Ultramarathon traces Berlin Wall, 25 years on
Berlin (AFP) – More than 300 ultramarathon runners will start a gruelling race on Saturday along the 100-mile path of the old Berlin Wall, a quarter-century after it fell in the heady days that brought down communism.
Extreme athletes from around the world will join the third event of its kind in the German capital, which will also be a historical pilgrimage along the symbol of the Cold War.
“I was astonished by the size and length of the Wall and the places it passed,” said the oldest registered participant, Sigrid Eichner, 73, of the 160-kilometre stretch. The Berlin woman, who has lived in the city’s east since 1974, is a legendary veteran of more than 1,800 running races around the world equal to or longer than the 42.195-kilometre marathon format.
For Eichner, the daunting quality of the Berlin race echoes that of the “anti-fascist protective wall” which the former communist East Germany started building on August 13, 1961. Designed to stop an exodus of people to the West, it cut through city blocks, neighbourhoods, fields and forests and was shadowed by a heavily mined “death strip”, overlooked by watch towers and patrolled by soldiers and dogs.
Today the path of the Wall is a hiking and cycling trail, which takes a seasoned ultramarathon runner 16 to 30 hours to complete, depending in part on the weather. Weekend forecasts are for summer showers and temperatures up to 20 degrees C (68 degrees F).
Promoted as a marriage of “sport and history”, the ultramarathon, like previous editions in 2011 and 2013, will be dedicated to one of the “victims of the Wall” who paid with their lives trying to escape. Each runner who makes the full distance will receive a medal with the image of Peter Fechter, who was 18-years-old when he was shot dead by border guards during a 1962 escape attempt near the well-known border crossing Checkpoint Charlie.