NPR FM Berlin Blog
11:57 am
Thu February 16, 2012

The Ultimate Berlin Sport: Roller Derby

Originally published on Thu February 16, 2012 9:53 am

Attention Berlin! Superheroes, cowgirls, and cosmonauts are taking over your city this weekend!

On Saturday, the Berlin Bombshells will be opening the Roller Derby season at Arena Berlin.

Three home teams from the Bombshells will be playing -The Good, The Bad, and The Gorgeous, Fantastic 14, and a brand new home team, The Kreuzberg CosmoKnocks, as well as the Hamburg Harbor Girls. After the game, there will be an afterparty at Wowsville with music, beer, bruised athletes and crazed fans.

Even though roller derby is the fastest growing sport in America, many people still don't know that much about it.

So let's start over.

Modern roller derby dates back to 2001 in Austin, Texas where it was revived from what was essentially a multi-day skate-a-thon to what it is now: a full contact sport for women played entirely on quad roller skates.

Although this sport was created by women, there are some men's teams popping up, and men are always welcome and encouraged to join as referees.

Since its inception, roller derby has spread throughout the world like wildfire with an overarching international committee made up almost entirely of volunteers called WFTDA, Women's Flat Track Derby Association.

In December 2011, Toronto hosted the first Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup with 13 national teams competing. It's estimated that there are currently over a 1,000 teams worldwide, from Helsinki to Vancouver to Kuala Lumpur. It's democratic, it's tough, and it's awesome.

The game, called a bout, consists of two teams, each with 14 players. Five players from each team take to the track, four blockers for each team and one jammer for each team. The jammer is recognizable by the star on her helmet.

With the first whistle, the blockers, who form a pack, start to skate around an oval track. Once they skate past a certain point, two whistles blow and the jammers, positioned about 30 feet behind the pack, sprint through the pack as fast as they can. The blockers try to stop them by hitting and blocking them with the hips or the shoulders. Once the jammer gets through, she circles the track and re-enters the pack gaining one point for each opposing player who she passes. Games last about an hour with two 30 minute periods, which consist of a series of jams, each lasting two minutes. The team with the most points wins.

That's the gist of it. There are lots of rules, and it can be quite chaotic the first couple times you watch it, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. It's the type of sport that encourages participation from all kinds of people, and there's a position for everyone, big or small.

The history of the Berlin Bombshells dates back to 2008 when Janina Meyer went to America and saw a roller derby game in Las Vegas shortly after her friend American Molly Stenzel, an aspiring artist, moved to Berlin. Inspired by what they had seen, they decided they should start a Roller Derby league and reach out for some advice from the members of the Stuttgart Valley Rollergirlz, Germany's only other active roller derby league at the time.

Four years later, the Berlin Bombshells became huge on the European Roller Derby stage by organizing events, hosting tournaments, and pushing the game to become bigger and better in Germany and Europe.

Coach Stenzel is an organizer and goes by the name "Master Blaster." Meyer, who is a PR director, goes by "Foxy F├╝hrer." That's another great thing about roller derby: everyone chooses a name, a new identity and a new personality for the track providing many women with "an outlet they didn't even know they were missing," according to Stenzel.

And it's not just an outlet for the players. People love the game, not only because it's an extreme sport, but it's an overall spectacle with tough tattooed girls, beer, punk mentality, afterparties, and lots of music. In addition, the crowds are as diverse as they can get- from excited kids running around the track to elderly couples cheering for their granddaughters.

Roller derby isn't just a sport, it's a lifestyle, whether you play the game or just watch.

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