Future of Berlin’s cricket community in jeopardy

Safety concerns have prompted Berlin officials to remove the city’s only cricket pitch, in use for more than six decades beginning with British troops. But cricketers suspect ulterior motives and argue it’s a “death blow” for a sport that promotes multiculturalism and integration.

Future of Berlin's cricket community in jeopardy
Photo: Keep Koernerplatz for Cricket

Just a few weeks ahead of their season’s start, members of the BCK Berlin cricket committee were surprised and outraged to receive a letter from city sports administrators on April 1 saying their traditional pitch at Körnerplatz would be removed to protect passersby from errant balls. The cricketers deny this danger, and are fighting to get their pitch back.

“I’ve never heard of anyone getting hit with a ball,” said Martin Haynes, chairman of the Berlin Cricket Club, last year’s national champions. “Though a few cars have been damaged, the likelihood of injury to a pedestrian is slim.”

British soldiers began playing cricket at the city-owned Körnerplatz just outside the famous Olympia Stadium shortly after the Second World War. Since then a thriving community of cricketers from across the globe has developed into two divisions, nine clubs and more than 100 players. English, Irish, Indians, Pakistanis, New Zealanders, Australians, Germans and other nationalities – all of them play together at Körnerplatz.

“As Germany is wrestling with its multiculturalism debate, we’re being deprived of a place to develop a sport enjoyed by Berliners from around the world,” Haynes said.

Of the few cricket pitches in Germany, Körnerplatz is one of the best – though it barely meets official standards. But the alternative pitch recently finished by the city at the nearby Maifeld – also outside Olympia Stadium – is unsuitable for proper games and could be dangerous, Haynes said.

“We’re reviewing that,” said Andreas Tosberg, head of the city’s central sports division. “Optimal conditions are important, it’s just a matter of where, and how much it costs.”

Though the BCK plans to present an option to have the pitch insured against potential damage suits, Tosberg said two insurers had already rejected coverage.

“Thank God only vehicles have been damaged in the past, but in one case a ball went through a windshield, and we worry what could have happened if a person were standing there.”

Without proper insurance, the city is liable for damages, a situation that is “not good,” he said.

One option could be erecting a tall fence around the facility, but Tosberg estimated this could cost up to €80,000 – a sum neither side is likely willing to pay. The Maifeld solution has so far cost €6,000, he said.

Tourism before cricket?

Meanwhile the BCK suspects that the city may be more concerned about tourism than safety at Körnerplatz. Haynes claims there are plans to begin charging admission at Olympia Stadium, but games at Körnerplatz would cause problems at a nearby entrance.

“It has nothing to do with that. Those are two different things,” Tosberg countered.

The stadium, which is privately owned, is working together with the city to charge admission for tours and events, but a different entrance would be used, he explained.

The conflict is symptomatic of long-running problems between the cricketers and city sports officials.

“They don’t understand cricket and never had a sympathetic ear, so communication has been difficult,” Haynes said, citing several incidents where cricketers felt steamrolled by official decisions.

“We’ve been tolerated but not taken seriously as a sport,” he added.

In March, there were two meetings with the BCK when the Maifeld move was mentioned, but both sides walked away with different impressions. BCK members thought it was a possibility, while the city viewed it as a plan of action.

Though the cricketers have no legal claim to Körnerplatz, they hope city officials will respect their long tradition and find a way to keep games going there.

The two sides plan to meet on Friday, and both say they are open to finding a compromise.

While the Maifeld could be improved to meet the BCK’s explicit standards, Tosberg and his colleagues have not ruled out a return to Körnerplatz, though some parts of the pitch have already been unearthed.

“I have nothing against cricket,” Tosberg said. “If we can overcome the challenges to make it possible, then there will be cricket at Körnerplatz. It’s a beautiful facility, there’s no question about that.”

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INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.”