Ausgabe 518 vom Donnerstag, 17.05.2018
The Berlin racecourse Hoppegarten celebrates its 150th birthday this year; it was officially opened on May 17th 1868 by the Prussian King Wilhelm I and his chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The racetrack was organized and funded by the , an association of Prussian landowners, aristocrats and Berlin socialites. Within a few years, Germany had been united under Prussian leadership, Berlin was the capital of the German Reich, the King was now a Kaiser and Hoppegarten had quickly become the leading racecourse and training centre in the country. Well over 1,000 horses were in training, wealthy owner-breeders like the Oppenheims from Cologne and the Weinbergs from Frankfurt established large stables here.
Historical undated document from the beginning of the 19th century: The place to be after the training at the racecourse in Neuenhagen. Archive/www.galoppfoto.deMost of the trainers and jockeys were English or American and they all had to leave after the First World War broke out. After the war, the racecourse was completely renovated and when it reopened in 1922 instantly recovered its previous popularity. A dedicated railway station was built with five platforms and huge crowds of racegoers came – over 40,000 on big race days. These were the glory days of Hoppegarten, and this continued during the Nazi era; Hindenburg and Goebbels were regular visitors, von Papen was president of the Union Klub. The second world war of course changed everything, although racing continued up to 1944, by which time the grandstand had been turned into a concealed munitions factory.
After the war Hoppegarten, which lies several miles East of Berlin city centre, found itself behind the Iron Curtain, first in the Russian Zone and then in the GDR. Racing continued, but standards were slipping, especially after the Berlin Wall went up and West Berliners could no longer come. Everything was run according to strict communist principles: private property was abolished, the racecourse, studs and stables were state property (“volkseigen” or “VE” was the correct term in the jargon of that era), trainers and jockeys were state employees; they did receive their percentages of the notional prize-money, but the owner, the state, did not.
Historical moment: “German-German Raceday” on March 31st 1990, when East German horses raced against West Germans for the first time since the war. East-Jockey Lutz Pyritz with Rubin in front of the grandstand. www.galoppfoto.deAfter the wall fell, the situation changed rapidly. 45,000 racegoers came to the famous “German-German Raceday” on March 31st 1990, when East German horses raced against West Germans for the first time since the war. Although the result was a debacle for the hosts, with the East German horses - despite massive weight concessions – taking the last places and the West Germans filling the first places in every event, it was a huge symbolic success. It looked as if the future looked bright for Hoppegarten and the other East German racecourses in a new, united Germany. International sponsors: Zino Davidoff (left) and his manager Dr. Schneider came to Hoppegarten. www.galoppfoto.de - Frank Sorge BMW – put up the money for extremely valuable races with runners from the U.K., France and Ireland.
However the euphoria did not last long. The sponsors pulled out, Hoppegarten was in danger of falling into obscurity. The geographical situation of Hoppegarten was one disadvantage – it was a long way to the east and not easily accessible to the West German trainers based in Cologne, Baden-Baden or Munich. More important was the complicated ownership problem. The German government, now once again based in Berlin, was trying to offload state-owned East German property, but nobody seemed interested in buying a racecourse. The old Union Klub, now a pathetic shadow of its own glorious past, took over but soon threw in the towel and declared itself insolvent in 2005. Ownership of the property reverted to the Treuhand, the government´s privatisation agency.
The years 2006 and 2007 were very difficult and several meetings had to be cancelled as they could not be financed. The Treuhand was still trying hard to find a buyer, and after several abortive attempts, they succeeded in 2008. A knight in shining armour appeared out of the blue and bought the racecourse with all its buildings and the surrounding area for three million euros. This was Gerhard Schöningh, a (relatively) young man, originally from Krefeld, who lived in London where he was a successful fund manager. He had sold his company in 2006, near the top of the market, and had time and money; he was a keen racegoer, had horses in training with Henry Cecil, many of them bought at the BBAG yearling sale in Baden-Baden.
Big races back to Berlin: Danedream (Andrasch Starke) wins the Grosser Preis von Berlin in 2011. www.galoppfoto.de - Frank SorgeSchöningh bought Hoppegarten in March 2008. To anybody who remembers the run-down and almost moribund racecourse from those days, the transformation in the ten years since has been truly remarkable. Every year has brought further improvements. In 2008 Hoppegarten had only one good race, the Preis der Deutschen Einheit to celebrate German reunification on October 3rd, the successor to the old Prix Zino Davidoff. Today the racecourse can boast an excellent programme, the two main highlights being the Group Two Oleander-Rennen this Sunday, Germany´s most important race for stayers (see today´s English page for more details of Sunday´s race) and the Group One Grosser Preis von Berlin in mid-August, a race which returned to its traditional home in 2011 and was promptly won by Danedream, who went on to win the Prix de l´Arc de Triomphe ten weeks later.
The facilities have also been improved beyond recognition as a result of Schöningh's efforts to restore Hoppegarten to its rightful place as one of Germany´s leading racecourses. In this he has succeeded in outstanding fashion. Most of the improvements have had to be paid for out of his own pocket, although he did receive a substantial grant from public funds to renovate the old grandstand, a listed building of historical importance. The racecourse itself is the largest in Germany, with a seven furlongs straight, and also one of the most beautiful, surrounded by peaceful forests and no evidence at all of the big city only a few miles away. The official celebrations for the 150th birthday of the racecourse took place at the late April meeting, the first of 2018 after the Easter card had to be cancelled because of the frozen ground; locals were given free entry, there was a great party atmosphere.
The training facilities are excellent and although there are now only about 150 horses in training here, local trainer Roland Dzubasz brought off a major achievement when becoming Germany´s champion trainer in 2012. There is now a positive buzz about Hoppegarten, far more so than at other German racecourses, and it has really become a pleasure to go racing here. There is still work to be done, but in a country where the horseracing industry is going through a critical period, Hoppegarten is a shining example of what can be done with the right amount of passion and dedication.