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CYCLING

Cycling comes full circle in Berlin

It’s been a fixture on Berlin’s sporting calendar for almost a century: six straight days of indoor track cycling. Andrew Curry delves into a legendary Volksfest of beer and big gears.

Cycling comes full circle in Berlin
Photo: DPA

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

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BERLIN

EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

Shops
If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

Leisure
2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

Hairdressers
For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

Transport
3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.

 

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