Hoop Nightmares. Spontaneous first-to-eleven throwdowns are history. Photo from metaltraveller.com
Sports enthusiasts who, since the reunification of Germany in the early 90’s, have met informally at Mauerpark in the former East Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg to play basketball on its basketball court are learning today that as of next week, it will no longer simply be a matter of showing up with a ball and a “Game Face”.
The increased popularity of the park as a meeting point for locals and tourists in recent years has resulted in huge crowds gathering there, especially on Sundays, when the nearby weekly flea market takes place. It has also had the knock-on effect of more people than ever before playing basketball on the basketball court, as well as large crowds assembling nearby to watch play.
Until now, it has not been necessary to pre-book time on the court, with basketball playable by anyone who spontaneously showed up. Nor was any cover charge demanded of spectators. But city authorities have announced that as and from next Sunday, basketball may henceforth only be played by players who have applied for, and received, a special permit (Sondergenehmigung) from the local district’s environmental offices.
The Halftime Show is always popular with Mauerpark basketball fans. Photo by Simon Pokorny
This will take the form of a combined permit and rental contract between the city of Berlin and those who wish to play basketball on the park’s court. Precisely how much the permit should cost is unclear, but will be based on the size of the area in use, i.e. the basketball court’s surface area and the surrounding parkland from where spectators watch games.
Applicants will be required to enclose a list of desired dates and approximate playing times in advance, and will agree to engage a private security service for the duration of their games, as well as ensuring that a medical response unit is on hand in the event of crowd violence, or sports injuries incurred by players.
The details of the special permit also mean that, among other things, players will now be obliged to provide reasonable sanitation services in the public park, which itself has no permanent toilets, for basketball spectators. Added to the costs of the permit itself, these new conditions could mean an outlay on the players’ part of approximately €2500-€4000 per game.
Interior of Dixi Klo‘s high-end portable toilet, “The Festival-Goer Imperial Mk.2″
“It simply was no longer feasible to allow the basketball games in Mauerpark to continue happening in their current form”, said one city official.
“When the court was built, it was never intended that people would play basketball on it all day long. Thousands of people watch games there now over the course of a Sunday afternoon. This constitutes an unacceptable risk to public safety for which the city of Berlin cannot be held responsible.
He continued, “If basketball players insist on playing so impressively on a public court that they cause bystanders to stop and watch them, they need to realize the financial opportunities available both to themselves and to the city. Selling drinks would be one way of covering their costs, for example. Assuming the city issued permits to sell drinks in a park on a Sunday. Which, of course, it doesn’t. Or they could try an admission fee to the general area? Or get money off anybody who stands in the same place for more than two minutes. Something should be possible.”
One regular user of the Mauerpark basketball court who declined to give her name stated that the new system would be unlikely to find much favour with casual players.
“I suppose if I had to pre-schedule my games weeks in advance, then hire a bunch of portable toilets for the afternoon and pay First Aid staff and bouncers to hang around and wait for something to happen, it would probably make me think twice about playing basketball in Mauerpark.
“Imagine it rained unexpectedly and I didn’t want to play basketball! The portable toilet company would still want its money, right? And I bet the bouncers would be grumpy too if I cancelled them half an hour before they were meant to start work.
“Anyway”, she continued, “I don’t see how I can be expected to chase people for thousands of Euros for watching basketball, and play basketball at the same time. Shooting hoops at the weekend isn’t meant to be a hassle”
Nobody else was available for comment.