The first rule of Ping Pong club is: You do not talk about Ping Pong club.
I’m assuming most people reading this will have seen the film, Fight Club, in which Edward Norton and Brad Pitt start a kind of underground boxing club turned social revolution. If you’ve not seen it, I’d recommend it. The fight clubs that they start up and pretty home brewed jobs. No swish decor, no process, no real rules.
Ping Pong club wasn’t all that dissimilar.
On my first night in Berlin, I made friends with two Dutch girls, an Aussie guy and a Romanian guy. Together, we ventured in to the night, down Danziger Strasse, a stones throw from the hostel, with the promise of visiting a ‘Ping Pong’ club.
As we got close, the Aussie guy, who had been before, gestured to a vacant looking shop front. The shops facade was crumbling through age and neglect, the step had crumbled under many a foot, the windows were covered up with all manner of sheets and newspaper.
We entered, the sound of mumuring voices, the low thud of music and the repetitive click of the table tennis ball drifting out from the battered looking door way. The inner sanctum, the one and only room of this bizarre set up, was probably not much larger than a small classroom. The walls freely offering up their paint, a single morose lightbulb hung, uncovered, from the ceiling, the floor littered with smouldering butts and empty bottles.
In the center of the room was their Ark of the Covenant, a table tennis table. Around it, strangers and friends, amateurs and pro’s, those there for fun and those there to play, all moved in a ring progressively, taking it in turns to click and clack the ball across the table. As you missed or fouled a shot (as I did, everytime), you were out and the circle continued. When you get out, no one reacts, it’s almost like a third party emotionlessly observing natural selection. You’re out, don’t fuss, just move out of the way, the game rolls on. This continued until eventually, the weak are separated, leaving just those who clearly dedicate a lot of their time to the game.
They would battle it out to the suspense of those in the room who couldn’t get that far. They would sometimes play until they were bored, or until the points were up. Their skills allowed them to lord if over the other players.
As they decide to retire, no words are said. Two swift sharp bangs on the table tennis bat on to the table and the game begins again.