• Germany's news in English
 

Cycling comes full circle in Berlin

Published: 28 Jan 2010 14:06 GMT+01:00

Every winter, when most people store their bikes in the basement to wait for warmer weather, a sort of traveling cycling circus rolls across Europe.

From Amsterdam it heads to Ghent, Dortmund, Munich, Bremen, Stuttgart and eventually Berlin. In the German capital, packed crowds scream and whistle as cyclists whizz around an oval track at more than 50 kilometres an hour.

This year will be the 99th Berlin Six-Day Race. Even in cycling-mad Germany, six-day races are a dwindling tradition. But Berlin’s competition has a long and proud history.

Every year at the end of January, the six-day comes to the city’s velodrome. From opening night on Thursday to the finale on Wednesday, action on the track is almost constant, with everything from sprint duels to hair-raising multi-lap free-for-alls that get nearly all the riders out on the track at once.

“It’s fascinating to see how fast they go,” says Dieter Westphal, a Berliner who went to the race last year. “It’s just impressive how athletic it is.”

In the early days, two-man teams rode their bikes around a track 24 hours a day for six days, with one person on the track at all times. The winner was the one who finished the most laps. Today’s format is a little more spectator-friendly: 18 two-man teams compete in a dozen or more high-speed events a night, collecting points all week to determine the eventual winner.

The cycling feats are the biggest draw, but plenty of people come for the party too. On Friday and Saturday, the most popular nights of the event, racing lasts until after two in the morning – there’s even a halftime show at 11 pm. The atmosphere is part action-packed sporting event, part disco and part beery Volksfest.

Click here for a photo gallery of last year's Six-Day Race.

But it’s no cheap night out: on Friday, tickets range from €52 for seats near the finish line to €30 for standing room spots in the infield and around the edge of the arena. The track itself is 250 metre wood oval. In the middle, a four-foot tall disco ball glitters above a VIP lounge, champagne bar and stands offering food and beer.

“It’s really a cross-section of society,” says Heinz Seesing, the head of the Berlin Six-Day organisation. “Fans come from all of Berlin, but in the former (communist) East cycling was always a big deal – that’s why we get so many visitors from former East Berlin. I haven’t experienced this kind of crowd anywhere else in Europe.”

For families, Sunday’s race is a great option: Racing starts at noon, with €35-family tickets available for parents and kids. “It’s our philosophy that kids are the visitors of tomorrow,” Seesing says. “They’ll always remember going to the race with dad and mum.”

Although there are six-day races in other cities, Berlin’s is the most prestigious and there have been more here than anywhere else in the world. Yet the event is actually an American import. A German cyclist organised the first race in Berlin in 1909 after a trip to New York’s Madison Square Garden, which first staged one in back in 1899.

In the wild Weimar Republic years, six-day races were one of the city’s most popular attractions, a chic see-and-be-seen event for the city’s artists, musicians and socialites. In the 1920s, Berlin often held three competitions a year.

But the golden age ended in 1934, when the Nazis shut the racing down. “In the disastrous Hitler era, the races were verboten,” says Seesing. The all-night party scene was too decadent, there were too many Jews involved, and the race’s seamy, beer-soaked image didn’t fit with Hitler’s ideal of sports as a character-building activity for “wholesome” German youth.

The competition came back to a divided Berlin in 1948; international pros raced in West Berlin, and an annual Winter Race was held for communist-bloc amateurs in the East. After the Wall came down in 1989, the reunited city eventually decided to build the flashy new velodrome that was ready for the 95th installment of the event.

The competition’s combination of history, action and alcohol make it welcome respite from the city’s dark and cold winter nights. For cycling fans, it’s a must. But you don’t need to be a hard-core gearhead to enjoy it – the curious will discover a unique Berlin sporting experience.

