Let’s talk about exercising in Germany

by Heidi Obermeyer

One thing about all of the amazing cakes that I eat all the time in this country is that they are not that good for you. I know this is a shocking revelation, but the age-old addage is true- “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!” Or in my case, “A moment on the lips, an afternoon of guilt until evening comes and the next dessert menu gleefully erases that guilt with another piece of cake.”
So anyway, I’ve been trying to exercise in order to stave off the inevidable decline in my physicque that comes with eating totally awesome rich food all the time. Since I’ve been in Germany so long, I’ve tried lots of different techniques.
The first was joining a gym in Munich. There’s some important things you should know before you make a similarly rash fitness decision in Germany:
1. Germans look SHARP while they’re working out. I have never seen a German breaking a (minimal) sweat in anything but their finest matching workout attire. Purple seems to be a popular color scheme these days among German women, so if you’re looking to fit in that’s a color pallette I would suggest. We’re talking matching down to the shoes here, folks. It’s serious.
2. Gyms, like all other locations in Germany, try to provide their patrons with a good work/life balance. In my Munich gym, there was a café that served a ton of rich coffee drinks and protein shakes. Some of the old men at my gym would literally sit in the middle of the sweaty gym space enjoying a cappuccino and reading the paper. I like my gym as much as the next guy, but there is no way I’m hanging out there during my down time! This is Europe! Go drink your coffee in a quaint café like a normal person!
3. Everyone is totally naked in the locker rooms. No quams. No judgement on this, but it’s quite surprising if you’re coming from the American gym-experience. And in general, the doors tend to open straight into the hallway- with no privacy screen or little hallway bend in front of them. Lord have mercy on your poor soul if you should get stuck with a locker next to the door.
4. Germany doesn’t do air conditioning. Generally this is fine, since for most of the year you need the heat on in this country anyway, but in a room full of people on elliptical machines a few open windows doesn’t always do the trick.
5. I have decided that Germans don’t sweat. While I was laboring away on a treadmill with sweat pouring down my face, I could look around at a room of full machines and see maybe one or two other people who looked like they were exerting any major effort. Maybe I just have a low heat tolerance, but man. For the minuscule amounts that the people surrounding me were sweating, I have the sneaking suspicion that the gym was more of a seen-and-be-seen place to hang out than a serious fitness zone.
My second attempt at staying in shape has been by running here in Berlin. In Munich I lived right next to the Englischer Garten, which is an enormous park (bigger than Central Park) that has essentially endless trails for getting your jog on. In Berlin, I’m about 1 km away from Volkspark Friedrichshain, which isn’t half bad, but just can’t compare to the size of the Englischer Garten. VP Friedrichshain is more fun though, because tons of people hang out there grilling and playing games and stuff late into the evening in the summer, making runs at 9 p.m. a perfectly safe and reasonable thing to do. In addition to sporadic runs, I’ve been trying to bike more instead of taking the train. This has been mostly successful, and I actually hadn’t been on public transport for a week until I took it to see Obama yesterday. Biking in a big city comes with its own sets of challenges of course, but so far I have avoided any serious accidents. The one downside is that the city center is slightly downhill from my house, so getting back up(ish) to my house after going to class can be a little difficult, especially when it gets really hot out. However, I have discovered much more of the city in the past few weeks from biking than I ever did by only using public transport. It really helps when you’re trying to get to know a place, and it forces you (well, me at least) to remember street names on occasion.
The pictures above are from a recent bike ride over the Tiergarten, where I did some painting and reading for class. Anyone else have funny working-out-in-different-countries stories? I feel like there’s gotta be some good laughs on the topic out there somewhere.