The Hamburg Fives Experience

John Reynolds reports:

12/11/19: The temporary fives court in Hamburg has hosted a tournament for 22 players, won by English visitor Karen Hird and her Australian neophyte partner Harry Thring.

Competition

The competition represented the climax to a six-week series of fives and artistic events at the Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof gallery in a railway station to the south of the German city, staged by artist Fion Pellacini and curator Rebekka Seubert to celebrate its 20th anniversary. A dozen of the players were beginners and the rest were established players, many of them English but some also German and Swiss, drawn to the unique art installation. The experienced players were Jessica Rees, Cleo Au, Izzy Moriarty Whyte, John Reynolds, Martin East, Alex Abrahams, Seb Cooley, Marc Tavra, Roman Heindorff and Karen Hird. The beginners were largely Hamburg residents who had introduced to the game by a series of workshops on the court which had been led by Zuozer Curt Schmitt.

Construction

The court itself was made out of plywood and plasterboard and conformed to the dimensions of a standard Eton fives court. This is surely a unique achievement - to build a perfectly functional court out of such materials. Fion – not a fives player himself until he built his own court – had been inspired to erect the structure after talking to a friend of his, Felix David, who had encountered the game at the Lyceum Aplinum in Zuoz. It was the asymmetrical shape of the court and the sculptural nature of the buttress, edges and ledges which intrigued him. First, some 18 months ago, he built scale models of the court and the buttress and these he used to gain a grant to built the full-size version. It was only this summer, though, that Fion contacted the fives community in England for the exact dimensions, which he was given by John Reynolds. Fion then visited Highgate to see a game played by the Old Citizens and Eton where Seb Cooley showed him the original site. Erection took three weeks and the court must be dismantled now to make way for the next exhibition at the Kunstverein (which can translate as 'art club').

Innovation

There are surely many innovations from Fion Pellacini's installation at the Kunstverein Harburger Bahnhof which the fives community in England could consider to make Eton fives more enjoyable and widen its appeal.

  • A week of workshops for beginners: to make use of the court, Fion and Rebekka staged a series of evening workshops which culminated in the tournament for the beginners in which they played alongside more experienced players.
  • Indoor fives: even though there was only one court, it was indoors in the former first-class waiting room of the Harburg railway station, and served by a cafe and surrounded by other artistic elements, so the players were warm and entertained even if they were not actually playing. Even though it rained throughout the weekend, and the temperatures in Hamburg sometimes fell to nearly freezing, the players were always comfortable. This is surely the future for fives in cold climates.
  • Entertainment and refreshments: much of the fives was played with some ambient music in the background. The cafe was always open and players could wander over to buy coffee, tea, cakes and beer. Food was also provided - delicious hot Thai food was served at the back of the hall by a street food provider.
  • Commentary: as you can see in the photographs, a public address system allowed a commentator (in this case Cleo Au) to keep the audience entertained and informed about the score.
  • Exposure to the public: members of the public in Hamburg, as they were passing through the railway station at Harburg, were able to drop by the gallery and sample fives.
  • The building material ie plaster board and chipboard: surely Fion Pellacini has proved that the range of possible building materials is much wider than we previously thought. Seb Cooley and Karen Hird - among the very best players in the country - felt that the court played perfectly well. It did make a bit of a din, but this was ignored during the course of a rally. The court did begin to show some slight signs of panels moving after a month's usage but nothing that affected the usability of the court.

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