At the age of only seven, Max Wörner got introduced to climbing by chance. What started out as a family getaway turned into a performance-oriented passion. Today he is an entrepreneur who earns his money over the rooftops of Stuttgart.
Pedestrians stop, mesmerized by the workers hanging high above them on the front of a building. In this particular moment, most people ask themselves why someone would choose a profession in such an extreme altitude. Wide-eyed witnesses are nothing out of the ordinary for professionals like Wörner. As one of about 15,000 industrial climbers in the world, the former member of the climbing national team makes facades, roofs and other facilities high above the ground accessible through rope techniques, even though they may seem inaccessible. The people’s fascination mostly goes unnoticed because his work up in the air requires a constant high level of concentration. Even though work above the ground becomes routine for industrial climbers a certain amount of tension is always there. After all, the climber’s safety is on the line every day.
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Max Wörner was a kid in elementary school when he first attached a climbing rope to a harness. His father had chosen the climbing gym for the weekly family getaway that day. He was immediately intrigued by the sport and even the ambition was not long in coming. Two years later he entered the first competition and shortly after was discovered by the federation. At the age of 16 he became part of the German national climbing team. “The sport was my everything”, says Wörner about his time in competitive climbing. Cups all over Germany were followed by international competitions around the globe and with it came the prospect of a bright future in climbing. Despite the private sponsor that he had found early on in his career and the sponsoring program of the German Alpine Association, entering international competitions became impossible without paying some of the expenses out of your own pocket. “I am very thankful that my parents have been very supportive. I have always been a hard worker, so I was also able to cover a lot of it with money I made in summer jobs but the financial aspect was definitely one of the reasons why I eventually quit competitive sports”, describes Wörner the difficulties of athletes in a fringe sport. On top of that, he was longing for a secure professional future, so Wörner took the one step that seemed logic to him.
“Climbing is so much more than just a sport”, says Wörner about his biggest passion. For him the personal component of the sport has always been at least as important as the athletic challenge. Among his opponents he had many friends, competitions were therefore always combined with a cheerful reunion and over the years these climbing-enthusiasts built a social network among each other. They shared ambition and the love for a sport that is often underrated. Climbing is much more than a casual ascent on walls that are more or less steep. Climbing requires excellent physical fitness as well as mental strength and an ability to concentrate. The climbers are extreme athletes whose goal it is to constantly go even further and higher. Wörner is convinced that this is what makes the sport special. “Climbers have very special personalities, I guess this is why we have such good relationships among each other”, says Wörner and underlines that he experiences climbing as a certain lifestyle because it combines open-minded, confident personalities’ love for nature with a special kind of thirst for adventure, ambition and curiosity. Wörner especially emphasizes the feel of freedom that is very intense when you are climbing. For that reason, it was ultimately very hard for him to leave the competitive sport behind. Only 18 years old at the time, Wörner already had a plan B. “I just could not live with the thought of becoming a mechanic or electrician or anything else”, reports Wörner. He has tried a lot during summer jobs but nothing had ever been as much fun as climbing, so he made the decision to make climbing his profession.
At the young age of only 18, Max Wörner was brave enough to go into self-employment and he has never had a single regret about this decision ever since. “It helped that as an extreme athlete I am wired to be willing to take risks but I definitely knew what I had gotten myself into”, explains Wörner the calculated risk involved in his early step towards independence. His numerous contacts in the climbing industry from his past as a professional athlete gave him the necessary confidence because this is where a lot of inquiries came from. “I had a few jobs as a route setter in the beginning”, says Wörner. No certificate is necessary for route setters, as soon as they register their business they are good to go. The ambition Wörner had as an athlete was still there as a business man which is why he finished the course for competition route setters at the German Alpine Association. The license in hand, he soon got promoted and became chief competition route setter in Germany. Marketing strategies were never part of Wörner’s daily business. “Because of the numerous people I knew and the great network within the climbing sport, I always had plenty of inquiries”, describes Wörner the positive order situation back then. Today Wörner considers himself as being almost without competition as an industrial climber and business owner. “I still value the lifestyle and friendliness climbing stands for“, emphasizes Wörner. Personal contact with the customer and the ambition still within from his time as a competitive athlete, therefore grant him a consistently positive feedback. With a team of experts of all kinds of fields he shares his work area over the roofs of Stuttgart. “Of course, I have to take care of administrative tasks and work on certain projects at my desk as an entrepreneur but I spend ten to twelve hours every day at the construction site”, describes Wörner a normal day as an industrial climber.
Fear is never an issue. He stresses, however, that there is always this vital thing called respect. “I check the material every day and have to do the risk assessment. I cannot make any mistakes there and it helps to be a little tensed up”, says Wörner. Safety is the top priority in industrial climbing, therefore the climbers are double secured whereas the athletes in sports climbing are trying to get rid of as much weight as possible by going without the double security. “Afraid are only the people who do not know what we are doing up there”, tells Wörner about an incident where pedestrians called the police because they thought someone was trying to jump off the building. Industrial climbing is not a well-known or widely-spread profession, so Wörner understands why people are fascinated by it. His job has not lost its fascination for himself either, even after ten years. Despite the routine, he appreciates the varying tasks and he is convinced that industrial climbing can never be boring. Even though he is climbing at work every day, Wörner still puts on the climbing shoes when he is on vacation. “The urge to go climbing has decreased over time but I still love the climbing lifestyle, hence, I still go to the climbing gym when I am off”, he says.
The future is looking good for him due to a thriving business and his passion for his job. When asked if the job up in the air is something you can do until you retire, Wörner says that it is his goal to work as a climber as long as possible. “Nonetheless, the job is challenging and you need physical and mental strength”, says Wörner, which is why he could imagine dedicating more time to project planning in later years. One thing is set in stone, though: Climbing will – be it as a sport or as a job – always be part of his life.