Fire and Ice: Germany's Love of Winter Sports
Germany is a country that loves sport. Everyone knows of the successes of the German national football team of course, but if you can kick it, throw it or race on it, you can be sure there is a German playing it in some capacity. The German love of sport is fostered at an early age, through school, but also through the German Verein (club/association) system. These legally recognised groups can be found all over the country, supporting sports of all kinds. Worryingly, Germany also seems to have a knack of becoming very good at sports in a short amount of time, even if their not really trying. For example, Germany won their first football World cup in 1954, eight years before they founded a professional league. It all seems a little unfair.
Many countries live in fear that Germany might suddenly start playing their favoured national sport, the English especially. Having already lost football to the world, we in England still hold onto some of our other national sports. You can imagine my delight when I read that English rugby coaches were coming to Germany to help train teams. I hope they are doing a terrible job.
Hurling and Kabaddi are still relatively safe for now, mainly because German attentions are elsewhere. During winter, Germany goes winter sports crazy. Entering the pub on Friday, I was greeted by groups staring intently at the Biathlon World Championships. Being British, my knowledge of Winter sports is remedial at best. This is no surprise. The UK has amassed only 26 medals at the Winter Olympics (Note: This was written a few years ago, thankfully Team GB has improved this count!). Typically, for the British, these are mostly in sports that require a certain level of eccentricity, such as Curling or the Skeleton, the latter involving hurling yourself down a track, face first on what appears to be a tea tray.
Access to the right areas is also key. It is no surprise that many of the medals that the Great British Team have won in the Olympics have come from sports conditions that can be replicated in the UK. Figure skating, bobsleigh and curling do not always require the weather to ensure optimum training facilities. Even Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards had to leave the country in order to train for the 1988 Olympics.
Obviously my personal ignorance is not shared by all my compatriots, but the popularity of winter sports is certainly effected by media coverage that comes with success. Perception also plays a part. Skiing, when I lived in Britain, appeared to be a hobby for the better off members of society. This was due to most of the people I knew who skied being called Hugo or Verity. More to the point though, in order to actually go skiing, most people have to spend the equivalent of the GDP of Lichtenstein on equipment, flights and hotels. Although it is still a costly affair in Germany, it is significantly cheaper. This means that many people have a wider access to what is often considered a “posh sport” in Britain. I may not have had an underprivileged childhood, but the closest I ever came to skiing in my youth was using a black bin liner to go sledging on a hill near my house.
This perception of winter sports, especially skiing, is also maintained by the fact that it is often shown to be reluctant to change or adapt to newcomers on the big screen. In 1993s Cool Runnings, the story of the first Jamaican Bobleigh team and the more recent Eddie the Eagle, the protagonists are shown overcoming not only their own failings but more grandly overcoming the prejudices of stuffy bureaucrats and established sports persons. Whether accurate or not, these stories resonate and help reinforce the idea that winter sport is often prohibitive, not just financially, but culturally.
Away from Hollywood, stories of snobby skiers can be heard from snowboarders, despite the sport being generally accepted and part of the Winter Olympic pantheon. The trope of scruffy snowboarders vs stuffy skiers is still one that holds currency in the English speaking world, although my friends who partake in it reassure me that much of this perception is false.
For Germany though, it is perhaps the odd spectacle of Fire and Ice (1986) that has more cultural sway. It was not until recently that I heard of this film and I have not yet seen it, but it appears to have had more impact on Germans than the other two movies combined. Most Germans I have spoken to about winter sports have referenced it at some point. I wish I could give you more information, but the trailer doesn’t really give much away, except it might just be the most eighties' thing you will ever watch. It still contains some tropes I’ve already mentioned, but the pyrotechnics alone place it in another category all together.
I still suspect that the human race was not designed for high speed impacts into trees or for flying head first into anything other than a nice fluffy pillow, but it might be the case that I have never lived until I see the Alps whizzing by at 80 kmh, then again, I haven't died either. Maybe I’ll just settle for watching winter sports on TV, in the warm, with a beer.