Is it a disadvantage in wrestling to be big?

Hussein no longer dreams of America. No more of a career in the big league there, WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, sales: 604 million US dollars. Hussein is sitting in a school gymnasium in Neukölln on a Tuesday evening and points to a crowd of people in sportswear. His students. Fat, drought, small, large, women, boys. Wrestlers, stage fighters, modern gladiators. And those who dream of becoming one. It would have to be a huge sum that he would give up this, says Hussein, the tanned muscle man, in a smoky voice. He wants to make wrestling great again in Germany.

Lesson 1: A wrestler has to be fit
“The muscles are not there to be beautiful. They protect the bones. "(Hussein)

Hussein, battle name: Crazy Sexy Mike, injuries: shoulder dislocated a hundred times, forearm broken three times, looks into the distance. Thirty students are standing in front of him, bent over, digging their heads into the blue mats, arms free, necks supporting the weight. Anyway, the neck! The neck needs to be warmed up well. Because if you injure your neck in a fall, you might end up in a wheelchair.

Wrestling, this muscle circus, in which men and, less often, women in tight glitter outfits tossing each other through the air and pulling folding chairs over each other's heads, came to Germany from the USA in the 80s, the show ran in the 90s " Wrestle Mania “at night on RTL2. Hulk Hogan became a figurehead in the industry with his tanning complexion and a peroxide-blonde mustache. Merchandising items were produced, little boys played with Hulk characters.

Hussein started wrestling in 1993 when the boom in Germany was just coming to an end. Hulk Hogan left the WWF, the previous series of the WWE, the action figures gathered dust in the cellars of their parents' houses. Nevertheless, Hussein and his brother Achmed wanted to be show fighters. They laid out mattresses in the children's room in Kreuzberg, threw each other on them, fought and imitated their idols. Hulk Hogan, sure. But also Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, the dream couple of the seventies action comedy. "Guys stop. Hurt us a lot. "

Sport is on the rise. If you look at Tim Wiese

The brothers have no wrestling bodies, are too small, not two-meter men. But the will was there early - “it's just in our blood”. In 1995, Hussein and Achmed, then 18 and 16 years old, competed in their first wrestling match. Berlin, one hundred and fifty spectators. “They went all out!” The brothers were booked again. Hussein, who broke off his kindergarten training, worked as a painter, gardener, in restaurants, in a car repair shop. Drove to shows, slept in the car after the performance in costume and drove to the next show in the morning. Fought with a broken arm that wouldn't stop festering. When he dislocated his left shoulder at some point not only during the fighting but also in his sleep, he got an iron plate in it. But he also got respect and was able to travel: all of Europe, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, La Réunion. In 1995 the brothers founded their first wrestling school in a small studio in Kreuzberg.

Hussein and his brother now have around 30 students, including three women. Since 1996 they have been fighting in their own league, the German Wrestling Federation (GWF). Every month the GWF organizes a show in the circus tent at Ostbahnhof, which always attracts over three hundred people - the next time on Saturday, February 7th, at Shake !, Postbahnhof 1, Friedrichshain. There are several such leagues in Germany, in Hanover, Oberhausen and Marburg, each of which awards an often ostentatiously confusing number of titles with sounding names. What is called a club championship in other sports becomes - this is also part of the show - a "Champions Night" that takes place once a year at the GWF.

Of course, none of that is anything if you look to the States. The US division WWE is still at the forefront of the sport today. Those who stay there can become famous and rich, in the USA wrestling is still popular. “You don't talk about money,” says Hussein. But millionaire is already inside. In Germany only a few wrestlers can make a living from fighting, maybe 30, Hussein is one of them. “There will be more in the next few years,” he says. Wrestling is on the rise again. “If you look at the meadow. Everyone is doing it. ”Tim Wiese, former national soccer goalkeeper, recently announced that he was talking to the WWE about a second career as a wrestler. Which earned him ridicule, but also attention. And it's worth a lot in this battle theater.

Hussein's students have straightened up again. Now warm up, in a circle on the wooden parquet, along the brick walls. Forward. Laterally. Backward. Sprint. The athletes have to be prepared. In a month, like every year in December, it's Champions Night.

