We recently came across an event at a bouldering wall in Hamburg, Germany named "Sei Boulderpate für einen Tag!" or "Be a bouldering mentor for a day!" The premise of the event? To bring refugees from shelters in the city to the wall with the aim of helping them to experience something new and meet local people - their bouldering mentors - in a friendly, welcoming environment. Is this something we could do more of in the UK perhaps?
To find out more about the initiative, we spoke to Verena of FLASHH - boulder spot in Hamburg.
"Be a bouldering mentor for a day and spot, accompany, experience a refugee, their history, their culture...And along the way show them a whole new perspective on our country, along with a few magic tricks on the wall."
Interview translated from German by Natalie Berry
How did you come up with the idea for "Sei Boulderpate für einen Tag"?
I had the idea after we'd put some clothing donation boxes for refugees by the changing rooms. Donations were given with great enthusiasm and I thought to myself: clothing donations are important and a nice thing to do, but who do these donations actually go to? Who are the faces behind the collective term "refugees" and what is their story?
Can you describe the concept of it?
I really wanted to bring people together who were coming up against this crisis, housed somewhere in the town in refugee shelters and therefore far away from us. People, that we know under the term "refugees", and who at first seem totally alien with different cultures, values and norms - if not also (albeit falsely) threatening. I believe that therein lies the key for the future: creating opportunities for contact, establishing connections and thereby getting rid of invisible but existing boundaries. And what better way to do this than through sport? Bouldering is really communicative and the obstacles to overcome in order to get going were small: we already had climbing shoes, old trousers and a few tshirts from a previous session.
We called upon our customers who know our wall very well. The sport that I do two or three times a week anyway and the desire to do something for the refugees was easy to combine.
How did it go on the day - was it a success?
Our customers felt it was a success and took on the idea so enthusiastically - we were impressed. Many had been waiting for something like this. A woman said to me that she didn't feel able to help with clothing donations, but when she heard of our idea, she thought: that's it! Just as I had imagined, we had many more mentors than refugees in the end!
Where had everyone come from?
The squad of 15 male refugees were from Syria and Afghanistan and came from the Bürgerzentrum Altona Nord, where they are being taught German. Our bouldering mentors were FLASHH customers and were called to action via our Facebook appeal.
What did the refugees think of the day? Are they keen to start climbing now?
The guys really enjoyed it. Some were unstoppable and some flashed and climbed problems in the green circuit (Font 5). The less sporty ones were quite happy in the cafe and shared snacks and drinks with the mentors. Those who became boulder addicts were offered a free subscription. New contacts can be built and friendships formed when equality is reached through compensation such as this.
Why do you think bouldering or climbing is a good sport to bring people together like this?
You don't need many words. Sport combines people without needing a large vocabulary. It's also how I met my husband! Showing something on the wall, a few gestures, a handshake and you're there. Climbing is not just about the body but also the brains: How can I get up there? Which technique do I need to use? Even if you boulder alone, you inevitably come into contact with others. You give tips, encourage each other - if I see someone alone in the middle of a particularly tricky problem I will go and spot them. What's more, you're so focussed and concentrated that you forget the world around you for a few hours, stress reduces and you leave the gym with a clearer head.
Will you run a similar event again?
Definitely! We want to do the same again for the women's German course from Altona Nord. We already have another request from another shelter. The event wasn't an expense. On the contrary, it was an enrichment. I'm sure the mentors feel and think differently following the day. They now connect their own experience with the slogan "Refugees Welcome!" and for that reason alone we need to repeat the event!
Do you think other walls in Europe could run a similar event?
I think that would be lovely. I can only emphasise that it wasn't an expense, seeking out helpers and a few errands like drinks, tshirts and cheese rolls, but there was not much more or less done. The rest was done by our mentors and organised really well by them alone. But ultimately that's bouldering: you come to the wall and everything runs by itself!