There were once so many Germans in Hackney that there was a German Hospital in Dalston; a little bit of digging in the local archives soon brings up mentions of the Germanic presence in places like Chatsworth Road. Estimates put population at around 27,30,000 in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, World War One put paid to our close relationship with our Anglo-Saxon cousins. Time for a Royal Family name change…
But, with my personal trainer alter ego Hackney Fit, Hackney runners have first dibs on the chance – along with the French and Belgians – to be part of a unique WW1 memorial relay run which aims to cement our positive postwar relations with Germany and celebrate the peace that we’ve enjoyed since 1945 in western Europe.
In 2009, in one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, I was lucky enough to be the only Briton to take part in a special 9-day run along the length of the former Iron Curtain with 34 Germans. The 1,363km-long barrier had divided East and West Germany since 1952 to 1989 when finally the Berlin Wall cracked.
Now for 2014, organiser Stefan Esser of Gummersbach LG (Gummersbach Running Club) has an even bigger project in mind – a run along the length of the First World War front lines.
Taking place 10-21 June 2014, an international team of 48 runners will split the whole route into 6-10km segments to be covered by pairs each day. ‘Down time’ between stages will be spent looking at historical sites or just relaxing and doing the things people do on holiday.
The run will start at Nieuwpoort in Flanders (Belgium) and finish at the EU Parliament in Strasbourg (France).
20 years after the fall of the Wall, the 2009 run – combining teams from both sides of the old border – retraced the route of the electric fences and guardposts, revisiting historic sites where NATO and Warsaw Pact troops had faced off during the Cold War.
It was a great way to mark an important anniversary for a now united Germany and most days finished with a beer, bratwurst and a toast from the local burgermeister. I was made very welcome, made a lot of friends, had a lot of fun and became a confirmed Germanophile. I covered the event for Runner’s World magazine. This one promises to be just as good.
Marking the tragic centenary of the outbreak of WW1, we will remember the events that ultimately led to an even bigger tragedy: WW2. But we will also celebrate the fact that Europe is now united. Crossing borders and working together, we will enjoy the fact that – on the road or on the dirt – we are all just runners.
The precise logistics are still being organised. Accommodation will be in hostels or village halls on camp beds. Food will usually be communal.
There will be a fee to cover the costs of the (non-profit) run which we will try to keep as low as possible through sponsorship. It’ll probably be around €300. A likely scenario is a British minibus leaving from London, driving to the start point at Nieuwpoort and carrying on down to to Strasbourg.
We are currently taking expressions of interest from runners; over the winter more details will be released. If you are interested in this once in a lifetime opportunity, please don’t hesitate to contact me (Simon Cole) here: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are also looking for sponsors to help keep the cost down for the runners. Please contact me on the same address if you can help.
You can see the Europe Run to Unity Facebook page here, or watch a short film of the 2009 ‘Grenzenlos Laufen’ event. You can also read some of the blogging I did for the event here.
Twitter updates: #EuropeRunToUnity