‘In this hall’ – and the muscled guy switches on the lights – ‘you can follow crunch classes, or yoga, or pilates, or aerobics.’ I don’t want aerobics, yoga or pilates, and what the hell is crunch? Something with muscles, I understand. I ask where the swimming pool is. ‘There is no pool, but we are the biggest sports centre on the Anatolian side of Istanbul!’, says mister Muscle. Yes, you said that three times already.

I am still in the sports mood (click here to read how it all started). I prefer my sport outdoors, but I thought it would be wise to subscribe to a gym for the winter months. Not because I’m afraid of cold (okay, a little bit), but mostly because when snow comes I won’t be running outside.

So I went to a huge health centre in Kadiköy, the area next to Üsküdar, where I live. It’s on the top floor of a huge shopping mall. I’m welcomed with a questionnaire, get interrogated about my health, am advised to pay a visit to their doctor for a check-up (no thank you!), and then the tour begins.

I already said I mainly want to run and do some muscle-building exercises, but Mr. Muscle keeps going on about the sauna (I prefer the neighbourhood hamam), about ‘crunch’ and the ‘community feeling’ they offer: in the summer they go to the Istanbul islands all together as a group! The horror!, I think.

Then we sit down in a small office, I get tea and then the price of all this sports happiness is presented to me: 3300 tl per year. That’s €1643. That’s € 130 per month. When Mr. Muscle sees I’m about to faint, he says that at this time of year and especially for me huge discounts are available, and with a whole lot of calculations he brings it down to € 112 a month. I say it’s still way too much, and ask what price can he offer for a subscription of three months. ‘You can only choose for a membership of 1, 2, 3 or 5 years, no less.’ I shake his hand and leave the premises.

On the way home I think of something Mr. Muscle said: that the concept for the sports school came right from the USA. I’m not sure what the ‘concept’ is exactly, but their target group is clear: the urban rich.

This sport centre has three branches in Istanbul: one in Kadiköy (not a rich area, but apparently the best place for this sports concept on the Anatolian side of town), one in Ataköy (a huge and hyper-modern area on the European side) and one in Nisantasi, a rather posh, rich neighbourhood also on the European side. There are also branches in Ankara and Izmir, the other cities considered modern, partly inhabited by rich elites.

Going to an expensive gym is not in the first place meant to get or stay healthy and in shape, but considered part of the urban lifestyle. A membership card of an expensive sports school is just as necessary an accessory as a fur coat, a shiny car, a daily visit to the hairdresser and twenty pairs of killer heels.

The non-rich, more average Istanbulites, the group I consider myself part of, has no access to this world. Not to the ultra luxurious apartment blocks in the gated communities of Ataköy, not to the ultra expensive shops of Nisantasi, not to fur coats and shiny cars. And not to urban sports concepts offering crunch.

We can go to smelly, unprofessional and small, badly equipped sports centres in the basements of crappy buildings in our own humble neighbourhoods. They cost and offer hardly anything. If you refuse to descend down there, all you can do is keep running in the open air sports school that Istanbul is. Until you break a leg while stubbornly running in the snow. I’ll keep you posted!

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