Bye bye Madonna, hallo Urban Sports Club!
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I like to do sports. When I first moved to Berlin to live and die here (I mean it!), my budget was nearly non-existent and that's how I started jogging. My first love is swimming, but that meant buying a ticket every single time and I figured out that going for a run was free and I should try.
I hated running until then, mainly because it used to be the part I dreaded the most when I played basketball in school. The warm up run before starting the training felt to me quite boring. But Runkeeper didn't exist back then, so as soon as I got an iPhone everything changed for me. I got addicted to the 1 or 2 extra Kilometers in each session and before I knew it, I made it to 21kms.
In any case, as much as I liked both activities, I've never been so happy on how they make me look. Swimming definitely makes for a strong back and shoulders, and running for great legs. But I kinda had them both already - genes, you know. So right after my great experience with the Clean detox program, having lost so much belly, I started toying with the idea of finally joining a fitness club. First, as a true money-saving minded Catalan, I started with the Technische Universität gym. But soon it wasn't good enough. As cheap as it is, I guess I'm old enough to appreciate a nice smelling changing room and showers...
My strong reasons against spending real money in a fitness club had always been that I love outdoors training, and I hated running on the treadmill. Also, almost none of the ones in Berlin have a real pool, so the price tag didn't justify me switching from my combo of public swimming pool plus jogging.
But then I tried yoga and of course I paid a test visit to Jopp & Jopp, back then recently rebranded as Hard Candy: soon enough I decided to join, since the price per month was really attractive.
I have to say I don't regret the decision. I committed to 3 years and doing such an investment upfront gave me exactly the kind of motivation I needed to create a habit. From December 2014 until June 2016 I was enjoying the great Pilates and Yoga courses, the pool in the brand new Mall of Berlin and of course the saunas in each club AT LEAST 3 times a week. My skin never looked this good before!
On top, being mostly an only women gym, it made for a much better experience than expected. While I'm still confused on why some women will have make up on while training, it made for a very relaxed atmosphere and VERY CLEAN environment. I got to learn to have fun while using the training machines and definitely made some progress with my German, since I kept listening the really helpful Deutsche Welle podcasts while doing my routine. Win - win!
But things starting falling apart in February 2016. It was very clear that the trainers were not getting paid and that's why they were boycotting the owners by not showing up and leaving us all grumpy. But I never thought that the point will be reached when electricity bills were not paid and therefore they would need to shut down all the clubs. I naively thought that the classes might need to be suspended, but I could still enjoy the machines and facilities.
So there I was in mid June having enjoyed only half of my paid membership and without any real solution to my problem. While Berlin summers leave room for much more outdoor training, I definitely was missing my Yoga classes. I tried following on Youtube the fantastic Yoga with Adriene classes in the Tiergarten, but I ended up sunburnt and full of mosquito bites.
Until one day a light bulb appeared on top of my head: I actually had won 1 month L membership for Urban Sports Club on Facebook a few months earlier*! I know personally both founders since 2012, when they were kickstarting their startup and I was one of the first people to receive the member card back then.
Problem was, in 2012 Urban Sports Club was the first try in the world to unite all sports in a city in one membership. Correct me if I'm wrong, but all the rest came later. Which meant that they had quite a limited offer and it didn't appeal to me. I remember one of my first feedback comments to them was: oh, no swimming?
Fast forward to 2016, USC is active in other cities in Germany, has an impressive network of independent studios accepting Urban Sports Clubs members, and I can swim in the public pools and also in the Holmes Place pools. Not only that, they had now a mobile app, which I think it is the biggest mistake of all other fitness clubs: we need apps to organise our trainings!
So I've been using my membership since 3 weeks now and I only have one more week to go. Rating of the experience? 8/10. Do you want to know why? Oh, then you need to keep reading!
Well, having an L membership set me up for success. The list of possible sports you can do EVERYWHERE in Berlin is just overwhelming. Not only that, if you fall in love with any particular place, you have almost no limitations, only 8x monthly in some studios. But having into account that the cheapest membership is 30€ and gives you access to Yoga, Pilates, Swimming and Wellness among many other possibilities, I truly believe I would have enjoyed the S membership the same.
If you are scouting for your perfect places where to train, USC is also a life-saver. You can compare hassle free any studio without making an appointment: it's just a full access pass to unlock what's good in Berlin for any kind of training you like.
Getting into details, my first experience was in Yoga Tribe and while I loved how cute it was, I took a class that was a bit too slow for my taste. I mean: 10 asanas in 90 minutes? I know yoga is about relaxing and being present, but oh well, I'm still a beginner...
On the other hand, the Sunday morning I spent in Spirit Yoga was a fully packed session in a crowded room with lots of stretching and sweat. The views from the top of the Hackescher Höfe are stunning and the after practice Chia Tea felt like heaven. It gave me the perfect start of the day and the studio is definitely a great contender to steal me as a client in the long run...
My third time using my membership gave me ALL THE REASONS to write this blog post. I chose Jopp & Jopp / Hard Candy back in the day as well because it had been around long enough for many of my friends to try to convince me to join. But I always wanted to join Holmes Place because it was the only one that had pools big enough for me: it only felt too pricey for my taste. In any case, I was very curious to visit THE ONE, the benchmark, what I thought was the ultimate fitness experience in Berlin.
Well, the one in Friedrichstraße felt pretty claustrophobic. Entering the changing rooms and seeing lines and lines of showers and lockers made me feel like a rat trapped underground and I definitely wanted to go away. But I had come for a swim, had carried all the swimming stuff all day long, so I kept my way forward. Next thing I know I'm in a pool that could have well been a techno club: the lights and the metallic pool surface were pretty impressive and scary to face in a swimsuit.
But what will be stuck in my mind forever is the walk between the changing rooms and the pool. It had happened to me in the Hard Candy in Steglitz, but I thought it was a one time thing. But oh no, it is not: as soon as a gym is mixed men and women and you enter male territory IT JUST STINKS. TO PEE.
You might think I'm crazy, but it cannot be a coincidence.
In any case, I swam as I could in that pool trying to forget about that smell that really made my stomach turn. And I couldn't stop thinking: who the hell designs a metallic pool? Someone who probably never swam more than 500 meters, that's who. Because the water and the metallic surface create an optical illusion where you think you are reaching the end every 3 strokes. And while my body knows the distance, I still didn't manage to swim with my eyes closed.
But Urban Sports Club is much more than Holmes Place. So I took a friend's recommendation and paid a visit to Peace Yoga in Kreuzberg. Just TOO PRETTY and perfect for sunset yoga. I failed to take pictures of the room because I arrived too late for the last session of the day. Turns out that every day you have a big roaster of sessions and while the room was a bit too full, the equipment and the trainer were perfect. A winner!
And because I want to make the most out of my month, I decided to check the other Holmes Place gym in Neukölln that many friends had raved about. Thank God I did! Because I found what felt like a gym to commit again if it were not for USC. A huge space with high high high ceiling and views to the Hasenheide, tons of machines and really comprehensive schedule and classes. And of course, a pool - I'm obsessed, I know.
AND, it didn't stink.
And last but not least, this weekend I tried Aerial Yoga in the Academia Jangada inside of the Kulturbrauerei. Oh well, it was definitely getting out of my comfort zone, because I don't love the feeling to be "up in the air", I have a really bad time in high spaces (I feel like buildings are collapsing under me) and this was pretty close to that and on top I had to be upside down.
I managed, I survived and there were a couple of poses I enjoyed A LOT. Let's say that when you are suspended in the air and you are using gravity in a whole new level, the downward dog stretches your back beyond you ever thought it was possible. I think I will do it again just to see if I can keep pushing my fears away, also I feel Aerial Yoga is much more effective in helping with your back and relaxing your muscles. But it doesn't mean I'm ready to leave the "mat in the floor" type of yoga :D
Also, nothing could prepare me for the kind of Muskelkater I'm experiencing two days after...
So, my experience with Urban Sports Club has been so far nearly perfect. It's being hard for me to take the time to research and choose among all the possibilities and I think that's keeping me from sticking more than 1 or 2 sessions a week. I guess if I would continue, I would end up going to the same places with the advantage of being able to switch anytime and also cancel my contract with 3 months notice for the S membership and 1 month notice with the M and L memberships.
Would I pay for the L membership, at 100€ a month? I'm not really into personal training but I am into massages (who isn't) and one single massage in Berlin can cost you easily half of it. But if I would have to choose, I'd go for the 60€ one, the M, just because all in all, that's exactly what I paid in my Hard Candy phase.
I don't regret what I did, but now, I know better.
Thanks for reading my full overview on what's been 10 years of sports struggles in Berlin. If you made it until here, you deserve a gift:
If you want to join Urban Sports Club, use the code "giveit2me" on check out to get 10 Euro off for your first six months of the M- or L-membership. But only if you sign up until the 9th of September**
* I didn't receive any money for writing this blog post or for example the one about Clean. I got this feedback several times about my two longest writing entries so far, which I take as a compliment of my blogging and effort, but it wasn't the case. Both times I just had an experience that I wanted to share with anyone who'd be interested to read.
** When I told the founders of USC during Tech Open Air 2016 that I wanted to write about my sports struggles in Berlin including a review about my experience with Urban Sports Club, they casually mentioned they'd be happy to provide a goodie if I was interested. They honoured the promise and I'm very glad I can give away something cool to the people who like to read and do sports ❤︎