• 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
Teachers to strike nationwide from Monday
Photo: DPA

Teachers to strike nationwide from Monday

Teachers all over the country are expected to stike starting Monday, German education trade union GEW said, after negotiations with the wage commission of the federal states (TdL) failed to achieve results. READ  

EU court deals blow to US Iraq objector's hopes
Andre Shepherd at the European Court of Justice in June 2014. Photo: DPA

EU court deals blow to US Iraq objector's hopes

American soldier Andre Shepherd, who applied for asylum in Germany as a conscientious objector against the war in Iraq after going AWOL from his unit, saw a judgement by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) go against him on Thursday. READ  

Intersex person sues clinic for unncessary op
Photo: DPA

Intersex person sues clinic for unncessary op

Intersex person Michaela Raab is suing doctors in a Nuremberg court, who she said operated on her genitals and put her through female hormone therapy without having told her she was genetically a man. READ  

Greece bailout
Greece bailout passes with massive majority
Wolfgang Schäuble addressing the Bundestag on Friday. Photo: DPA

Greece bailout passes with massive majority

UPDATE:German MPs voted 542-32 in favour of extending Greece's bailout programme on Friday. READ  

German soars into ski jump top spot
Photo: DPA

German soars into ski jump top spot

Germany is a "Weltmeister" again, this time in ski-jumping. Severin Freund's 134-metre vertical jumps, and new world distance record of nearly 136 metres, ended the nearly decade-and-a-half wait for German ski jump fans starved for gold. READ  

Muslim Council says Jewish fears 'justified'
Muslims at prayer in Frankfurt's Abubakr Mosque. Photo: DPA

Muslim Council says Jewish fears 'justified'

After the president of the Central Council of Jews warned against anti-Semitism in Muslim areas of German cities, his Muslim opposite number agreed that 'these fears are justified”. READ  

Consumer rights office slams Facebook
Photo: DPA

Consumer rights office slams Facebook

The Federation of Consumer Protection Offices (vzbv) has warned Facebook over legal breaches in its terms and conditions, saying that its claim on the homepage that “Facebook is free and always will be” is misleading. READ  

Spoof hails Varoufakis: puts 'hell' in 'Hellenica'
Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's "Minister of Awesome". Photo: DPA

Spoof hails Varoufakis: puts 'hell' in 'Hellenica'

An offering that rehabilitates the much-maligned German sense of humour is rocking the internet with a searing spoof metal tribute to Greece's formidable new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, filled with painful moments of self-mockery. READ  

This Week in History
Kafka's Metamorphosis: 100 years of perplexity
Franz Kafka. Photo: DPA

Kafka's Metamorphosis: 100 years of perplexity

100 years ago, Franz Kafka published The Metamorphosis, now seen as one of the most significant works of 20th century German literature. The Local speaks to the academic who has reinterpreted it for a modern audience. READ  

Nurse jailed for life for serial patient murders
Niels H. in court. The five murder counts against the former nurse may just be the start. Photo: DPA

Nurse jailed for life for serial patient murders

A male nurse who injected patients with overdoses of heart medication for the thrill of resuscitating them was on Thursday sentenced to life imprisonment on five counts of murder. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Kafka: puzzling translators 100 years on
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best country to work in?
Photo: Police
Rhineland
Student driver crashes tank into family garden.
Photo: DPA
Politics
There was a notable absence at the Anti-Semitism Commission
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
National
How Dresden bombing still divides Germany, 70 years on
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Take a cute break with this gallery of baby animals
International
What's keeping UK expats from voting?
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
All you ever needed to know about Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
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

3,381
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd