Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

city-lit Berlin book launch (London)

In Berlin Wall, Germany, Running on November 25, 2009 at 11:23 am

This Friday will see the launch of city-lit Berlin at London’s Goethe Institute. The anthology is inspired by the atmospheric German capital which has captured so many writers’ imaginations – including mine.

I have been lucky enough to have some of my Berlin blogging included, alongside some pretty heavyweight names in modern literature. The book has been collecting great reviews, and my own modest contributions were singled out for praise in this FT review.

If you’re around – do please come along.


city-lit BERLIN

Book launch
Friday 27 November 2009, 7.30pm – 9pm
Goethe-Institut London, Library (First floor)
Admission free, but please reserve a place by phoning
Tel: +44 20 75964000

Runner’s World UK

In Berlin Wall, GDR, Germany, Running on October 20, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Read my article about running the Innerdeutsche Grenze (internal German border) in the Nov issue of Runner’s World.

Longer and older than the Wall in Berlin, it was just as well defended. This is where NATO faced-off against the Warsaw Pact.

Goethe Institute SF: Lunchtime Lecture

In Berlin Wall, GDR, Running on August 28, 2009 at 1:41 am

I’ll be speaking about my experiences on the Grenzenlos Laufen at San Francisco’s Goethe Institute at a (free) lunchtime lecture on Wednesday 16th September.

Ursula Dinter of the institute has arranged for me to speak in the basement of the building at 530 Bush Street in SF’s downtown.

If you’re in the area, please come along. All welcome.

Runner’s World Article

In Berlin Wall, GDR, Germany, Running on August 17, 2009 at 4:28 pm

The run along the border is due to appear as a feature in the UK edition of Runner’s World, the UK’s leading running magazine. Issue TBC soon.

Look out for more updates to the site soon.

Radio Interview

In Berlin Wall, DDR, Running on May 25, 2009 at 7:43 am

Hi from Hamburg, home of the infamous Reeperbahn, but also cult football club St Pauli. I joined the faith in serendipitous circumstances yesterday, when a friendly local walked up to me and handed over a free ticket to the sold-out game. More of that later.

The blog will be updated retrospectively, but in the meantime you can hear me (2m 10s in) talking on this Deutsche Welle radio programme.

Typically, the one day we have a journalist running with us, we end up wading through soaking wet fields after a minor GPS hiccup. A few nettle stings and minor electric shocks later, we’re back on track – as you can hear in the report or see here. When they built the GDR border, they didn’t have holidaying runners in mind.

Day 3 – Tough Terrain

In GDR, Germany, Running on May 17, 2009 at 3:55 pm
What happened to easy asphalt?

What happened to easy asphalt?

The hardest section of the run for me today. We were supposed to be on easy asphalt, but – as we later found out – we’d read the spreadsheet incorrectly. My lactate system was straining, and poor Holger had already run that morning and now he had to push the escort bike up a series of steep hills that made pedaling impossible.

This surface was the (soon to be dreaded) Kolonnonweg. Made from concrete strips, with closely-spaced holes that were just big enough to get your foot into, it was a nightmare to run on. Every step had to be watched and in some parts it was on tiptoe. It must have been a bumpy ride in a GDR patrol jeep.

Harmless now, you couldn't even have approached it without a permit back then.

Harmless now, you couldn't even have approached it without a permit back then.

During this long stage, I briefly wondered what I had let myself in for. When we eventually emerged into a clearing, Kirstin kissed the van!

Day 2

In Day 2, Running, Uncategorized on May 16, 2009 at 9:13 am

The unusual suspects

Last night we showered communally in the sports hall at Topen – there was no room for British blushes – and then my group took a leisurely breakfast. We wouldn’t run until lunchtime so there was no rush.

My team was mostly made up of the guys from the running club in Burg bei Magdeburg, so I was an honorary ‘Ossi’ for a week. Inevitably a number of them had done national service in the GDR army and still remembered some Russian. Frank Stucke now works at a museum at Marienborn, which was one of the main crossing points between the old FDR and GDR.

Several of the group were aged 65+, but they were to prove to be hardy runners who got the distance done and never grumbled. I can only hope I am as fit as them if/when I get to their age. We also had the youngest runner Timo Grothe (30) who was born in the FDR but moved to Dresden.

Day 1 – Little Berlin

In Berlin Wall, DDR, Germany, Running on May 15, 2009 at 9:10 pm
The lights are off now, and nobody is at home.

The lights are off, and nobody's at home.

I hadn’t realised it, but there are three Berlins: East, West and Little. Catching a speedy railcar from Hof to Grabau, and thence getting picked up, I finally meet a couple of the other runners.

