Wir Sind Berliners – Attending the Berlin Six Day meet 2009
photos in Gallery
It is (or was) an unstated ambition of mine to try and attend a Six Day meet in each of the cities that hold them. With that in mind there had been some ‘loose talk’ of attending the Berlin event to sample the unique atmosphere provided by the German cycling fan. A snap decision to attend required some hurried bookings and the willing press ganging of the usual suspects (Richard Somerset, Nick Harris and Brian Goodwin) An early flight out on the Friday, with a late return on the Sunday, gave us the two premier nights (Friday and Saturday) of bike racing and plenty of free time to explore Berlin.
On arrival Friday morning, a quick train into Berlin Hautbanhof station, deposited us right in the heart of the government district of Berlin. My immediate impression was just how eye-wateringly-cold it was, and I begun to wonder if I should have purchased those John Lewis thermal Long John’s that I had seen on sale the week before. Although Brian’s suggestion that it was cold enough for permafrost was greeted with a fair amount of QI style derision from his traveling companions.
Berlin itself is a city laid out in the old imperial style, that has through the ravishes of history, suffered two monumental physical scars – The Wall and National Socialism (and the subsequent Allied bombing) It leaves the city a little disconnected, lacking perhaps the historical continuity that one tends to feel when wandering around other European capitals. The three main memories for me were standing at Checkpoint Charlie in the exact position where American and Russian tanks squared off at times of Cold War tension, the new Holocaust memorial right in the center of Berlin, consisting of two thousand different sized plain grey concrete blocks, that was simply presented but immensely thought provoking, and perhaps the most melancholy memory was stumbling across the location of Hitler’s bunker, now just a drab municipal car park, and feeling a real chill as the temperature seemed to drop several degrees. None of us felt comfortable lingering there, and we moved away quickly. There are many grim reminders of, ‘the move away from civilization’, a phrase that one of the History of Berlin information boards uses to describe the time of National Socialism.
The velodrome in Berlin is larger than the more familiar track used at Ghent. Half of the inside area is filled with reserved eating, leaving room for many eateries to supply the German penchant for eating vast quantities of cooked/curried/fried/braised/baked/grilled red meat based products. It is probably safe to say that the German idea of a vegetarian is someone who just eats Chicken! Whistles also seemed part of the night, with a mass synchronized cacophony of ear shrieking sound greeting successful rider’s on their victory laps. The use of a fairly large remote control Zeppelin to deliver freebies to the crowd also caused some amusement amongst the North Roaders, along with the musical entertainment provided by a band that looked like a modern German recreation of Brotherhood of Man.
A Six Day meet, for those that haven’t attended one, has a kind of rhythm of its own. The power sprinters have a series of short distance events interspersed with the main program as the ‘big men’ of cycling charge round the track engaged in shoulder-to-shoulder action. The Madison is a personal favourite; all the riders are on the track for forty-five minutes, engaged in a swirling in-and-out hand slinging race that has you mesmerized as you watch it. The motor pacing events came in two varieties. The main races use the little moped dernys, and although clearly this style of event registers on the ‘bonkers scale’, they appear positively sane compared to the specialized motor pacers (or stayers). These riders use unique bikes tucked in behind big powerful BMW motor bikes, to work up to really high speeds of 40mph over a sixty lap race. I have now had to specifically extend my ‘bonkers scale’ to make allowances for my first exposure to this style of racing. I did wonder what was next, perhaps some strategically placed flaming hoops, or some hungry roaming alligators on the track? Indeed, the amount and style of the events are almost infinite, and even our font of cycling knowledge (Nick Harris), had to admit that even he didn’t know what the ‘ell was going on sometimes. No doubt who the crowd had come to watch though, and that was Erik Zabel, as the great man was making his last professional appearance at this event and was greeted with thunderous applause at every opportunity.
After walking miles catching the sights, two nights of track racing, numerous dunkel biers, along with the ingestion of several pounds of red meat it was time to head home and plan the next trip – Copenhagen Six 2010 anyone?