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Berlin to go, english edition, 03/2019

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PERSPECTIVES Michael

PERSPECTIVES Michael Wrulich, managing director of the Hoppegarten Racecourse since early 2019 A BERLIN ORIGINAL Hoppegarten Racecourse celebrates 151 years of racing history in Berlin Text: Inka Thaysen Those historic brick buildings, those grand old trees, that unique glow and old-fashioned flair; to this day, Hoppegarten Racecourse remains enveloped in a tangible spirit of history and tradition. When the starting bell rings and those muscular thoroughbreds burst from the starting gates, the entire site is transformed into a state of euphoric turmoil, with the crowds cheering ecstatically and then holding their breath in anticipation of seeing who wins. In these moments, the air at this spacious complex just outside of Berlin is charged with pure excitement, today as in days of old. The Hoppegarten Racecourse now has over 151 years under its belt. Inaugurated on May 17, 1868 in a ceremony attended by Kaiser Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck, it quickly became one of the most prominent racetracks in Europe. “Back then, horseracing was the top sport,” explains Managing Director Michael Wrulich. “If someone said ‘my son does sports,’ it meant the son was a jockey at the Hoppegarten. Sport meant equestrian sports. Even the train station at Hoppegarten was extended and enlarged because of the racecourse.” Almost 1,000 horses had their stables at this leading national training center all the way up to 1945. Photos: © Rennbahn Hoppegarten GmbH & Co.KG 22

Today, the site is a popular hotspot for VIP racing enthusiasts, but also for people of all ages looking to spend a fun day in the fresh air: “Families are a big priority for us,” emphasizes Wrulich. “We have something for everyone here. Next to racing, betting and all that, we also have a wide range of culinary delights, bouncy castles, pony rides, face painting and more for the kids. The average amount of time our guests stay with us on any given day is five hours, and our number of guests has been growing for years.” This wasn’t always the case. Indeed, the site has had its fair share of obstacles and setbacks over the past one-and-a-half centuries. It has felt the impact of historical events and political decisions, and also a number of ownership changes, uncertainties and dry spells. The four large historically protected grandstands were built immediately after World War I. In 1934, Grunewald Racecourse on the opposite side of Berlin was closed to make way for the construction of the Olympic Stadium, and the Hoppegarten grandstand was expanded even further. At the end of the 1930s, horseracing and breeding began to recover from the paralyzing world economic crisis, and people’s enthusiasm returned. During World War II, after an air raid on Hamburg, that city’s traditional derby took up temporary quarters in Berlin. Horse races took place even towards the end of the war, albeit with record low numbers of visitors and betting revenues. In 1944, the main grandstand even became an armaments factory. After Germany’s defeat, many racehorses were taken into possession by the allies or simply eaten by starving Germans. Due to a lack of high-class horses, the site hosted “Bauernrennen” (peasant races) with non-thoroughbreds and unregistered horses well into the 1950s. GDR-era land reform led to the expropriation of Union-Klub, the horseracing organization that owned the racecourse, with VE Rennbetriebe becoming the new owner in 1952. In 1974, operations at all East German racecourses were taken over by VEB Vollblutrennbahnen. Many leading studs, owners, trainers and jockeys emigrated to the West at this point. The “International meeting of socialist countries“ was held eight times here and recalled the former glory and glitter, albeit with no horses or people from the West in attendance. “If someone said ‘my son does sports,’ it meant the son was a jockey at the Hoppegarten.” Michael Wrulich Soon after German unification, the Hoppegarten hosted a very special event, perhaps Michael Wrulich’s favorite in the history of the racetrack: “On May 31, 1990, we held the first ‘German-German’ race day with almost 30,000 spectators, who were invited to place their bets in two different currencies, D-Mark or Ost-Mark. Even Gerhard Schöningh, our current owner, was there on that day as a regular visitor and experienced that historical moment.” However, many difficult years would pass before Schöningh actually joined the company and got the business off to a new start: the Union-Klub from back in 1867, which had become the “new old” owner after the Rennbahn Hoppegarten GmbH, was not able to sustain operations, so the racecourse changed hands back to the previous owner, who then put it up for sale and waited for a buyer. The rejuvenation finally came in March 2008, when the Hoppegarten Racecourse, including its training complex, was sold to the London-based fund manager and horseracing enthusiast Gerhard Schöningh, thus making it the first German racecourse with a private owner, Racecourse Hoppegarten GmbH & Co. KG, which immediately set off on an exciting new course. The number of race days has since grown to eleven, with large-scale races coming back to Berlin, too. Germany‘s national racing elite – some even coming from abroad – also rediscovered the Hoppegarten. In 2011, the Berlin Grand Prix was held on its founding track for the first time since 1944. In 2013, Hoppegarten Racecourse received the official title of a “nationally valuable cultural monument,” which meant that it could now benefit from subsidies from federal and state governments, for example, for refurbishments and structural preservation. Schöningh saw this as an acknowledgement of the steady growth in the quality of the races, the number of visitors, betting and sponsorship revenues and the success of trainers. Since the beginning of this year, Michael Wrulich, co-managing director with

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