My wife and I finally joined a fitness center here in Hannover, Germany. I haven’t been a member of a gym for over 3 years, and needless to say, things have gone a little soft. (Damn you, German pilsner. You sweet, delicious bitch.)
Both of us were super psyched the day we joined — we couldn’t wait to work out, get our sweat on, and then go back and do it all over again the next day. This is the honeymoon stage of gym membership, and it is temporary. Sooner or later, going to the gym becomes just another necessary evil in your daily routine. Reality clears your vision and you begin to remember, oh yeah, exercise sucks, I hate it, and I want it to be over as soon as humanly possible.
Beyond the actual exercise is the fitness center itself. I cannot help but notice the differences between the gyms to which I’ve belonged back in the States, and my new gym here in Germany. It’s a small, local gym — not a national chain — so I don’t know if all gyms in Germany are like mine, but I’m going to go ahead and make totally uninformed, sweeping generalizations about them anyway:
The Top 10 Worst Things about Joining a Gym in Germany
1.) The membership fee will shrivel your pink parts.
You’ve seen them before: those massive billboards with a couple of sexy halfwits advertising a gym you can join for “JUST $19.99 PER MONTH! WOW!” Of course, here in Germany, that’s €19.99 euros per month, which, at the time of this blog post, converts to $25.33 US dollars. Still not a deal, right? But then you actually go inside the gym, talk to somebody and find out it’s only €19.99 per month if you sign a 1 or 2-year contract and pay for it all up front. (Month-to-month payments at my gym range from €35 to €50 euros, so after a couple years, you can tell your kid his or her college fund might be gone, but hey, “Do you see any other dads at the park with guns like these? Pow pow!”)
Oh, and even with the 2-year contract, I still had to buy some kind of “start-up” package, which amounted to my membership card, a water bottle with the gym’s logo on it, and a coupon for 1 free personal training session with Arnulf the Human Drumstick.
2.) Not all gyms are open 24 Hours per day
The biggest fitness center chain in Germany is called McFit. My wife tells me the “Mc-” part of the name is a play on the worldwide brand recognition of McDonald’s, but that just makes me think of fat people running on treadmills with Chicken McNuggets dangling in front of them as bait. “Almost got ’em, tubby!” Anyway, McFit is one of the gyms which is actually open 24 hours per day. My gym, on the other hand, seems to be operated more on a schedule of whenever the hell they feel like it. On Monday they open at 6:00 am, but Tuesday? Oh, then you’ll have to wait until 8:00 am. As for Saturday and Sunday, well, you can go ahead and kiss their shapely asses until around 10:30 am.
Now, It’s not that I actually need my gym to be open around the clock — it’s that I need consistency in my life. I’m like Rainman when it comes to my workout routine; if I’m not done by exactly 8:15 am every day, I start hitting myself in the head, screaming, “Qantas never crashed! Qantas never crashed!”
3.) You can only wear “indoor” athletic Shoes
The very first day my wife and I walked into our gym, the girl behind the counter informed us we could not use the exercise machines because we were wearing “outdoor” shoes. Apparently, one cannot simply enter the gym wearing a certain pair of sport shoes and then wear those same shoes to exercise. You need a pair exclusively for indoor use, the girl explained, or else the machines get dirty and worn out. Jesus Christ, it’s not like we were wearing soccer cleats and stomping through puddles of scalding hot tar and broken glass. (Although now I kinda wish we had.)
The real problem with this indoor shoe policy is that it basically forces you to change your clothes twice: from pajamas into dress clothes at home, then from dress clothes into sport clothes at the gym. What else can you do? Are you really going to stroll into the gym wearing shorts, a t-shirt and black leather dress shoes? Probably not. So your options are to buy an extra pair of sport shoes exclusively for indoor use, or show up at the gym fully dressed in the clothes you’ll be wearing for the rest of the day. This is the routine I’ve been going through every day, and it still makes me want to fastball my footwear at the vapid girl behind the counter. “Guten Morgen, Herr–” *BOOM* “–GAAAHK!” Size 11 Adidas to the windpipe.
