Fancy a match of ping pong? It’s not hard to find some weather-worn table to share with neighbourhood teens. For noobs and casual players, this might do. If, however, you’re after something a little more quality and, why not, competitive, take your paddle to these Kreuzberg and Neukölln hotspots, where the more ambitious players and the city’s magicians of the sport gather to spin their balls.
Park am Gleisdreieck – Möckernstr. 43, Kreuzberg
This is a heartily recommended place to hit little white balls. You’ll find four clusters of three to five tables each dotted throughout the park. The closest to U-Bahn stop Gleisdreick is just across from the wooden Sonnendeck and in between Café Uhu and the Spielplatz Schöneberger Wiese. The tables here, though concrete like the vast majority in Berlin, are smooth and new-looking, and the ground is a joy, ideal for anyone favouring a mobile game. On hot afternoons, this location can get extremely busy, with topless men crowding round and cheering people on. Unfortunately, wind is a significant problem in this open park. Tired from vanquishing your sweaty opponents? Victory is sweet, and so is Eisdiele am Gleisdreieck’s (Flottwellstr. 14) delicious homemade ice cream, to be ordered with a shot of espresso.
Viktoria-Quartier – Tivoliplatz, Kreuzberg
Further south in Kreuzberg, just above Viktoriapark, the redeveloped Schultheiss brewery is home to a single, breathtakingly shiny Sponeta 6-80e (that’s a €1100 resin-coated galvanised steel table, for the uninitiated). Local fanatics need to know about this professional quality Tischtennisplatte, which, nestled in an expensive-looking residential complex, feels almost too pristine to play on. Once the hordes descend it will quickly become damaged, and then probably removed. So forget the speaker and rucksack full of beers and keep this one to yourself.
Böcklerpark – Prinzenstr. 1, Kreuzberg
North of the Landwehrkanal, in front of the Statthaus neighbourhood centre, a bunch of steps will lead you to a small concrete square with two tables. As you approach, don’t be surprised if the local champions glare at you sceptically and ask what you’re looking for. If they’re feeling friendly, they’ll warn you against challenging the guy manically smashing a ball against a wall with two bats. You may encounter characters like Jürgen, who always shouts “fuck!” before going in for a slam, or Arwith, who sports a glove on his playing hand, and has the presence of an elderly statesman. The better of the two tables, though somewhat weathered, and with a net covered in sellotape, is superb. The thick melamine-laminate surface feels, glistens and sounds like it belongs indoors. If you’re already good, your contestants here can give you some valuable advice – and let you know whether you’re ready for the fabled Profitreff further down the canal.
Park am Landwehrkanal – Ratiborstr. 14a, Kreuzberg
Peering through the green netting enclosing the site, it only takes a second to realise everything said about this place is true – it’s the real deal. Everyone here knows each other, and no one who isn’t excellent plays. One of them, Michael, is sitting at the entrance, acting as gatekeeper. He says everyone here plays for clubs and comes here to play for fun. The tables are majestic, the best you’ll find outside (one is a €1900 Cornilleau Park, melamine-topped steel). Michael says the district recently invested in changing the ground, which is now a special elastic material as used in stadiums. Bottom line: Unless you’re a profi-level player yourself or enjoy public humiliation, you may want to take a seat on the newly installed benches and discretely watch and learn from the sidelines.
Weichselplatz – Weichselplatz 8-9, Neukölln
On the Neukölln side of the canal you’ll find another sublime option. Grey concrete benches circle the three tables, forming a coliseum and handily stopping runaway balls. Go early if you want guaranteed time and space, for the benches fill up most days with quality players. At the end of the night, a sea of discarded bottle caps are a testament to how riotous things get. Weichselplatz is a core location on the canal circuit, if still less extreme than the Profitreff. Footing is fine on the small cobblestones, but one of the three smooth concrete tables is slightly wonky. Trees and buildings provide some wind relief. This is a very strong option in the afternoon to test yourself against the not-quite-the-best, or for more relaxed play with a friend in the morning.
Schendelpark – Alte Schönhauser Str., Mitte
Mitte is generally a deadzone in terms of Tischtennisplatten, but there is a fun site in the north eastern corner, incidentally right outside Exberliner’s office. The trapezium-shaped courtyard fills up after work on sunny evenings, and many come from further afield to use the beach volleyball pit. There’s a Späti close to hand, and people drink, chat and watch volleyball from the grass. The two decent concrete tables are rarely busy. It’s an oasis in the city centre, and if you come in office hours and look up for it, yours truly will come down and challenge you.