Pascal, battle name: Pascal Spalter, then has to defend his title as Berlin Champion. He also wants to become the league's middleweight champion. Pascal is 24 years old, 130 kilos at 1.90 meters, in life outside the ring he studies marketing communication. He's been wrestling for eight years, he's the school's superstar. His injuries: broken ribs, broken collarbone, whiplash in the neck. As an advanced learner, he helps Hussein train. Pascal has a group of students do judo rolls and jump up. Back and forth, down and up again, until the students no longer look like they can walk straight ahead.

Become European middleweight champion one more time

At the edge of the hall, Erkan runs in circles. You can see his head from afar, he towers over the others with his two meters. Erkan is 25, lives with his parents in Reinickendorf, works as a painter and varnisher. Match name: Cash Money Erkan. Together with his colleague Murat AK, he holds the title of Tag Team Champion, i.e. in a two-on-two fight. Injuries in six and a half years of wrestling: three concussions, sprained hand, broken nose.

Claudia is lying on a mat in another corner. When the trainer calls, she jumps up, knees bent, fists ready to fight towards her imaginary opponent. Soft figure, face hard when she clenches her fists. Claudia is 28 years old, a trained hairdresser and mother of two. She's been wrestling for six years if you exclude two years of baby break. Her battle name: Brenda Star. Injuries: sprained foot, pulled back. In a month she will have her first title fight. She wants to be ladies champion.

The air in the hall is now damp and thick. “Stand up!” The students form a line, breathing heavily. “Are you okay?” Hussein asks a student. “You're green in the face.” He later says that people have become softer. Want a lot, do a little. Too lazy to fill out the lottery ticket. "I used to have to fight for everything."

Today, says Hussein, 38, he's just an old man. But he will also take part in the big year-end show. Become European middleweight champion one more time.

“Wrestling is my love. I can't let go of that. "(Erkan)

Four days until the big show. Tuesday again, training again. Nobody there. Beginning of winter, says Hussein. Dennis, a slender boy with glasses and a plaid scarf, does not train. Neck injury. When the doorbell rings, Dennis runs off and opens the door. Finding the way to the gym, the bell in the dark fire brigade exit, is the first hurdle if you want to belong.

In front of the school on Sonnenallee, pigeons peck at kebab leftovers. Erkan and Pascal are waiting there for Dennis to let them in. Then they cross the gloomy school yard. In the locker room, Erkan puts on his training shirt: I love wrestling. Let's go. Warm up. The bell rings again. “Dennis!” Dennis jumps. “What do we do when Dennis can train again?” “Quiet! Dennis will be the fittest of all of you, ”says Hussein. In the beginning, the boy always thought he had to prove himself. Constantly confronted. Difficult childhood. The wrestling family makes up for him, says Hussein. "See how calm and nice he is."

Little by little the others roll in. As a greeting, those who enter the hall shake hands with everyone else. One of the rules here: everyone in the room belongs to it and is treated with respect.

The girls are not there today, they are on a shoot. "Some game show," says Hussein. “Together with Cindy from Marzahn and such superstars,” says Erkan. The current ladies champion, Blue Nikita from Berlin, wrestles with a petite blonde on Sat1. Erkan has also appeared in the Pro7 show "Circus Halligalli" and has made a car commercial. And Pascal was cast for “Berlin - Day & Night”. You could say: Hussein's school brought wrestling back to German television.

Start of training. The boys should line up according to their fitness. Most of them crowd in the middle. Erkan takes second place. Pascal in third from last place. Now they should prove how fit they really are. Do pushups, sit-ups, squats. One round at a time until they can barely get up. "Now you are really training!" Says Hussein. At the end they should line up again, this time according to how fit they really were. Pascal remains in third from last place. Erkan slips into third place, one from the middle moves hesitantly to the front. “Afraid of success or what?” Asks Hussein.

Four months until the students can really fall

While the others continue their training, he sits on the bench with Dennis, a scarf around his head, in a ribbed undershirt. "You have to eat protein to build muscle," he says. “Is that these proteins?” “Exactly.” “Where's that in?” “Meat, for example.” Dennis looks at his cell phone. “I don't understand all of this rivalry,” he says. “There will always be competition. Can also move you forward, you know. ”Hussein, the trainer, the teacher, the wrestling family man.

