One afternoon in Berlin, Jake and I enjoyed a filling and delicious brunch with my friend and our host Cate, then went for a walk in the park by her apartment. An airport until 2008, the transformation to park is still underway, so it's mostly just a gigantic field. It's a popular place for kite enthusiasts of all kinds, since it's so windy and there's so much open space. Also, it's apparently the location of a twice-weekly Jugger practice.
This picture not taken by us. I got it from the Internet. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about here.
We came across this group of people who we thought were LARPing. But they didn't have Medieval costumes on, so we thought it might be LARPing practice. But as we watched, we realized this was probably some sort of game with a set of rules. The players had weapons and would attack each other systematically, and each match lasted only a few minutes before they went back to each of the end of the field and did it again. I especially appreciated the constant drum beat. It made whatever was happening seem so much more serious.
After we thought we had it mostly figured out, Cate went and ask the guy beating the drum what it was called. Jugger, an "official" sport for many years they said, inspired by 1989 Australian movie The Blood of Heroes. The goal is to capture the dog skull (not an actual dog skull, but is meant to look like one) and bring it to your stake to score. Weapons include the staff, the "famous" Q-tip, the sword, the shield, and my personal favorite, the chain. The chain has a ball attached to the end of it. The player with the chain gets to whip it around and knock people out. If one of your opponents strikes you within the legal strike zone (essentially anywhere but your head, lower legs, and forearms), you must stay down for five beats of the drum, or eight beats if the chain dude got a strike on you.
Get a little bit of a better idea, complete with a Creed soundtrack:
As I said, the people we saw playing weren't wearing costumes, just normal athletic gear. Also, hot girls were playing, which kind of boggled us. Aren't hot girls supposed to play tennis and volleyball? But no, this one hot girl would always challenge the chain guy, and 9 times out of 10, she would bite it hard, face-first. It's very hard to battle the chain, we learned. If she can do it, maybe I can too. I don't know if there are any Jugger teams in Chicago.
Anyway, my whole point in writing about this, was that we didn't exactly go to Berlin to discover Jugger. But that's what happened, and I think all of us preferred spending that time watching the Jugger match and then subsequent YouTube videos than we would have visiting a museum or church. Just one of those true clichés of travel, I guess: the things you accidentally stumble across can make for some of the best memories.