4.) The employees are all Functionally Retarded
Speaking of the people behind the counter, most of the individuals who work at gyms tend to slant more toward brawn than brains. For example, my wife and I had to speak with 5 different people — on 5 different occasions — in order to get ourselves properly registered at our gym. The first person gave us the wrong price, the second person gave us the wrong contract (this was the owner of the gym, mind you), the third person registered us in the system but lost our files, the fourth person gave us our key cards and free personal trainer certificates, and the fifth person took my wife’s personal trainer certificates away because of some mistake made by the first person. Jesus Tits, I want to slap these people so hard they’d forget an entire year of elementary school.
Part of the problem is that a lot of them are super young — like high school or college age — but the rest are just plain stupid. Like, I wonder what would happen if I licked this light socket, stupid. Obviously this isn’t a trend specific to Germany; fitness centers around the world are owned and operated by people with steaming dog shit between their ears. Of course there are exceptions — some genuinely intelligent people who just happen to work at a place with the lofty goal of making sweat drip from your naughty bits — but not many. I’d say 9 out of 10 staff members at my gym could debut in their own after school special: Today’s episode, ‘TOUCHDOWN!’ tackles the growing problem of steroid abuse among high school athletes, starring Hunfrid the Lovable Halfwit.
And get this — there’s this one super yoked, super tan personal trainer at my gym who smokes cigarettes every day right in front of the building. Next to the front door, so you have to pass him to go inside. Man, that’s like a vegetarian at a barbecue; nobody wants to see that shit.
5.) There are No Water Fountains
I don’t know about the other gyms in Germany, but mine has absolutely no drinking fountains. In American gyms, you can’t go more than 10 steps before taking the corner of a fountain in the dick. Here? You have to bring your own water bottle or buy one from the brain trust behind the counter. And if you forget your water bottle and don’t have the cash on hand to buy a new one? Guess what, Thunder Thighs? — you’re drinking straight out of the bathroom sink. (And yes, I’ve done this before. Many times.)
I don’t know if my gym is trying to make money by selling hideous water bottles, or if management thinks water fountains are wasteful, but as an American, I demand to see a readily available source of ice-cold, triple-filtered water just goddamn everywhere.
6.) They’ve got “Grunters” here too
You know who I’m talking about: They’re always dudes, and they’re always making loud, totally unnecessary grunting noises while lifting weights. I thought this was just an American thing — I really did — but I was sorely disappointed to find muscle-bound attention whores thriving here in Germany as well. And sometimes they aren’t even muscle-bound! Sometimes they’re just average or even subpar human specimens making all the noise! Do they seriously think anyone gives a shit? Even the dolled-up chick on the StairMaster just wants to work out and go home so she can watch The Bachelor. The last thing straight women are looking for at the gym are rock-banging howler monkeys.
In my opinion, gym grunters fall into 2 distinct categories:
- Hans and Franz: These are the guys who genuinely believe all the extraneous noise and loud breathing are integral parts of a good workout. They thrive on quick bursts of manic energy — grunting is just part of it — and they don’t give two flying dicks if you don’t like it.
- Hansel and Gretel: Just like in the horrifying children’s story, these guys didn’t get enough love from their parents. (Seriously, read the original story; Hansel and Gretel’s parents left them out in the woods to starve to death.) What I’m saying here is, these poor fellows really just need a hug. It’s not sex they’re after. It’s not really even about attention. It’s about confirmation. “Yes, you’re a good boy, Hansel. You lifted those weights very well and you really are a worthwhile human being. Now please, shut the fuck up and do your next set of deadlifts in silence.”
7.) Locker Room Talkers ruin the ambiance
In men’s locker rooms in Germany, the first thing you’ll notice is that pretty much everyone keeps to themselves. It’s nice, clean and quiet. No one says a word until somebody leaves: the person says “Tschüss!” and then everyone else chimes in unison like a bunch of naked choir boys, “Tschüss!” and then silence descends once again. It’s pretty weird. But saying goodbye to a stranger when you have literally not exchanged a single other word before is not the problem. The problem is locker room talkers.
These are the guys you never actually see working out. They tend to wander around the exercise machines annoying people, and then hit the locker room where they continue to talk to anyone who will listen. And they do it naked! Just standing around all day long (probably leaning against your locker), displaying their uncut dongs with an entirely unjustified amount of pride. I guess it makes sense though; Germans are all a bunch of shameless nudists at heart.
It’s as if they come specifically to talk in the locker room. (My wife says the gym is probably the only place they get to form social bonds because they have horrible, ugly wives at home.) And God forbid you get two locker room talkers together, then it’s a hellish concert of loud voices, gratuitous laughter and old man nutsacks swinging to the rhythm like a pair of metronomes.
