A daring assumption: Maybe, our metropolises do not suffer from a lack of space. Maybe, we only move within them in the wrong way. A notion that suggests itself when we watch traceurs navigate the city.
Our entire life constitutes of covering distances from A to B. Yet our approach is not always efficient. Parkour, in turn, is just that. Moving through the city, so-called traceurs refuse to be restricted by fences or walls – they simply overcome them. Take Berlin-based Ben Scheffler, co-founder of ParkourONE, a collective of parkour runners or, perhaps more accurately, something like pedestrians 2.0. Just how much the art of efficient locomotion has become part of Ben’s everyday life becomes obvious at our meeting: While we take the stairs and main entrance, he simply enters the café through the large open window.
Mr. Scheffler, how do you perceive a city? As an adventure playground?
Once you have tried parkour, it changes your view of the city. This is both a gift and a curse since you will always notice what can be done when, where, and how. Someone with a lot of parkour training commands an incredible experience in terms of potential space and materials. Not only on sunny days. And this perception evolves with the skills. Which, in turn, is a bonus because it means that beginners are not immediately overwhelmed, but simply see what they can tackle.
So, is it also about reclaiming public space, i. e. something you need for parkour that is also becoming increasingly scarce?
Not necessarily. Parkour is more about adapting to a situation. A skill that also translates well to everyday life. Experienced traceurs are quick to adjust to new situations and challenges.
Picking up on your cue: What do you consider Berlin’s biggest challenge?
The city could do a lot more to create space for movement. Not in terms of more playgrounds – rather, the government is responsible for inspiring people to try new things and to provide them with the respective opportunities. This is not happening enough. Berlin is more about plugging holes.
What do you mean, exactly?
What I am trying to say is that Berlin is more about reacting, that is fixing things and plugging holes, than planning with foresight.
What about elsewhere?
Copenhagen, for example, is a very different story: It is really impressive just how much the city does to ensure that its people are happy and content. And this is due to proactive public policy.
Do people actually approach you for advice on city planning? After all, as a parkour runner you know Berlin like the back of your hand.
We have an excellent relationship with the Senate for the Interior and Sport. At the same time, this is not about showing architects and city planners that we have the better ideas. Although I don’t quite get some of the planned measures. Rather, we would like to encourage people to move. Maybe, this will evolve into something more concrete in the future. Let’s see.
Speaking of development: Berlin is changing almost daily. How do you deal with this phenomenon?
I welcome it. Discovering new places is a necessary aspect of parkour. If you keep training at the same locations, you restrict yourself and inhibit your own advancement. So, you are constantly encouraged to explore.
Let’s assume we both went on the same tour of the city. Afterwards, we would probably report different impressions, right?
I would probably talk a lot more about how the city felt. I really enjoy being able to directly touch the city. It lets you experience it differently, notice its pulse in a different way. To me, architecture takes on quite a different significance. I might tell other traceurs about great training opportunities. Or the lack thereof. Parkour also gives you very different opportunities to move around the city. A lot of the time, when you are new to a city, you feel a little bit lost in the beginning. But when you know your parkour, you immediately have points of reference and options for orientation.
So, can you still maneuver the city in a “normal“ manner?
Sure, I also own a car. But I am naturally more likely to scale a station’s guardrail than to walk around it. To me, parkour is like climbing stairs and training is also targeted at turning the practice into something “normal” and everyday. But I still take the subway or car like people who don’t do parkour.
All the images, incl. the header image: Florian Büttner