After warming up, the students form small groups. Erkan and Pascal push a jumping goat in front of a thick mat. Erkan will later jump on Pascal from the buck, Pascal will ram Erkan against the buck, Hussein will give tips.

But first briefly: talk.

Erkan: I heard Arnold Schwarzenegger only did volume training.

Hussein: You have to do more! Cardio, endurance, fitness. Most of the people in the studio are pumpers. No increase.

Erkan: Diskopumper! I never do that.

Pascal: I always.

Hussein: And a lot of carbohydrates before training! Professional bodybuilders eat five to six meals a day.

Next to them someone keeps slamming his back on the mat. Hussein says learning to fall is the hardest. It can take three or four months before students can really fall. You have to breathe out, otherwise the lungs are blocked and you can no longer breathe. So it's best to scream with your chin to your chest. "If you get through the beginning, you show that you have the heart for wrestling."

When Erkan went to training with Hussein and Achmed for the first time six and a half years ago and was thrown on the mat a few times, he almost puked. How hard is that? “But I fell in love.” He tells his mother that everything will be okay if he comes home from training with pain. Even back then with the severe concussion when he landed on the back of the head. Then he even tried to go to work, painting walls on the construction site, and realized that it was not possible because everything was spinning and his eyes were flickering. He called his father, who drove him to the doctor. But over time it got easier. The body hardened. And the respect of the trainers grew.

Lesson 3: A wrestler needs to entertain
“You have to know for yourself how far you want to go. Don't forget: We are entertainers, not martial artists. "(Achmed, Hussein's brother)

Two days before the big show. After warming up, the students sit in a circle on the blue mats. The task is to fight like someone else does. Peter “the Bouncer” does the Erkan: “Hey Kaiser, what's going on?” He calls out. How to talk like that on the street. Peter-Erkan puts Kaiser, played by Koray, the "Tasmanian devil", in a stranglehold, turns on Macker, struts across the mat. Everyone laughs, the tension disappears from their faces. The exercise should loosen up the students, teach them to come out of themselves. After all, wrestling is always a show.

It is also good to have your own demeanor mirrored in order to fine-tune your own role. "You have to shine like a rocket," says Hussein to the group. “Basically you want to be superstars. You have to work on that all the time! ”That also means putting on pink trousers in the ring and not black ones. Be conspicuous, develop a trademark, be remembered. It works best when part of the role is real - “otherwise it doesn't come across as authentic”.

So the wrestlers play their own cliché, a caricature of themselves. This is also an outlet for all those who are not afraid to flaunt and sell their supposed weaknesses. Claudia plays the power woman, Pascal the big brutal, Erkan the racket. “The street cannot be got out of Erkan,” says Hussein. “So you use that in the ring.” Erkan says he used to be a problem child. Don't listen to anything, do what you want. The parents both at work. And he outside with the others. Thugs. "Tried basketball", his mother wanted it because he is so tall. "But I couldn't do it." At night he watched wrestling on TV. He started with Taekwondo, but practiced wrestling moves in free practice. Finally he found Hussein's school. “Thanks to wrestling I've improved,” he says, “I've learned respect and discipline here.” He says he now knows how to de-escalate situations. When that one step more would be a step too far.

New round, now Erkan Pascal, the splitter, is playing. Strikes the palm of the left hand with the edge of the right hand and calls out: Split! Columns! The others join in. Erkan stamps on the mat. Yells: what do you want? Knock down his opponent so that he sits on the mat and sits on his shoulders. Columns! Columns! It echoes through the hall.

Pascal, who is sitting on the bench in leather shoes, jeans and a sweatshirt, grins, takes his handkerchiefs and comes to the others. Anyone who is sick still goes to training. As a child, Pascal found wrestling videos of his cousin. He looked them up and down: Heroes! Action! Good versus evil! When he started wrestling himself, he was 16, weighed 140 pounds and had never really done any sport. At 18 he came to Hussein, a year later he was in the ring for the first time. He doesn't remember how many fights that followed, something in the three-digit range. He's on tour almost every weekend.

