Bicultural Urbanite Brianna
Netball has arrived in Berlin
More than 20 million people around the world play netball. But almost none of them live in Germany. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a German who has even heard of this classic Commonwealth game. Yet an underground of expat teams exists in Germany and throughout Europe – and last year, Berlin joined the fold.
By Brianna Summers
When I moved to Berlin in 2006 I rather naively searched online for local netball teams. Naturally, there were none. Several more searches during the following decade proved equally fruitless. But this year, while exploring fitness options that didn’t involve treadmills or blasting chart music, I stumbled across an unlikely opportunity: Berlin’s first ever netball team.
In Australia I played netball virtually every weekend from the age of 9 until I was 21. This ubiquitous team sport became a routine fixture in my life, like going to school or brushing my teeth. Netball didn’t forge my identity growing up and I never considered myself particularly sporty. So when I stepped on court in Prenzlauer Berg some 14 years later, I was stunned to discover that my body was still hardwired for the game. Berlin's first ever netball team was established in 2018 | © Netball Berlin
RUN, JUMP, PIVOT AND SHOUTPlaying netball again instantly reactivated the muscle memory of over 600 chilly Saturday mornings in suburban Melbourne. Catapulted into a fight or flight response, I sprinted, dodged, pivoted on one foot and nearly had a heart attack. Players called out “behind if you need!” and “yep, yep, YEP!” and I was reminded of the joys of socially acceptable shouting. Lying in bed that night, my limbs vibrated as the adrenaline and cortisol slowly left my system. On some primal physiological level, it felt as if I’d successfully run away from a pride of lions.
In reality, I had run alongside a herd of expats from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Leading the way was Raquel Schrouder, who established Netball Berlin in 2018 and serves as its manager, trainer and umpire. She runs weekly training sessions for adults (women and men) and kids aged 8-13 as part of the Pfeffersport Club.
HOW IT ALL BEGANAfter moving here from the UK, Raquel discovered a group of women playing netball socially in Pankow. She took the ball and ran with it, co-founding Netball Berlin with her friend Chanel Knight. They built up a social media presence and gradually lured the city’s netball enthusiasts out of the woodwork. “My love for netball definitely came out more after I moved to Germany. It’s such a niche sport here and getting people to come and play is so great,” she explains.
Netball Berlin players at a tournament featuring teams from Hamburg, Dusseldorf & Cologne | © Netball Berlin Raquel organises tournaments in Berlin and collaborates closely with netball clubs in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and other cities around Europe. She’s playing the long game and ultimately hopes Germany will be able to join the International Netball Federation sometime in the next 10 years. The expat finds it incredibly rewarding to introduce the sport to a whole new audience and has embraced her role as a kind of cultural ambassador.
LIKE HANDBALL AND ULTIMATE FRISBEEI’m curious to know how Germans have responded to Netball Berlin. “We held some sessions for people who hadn’t played before or wanted to get back into it,” says Raquel. “That definitely brought in a few German players, but it’s really difficult to promote it to them. They don’t know the rules, but they’re excited about it.” And how do you explain netball to a German? “I often say it’s like handball and ultimate frisbee. I’ve got a spiel down, so I’m good to go when people ask.”
Netball’s bid to conquer Europe continues this month with a friendly mixed tournament in Amsterdam. 18 teams from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden and Switzerland will battle it out before heading to the pub for some well-earned drankjes. Netball Berlin is also fielding a team and, needless to say, Raquel is pumped.