As you might know, I currently am a research fellow at Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel to work on my dissertation. But of course, we promised we would review bouldering places we visit during our travels. So today, I will give you a short little review of Aloha Sport Club Braunschweig. Since I am here quite long term, you will get a long term (= 4 week) review and not just first impressions.
First of all, Aloha Sport Club doesn’t offer bouldering facilities only. It also has tennis and squash and I don’t remember what else. The location is a quite run-down building from the outside, but it’s an ok sports place on the inside. Just like old fitness facilities used to be in Germany, only that most of them have probably been replaced by more modern fitness studios nowadays. Well, this one hasn’t and it includes a decent sized bouldering room, so no complaints here. The locker rooms are not places where you want to stay and shower, but I always shower at home anyway. And coming from Wolfenbüttel, this location is the closest of the three bouldering places in Braunschweig (the other ones being Greifhaus and Fliegerhalle), to be reached in about 15-20 minutes by car. Most reviews also mention that it’s quite an ok facility on the inside once you got over the shock of how run-down it looks from the outside 😉
Zoom and Filter
There aren’t many people there, but the regulars are quite nice and talk to you easily. As for the routes, I find them a bit weird. At first, I thought I just needed to adapt (I am afraid of heights when I don’t trust the wall and the mats yet). But now that I’ve been there more than once, I feel like something’s off with how the boulders are done. Of course you can always use techniques like flagging if you really master them and get away with practically anything. But I am still at the beginning of learning flagging and I have real difficulty here. I feel that the walls just don’t really afford technique, if you know what I mean.
The feeling is completely different from our home base at Boulderclub Graz where all the routes feel quite natural – even if the advanced ones are still of limits to you as a (relative) newbie. When you look at them or watch an advanced person do the routes, it is usually quite clear that they were set with the flagging technique in mind and you can always figure out a meaningful way to do it with flagging. Usually, most well-set routes become manageable once you approach them systematically and with ok technique. The difficulty is mostly to figure them out systematically and then go through with it practically. Here, this is not at all the case.
In my frustration, I googled for reviews and found that many complete beginners (first time bouldering) thought it was wonderful and left positive comments. And that’s ok. It’s not a bad place to go bouldering. But I also feel that in comparison to home, the way the boulders are done is a lot worse. They just don’t feel natural. And voilà, a quick web search turned up that more experienced boulderers (is that the correct term?) have felt the same way. Some comments I found said that they thought most boulders afforded “solving” them by force rather than technique. Somebody else said that the difficulties were seriously mislabeled – which, by the way, I also felt. I am completely unable to complete difficulties I normally master. There are some really easy routes, but a lack of intermediary ones. The “second level” and “third level” (to avoid colour differences between countries) are often really difficult. That would be green and blue in Graz, but yellow and green at Aloha.
Comparison to Graz
At home, I had been at the point where I can complete the “first level” (yellow in Austria) easily, the “second one” (green) in 80% of the cases unless it’s a difficult one which I can work out after a couple of times and then, I manage – say – about 30% of “third level” (blue) routes and progressing quickly. Here it’s white, yellow, green, blue. And I can only do yellow. Those are almost a bit too easy. But then yellow sometimes have nothing to grip properly or are spaced apart so much that I would have to jump which I don’t fancy. Green ones totally don’t work out. Even though in Graz, I at least usually have a good go at them (blue here) even if I don’t manage all of it. At Aloha, even though green here should theoretically be the same level as blue in Graz, I really don’t get anywhere at all with them. So far. It’s quite difficult to progressively work boulders out if can’t even get parts of the route. I think the problem might be that there is too big a gap in difficulty between level 2 and 3 labels. Maybe it’s going to get better the more I get used to them. Hopefully. And I am progressing. So maybe it’s just me taking a little longer to adapt to this new wall…
Mislabeled difficult routes are bad for newbie motivation
Overall, seeing as I only started climbing around 4 months ago, I think it’s not super great to be in an environment where I can’t do the level that I usually do. Someone who’s been bouldering for a very long time with a very high skill level, might be able to compensate for this or their self-esteem is less affected by little failures like that. But for me, I think this environment is not optimal for my progress, since it’s just demotivating and frustrating. That’s why I will try the other bouldering place soon, just to reassure myself that the fault is not mine. (Edit: I actually did and it turned out that it really seems like the problem wasn’t on my part – the other place went much better.)