Women have less competition, which has advantages and disadvantages

Wrestling, says Pascal, has opened doors for him. For example, when Hussein and his brother sent him to the “Berlin - Day & Night” casting. Actually, it was about individual days of shooting, Pascal got an annual contract. Played the shy Nils, teddy bear with disguise whimsy. The role was originally only intended for a short time, says Pascal. But it was so well received by the audience that the contract was extended over and over again. "I would never have got this far on my own," he says, not even in wrestling. He was even at the casting for the US League WWE. Didn't work. But with the next attempt in February, he wants to get ahead. Put your studies on hold. "Wrestling has top priority."

Claudia used to dream of America before the children. How did it start? Cannot sleep at night as a teenager. Turn on the TV. See Bret Hart fight, one of the great US wrestlers of the time, in pink nylon pants with hearts on them. Become a fan. Set the alarm to see him. Always being tired at school - it doesn't matter. Go to an autograph session in Berlin. Meet Hussein there.

Training was free for women back then. Claudia went and stayed with it. Not easy to earn the respect of the boys. But everyone who wrestles deserves respect, say those who wrestle. Because they know how hard it is. Hussein says that if someone gives women a stupid line, it would be outside. It is difficult to fight with women because you are not allowed to touch them in some places. Someone who would take advantage of a situation like this would be outside, says Hussein. Right away.

When Claudia became pregnant, she wanted to continue anyway, the others had to curb her. Do it now. If you stop working as a hairdresser because the chemicals could harm the unborn child, you won't jump on other people's chests either.If she goes to training today, twice a week is compulsory and again voluntarily, her parents in Hellersdorf take the two girls, three and five years old. And also when, like last year, she did shows on the weekends, in France and all of Germany. Claudia can no longer imagine America - leave the children here? No! So adjust the goal: to be known and booked throughout Europe.

In two days she will fight for the title Ladies Champion. "I don't think she'll make it," says Hussein. “But I've seen people who'd been written off - and they still won.” And it's such a thing with women. When the competition is small, you can get to the top quickly. But it's also harder to get better.

Claudia is currently pulling Vanessa “La Bestia” by the hair of Italian-born Vanessa. She stamps on her feet until Claudia lets go and collapses. Vanessa quickly rams her elbow in the back, Claudia screams and goes to the ground. Vanessa is immediately over her, she chokes, Claudia jerks her head up. When Vanessa lets go of her, she gets up. Break. Vanessa holds her back, Claudia hugs her. "Everything okay? I'll bring you water! ”The wrestlers move in a mix of pain and show, the lines become blurred. It's not about hurting the opponent as much as possible, but about entertaining the audience as much as possible. It still hurts.

Claudia says the wrestlers let out what they hold back in college, painting and in the office. At home she is the loving mom who tinkers with her children. Here she is Brenda Star, grabbing her opponents, hurling them into the corner of the ring and slamming them on the head. Liberation blows, one after the other.

“I used to fight with barbed wire, with cracked scars and holes in my head. People thought I would survive anything. "(Ali, Hussein's assistant trainer)

Five hours before the big show, the wrestlers drag iron bars, straw mats and folding chairs - “cool, chair fight!” - into the circus tent. In the ring, Claudia holds one of the four side posts that will later carry the ring, Erkan screws the struts to it, Pascal places the large spring in the middle of the ring, the ground should be able to give way. Security measure. The next layer: mats, on top of which a black tarpaulin. All students help build, regardless of whether they appear later or not. So far there has been no sign of nervousness, the work is a distraction.

Eight title fights. You win if you hold your opponent's shoulders on the ring floor for three seconds. Nothing is agreed here. Says Hussein. A fighter who is outside the ring for more than ten seconds will be counted by the referee. Each fight can last up to twenty minutes. If no decision has been made, the four-person jury, which also includes Hussein's brother Achmed, decides.

Two hours before the show. The first spectators wait in front of the yellow circus tent at Ostbahnhof, where the variety show and children's circus usually take place. A man in a heavy metal shirt holds a little girl in a Hello Kitty shirt by the hand. A blonde with thick kohl strokes around her eyes tells her friends about her job as a kindergarten teacher. Two guys with wrestler masks in front of their faces watch videos on their cell phones.

