News Archive

News Archive

When the Emperor gave the green light

100th anniversary of the Berlin Athletics Association

The Berlin Athletics Association (Berliner Leichtathletik-Verband (BLV))

is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. On November 15, 1904, the

Association of Berlin Athletics Clubs (Verband Berliner Athletik-Vereine

(VBAV)) was founded. The president was Otto Gronert from SC Komet, and the

vice-president was Paul Martin from the Charlottenburg SC 1902, now called SCC

Berlin (and organizer of the real,- BERLIN-MARATHON). The association organized

its first race on March 12, 1905, a cross country race around the Hundekehlesee

Lake in the Grunewald Forest.

In honour of the anniversary, a 48-page commemorative brochure is planned

within the framework of the Berlin-Brandenburg Track and Field Championships,

which will take place on June 5 and 6 in the Bosestrasse Stadium. It can be

ordered from the BLV (telephone: 030 – 3057250) and will probably cost

between 3 and 4 Euros.

Today, races of various lengths are part of the daily sports programmes in

many cities. 83 years ago, however, a lot of courage was necessary for the

Berlin Athletics Club to organize its first street race, “Across

Berlin” (“Quer durch Berlin”). “Across Berlin”

quickly developed to be an internationally renowned running and walking

competition, which from 1921-1957 almost always took place on the 25 km return

course between the Post Stadium and Lausitzer Platz.

Since 1881, walkers and runners have drawn great public interest for their

long distance marches: Fritz Käpernick ran the distance between Berlin and

Vienna (ca. 600 km) in 92 hours. Otto Peitz walked from Berlin to Vienna (ca.

580 km) in 1893 in 154:26 hours, and Johannes Böge won the long distance

march from Dresden to Berlin (202 km) in 28:41 hours in 1896! In addition,

since 1894 there had been long distance races (25.6 km) from Potsdam to Berlin

that hardly drew any public notice.

Records of victories exist for: 1894 - R. Werner from SC Nord-West Berlin in

1:48:00 hours; 1895 - Knospe from SC Frankfurt 85 Berlin in 1:45:50h; and 1896

-Paul Badow from the Spandauer Radfahrer-Club Germania in 1:47:31h.

The prominent position of Berlin in long distance running was demonstrated

in that of the 33 “German Marathon Races” and “German

Marathon Championships” that took place between 1898 and 1942, 22 were

won by athletes from Berlin! And this successful sport story took place despite

the considerable hindrances put in their way by the Berlin authorities. The

head official of the Forsthaus Grunewald, for instance, fined the Berlin

Athletics Club five Marks because the club “organized a race in the

Grunewald Forest around the Hundekehlesee Lake on March 11, 1906 from 3¾

to 4¼ (p.m.) with about 90 participants without having received

authorisation from the police.”

"" />

6th Potsdam – Berlin relay race on June 1, 1913 with 57 teams and 2850

runners. The Berliner Sport Club employed Prince Karl of Prussia as the anchor

runner and won.

With respect to the wide level of activity and public response, what the

large city relay races were 90 years ago is the marathon today. The journey of

Berlin athletes and functionaries to the Olympic Games in 1906 in Athens

motivated Berlin to apply to host the Olympic Games in 1908. The marathon race

greatly impressed Carl Diem, who wanted to realize a race like that in Berlin.

Although Berlin was not successful in getting the Olympic Games in 1908, it was

possible to organize a “relay marathon” in the city that year. In

preparation for his marathon race, Carl Diem took his thus far poor experiences

with the Berlin authorities into consideration. Even he thought that his idea

to organize a race through the streets of Berlin was crazy, and he also was

afraid that the sight of a marathon race like he had seen in Athens could have

detrimental effects.

To counteract the public opinion on the runners’ apparent lack of

common sense even during the harmless forest races, where the spectators

expressed pity for the athletes who “raged against their health”

and “ran their lungs out”, Diem employed a trick: “I had the

idea to organize a long race, but wanted to trick the public by constantly

showing them a new man. I was thinking of a big relay race from Potsdam to

Berlin, starting at the Potsdam Palace and ending at the Berlin Palace - for

one, because we always are for something magnificent, and because we wanted a

great start and finish area.”

"" />

12th Potsdam – Berlin Relay Race on June 22, 1919. A women’s relay

of 12.5 km was included for the first time. Sport Club Charlottenburg (SCC

Berlin) wins in 40:55.6 minutes with anchor runner Ms. Franke.

The police naturally dismissed his attempt to get approval for the race.

After great efforts by influential friends and supporters with access to the

imperial court, Emperor Wilhelm II finally sanctioned the race from his Potsdam

palace to his Berlin residence. The police, however, raised considerable

objections to the location of the start and finish, so that they finally agreed

upon a start on the Glienicker Bridge and finish at the Victory Column

(Siegessäule) in front of the Reichstag. The unique aspect of this relay

race was that it had a free form. Each club could set the individual distances

for 50 runners for a total of 25 km as they saw fit. The first race took place

with eight teams on June 14, 1908. The police were somewhat surprised when only

eight runners, and not the expected 400, crossed the finish at the Victory


Gerd Steins

(The photos have been made available through the generosity of the Sport

Museum Berlin – AIMS Marathon Museum of Running).