The small town of Oberhof was once the bedrock of East Germany's winter sports success. Now, huge investment has turned it into a state-of-the-art center of excellence where German athletes train for Olympic glory.
Leading the way to Germany's winter sports mecca
Oberhof is an unassuming little town in the eastern German state of Thuringia. With a population of around 2,000 people, it barely registers as a settlement outside its local boundaries. While for the majority of the year Oberhof lacks much in the way of excitement or attractions for most of the outside world, the town becomes a focus for winter sports fans once the snow starts to hit the ground.
Oberhof is transformed during the winter. While the town itself may not take up too much space on the local map, its state-of-the-art Rennsteig Arena certainly does. Little Oberhof hosted the 2004 Biathlon World Cup in the impressive stadium and is also the location for annual championship ski jumping events and international tobogganing championships.
But every four years, the town suffers a winter lull. Such a cycle may be cause for concern in some circles but when the snow on the cross-country skiing course remains pure and driven and the sledging tubes are as smooth as glass, fewer people in Germany are more happy and proud. This is because the winter athletes that flock to the events and facilities around town are off somewhere around the world representing Germany at the Winter Olympics.
Local athletes bring back gold, silver, bronze and pride
Germany wins the men's doubles at the Luge World Cup in Oberhof in January
"We are so very proud," said the state's minister of infrastructure, Andreas Trautvetter.
And rightly so. At the last Winter Olympics, local athletes who regularly train and compete in Oberhof came home from Salt Lake City with six gold medals, six silver and two bronze after representing Germany; a haul which was almost half of all the medals won by the whole German team.
While some consider Bavaria to the home of German winter sports, with its alps and regular snowfall, most will not realize that Thuringia, and Oberhof specifically, was chosen as the site where winter sports excellence would be strived for when former Chancellor Helmut Kohl surveyed the reunified land after the fall of the Berlin Wall 16 years ago.
The investment and winter sports infrastructure on show in Oberhof is unique in Germany and when viewed as a whole complex, it is unsurprising that German Olympic athletes choose to come to the town to prepare for the winter games.
Investment in people and infrastructure
Oberhof provides winter athletes with a wide range of practice runs
As well as the Rennsteig Arena, there is an outdoor and indoor shooting hall for the Biathlon's rifle discipline; several winter cross-country skiing routes and summer ski-rolling tracks, six full size ski jumping slopes, the bobsleigh run and toboggan run with separate start training areas and computer-controlled treadmills which can be programmed to simulate any cross-country skiing course in the world including, naturally, those in Turin.
In the spring, Oberhof will present the first ski tunnel in Germany. It will be 1,400 meters long, six meters wide and will offer athletes the opportunity to make training runs on snow in high summer. The 12-million-euro ($14.3 million) project should be opened in the summer of 2008, in good time to be used as a training facility for the winter games in Vancouver in 2010.
In addition to the technical and training support the facilities offer Germany's top winter athletes, Oberhof continues to educate and inspire the stars of the future in a purpose built sports school.
East Germany 's winter mecca now springboard to the world
The choice of Oberhof as the recipient of some 60 million euros may have seemed like a strange one to many people in the west of the Germany. But for those from the former East Germany, it was the natural choice. Just as Chemnitz was, and remains so, the center of Germany's successful skating production line, Oberhof was already the focus of the East's skiing ambitions.
Germany's next generation will benefit from the facilities at Oberhof
As with any sporting center of excellence of the former GDR, Oberhof has suffered allegations of doping and Stasi secret police meddling but the post-wall makeover, and the subsequent successes which have followed for the unified Germany, have done much to transform the place and the town's sporting reputation.
Now the town holds the key to Olympic glory for future generations of German winter athletes.