outdoor bouldering, two indoor bouldering rooms, and the small lead wall–really a cylinder–I’ve never had trouble with overcrowding, though I’d avoid going during the kids’ climbing lessons weekdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. There is indoor and outdoor cafe seating, so you can take snack, chat, and relaxation breaks when you need them, and, if you’re into overall strength and preventing muscle imbalances (which you should be), you don’t have to leave der Kegel to lift, stretch out with a few yoga poses, or complete a quick gymnastic ring workout post climbing.

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The color-coded bouldering grading system, using the Font French scale of course.

As for the route setting: The movement is varied, interesting, and intuitive. There are problems in a variety of styles–slabs, roofs, overhangs, slopers, crimps, pinches, pockets, etc.–at every level from V0- to V10+, and the gym uses a simple color system (see photo left) to mark the grades. The walls are reset often, one room each week, and der Kegel has the most forgiving padded floors I’ve bouldered over in the city. You can also top out every problem in the main indoor bouldering room.

While it’s not the most pristine gym in the city, Boulderklub Kreuzberg feels more modern with its open layout, der Kegel is the most friendly, relaxed, and fun gym I’ve found yet. The staff are welcoming and speak English, the facility has street-art-esque designs and murals painted on the ceilings and non-climbing walls, which makes lying on your back in defeat less terrible and helps perpetuate the relaxed vibe. And, honestly, if I have to climb on plastic, I’d rather do it in a gym with character where on nice summer days I can climb “outside” with the occasional breeze cooling my sweaty forearms than anywhere else inside in the city.

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End your climbing session with a short strength session or core workout.
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…Or visit the café for a recovery snack and cold beer instead.
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