Although it’s far from the spartan life of East Berlin, living in the west part of town is not always easy. The instability in world politics is constantly reminding the citizens of how vulnerable their city is. West Berliners stoically maintain a spirit of normality in their isolation. Their celebrations and manifestations of life before the wall serve as rituals that keep the absurdity of the surrounded city at bay…
THE SIX DAY RACE
The tradition of the Berliner Sechstagesrennen is no exception and the city has hosted this event annually since 1909. On this chilly October Monday, the 81st race is about to commence in the massive Deutschlandhalle and among the spectators and riders, you can find a young photographer from Sweden.
Staffan Jofjell had stumbled over a photograph in a café in East Berlin dedicated to the journalist Egon Erwin Kisch. It pictured hardy cyclists lining up for the 1925 edition of the 6-Tage-Rennen together with vibrant texts of Kisch, “the raging reporter”” He immediately became fascinated of what seemed to be the ultimate test of man and machine. Bicycles stripped down to their essence, men and women ready to prove their endurance in the setting of a city that had always fascinated him. That made it an easy decision to return later that same year, to photograph the race.
Staffan engulfs himself in the race. Trying to capture the atmosphere of a circus-like event that transforms from a gruelling daytime The riders are excelling on the track, making death-defying moves on the banks, fighting for glory and a brand new Ford Sierra, worth 20,000 Deutsche Mark. All while the VIP-guests are dining at white table cloths, striving for that seemingly effortless aura of importance while ordering champagne by table side telephones.
Behind the scenes, in the riders’ area, mechanics are busy glueing tires, adjusting chain lines and making sure the bicycle becomes a unified extension of its rider. The riders themselves seek asylum from the chaos outside, in small huts with only a bunk bed and a blanket.
Maybe they can catch a few minutes sleep or a massage to ease their aching legs before they are called back on the track again. While the attention of the audience slowly turns from bicycles to beer, the cyclists are reduced to satellites, orbiting the microcosm contained within the track. The parallel to West Berlin as the city in exile and how its citizens are trying to live a life within the wall is tangible. Dreams of honour and glory, hopes for romance and the escape from the daily grind is all within the circle as the cyclists relentlessly push on in the slowly thickening cigarette smoke of the arena.
Jofjell spent the six days collecting visual impressions with his camera and recording the sounds of the event on a portable cassette recorder. Unfortunately, the sound tapes were lost shortly thereafter and because the aim was to make a still film, consequentlythe photos remained unpublished for almost 30 years.
The exhibition will travel to Berlin, Barcelona, and London this year. Visit Trackside ’85 for more information and to pick up one of these limited edition prints.
17 July – 7 August @ Keirin Cycle Culture Café
31 August – 21 September @ My Beautiful Parking
(Official Red Hook Crit Barcelona Event)
16 November – 6 November @ Look Mum No Hands
See more information at Trackside ’85