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Culture

Berlin Hosts "World's Largest Sports Event"

A record-breaking sports event ends in Berlin Friday as more than 100,000 gymnasts will bid farewell to the 40th German Gymnastics Festival. In Germany, gymnastics has a long tradition dating back almost 200 years.

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Round and round he goes

For the past six days, the German capital has been in the hands of wild and cheering groups of athletes from exotic and remote places most Berliners may not have even heard of, even if they are in Germany.

German gymnasts seem to be special breed of folk: Most of them are organized in primarily small local clubs, displaying abilities that seem to run only in a special kind of family. In some clubs whole clans seem to have fallen for the strenuous hobby.

Deutsches Turnfest

Balancing act

"My child, my son, the father of my son, the grandfather, my father," one participant said, listing all the active gymnasts in her family.

From normal to fanciful

During the week-long sporting affair, which is held every four years and is dubbed the world's largest sports event, Berlin's sprawling trade fair grounds with its 26 halls was fully packed with more than 100,000 athletes showing off their talents in disciplines ranging from the quite normal to the utterly fanciful.

Turnfest in Berlin

An unidentified group member of the Berliner TV Olympia sports club is in action during the rhythm gymnastic competition

Apart from sports competitions and gymnastics workshops, the marathon event included sports shows that drew up to 70,000 spectators to Berlin's Olympic stadium. Even Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit was enthralled by the great sporting spirit displayed in the festival, although he was forced to out himself as merely an idle bystander.

"I'm trying to lose weight by doing a bit of gymnastics," said Wowereit, who recently made headlines for losing 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) in a month on the Hay Diet. "But I have to admit that I've grown out of it because the last time I did it actively was when I was still at school. But I do like watching it."

A 200-year-old tradition

The festival dates back to 1860, and some of the disciplines for which national championships were held this year, date back to the beginning.

Shortly after the German teacher Friedrich Ludwig Jahn in the early 19th century promoted the idea that physical exercise was good for people's health, a new sports movement sprang up in Germany. In 1811 Jahn built the world's first sports ground for gymnasts in Berlin.

Deutsches Turnfest

Flying dancers

This year there were eight championships held in the festival week including disciplines such as trampoline, gym-wheel gymnastics and rope skipping. But much of the movement's original spirit and atmosphere seems to have lasted throughout the past two centuries.

"We are all amateurs," one participant said. "We don't get any money for this. We pay for everything ourselves because we all know that we have fun here."

During the festival Berliners readily provided food and lodging for the gymnasts. Schools were closed as gymnasiums all over the city had been turned into training grounds during the day and places to sleep during the night.

What are they doing here?

Deutsches Turnfest

Showing off at the festival

But now, after six stressful days, some Berliners appear to be somewhat relieved that it's all over.

"Ha, you see them everywhere, with these badges hanging around their necks -- young girls and elderly men," one local said. "What are they all doing here? Gymnastics on a fair ground doesn't look like much fun to me. But then, you see them jogging through our parks and sitting in the beer garden by the lakes – they seem to have fun."

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