Running the Hackney & Berlin Walls
(East London to East Germany: Olympics, Communism and Rebirth)
In 2009, to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, travel & fitness journalist Simon Cole joined 34 Germans to run the 1,393km Iron Curtain (Innerdeutsche Grenze) that had divided East & West Germany throughout the Cold War. Already in love with Berlin, this commemoration made a profound impression on him that fuelled a fascination with the now defunct GDR and confirmed his status as a Germanophile*.
West Berlin was an island inside East Germany, far from the hills and forests of the internal border whose No-Man’s Land has now become an accidental nature reserve. This August, Runner’s World contributor Cole goes urban to run the 26-miles-long Berlin route of the Wall – a personal untimed marathon – in one day. Cole has recently completed a 10k, but nothing on this scale. At 41, he is testing his body before reinventing himself as a personal trainer this autumn.
But this expedition also forms part of an artistic** response to the London 2012 Olympic perimeter that he regularly patrols on his own Hackney Tours guided walks & running tours. Cole fell in love with Germany’s capital, but in his very own Hauptstadt of Hackney he found a British version of Berlin, with its own radical history and gentrification issues. And its own divided society.
One year on from the riots he witnessed first hand in Hackney, Cole will speak on the subject of the borough’s rapid change at the prestigious 5-yearly Documenta art fair in Kassel (23rd August); alongside the academic Sarah Scarsbrook whose work has informed his tours.
60 years after the internal German border was closed – struck by similarities between East London’s Hackney and East Berlin, between the GDR border fortifications he explored in 2009 and the Olympic fence that abuts artist-haven Hackney Wick*** – he returns to Berlin (24-27th ) to survey the infamous and iconic structure that casts a shadow over any debate about borders and how they affect us.
“These days the walls are in our heads,” says the graffiti in a preserved GDR watchtower. The Wall survives, but will Cole? And, as displaced East Berlin artists find themselves in Hackney to protest the redevelopment of art-squat institution Tacheles, how will East London fare when its own (Olympic) wall comes down?
*In 2009 Runner’s World & various German media covered the 1,393km ‘Grenzenlos Laufen’.
**A key element of the art project juxtaposes Berlin Wall signs with the London 2012 perimeter.
***Hackney Wick has the ‘highest concentration of artists in Europe’ & is already a case study.
Running; fitness; travel; Germany; gentrification; urban development & regeneration; Cold War & GDR history; ‘dark’ tourism; London 2012; Olympic regeneration; street/graffiti art.
Writing credits inc:
Real Travel; Runner’s World; London Paper; TNT; City-Lit Berlin & Dublin anthologies.
Hackney Tours media credits, press/academic tours & speaking appearances inc:
Guardian (print & video); BBC Radio Scotland; France 24; ARD; Deutsche Welle; Suedeutsche Zeitung; Mitteldeutsche Zeitung; Geissener Allgemeine Zeitung; Russian State Channel 2; Playlink; Alexander Humboldt Uni; Goldsmiths Uni; Goethe Institute San Francisco; Stoke Newington Literary Festival.