About a year ago I joined a gym.
Now I have, over the years, been a member of many gyms - there was the one in Cannock where there used to be lots of muscle bound guys pumping iron whilst admiring their form in the mirrored wall, then there was the one in Lichfield that was based in a period residence complete with high fancy ceilings, where the cardio area was so small there was a queuing system for every machine. After that there was the huge corporate giant that was Esporta (I say "was" because I'm not sure whether Esporta as a brand still exists) that was a cool gym, indoor and outdoor pools (although locationwise the outdoor pool was probably a step too far, seeing as the gym was squeezed onto a piece of land between the A5 and the A5127) a huge cardio area, free weights and loads of weights machines, 2-3 aerobic studios, coffee bar/restaurant and beauty treatment rooms. My final gym in England was a golf and country club affair at Branston. Smaller than Esporta having just one pool and studio and a smaller cardio area etc. but the whole set up was more family orientated.
I gave up gym membership when we got a dog, figuring I'd be getting all the exercise I needed that way.
For a while that worked, then we moved to Germany and a friend suggested I try out the step class she went to, then another suggested pilates. When I abandoned both because of the teaching styles I was hooked on exercising again (it's more that then I don't feel guilty when I eat cake, and my clothes still fit than the supposed rush you can get from extreme exercise) and joined the local gym here.
Given my gym history I feel perfectly qualified to comment on the....peculiarities at my (German) gym*...
- the car park drives me scatty, unless you're there early (we're talking before 8.30) you willnot get a parking space, not becausse the gym is full, but becauses there is an RWE office next door and the buggers all part in the gym carpark when theirs is full.
- it seems to be compulsary to greet people as you enter the changing rooms, whether you know them or not, a bit weird if you ask me so I'm probably marked down as an ignorant foreigner for flouting this unwritten rule.
- I was in the gym early last week (before 8 & classes start after 9) I was happily running on a treadmill, listening to my ipod when I became aware of movement in the aerobic studio (there's a huge glass window that separates the two areas) there was an elderly couple dancing in the gloom of the empty studio, and this wasn't just any old dancing, oh no, this was full on ballroom dancing complete with all the dips and twirls (I watch "Strictly Come Dancing", I know what I'm talking about!
- the gym is huge, I think maybe in a previous life it was a warehouse, partly because of its size and high ceilings and also because of the fact that the aerobic studio appears to end in a loading bay complete with a roller shutter door, which is lovely in the summer because it can be fully opened to let a cooling breeze in, but in winter the Siberian wind howls under it and freezes the whole yoga class into their downward dog - thus ensuring that there is a migration of people from one end of the room to the other, the savy old pros knowing to keep well away from the light.
- the size of the gym meaans that there are row upon row of cardiac machines to use. At the front, right under the bank of TV screens are the bikes, usually occupied by the blue rinses who sit there cycling gently to nowhere fast, gossiping to their friends whilst staring up at the breakfast news. Behind the bikes is a row of stepping/stair climbing machines, another row back are the treadmills and the last row is the cross trainers. Each row has between 10-15 machines, maybe more, I have to confess I haven't paused long enough to count them, don't want to be caught staring, someone will mistake me for a German. The day I was in early the row of treadmills was empty, so I chose one in the middle and set off, half way through a woman came along and started up on the machine next to me, she had the choice of the rest of the row but no, she clearly wanted company (not to talk to, thankfully, I don't want to run and talk) After I'd got where I wanted to I moved onto the cross trainers, again choosing one surrounded by unoccupied machines (I am that antisocial) and within minutes the one next to me had some sweaty creature on it. Fun.
- when our boiler broke down last week I realised drastic measures would be required if I was going to maintain my usual levels of hygiene and so after my workout I used the showers at the gym for the first time in almost a year. I shan't be repeating that in a hurry. The room is tiled, obviously, four to five metres long by three to four wide, with shower nozzles spread along the wall at the appropriate level. It reminded me of the showers I had to endure back in high school or maybe even gas chambers, basic, spartan, functional.
- my gym has a sauna that I will never, ever use (hell will freeze over first) it also has a creche and sunbeds that I wont use (no need for a creche & sunbeds are BAD for you, like cigarettes are bad but the Germans are equally addicted to both) I do quite like a sauna, although, given the choice, I prefer a steam room, but while my gym doesn't have a steam room, it does have a sauna...but to use it you have to be stark naked...I guess it could be worse, in most gyms the saunas are naked and mixed...shudder.
- there's a little old lady who I see in the changing rooms every Wednesday, as I'm leaving she's sitting in front of a mirror faffing about with curling tongs and hairdriers, sorting her (short) hair out. Nothing odd with that you might think, except that she's not doing this after getting all sweaty and dirty and washing it, she's doing this prior to going into the gym and getting all sweaty.
So there you have it, yet another facet of normal life that has been given a very special German twist.
* its's part of the Fitness First chain.