Tennis - A Cultural History (2nd edition) - Heiner Gillmeister

Tennis - A Cultural History (2nd edition) - Heiner Gillmeister

Tennis in the German Ballhouse

Tennis - A Cultural History (2nd edition) - Heiner Gillmeister

Heiner Gillmeister [+-]
University of Bonn, retired
Heiner Gillmeister is retired Chaucerian and linguistics scholar of the University of Bonn and a world authority on the history of ball games. That is why he was invited also to teach sports history at the German Sports University, Cologne. His theory that Association Football has its roots in Renaissance Italy and that golf and even cricket originated on the European continent has created an international stir. The German academic is a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, The Oxford English Dictionary and to leading German newspapers such as Die Welt and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.


The Germans got acquainted with tennis rather late. It was first passed on to them by their cousins in the west, the Flemish and the Dutch. Their model of the walled but roofless tennis court was adopted in the north of the country covering an area formed by Hanseatic cities such as Cologne - where it was known to the community of the Crutched Friars as early as 1450 - , Hamburg and Lübeck. In marked contrast to the north tennis was in the 16th century introduced to the Viennese court and the German south by Italians and Huguenots who had left France on account of religious conflicts. The courts in which Italian and French professionals taught the game to the Germans had a roof and went by the name of Ballhaus, literally ballhouse. These foreigners were either in the pay of a local ruler or themselves owners of the facility eking out a living out of it. As time went on the institution of the ballhouse also prevailed in the north where courts were built in places such as Berlin, Schwerin and Rostock. A peculiarity of German tennis was its becoming part of the education of young noblemen in the so-called Knights’ Academies (Ritterakademien) the most illustrious being that of Tübingen. Tennis in the Knights’ Academy is well illustrated in the literary genre of the Stammbuch (album amicorum, friendship book). It was a collection of sheets which students had presented to one another at the end of their studies. These sheets not infrequently contained an illustration of the student’s favourite pastime together with some memorable verse. Inspired by model institutions such as the Collegium Illustre in Tübingen tennis facilities were also placed at the disposal of students by the country’s universities and by colleges run by religious orders. It looks as if it had been the Germans’ firm belief that to play tennis could also be learnt by reading. A vast amount of books on how to play the game and written in dialogue form were printed in Strasburg and a German professional from Nuremburg even put pen to paper and authored a veritable tennis primer. A notable example of how tennis fared during the Thirty Years War is given by Europe’s rulers of the time involving high-ranking individuals such as the Emperor Rudolf II, the unfortunate Prince Henry and his relatives from the Rhineland Palatinate, the Electors Frederick IV and his son, the ‘Winter King’ of Bohemia, who had married Henry’s sister Elizabeth.

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Gillmeister, Heiner. Tennis in the German Ballhouse. Tennis - A Cultural History (2nd edition). Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 146-209 Feb 2017. ISBN 9781781795217. Date accessed: 07 Dec 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.30658. Feb 2017

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