Thirty minutes before the show, entry. The hard wooden benches around the ring fill up. A slim man in beige trousers sits in the first row on a striped seat cushion. Erkan's father. He is here at every one of his appearances. A thug pulls his girlfriend to the left of the ring: “Come on, let's go over there. There are the hardcore fans! "

"Cellulite, cellulite," the audience chants

The show begins. The first fight has to heat up right away. Ivan Kiev vs. Rob Cage. “Ivan, you little snake, no one can do that often and for so long!” Yells the little girl in the Hello Kitty shirt. "No, no, it means: Ivan, you COOL snake!", Dad corrects it. The snake wins too. The audience is happy. hot! The moderator announces the next fight: “Fresh from the Bonhoeffer mental hospital - this is Breeendaaa Staaar!” Then it gets dark again.

And Claudia becomes Brenda Star: In a purple nylon skirt with gold stars embroidered on it, she opens the curtain behind the ring and does a lap. Turns to the audience, clenches his fists in a bodybuilding pose. Presented to the booing audience who shouted “Put something on!”. Then she climbs into the ring. “Sexy is different!” Roars from the pack. Brenda's opponent Blue Nikita, petite, braided, cropped blue outfit, is cheered.

Hussein says the boys can wear what they want, but the women themselves have to know what they are comfortable with. “But I tell them: don't undress so half-naked. Because I want them to be seen as wrestlers and not to be reduced to one point. ”Oh, says Claudia, you become more self-confident, many of the audience's sayings now pass you by elsewhere. Focus on the fight and nothing else.

But you can't always listen away.

Meanwhile, the audience is chanting: “Cellulite, cellulite.” Claudia grabs Nikita's head while she is still being cheered and tosses him to the right and left. Claudia plopps on Nikita with her legs apart while she is lying on the floor. Claudia puts Nikita in the corner of the ring and bangs on it. Claudia calls it “power moves”, working with your own body mass. Unlike on TV, you can see live that not every shot hits. When Claudia hits Nikita's head with her elbow, she brakes shortly beforehand. After the action, she smooths Nikita's disheveled hair. Now she climbs up the ropes, raises her arms. Nikita gets up, sticks her head between her legs, “Lick! Lick! ”Shouts the audience. Nikita slams Claudia on the floor. Bang. The referee counts to three. And the end. Claudia crawls off the stage, Nikita throws up her arms, lets party.

Next fight. Erkan is now Cash Money Erkan: golden sweatpants, free upper body. He pushes back the curtain and takes a lap past the audience. The block with the hardcore fans turns his back on him and shows the middle finger. In keeping with his image, he is accompanied by two guys rapping into the microphone: “Bad and tough, bad and tough. Cash money, cash money, cash money Mafia. ”Erkan's papa claps.

The audience calls the Austrian opponent "Wienerwürstchen"

It's a team fight, two against two. The Cash Money Mafia, that is Erkan and his colleague Murat AK, against the Young Lions, two athletic guys who run into the "Lion King" title song. Then Erkan, the defending champion, kneels in the back of one of the opponents, mobs, throws money at him, and sticks one in his mouth. The audience shouts: “He can't do anything!” And “One kebab all!” Together with Murat AK, Erkan grabs one of the Lions and lets him pop into the ring.

The best thing, Erkan will say later, is when you come in and everyone just looks at you. Great feeling, even after 120 appearances. It doesn't matter whether they boo or cheer. The main thing is that they take you seriously. If you don't get a reaction, you've done something wrong.

Erkan jumps out of the ring into the audience. People jump to the side, form a circle around the wrestlers. “In the face!” All four fighters are now beating each other outside the ring, none of them manage to keep the opponent on the ground with their shoulders long enough. The referee counts the fighters. Enough. Draw. Erkan and Murat keep the title.

Pause, outside the tent. “Each of the idiots deserves to be pounded in the face,” says a young woman who doesn't want to fit in here, short hair, skinny jeans. With some viewers it is like Pascal says: If you pull yourself together on weekdays and don't piss your boss off, you just yell at the wrestlers. Even if the visit to the show was actually meant "absolutely ironic". Well Next to the short-haired one is a lacquered blonde who is a real wrestling fan. “From the old masters,” she says with an American accent, “not from those here.” On the other hand, it's all so exaggerated that you just have to laugh and scream. It's like wrestling is a regulars' table where you can finally say everything. Really everything.