Timo now lives in Dresden, and Ulrich lives in Frankfurt. They seem like nice guys and it bodes well. With a cheerful pip of the horn a van screeches up and drives us through tiny country lanes to out start point.

Modlareuth is hard to find on a map. It’s a tiny village, but is has a big significance. This is Little Berlin, a tiny village straggling a state border between Thuringia and Bavaria. For decades this administrative boundary was no problem, until the Cold War got chillier and in 1952 a local schoolboy from the Bavarian side found he couldn’t go to school any more in the Russian zone.

Welcome fuel cheque for the five buses.

Welcome fuel cheque for the five buses.

History is often taught in the form of macro generalisations: one‘ism’ versus another. But just imagine you are a child, and one day you’re told you can’t see your schoolmates any more. Such are the tiny tragic banalities that the textbooks never mention.

This is the first of the preserved border areas we’ll encounter on the run. Under a barbed wire-topped fence, the other 30 or so runners (all German) assemble while the Burgermeister from the western side’s council makes a speech and photos are taken. I don’t speak German, so I listen to the bird song and watch the sun behind the silhouetted empty towers.

Beady bunker eyes.

Beady bunker eyes watch no more.

We’re standing in front of the wide strip of dirt that was kept smooth so any footprints could be spotted. Inside the reflective cone of a nearby searchlight, a big bulb sits in the middle of the same scene but inverted. The museum’s head steps up and says a few words. Then, speeches over, organiser Stefan Esser hands over a six-inch replica border marker (cutely striped black, yellow and red, with a tiny plaque that would read Deutsche Demokratische Republik if it were real).

A 4km prologue around Modlareuth will be followed by a barbecue and the first of many wurst. The Burgermeister from the eastern side starts a countdown and we trot through the gates and into the compound. The adventure begins.

Deceptively pretty, this spot is where the 2nd Armoured Cavalry squared up to men who now run the museum.

Deceptively pretty, this spot is where the 2nd Armoured Cavalry squared up to men who now run the museum.

Fix up, look sharp

In Running on May 14, 2009 at 8:00 am

An email from Stefan this morning, all in German. But something along the lines of: “Wear your sponsor’s shirt and look smart because the TV people will be there.”

Fortunately I shaved my head last night, which immediately transforms me from a soon-to-be middle-aged balding man into a lean mean speed machine. Kind of.

To the shops, for a marker pen and card to make my “Hallo Muti” sign. Brace yourself, Germany.

BTW, for some serious travelogue, see the previous post.

‘Twas very bliss…

In Berlin Wall, DDR, GDR, Germany, Running, Uncategorized on May 13, 2009 at 8:57 pm

This is a very web-unfriendly 1,100 words, but parts of it made the city-lit Berlin anthology. So if you have a few minutes…

If not, here’s the several second summary for the time-poor: Berlin is beautiful in the sunshine. Two days ahead of the event, I go for a training/sightseeing run and end up at the border crossing which became world famous on 9th November 1989 when the border gates spilled open and Ossis finally got to see what was on the other side. Life is good.

Two days to go to the Prologue, and I arrive to a hot afternoon in Berlin. Everything is as it should be: the S-Bahn is half empty and its patrons park their bikes and pore over their books and newspapers. €2.10 buys me a hassle free journey through stations that resemble London – on a Sunday morning that is. Even the major hub of Fassbinder fame Alexanderplatz, is quietly civilised and free of any interchange irritation. The U2 takes me to the familiar surrounds of Senefelderplatz in East Berlin, in the super cool Szenebezirk (literally “scene quarter” – think Shoreditch) of Prenzlauerberg. Arriving at the top-rated East Seven Hostel before 5pm, this sunny evening seems an ideal time to get a quick training run in, and simultaneously reacquaint myself with my favourite part of Berlin.

And what a run. Like many things in life, sometimes you have to push yourself to do it, but once you get up and out there, it’s always worth it. Pounding the sunny Schwedter Strasse, past Lidl and heading north along Kastanienallee it’s your quintessential summer evening idyll. The scenesters sun themselves over strong cold beers and strong hot coffees – none of that anaemic rubbish here thank you, and the smoking ban is for Wessis – and mums on bicycles ferry their kids on baby seats or pulling cute articulated trailers that make them look like mini maharajahs.

My feet felt unusually light, and I’m aware I’m running on my toes without having to think about it. Past the Kino (cinema) which is showing Joy Division this evening; then Morgenrot Cafe with its ‘pay what you can afford’ brunches; then left on Oderberger passing the retro and thrift shops that scatter their orange and brown kitsch-cool debris as if the pavement were just a natural extension of the cluttered inside.

