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Guest: Hoppegarten Racetrack
Hoppegarten Racetrack on the eastern outskirts of Berlin

Berlin's Hoppegarten:
A Day at the Races

Story and Photos by Frank Mazer

owerful horses, with jockeys astride in their brilliant silk colors, are loping towards me. I stand in the middle of the turf track staring through the camera viewfinder while my “All Access Press Pass” clings to my wrist. The brilliant green splendor of the scene captivates me. Lush green forest all around the glimmering green race course and the magnificent movement of the horses are all nicely framed in my camera lens. I’m “In the Zone” - that is, until it occurs to me that I am also in the way.

lush green vegetation on the Hoppegarten Racetrack with an ongoing race in the background

I put my feet in motion. I spin clumsily on the soft turf and collide with another camera clutching journalist. We both stagger off balance. He has bounced out of the path of the creatures. I catch a glimpse of a rider tugging on the reins as my foot catches a clump of turf and I stagger towards the rail like a wobbly boxer.

Hoppegarten. German racing. A beautiful, mid-forest location on the Eastern outskirts of Berlin. Children frolic. Dogs enjoy the day at the races with their masters. These things catch my eye as soon as I enter the grounds. My memory takes me back to Southern California, where I attended many a race day at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, as well as Del Mar. I seldom saw children among the crowds. Never saw fans with dogs.

the writer with a camera at the Hoppegarten Racetrack

horses and riders lining up at the Hoppegarten Racetrack

At Hoppegarten a festive family atmosphere prevails. Some folks seat themselves on blankets with picnic baskets on the grass in front of the grandstand. A large crowd might be 5,000. American racetracks often attract more than five times as many folks. Price of admission for a family with any number of children is 12 euros, a fraction of the cost in the U.S. Betting seems to be a secondary activity. Bets can be as low as half a euro (perhaps a soon to be extinct currency) and yet exactas and all kinds of exotic bets are available for the happy bettor to pursue. A few folks clutch the German equivalent of the Daily Racing Form. The names of horses range from German to English to French. The leading jockey hails from Ecuador. After the race day ends about 5:00 pm, groups of people remain as they continue to picnic to the sound of trance music wafting from the grandstand stereo speakers.

Camera in hand, for one race I choose to stand on the track in front of the rail, the low barricade separating the crowd from the racetrack itself, taking pre-race photos of hundreds of children leaning over to look at the horses. The eyes of the children are filled with wonder. I recall the old crowds of 50,000 at Hollywood Park, the grandstands filled with loyal fans. I also flashback to the look on the faces of the “railbirds” lining the rail at Hollywood Park, mostly hard core bettors all with adrenalin fed looks in their eyes. I am flung back to this moment, and in the “now,” I watch the children’s eyes glowing with exuberance.

woman leading horse to paddock

For another race I snap photos of the crowd between the rail and grandstand. As the horses round the distant far turn of the mile and a half track they begin their surge down the stretch in a close race. The giant forest trees loom as a spectacular backdrop. I wait for the thunderous roar of the crowd, screaming for their chosen steeds to go faster, faster, go, go, go! However, as the horses push their noses forward in a thrilling stretch duel, there are few voices heard. Only a low, quiet murmur caresses the silence. The crowd watches intently, relaxed, curious. The children seem fascinated. There are a few scattered shouts here and there which quickly dissipate into space. I want to shout the name of the mighty creature I have wagered my one euro on but I suddenly realize I cannot remember the name. As the horses cross the finish line some fellows cheer for their chosen one. But these cheers are mostly cursory, not passionate. The loudest cheers turn out to be reserved for after the race when the winner and its opponents trot back to the edge of the track before being led to the tree lined paddock for cool down.

spectators at the area between the rail and teh grandstand, Hoppegarten Racetrack

Hats off to the hats on. I trot behind the horses as they make their way to the cool down area and the winner’s circle. There is always more to enjoy here and in this moment I choose to focus on the hats. Womens’ hats. Obviously a day of fashion hat fun. Wide ones. Tall ones. Red ones. Small ones. Flopping ones. In pursuit of “hat beauty” I find myself almost lurching into the posterior portion of the horse walking just ahead. It occurs to me that I have come dangerously close to personally illustrating the phrase “being a horse’s ass.” The fans lining the railings of the pathway watching the horses, and the journalists trudging behind them, seem amused. I’d tip my hat to them - if I had one. Thankfully, the horse walks far too rapidly for my camera and I avoid becoming lodged anywhere unseemly.

Photos of the winning trainer, jockey, owner and proud horse are routine after each race. We in the crowd enjoy the scene of victory and celebration, and the public address interview with the trainer. The professionally dressed, raven haired, woman TV presenter for the track is filled with enthusiasm. I look around. Everyone is having fun again! Children grin. Dogs sniff. Couples head for the food stands.

a trio of horses and riders, Hoppegarten Racetrack

So, considering myself a veteran race reporter after the first 3 races, I proudly plant myself with my camera in the middle of the race course. As the horses gallop back after their race, I confidently click away, savoring the setting and the beautiful creatures. But I quickly find myself again in stumbling panic, a tribute to thoroughbred power as I careen into fellow reporters and out of the path of the 500 kilo muscle machines. Fortunately, my basketball pivots and peripheral vision still function at my age. I manage to spin twice across the grass in a ballet-like manner. Were those sporadic cheers from the near-by crowd behind me? Or was it just the children giggling as they enjoy their day at Hoppegarten?

Related Articles:
Berlin Yesterday & Today; Berlin in Five Hours; Offbeat Germany; Augsburg; Lexington, Kentucky

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FEEDBACK FOR PATTI

I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK

FEEDBACK FOR JULIO

The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.

Julio

* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!

Julio

FEEDBACK FOR WENDY

For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!

Cheers

--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in responding...you had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy

FEEDBACK FOR NINO

I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA

FEEDBACK FOR RUSH & CHUCK

Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA



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