Jumps required in supposedly easy routes
Also, I often feel that the routes must have been set by someone really tall. Because those from the “second level”, I often felt were not doable for someone my size without jumping / leaps which is definitely not “second level” (and I am seriously afraid of that, so I can’t complete a lot of routes which would be doable for my level apart from the jump). The jump is also not big enough that I think it’s deliberate either. I think they just didn’t take into account that a smaller person can’t reach that far even with the best technical approach and full body extension. And, at least from what I have seen in Graz, deliberate longer jumps are not usually part of blue ones. These are mostly labeled purple in Graz (“fourth level”), so should be blue here. It could be, of course, that I seriously misread the routes and just didn’t get how they were supposed to be done. So it could be my fault. But then again, this is my review, so my feelings as a customer count 😉
If I hadn’t paid for a monthly ticket in advance, I would have probably changed to somehwere else
But to be honest, I already have paid for a pass for one month, but am seriously considering trying the Fliegerhalle this Friday. Just to get my motivation back up (hopefully). Because here, I really feel like a complete idiot even although my fitness levels have definitely improved lots over the last weeks. (I decided to do some sort of personal fitness challenge while I’m here).
Also, another interesting fact maybe: it seems customary here that you can use volumes even when there isn’t a boulder from your route on them. In Graz, if you want to stick to the rules, you should only use volumes when they are marked as part of your route by the presence of a boulder (mostly a mini-boulder) in your routes’ colour. This doesn’t seem to be the case here. Maybe I would just have to make use of the wall and volumes more to manage the routes here. Well anyway, I think I’l never feel quite at ease with the Aloha wall. Sorry to have to give a bad review in the end ;(
Asked a guy whether he liked the place and he praised it, but failed to mention he worked there
Something else has happened to me and it was this: I got talking to some guy and asked him whether he thought this was a good bouldering place (also in comparison to other options in Braunschweig) and he said that, yes, he thought it was the best one in BS. But what he failed to mention is that he works at the place. So obviously he thinks his spot is the best. I don’t know but I personally would have given a disclaimer like “I work here, so I’m probably biased, but I think this place is the best for objective reason XY”.
Because it became obvious he worked there the second time I came to the gym already. So he might as well have mentioned it. Felt a bit weird finding this out right about the same time I was starting to have doubts whether I had picked the right place. I had bought a ticket for a month anyway (I assumed this was the ideal location for me because of the relative closeness to my appartment and the fact that I didn’t have to travel through Braunschweig town in order to get there). So it wouldn’t have made a difference. But anway.
Detail on Demand
Since I wanted to share my first impression, or that is to say, the impression of my first week going to Aloha Club, I have left this first part of the article the way I wrote it after the first week. But I scheduled it to a few weeks later, so I could add later experiences and also to add the comparison with the other places in Braunschweig I have tried out. Furthermore, I didn’t want to post a somewhat negative review while I was still going there, so I waited to publish it until after my monthly ticket had run out. So this following rest of the article will be from later experiences.
After one month of going regularly to Aloha (2-3 times a week consistently), I will give some final impressions. Frist thing, the monthly pass is around 35€, so quite cheap and only 2/3 of the price in Graz. However, I still stick with some of my criticisms.
