Porträt von Anne Müller vom Cologne Roller Derby
Anne Müller a.k.a. "One Hit Wanda" from Cologne Roller Derby team the Graveyard Queens. Photo: Cologne Roller Derby

Cologne Roller Derby – high action, high diversity

Roller derby is a high-speed, intense sport, not for the faint-hearted. Players who attempt to overtake a “jammer” run the risk of being bodychecked. Decked out in fishnet tights, tutus and rainbow-striped socks, the Graveyard Queens from Cologne are one of Germany’s most successful teams. Self-organised and oozing punk references, the players tackle the outdated cliché of rough sports being a male-only domain. Cis men are only allowed off track.

In a sports hall in Cologne’s Ehrenfeld district, two roller derby teams (each with five players on roller skates) are getting ready for action. The shrill sound of the referee’s whistle echoes through the hall and off they whizz, all at the same time, around the oval-shaped track.

Die Mannschaft des Cologne Roller Derby
Roller derby teams aim to be safer spaces. Cis men are very much on the sidelines. Photo: Cologne Roller Derby

There are no pucks, balls or goals – instead, each team has a “jammer”. Identifiable by the star on their helmet, their job is to score points by passing as many members of the opposite team as possible. And the other side has to try and stop them. “Walling” and body checking are all part of the game. Helmets, elbow/knee pads and wrist guards aren’t just useful – they‘re an aboslute necessity in this tough contact sport.

Derby’s do-it-yourself mentality

With only around 1,600 active players, roller derby isn’t exactly a widespread sport in Germany. According to Anne Müller though, a.k.a One Hit Wanda from Cologne team the Graveyard Queens, “It’s a total blast and so much more than a mere sport.”

Porträt von Anne Müller von den Cologne Roller Derby
Anne Müller is co-chair of the Roller Derby Deutschland executive committee. Photo: Cologne Roller Derby

What Anne, who’s also the co-chair of the Roller Derby Deutschland (RDD) executive committee at Germany’s association for roller and inline sports (Deutscher Rollsport und Inline-Verband e.V. (DRIV)), really loves about roller derby is the DIY mentality. “Being a fringe sport, we don’t have the organisational structures. So we players manage everything. A lot of us perform tasks off the track too. Be it refereeing, on our committee, keeping track of the rules and regulations, organising away games or compering tournaments,” she explains.

It’s not without a little pride that she tells us about the international tournament Cologne Roller Derby organised for its tenth anniversary in 2019: “With everything we’ve learned, we could probably set up our own event agency tomorrow! It all makes for an incredible bond.”

Cologne Roller Derby – a safer space

As was probably the case for many other derby players, it was Roller Girl, starring Elliot Page, that opened Anne’s eyes to the sport. Hooked by the film, she strapped herself back into her skates – for the first time since her childhood – for a try-out with the local roller derby team in Erfurt, where she was living at the time. “It’s amazing how quickly you get into it. And I found myself enjoying it more and more right from the start,” she says.

Originally from the north of Germany, Anne moved to the Cologne region in 2020 and joined the local roller derby league. Cologne Roller Derby has two teams, she explains: “The Graveyard Queens is our travel team for away games and national-level games. The recreational team is all about just enjoying the sport without any pressure, gaining experience and trying out positions you don’t usually play in.”

While Cologne’s roller derby league is open to everyone, the Graveyard Queens are a “FLINTA*” team. That means their members are exclusively female, lesbian, intersex, trans or agender people. “The fact that lots of teams have FLINTA* people on track and men off track is due to historical reasons. Even the national league is FLINTA* by virtue of its rulebook. Cis men are not allowed to participate in the tournaments. But there are all-gender teams in Germany too.”

Anne is aware that a sport where cis men are very much on the sidelines gets a lot of people’s backs up. “There’s a political message behind it too,” she says. “FLINTA* people play more of a secondary role in most sports. We talk about football and women’s football and handball and women’s handball… but things are different in derby. Many derby teams want to be safer spaces. We all work together to create a positive culture in our sport.”

Born in Chicago, styled by punk

The sport emerged in the 1930s and 1940s. The first roller derby race (the derbies at the time were endurance races) was held in Chicago. “Back then there was a lot more spectacle involved, similar to wrestling today. Opponents were dramatically brought to their knees,” Anne explains.

Roller derby in its modern form arose considerably later, in Texas, at the beginning of the 2000s. The new sport was firmly rooted in the queer feminist punk scene of the time, which continues to inspire its identity today. That’s true in Germany too, where it’s been played since 2004. Cologne’s roller derby league got its skates on in 2009.

Riot Girl, self-expression, empowerment, DIY – there’s a strong link between all of these ideological concepts and roller derby, reflected in various areas of the sport such as the players’ outfits. “There are a few rules about jersey colours and the writing on them but derby gives players a lot of freedom to display their individuality. Bold make-up, glitter, tights and rainbow-coloured socks are common and occasionally there are fishnet tights and tutus as well.” Players are also allowed to choose their derby name and number.

Aiming to improve

Making sure nobody’s excluded from roller derby is very important for the Cologne team. But Anne recognises there’s room for improvement: “We’re completely aware there are obstacles that stop people taking part. Derby is an equipment-based sport. It’s a good 250 euros for the basics alone and not everyone can afford to travel to the away games.” The fact that derby is a full-contact sport and requires certain physical abilities can be an obstacle too. She stresses though, “We’re trying to improve and remove the obstacles by promoting the community off track.”

Having been forced into a hiatus by the Covid pandemic, roller derby in Germany is finally bursting back into life this year. And things are going well for Cologne’s Graveyard Queens. Since the start of the new season, they’ve already won a few games and shared some new experiences. And new experiences is the name of the game when the queens of Roller Derby Cologne zoom around the track.

Fancy having a go? If you’d like to get involved, you can contact Cologne Roller Derby on instagram or send them an email (info@colognerollerderby.com). The teams are always happy to welcome new members.

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