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Braun's new life on the ice as a recovering alcoholic

Thomas Klein
January 25, 2024

Constantin Braun is a veteran defenseman with the Nürnberg Ice Tigers — and a former member of the German national team. He is also a recovering alcoholic, and hopes that by telling his story, he can help others.

Constantin Braun
Having spent the bulk of his career in Berlin, Constantin Braun has settled in to life in NurembergImage: Thomas Hahn/Sportfoto Zink/picture alliance

One by one, the Nürnberg Ice Tigers players step out onto the ice. Constantin Braun is among them, firing a few shots on goal before stopping to chat with head coach Tom Rowe. On this day, the 35-year-old defenseman happens to be wearing a red jersey, signaling to his teammates that bodychecking him is off limits.

This is because Braun is still suffering from the effects of a concussion suffered when he got hit in the face with a puck in the previous game. While the doctors were quickly able to fix his teeth, concussions aren't that simple, and he continues to suffer from headaches.

"I'm fine, I'm on the road to recovery," Braun tells DW, saying that he is looking forward to returning to full contact in practice — and playing games.

 Constantin Braun skating in a DEL match
Constantin Braun moved to the Ice Tigers after his former club, Bietigheim, were relegated at the end of last seasonImage: Duckwitz/osnapix/picture alliance

A "little thing" like a puck to the face isn't about to throw off the 1.91-meter (6'3") Braun, who has been playing professional hockey for almost two decades. Along the way Braun, who first stood on skates at the age of four, has collected six DEL (Germany's top league) championships — with his longtime former team, Eisbären Berlin — and made 98 appearances for Germany. 

'I thought I didn't have a problem'

Braun has spent his entire professional career in Germany and he seems to have settled in well with his fourth team, the Ice Tigers, whom he joined last summer.

"I only play hockey for four or five hours a day and it's important to have a good environment (off the ice)," says Braun. "That way you don't get into trouble."

But his story is not just about hockey. For years, the defenseman abused alcohol.

"Six or seven years ago, I wouldn't have thought that I would be talking about alcoholism today. Because I didn't think I had a problem," Braun says.

His problems with addiction emerged during the offseason while he was still with Eisbären Berlin. Braun says he would start drinking after his morning workout. During the season, he adhered to a simple rule: no alcohol on the day before a game — and that was never a problem.

Constantin Brown playing for German
Constantin Braun played 32 games for Germany between 2010 and 2016Image: Eisenhuth/photoarena/IMAGO

"In the dressing room, it was never an issue with my teammates if there was a hint of alcohol on my breath. I was known for liking to party and having a drink now and again," recalls Braun. "I always played well on Fridays and Sundays (the traditional gamedays in German hockey), so nobody noticed."

Back then, it never occurred to anybody that Braun might be an alcoholic.

"I never drank in front of my family because my father is a recovering alcoholic," Braun says. "I always drank alone at home."

The ironic thing about Braun's story is that at the same time as he was slipping deeper and deeper into alcoholism, he helped get his father into therapy to help him quit drinking.

'I had to relearn my life'

As is the case with many alcoholics, Braun's slide into addiction was gradual. First a beer in the evening, then two or three — at some point another at dinner during the week and then in the morning too. But at some point, he'd had enough. Braun would suffer from withdrawal, he'd get chest pains when the intervals between drinks became too long.

"There was a moment when I realized that I had a problem," says Braun. "From that point, it took me two weeks to seek help."

However, it had taken years for him to reach those last two weeks.

"The hardest part was admitting this weakness to myself," he says.

In a role reversal, his father, whom he had helped kick alcohol, now came to his aid.

"My father was very supportive because he'd experienced a lot during his therapy. That was very helpful for me."

He wasn't able to do it alone, so he sought help from doctors. But he also spoke to former footballer Uli Borowka, who is also a recovering alcoholic. Braun went public with his illness in 2018.

Constantin Braun with a DEL medal around his neck
Constantin Braun won six DEL titles during his years with the Eisbären (Polar Bears) in BerlinImage: Daniel Reinhardt/dpa/picture alliance

"I didn't want to have to hide, I wanted to go through therapy without the fear of someone recognizing me," Braun says. "One of the reasons I needed therapy was that I had been hiding things for years."

As difficult as it may have been at first, going public took a lot of pressure off him.

"Then I went to a clinic for six months, 600 kilometers (373 miles) away from Berlin. I wanted to get as far away as possible to avoid falling back into old habits," Braun recalls.

"After that, I went back and had to relearn my life. This meant learning to go grocery shopping without going to the alcohol section."

It was a difficult process that took between two and three years to complete.

A team of 20 therapists

Braun hasn't touched a drop of alcohol for the past five years. But in a society in which alcohol is a widely accepted part of everyday life resisting temptation is not always easy. The defenseman is aware of this and fortunately, he has a strong support group.

Constantin Braun celebrating a goal with his Ice Tigers teammates
Constantin Braun and a few of his 20 "therapists" celebrate an Ice Tigers goalImage: Thomas Hahn/Sportfoto Zink/picture alliance

"Whenever I'm on the road with the team, I have 20 therapists with me. They (his teammates) make sure that I don't get into any risky situations. That takes the pressure off me, and I can rest assured that nothing will happen to me."

He says that being open about his problem is a big part of his strategy not to fall off the wagon.

'Let people know'

"When I go into a bar and I'm offered a drink, I say that I'm a recovering alcoholic," he says. "And from that point on, I'm no longer asked. That's what I learned in therapy: Let people know that you're a recovering alcoholic."

Braun's is a rare story. Alcohol addiction remains a taboo subject in German sports. Apart from Borowka, Braun is one of the few German athletes to speak openly about their addiction.

"Society is not yet ready for 'heroes' who openly deal with an alcohol problem. Many think it's a weakness," Braun says.

"But it's actually one of the strongest things you can do, because you have to admit it to yourself and conquer the inner demon that got you into this situation. Once you've done that, you're one of the strongest people on the planet."

This article was originally published in German.