If you could sketch your ideal city, what would it look like?
Reckermann: Hamburg’s looks, Munich’s leisure opportunities, and Cologne’s kind of people – that would be my ideal city.
Brink: Earlier this morning, I was exploring Berlin-Mitte. The district’s atmosphere, spectrum of potential leisure opportunities, and the people I dealt with really inspired me. Yet every city boasts its own, unique geographic features. Munich has its mountains, Cologne the Rhine, Hamburg real beaches, and Berlin its scene plus a few too many unfinished high-rises.
Your career has taken you plenty of places. What were the most stunning spots so far?
Reckermann: For me, the most beautiful spot was Manly, Sydney, Australia. It was the first place – besides my actual home – I could see myself living in. It is all about Manly’s laid-back charm and flair combined with the proximity of metropolitan Sydney, just a short ferry ride away with its broad cultural spectrum …
So, how do you define “Heimat“ (a sense of home)? Is it a specific place? Or do your joint successes also create some sense of belonging?
Reckermann: When the two of us were away together, I always felt at home (laughs). And while Manly is a really pretty place, it would never really feel like home to me. I like to have my friends and family close by, so Australia might be a bit too far away. So, I am not really drawn to far-flung places – I feel right at home in the Rhine Region.
And what about you, Julius?
Brink: I am doing very well at my place in Cologne. This is where I feel at home. Cologne is a lot about the people, I think. It is certainly not Germany’s most beautiful city, but has phenomenal flair. This, too, defines a sense of home for me.
Let’s return to the question of “the most beautiful place” for a moment: I am a bit surprised that neither of you mentioned London?
Reckermann: I love London! During my time at university, we went on a college trip to London. But I couldn’t really take the weather – just not enough summer for my taste. Otherwise, London’s cityscape and multi-cultural character are amazing. And then there are all those fantastic memories of the Olympics, but I already liked the city before the Games.
Did you notice a real difference before and after the Olympics?
Reckermann: A lot has changed in London. My college trip dates back to 2006 and six years later the city had already undergone a lot of development. Even the skyline had changed within this relatively short time span. At the same time, the city still has all those untouched and authentic corners that celebrate tradition. Naturally, London seemed quite different during the Olympics, but this was mostly down to the people and the overall focus on sports.
Germany isn’t necessarily famous for its long white beaches. So, what brought you to beach volleyball in the first place? After all, both of you started out playing indoors …
Brink: That’s probably still the most likely route for making it in this discipline. To be honest, I ended up switching because I couldn’t really see any promising prospects in competitive indoor volleyball – it would have been a relatively short career. Then I discovered beach volleyball, a field much better suited to my character and athletic abilities. Looking back, it wasn’t the worst decision …
True enough! What about you, Jonas?
Reckermann: My experience was quite similar. I, too, started out indoors and, at some point, completely committed to beach volleyball. It was my thing. The Olympics were a huge motivating factor and – at least back then – qualifying for an indoor slot was a lot harder than qualifying for the beach volleyball tournament since I was not on the national indoor team.
Two years after your Olympic victory – and now that both of you have quit your active careers – you remain the faces of German beach volleyball. How do you deal with this sudden elevation to role model status?
Brink: You simply grow into it. At the same time, it is not really in my nature to stand up and tell people what to do or not to do. Yet as an athlete, and especially in the higher echelons of top-level performance, you automatically find yourself in the public eye. You become more conscious of the fact that younger people look up to you. Winning the Olympics propelled us into spheres with a much wider reach, giving us a huge chance to make the most of it and throw a spotlight on specific subjects. We could have become a mouthpiece for countless of campaigns, but it would not really do us – or the causes – any justice to tackle them all. Our participation in a campaign against homophobia, for example, was a very conscious decision.
Did your Olympic victory help to promote beach volleyball in Germany?
Brink: I think so. Our discipline didn’t always have it easy. Our steady success, and that of other teams, helped to prove time and again that this is a serious sport, despite its seeming lightness and ease. Tournaments like this Berlin smart Grand Slam only feature professionals who train twice a day. Nowadays, the sport actually enjoys a decent standing in Germany with one tour and an international tournament. We have teams that manage to hold their own in international competitions. In a way, we have done our bit in London to promote the sport, but then again we did not try to win the gold medal to advance beach volleyball – a welcome side-effect – but we did it for ourselves.
Beach volleyball teams are very small – there are only two of you. How do you avoid getting cabin fever?
Brink: While there were only two of us on the field, we were supported by a large team including three coaches, a psychologist, doctors, and physiotherapists. We deliberately scheduled slots beyond practice where we would not spend any time together. When you are always around each other, there is also more room for potential conflict. And if you are striving for 100 percent top-level competitive performance, you are definitely in for more friction than in any other relationship. Looking back, we dealt with it all quite well, I think.
You celebrated your greatest successes together. Are you just as good on your own – or do you find that you are automatically associated with one other?
Reckermann: There is certainly “danger” of that, but in the end it is not too bad. Beach volleyball always involves two people. Ever since we started playing together, all of my successes were immediately associated with Julius. We always considered ourselves a team. In a sport like this, you are nothing on your own. You are only as good as the weakest link, so it always depends on both of you. Nevertheless, we are obviously individuals – as we were before and are today.
Did you prefer playing on actual beaches or in a city, like at this tournament?
Brink: I have always really enjoyed training on the beach. Jumping straight into the waves after an exhausting practice session, getting into the car and being able to say, “that’s my place of work,” is both privileged and pretty cool. At the same time, we learned over the years how this sport works. Think sponsoring and marketability. If you want to promote a tournament, you need sponsors and support from cities and countries. If I could, I would always hold tournaments on actual beaches, but that’s simply my personal preference. In a city, you attract a much larger audience. And portable stadiums allow you to take the sport to the people. That’s a huge advantage of this discipline.
So, who is going to win the World Cup?
Brink: I am hoping that Germany will make it very far – ideally all the way to the finals – since that would give me most opportunity to fire up the barbeque and invite all my friends.
Reckermann: Before the first match I made a bet, so now I have to stick to it: Brazil will beat Germany in the finals.
Interview: Alexandra Schade
Header image: Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann in London, just befor the Olympic Games, photo: Daimler AG