Ballhaus (Germany)

The German princes liked to indulge in recreational pursuits just as much as their other European counterparts. The game of tennis they picked up at a relatively late stage, however, as they preferred to engage in the more popular medieval military sports such as hunting and jousting. To judge by the name Ballhaus that the Germans gave to their tennis courts, they had got acquainted with the game in Northern Italy where, as we saw, Galeazzo Maria Sforza had a Sala della Balla as early as 1474. Also the German name for tennis, Ballspiel, appears to be derived from the Italian gioco della palla. Emperor Ferdinand I, as far as we know, was in 1525 the first to have such a Ballhaus constructed at his castle in Vienna, the name of which still survives as the famous theatre. Between 1579, when Duke Wilhelm V had a Ballhaus built at his München Residenz, and 1620 some 25 "herzogliche" and "fürstliche" tennis courts were erected in the Germanic States.

Schloss Heidelberg
Schloss Heidelberg
Ballhaus in the front (see "E" on the roof of the building, 1620)

In this period hardly any member of the high nobility could afford not to have such an indoor sports facility. The best-known Ballhäuser could be found at the castles of Kassel, Bückeburg, Dresden,Wolfenbüttel and Heidelberg. Mattheus Merian, in the various editions of his Topographia Germaniae (c.1642), included engravings of a number of interesting examples: Count Palatine Johan Casimir's Ballenhaus at Heidelberg and two tennis courts at Austrian Castles, Ambrass and Salzburg.

Students of the Collegium Illustre of Tübingen playing Tennis (1610)
Students of the Collegium Illustre of Tübingen playing Tennis (1610)

The German students of noble birth also had to be educated in chivalrous exercises such as fencing, riding, dancing as well as in tennis. In 1593 the celebrated Collegium Illustre of Tübingen had a tennis court attached to its academy buildings and Ballenmeister were employed to train the students in this most noble of games. The university of Ingolstadt soon followed suit whereas an 18th century timetable of Leipzig university shows tennis was still part of the curriculum for the young scholars.

Schloss Heidelberg had a second Ballhaus (the first dates from c.1618) built as late as 1717, to indicate that the German kurfürstliche princes still loved playing the game as well. The Princes Von Thurn und Taxis had had a long association with the construction of tennis courts at their favourite residences and their Ballhaus of Schloss Regensburg was extended in 1783. However, most of Germany's fürstliche Ballhäuser had been pulled down by this time or used for other purposes: for example as riding school (Bückeburg) or Opera House (Dresden).

Nederlandse Real Tennis Bond
//Statistieken