Then the break is over. And Hussein becomes Crazy Sexy Mike: black pirate scarf on his head, black shirt, blue pants with barbed wire printed on them. When his song "Seven Nation Army" is played by the White Stripes, hard beat, driving bass, the fans go crazy. They sing along to the melody. Hussein, charming warrior trainer, grabs a microphone: “You make it a lot hotter than the original! That's why I love Berlin! "

Hussein used to be booed, called "Döner Mike". Because he was interviewed in a report on television in his favorite snack bar. He had "Döner Mike" shirts printed. “People bought this to annoy me. And filled my pockets with it. ”The audience plays with the wrestlers - and the wrestlers play back.

Hussein's Austrian opponents now call the audience "Wienerwürstchen". Hussein bounces on the ropes, jumps off and kicks the sausage to the ground. The tall blonde snaps Hussein, holds him in his arms as if to carry him over a threshold and then lets him fall on his knee with his back. Ouch. Then a scramble: Hussein is on the ground, the Austrian grabs his shoulders. Hussein turns on his opponent - three seconds later he is European middleweight champion. "I expected more," he says later, "but somehow he was immediately exhausted."

The adrenaline rush is what drives many wrestlers. You don't feel any pain in a fight, they say. Not when falling and not when being kicked. It wouldn't work without an audience. “The quieter the audience, the more everything hurts, the faster you are k. o., the less you can perform, ”says Hussein. However, all of this hardly pushes him himself. “Everything hurts with me. No more adrenaline. ”22 years in the ring leave their mark.

One more fight. The main act of the evening. Pascal Spalter against Caribbean killer Rambo, the defending champion in the middleweight division. "Columns! Split! ”Shouted the audience when Pascal entered the ring in a wrestling suit. Rambo grabs Pascal by the head and throws him to the ground. Pascal climbs out of the ring and does a somersault over the ropes on Rambo, sitting on his shoulders. "Columns! Split! ”After another twenty minutes of beating, falling and wrangling, Rambo beats Pascal with the master's belt. “He used the belt, referee!” Shouts a bystander. The referee doesn't want to see anything, Pascal counts. "Unfair!"

Hussein jumps into the ring and demands immediate revenge. Granted, go on. This time, only the title of Berlin champion should be at stake. Pascal wins. And so Rambo remains middleweight and Pascal Berlin champion in the end. It doesn't really matter whether you win or lose, says Pascal. Wrestling promoters, who repeatedly book the wrestlers for shows outside of Berlin, create an entertainment program, he says. Whoever entertains is booked, not who wins. If the favorite has lost, the viewer comes back because they want to see their hero take revenge next time. "You have to create these emotions in people first."

Lesson 5: A wrestler has to persevere
"Anyone who thinks he is someone has stopped becoming someone." (Hussein, loosely based on Socrates)

After the show, the wrestlers sit with an Italian in Neukölln, Karl-Marx-Straße. The group of a good thirty-five people occupies the entire basement room, light wooden tables, and Mediterranean-style stone wall. There are also two fans, the guys with masks. Pascal is hanging in the bench, legs stretched out, holding his girlfriend's hand in an I-love-Spalter shirt. Erkan is sitting in front of his plate of spaghetti carbonara and can't get anything down. Claudia has a backache. Hussein says: "I'm really proud of you."

Once, Hussein almost made it to America. He had already signed and mailed the contract. "But on that very day the league was bought up," he says. If the contract had arrived earlier, they would have had to take it over. Somehow, says Hussein, he was always unlucky with the big jobs. Now it's his pupil's turn.

The training at Hussein is open to all interested parties: Tue / Thu / Fri, 7.30pm-9pm, sports hall of the Ernst-Abbe-Gymnasium, Sonnenallee 79, Neukölln.

The present text appeared for the first time in print on January 24, 2015 in the Tagesspiegel Saturday supplement Mehr Berlin.

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