The Berlin Six-Day Race

January 28 – February 2

Paul-Heyse Str. 29 IV

10407 Berlin

Tel: 030 - 97 10 42 04

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

10:13 January 28, 2010 by Portnoy
I'm there every year. Love. It.
Today's headlines
Greece crisis
Merkel: 'still no basis' for aid to Greece
Angela Merkel arriving in Brussels on Tuesday. Photo: EbS

Merkel: 'still no basis' for aid to Greece

UPDATE: Chancellor Angela Merkel offered no new insights into her thinking as she arrived in Brussels for a meeting of eurozone government heads on Tuesday, saying that it was up to Greece to make a move and show willing. READ  

Mafia suspects arrested at Lake Constance
Lke Constance, a 'stronghold' of the mafia. Photo:DPA

Mafia suspects arrested at Lake Constance

Police arrested eight Italian citizens on Tuesday morning at Lake Constance in Baden-Württemberg on suspicion of involvement in the ’Ndrangheta, Calabria’s feared mafia organisation. READ  

Greece crisis
Voters back Schäuble's hard line on Greece
Wolfgang Schäuble in the Bundestag. Photo: DPA

Voters back Schäuble's hard line on Greece

A poll published on Tuesday shows that at the peak of their tough talk towards Greece, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble have been earning even greater confidence from German voters. READ  

'Hackers' give orders to German missile battery
Bundeswehr soldiers operating a Patriot missile launcher. Photo: DPA

'Hackers' give orders to German missile battery

German-owned Patriot missiles stationed in Turkey were briefly taken over by hackers, according to media reports on Tuesday. READ  

Workers dismantle Frankfurt Euro sculpture
A worker on a crane removes stars from the Euro sculpture in central Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

Workers dismantle Frankfurt Euro sculpture

As a possible Greek exit from the eurozone looms ever larger, threatening to change the face of the euro forever, the currency's home city of Frankfurt is giving its famous Euro sculpture a much-needed facelift. READ  

Auschwitz trial
Prosecutors seek 3-1/2 year sentence
Oskar Gröning was an SS guard at Auschwitz. Photo: DPA

Prosecutors seek 3-1/2 year sentence

German prosecutors on Tuesday said they were seeking three and a half years' jail time for a former SS officer known as the "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz". READ  

Hot weather to bring tornados and lightning
With this blitz Gerry'll get a taste of his own medicine. Photo: DPA

Hot weather to bring tornados and lightning

After Germans were able to sneak out to restock their wurst and sauerkraut rations during few cool hours on Monday, another heat wave is sweeping across the country on Tuesday, sending people running back to the shade for cover. READ  

July heatwave
Hot dogs lap up liver sausage sundaes
Ice-cream maker Leonardo Caprarese with golden retriever Oscar, enjoying a delicious scoop of Leberwurst ice cream. Photo: DPA

Hot dogs lap up liver sausage sundaes

Hounds languishing in the July heat around Bremen have been treated to a very special snack to cool them down - but it's one that might put humans off their lunch. READ  

Berlin growing twice as fast as expected
Population growth is putting strains on city planning. Photo: DPA

Berlin growing twice as fast as expected

The Berlin senate revealed on Monday that the capital is growing at double the pace that city planners had previously expected. But after decades of stagnation the growth is seen as positive. READ  

Anti-refugee rage grows in Dresden suburbs
Demonstrators outside the Freital refugee home are held back by police on June 26th. Photo: DPA

Anti-refugee rage grows in Dresden suburbs

Freital, the town that became famous last week for irate anti-refugee protestors outside a new home for asylum seekers, saw a fresh confrontation on Monday night as local people gathered for a town hall meeting. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
Politics
What's really in the Queen's handbag?
National
Germans say USA doesn't respect freedom
National
Yes, you CAN buy adult e-books before 10pm in Germany
VIDEO: Watch a 93-metre turbine crash to earth in slow motion
Gallery
Who's got a shot at the German Film Awards
Rhineland
Anger over 'child-free' beer garden
National
How do you do, Majestät?
National
Man defends right to pee in public with tear gas
Features
The Germans who won Waterloo for the British
Frankfurt
Should Germany ban circus animals?
Hamburg
Where people are having the most sex in Germany
Culture
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Not this student...
National
Dresden's three-decade-long red light
Politics
Upper house calls for gay marriage now
Berlin
Berlin named 3rd-best city worldwide
Sport
In search of the toughest firefighter
Business & Money
German firms shine for European engineering students
Gallery
Hitler's paintings up for auction
National
German's 70-year search for murdered US pilot
Politics
What the G7 leaders agreed at Elmau
Business & Money
What really makes Germans happy
National
Playmobil builder leaves worldwide legacy
National
The car share that became a drug run
Politics
What Snowden revealed to Germany
Rhineland
Why wolf cubs are being raised by hand
National
Hitler's booze cave found
National
Environment makes Germany worth living in
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

6,912
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd