BertaSite Bright Block

For a while I tried bouldering on a gorgeous strip of dressed stone wall in Iranische Str. The stink of piss in the corner, dog shit everywhere, occasional human shit and general skankiness triumphed over my desire to start climbing again, even with occasional visits to various Kletterhallen. Berlin, sandy, flat is not a city for climbers.

About a year ago I made a new effort, and discovered a whole bouldering hall had grown itself barely 15 minutes bike ride from the Uferhallen: Berta Block. I went there about once a week in spring last year, then again in December. That, and Jungfernheide around Flughafen Tegel (ok, and Friday’s market with fresh lamb and smoked fish) are big reasons for living in Wedding. Over the other side of town, south of the Spree in Kreuzberg, it’s a little slim on forests. Climbing though. another 15 minute bike ride and there’s Bright Site. I’ve been there a few times now, and seeing as I haven’t written on climbing in a long time, here we go.

There’s another climbing hall in Wedding, much closer, which I only went to twice, kinda unfriendly and charges for climbing by the hour (lol, whut? I know!), and the bouldering was uninspiring. Berta Block though, and this played a large part in getting me along in the first place, costs a measly 6€ if you get there before 1pm. Me, fitting in my training in the morning thought that was well tasty. Bright Site, which I thought was 9€ across the day (same as Berta’s standard) turned out to also have the cheapies when I arrived earlier in the week (and it opens an hour before Berta, at 10am. I know! Awesome!)

I was biking home thinking about both places, and comparing them, so this is something of that, what’s similar, what’s different, what I like (well, 6€ morning bouldering in excellent local halls is what I like). Berta is around twice as big, and twice as high, though the walls are only slightly higher. Bright on the other hand has massive windows running the length of both long sides on its first floor home. Both have cafés and stretching/yoga/training areas, Berta’s upstairs on a mezzanine (Bright might also have a second area downstairs at the far end of the café. I haven’t properly looked). Both have music nights, competitions, training evenings, tend to be full of families with small kids on the weekends (less so for Bright in the week mornings), and have a pretty similar feeling, enough that I could imagine them to be connected.

So what’s different? Bertha also has more routes, not just because of the extra square metres, they have swimming pools full of holds, and most walls have a few to several routes overlaying each other. The actual climbing feels significantly different, which the blisters and flappers on my fingers from Bright seems to prove. I think Bright is much more bouldery in route construction, often with those weird final or crux moves that are either psychologically tough, dynamic, awkward, or otherwise unusual. Bertha feels often like sections from longer climbs, where the entire route is in one style, fingery, slopers, laybacks, balancey, but not often going from one to the other, and only psychologically unsettling within that, which has led to regular What the Fuck moments at Bright I haven’t had since climbing in China.

Bright is also physically harder on hands (except for the fingery vertical stuff), and the colour-coded grading feels more spaced and sometimes erratic. Berta uses the Fontainebleau (numeric) grading and seems to have more variety of easier and mid climbs, though that might also be my current state of climbing improficiency.

What else? Well, entirely subjectively, the music is better in Bright. I’ve heard the usual generic beats at both, but at Bright everything from classical western to classical Indian to American folk. Both are almost completely absent of broulderers, plus a lot of women in both (and families and ankle-biters), which might just be a local thing, I dunno, but it’s kinda nice. And yeah, both are super-friendly.

I’m a long way from climbing like I used to, and do miss the millimetre edges of my old railway bridges in Balaclava, but both these places have reminded me how much I love climbing, the pleasure and calm it brings, attached to the world by fingertips and toes alone. It was always the one thing I never thought about too much, analytically or otherwise, the way I have with all things around dance; it’s just something I do, which I missed these last years with no regular, nearby place to go. So, yay to both Bertablock and Bright Site!