The boulders are often quite seriously mislabelled. A nice guy who turned out to be chief of boulder setting at Aloha told me that he is aware of the problem but since everybody there sets those boulders for free in their free time and they tend to be very hurt if you change their labelling, they usually remain the way they are. Most boulders have a little sticker with the name of the person who set it, so the regulars apparently are all aware that if it says ‘Meik’, consider it at least one level more difficult than the label. Well, that’s nice for the regulars. But still, I think that the customer is king (or queen) in the end. And if the people who set the boulders are super down when their labelling is criticized – hello, if you are able to set crazy difficult boulders it’s quite pussy of you if you can’t take criticism. After all, the boulders are not set by babies either.
Aloha should really think about improving their policy on this because it is a major drawback for me. Even if I am supposed to know that the boulders might be mislabelled, it hurts my ego when I can’t do the stuff that I usually do. That, in turn, acts like a self-fulfilling prophecy causing me to generally perform below my skill level or at least stops me from raising to the challenge, which I usually do at some point. This is not fun in the long term.
And I’m quite sure I am not the only person who is like this. Since Flliegerhalle is not far away, (plot twist) actually much easier to reach by car from the motorway, and hardly more expensive (a few euros on a monthly ticket), I would recommend everyone to go to Fliegerhalle. Really sorry, nice people at Aloha. Furthermore, as Aloha already has to make up for its somewhat shabby look, they should definitely take these issues more seriously. Fliegerhalle is just generally a much more put together place that’s fun to be in and doesn’t look like a derelict building either. In the direct comparison, I personally wouldn’t find one single reason to choose Aloha over Fliegerhalle if I had the choice.
Pro-tip: Never buy a long-term ticket before you have tried the place at least 1-2 times
So what do we learn from my mistakes? Never buy a long-term ticket before you have tried the place at least 1-2 times. Even if it will be more expensive in the long run / for a single try, always try the place at least 1-2 times before buying a ticket for a longer period of time.
On the upside: Weird routes forced me to focus on technique
As for the more positive stuff. Since I couldn’t do hardly any of my usualy skill level at Aloha and even the level 2 stuff sometimes was quite a bit more difficult or respectively made less sense than what I was used to, I had to work hard on my technique to reach half of the output in mastered routes that I usually have. So I made it my job for this month to kinda ‘vanquish’ this wall. I now am at the point where all the yellow ones (level 2) are kind of too easy, but most of the green ones (level 3) are kind of too hard. (Whereas I think I would be at a level to master at least 70% of blue ones = level 3 in Graz by now.)
I have used the time to teach myself a few new techniques for my repertoire which will always come in handy, I guess. So not really time lost in terms of training. I even had a really cool session every third session. But the ones in between tended to be quite annoying and frustrating which is uncommon for me. In Graz I would have a frustrating session max. once every 4-5 times.
Pro: Nice regulars and volunteers cheered me on
But, then again, some of the nice people I met there helped teach me how to dyno and explained how to figure out a particular route for me. That was super nice. But still, if most of the routes are set in a way that a non-pro person cannot figure them out at all without help from those who know how the routes “were meant to be climbed”… I can’t really see how that’s a good thing in the end… Alright, some nice people helped me out – those people are not Aloha. But this is a review of Aloha. And Aloha’s quality was average, if you ask me.
So that was four weeks of bouldering at Aloha. Apparently, a lot of German climbing champions climb there. But still, I am not a fangirl type of person (unless it comes to researchers or historical people, or Magnus Midtbo, I guess), so I really couldn’t care less if the *best German boulderers ever* came to this gym. So, summing up, it is set well for complete beginners who will find enough easy ones for a fun session and it has some nice stuff for very advanced boulderers. If, like me, you are in between and just don’t pass as really “advanced” yet, there is quite a gap and you will be forced to do stuff which is either too easy or despair on stuff which is rather way too difficult to make a nice training progresison. So, regardless of the apparent appeal for very good boulderers, it still is set badly for the average user and, sorry to have to say that, I would definitely recommend going to Fliegerhalle instead.
“Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand” is the so-called Shneiderman’s mantra for data visualization. The blog headings were organized according to this mantra for no reason in particular 😉