Crossing the road on a red light, which immediately marks you out as a non-German and causes both frowning and bewilderment (“Why would anyone cross on a red?”) and it’s into the Mauer (wall) park. On May Day it’s best avoided as anarchists and those left behind by gentrification let off steam, but tonight it’s a picture of metropolitan delight as lovers, friends and bookworms range themselves along the south facing slope, soaking up the sunshine. Somewhat incongruously, two riot vans rest at its edge, but it still puts me in mind of San Francisco’s Mission Dolores park. Berlin is so far the closest I’ve found to the SF vibe in Europe; after a fantastic few months in Norcal’s glorious capital, it’s my metropolitan yardstick.

Passing a teenager who riding his bike, backwards, standing on the front wheel; I weave my way through the parents trailing microscooter mayhem behind them. Some people don’t get running; but on a night like this, the buzz is huge and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. After a sprint over a runway-like patch of concrete, I decide to push a little further west and see where it brings me out. I love the light at this time of day, and the angular shapes of the park’s landscaped stairways form sharply defined intersections of sun and shadow.

Before I know it, I’m over a big junction, railways lines shining in the bright light. In the distance I can see a fairly ordinary looking grey metal bridge, but a familiar one at that. A few months earlier, I had crossed this bridge on a Mitfahrgelegenheit (ride share) trip from Jena. Our driver was a German who had finished his GDR national service only 10 days before the Wall fell. On the famous night of 9th November, less than a fortnight after being released from the very army that was supposed to defend the border, he’d danced on top of the Wall with thousands of his ‘Genossen’ (comrades) as they celebrated the beginning of the end.

In a few minutes I’m there, on the Bösebrücke. This bridge, part of Bornholmer Strasse, became famous on that night in 1989. Besieged by a mob who weren’t violent but weren’t taking no for an answer, frazzled border guards opened the gates to relieve overcrowding. Before they knew it, 20,000 impatient Ossis had streamed through (video) after that afternoon’s famous governmental gaffe. Pressed by journalists as to when the (just announced) loosening of travel regulations would come into effect, a hapless government spokesman could only muster a response along the lines of “Er, now, I suppose?” Cue border bedlam.

If Himmler exemplified the banality of evil, perhaps this represents the haphazardness of history? Or the idiosyncrasy of the iconic? Still punning in my head, it was time to head back through tree-lined streets in an identikit housing estate as old couples shuffled along to the Imbiss on their evening constitutional. Crossing Bernauer Strasse, there was the Wall information centre where black and white films show that fateful day in 1961 when Berliners woke up to a city cut in half. On this street, desperate old ladies jumped from three or four floors up as people held blankets to catch them. Morose bricklayers soon sealed the windows, as Ulbricht’s ‘anti-fascist protection system’ took shape.

Nearing home I pass the Zionskirche. It’s stunningly silhouetted against a blue sky so pure that nothing could spoil it, nothing that is, save the dust spots which have recently appeared on my point-and-shoot’s sensor. Unlike Paris cafes, there is no sitting outside surcharge here, and Kapelle’s outside tables are doing a steady trade tonight in contemplative bohemians. Leaving the pensive sippers behind, I spot a remnant of pre-yuppie Prenzlauerberg. Standing outside a defiantly unfashionable corner bar, four men in dungarees and labourer’s fatigues stubbornly cling to a table, like limpets fighting the tide. Wave after wave of wealthy westerners have radically changed the face of this former GDR worker’s quarter, but in a place where people once used newspapers to stand in for the curtains they couldn’t afford, some trace of tradesmen lingers on.

There is a final curio to be contemplated as I approach the hostel. Stepping out from a modest hotel are five middle-aged men and women in traditional dress, Lederhosen and all. A festival perhaps? Or a band? I have to ask, and discover they are from Bavaria, come to visit the Bundestag. It seems the most natural thing in the world for them to be stood in such a fashionable area in such distinctly unfashionable outfits. I tell them about the Grenzlos Laufen (Run Without Borders) I’m doing and they look politely disinterested. But the endorphins are flowing freely now, and unbowed I walk the few doors down to the hostel. Time for some carb loading in Asia Stubchen, the cheapest and best Thai restaurant on Kastanienallee. Very bliss indeed. © Simon Cole 2009

2019 update: in my excited haste to get the words down of that thrill of a jog around Prenzlauerberg, I confused – or deliberately mashed up (?)  – Wordsworth’s quote about the French Revolution. And now it is immortalised in print, in the Oxygen Books title City-Lit Berlin. The original line was of course:

Bliss it was in that dawn to be aliveBut to be young was very heaven.’