8.) The showers are set to timers
I don’t know if all gym showers in Germany turn off automatically after 15 seconds, but mine sure as hell do. Literally, you press the button and the water runs for 15 seconds before turning off, then you have to hit the button again. My wife likes to tell me this system is in place because Germans are more fiscally conservative and more environmentally conscious than Americans. To this, I reply, yes, I am American, and yes, we tend to be a wasteful people, but everyone should have the right to a continuous flow of hot water while they soap their gnarlies.
In a shared bathroom, the water coming out of your shower head is like a cone of safety; it provides hot water, pressure and soothing white noise. Now imagine you are washing your anus when your personal cone of safety disappears. Everything goes silent except for the squishy scrubbing sounds you’re making, there’s no water hitting your body — so there’s technically no reason for you to be there — and all at once you go from a guy dutifully cleansing himself to some weirdo in the corner with his fingers in his ass.
Judging from the other hideously naked dudes in the shower, the idea is to get your body wet all over, and then, after the water stops running, soap yourself up real good and hit the button again to hose it all off. This might be a reasonable method, except for the fact that during the minute or two when it’s off, the water temperature drops down to penis-shriveling zero.
You know how I deal with this? I punch that god damn button as hard as I can — as often as I can — and make sure to stay in the shower longer than anyone else. Longer than the grunters. Longer than the loud talkers. Longer than the super old bastards who are so decrepit it’s like they’re moving in slow motion. Oh yes, I’m still in the shower long after they’re all gone, taking my revenge upon the entire timed shower system, my overpriced gym, the country of Germany and Mother Nature herself… 15 seconds at a time.
9.) Locker Room CLustering is universal
Everyone has a favorite locker, or group of lockers, at the gym. Typically, it’s in the most private area — spacious, with the most room to maneuver — and as far away from other people as possible. You know who else likes that particular area best? Everyone else.
This is how you wind up with a giant room full of freely available lockers, and 3 naked dudes packed into one corner like wildebeests at a watering hole. I call this phenomenon locker room clustering, and it happens in every gym around the world. In fact, as you read this, some poor sap has just undressed and is turning around to grab his toiletries — only to find himself nostrils-deep in some dude’s loins.
Good Christ I hate when that happens. This is why I go out of my way to choose the worst locker at my gym. It’s the one right up front — the one everybody passes when they first enter the room — and which can be briefly glimpsed by everyone on the cardio machines when the door swings open at just the right time. “That’s right, shoppers; today in the meat aisle we’re featuring Grade-A, 100% American tube steak, but sadly, some greedy young German woman already bought it all…”
10.) Going to the gym sucks no matter where you live
Half of the complaints I’ve raised in this post are specific to Germany, but the rest are just part of the overall gym experience. Going to the gym blows, but we have to do it anyway. (With the exception of my old German integration class, it’s probably the only thing for which I pay money that I genuinely hate.) But for most people, going to the gym is a luxury. Like, if only they had the time, money or basic mobility to go work out, life would be truly grand. Not for me; I’m one of those rare assholes who is honest with themselves about how much going to the gym sucks, but does it anyway.
This is probably why my wife and I cannot go to the gym together. Oh sure, we can travel there together, but that’s where the fun ends. She’s a teacher, you see. She’s always busy, so she’s grateful for any opportunity to go. She’s relaxed, takes her time, speaks politely to the staff, and smiles at everyone because she’s genuinely happy to be there. I, on the other hand, am a freelance graphic designer and I work from home, so I can go anytime I wish. I speed through my workouts with a hateful grimace on my face because I can’t wait to get them over with. I just want to go home and get back to work. Hell, I’d say the gym is the one place on earth where I am openly hostile to people (which would explain why everyone gives me a wide berth, like my body language is telling everyone they can go fuck right the hell off).
So with all of these points in mind, I’m going to go ahead and rate my German gym experience thus far with a solid 3 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds:
… but if you absolutely love your German gym, by all means, tell us about it in the comments section. (Our chubby fingers eagerly await the opportunity to mock you for it.)
Would you like to read another angry blog post about life as an expat? You might like this one: American Expat in Germany Nearly Killed by an Acorn, Vents His Shame upon the Biggest Spider in the Universe