X Games makes German debut in Munich
Slopestyle snowboarder Silvia Mittermüller isn't competing in X Games Munich. Nor, because of a scheduling conflict, is she able to stick around her hometown long enough to see the event make its German debut. But even though the seven-time Winter X Games competitor participates in a winter sport, Mittermüller knows that she, like all German action sports athletes, will feel the ripple effect of the X Games long after the MegaRamp is removed from Olympic Lake.
"In Germany, we are behind the moon when it comes to broadcasting the sports young people are actually doing," Mittermüller says. "I'm the only full-time competing slopestyle competitor in my country, but they don't see the potential in showing my sport, even though it's in the Olympics. I'm excited Munich is getting a new, modern event. It will be good to have X Games come and give Germans a taste of the future of sports."
On German television, freestyle snowboard, skateboard and BMX events rarely fill airtime. Although local and national contests take place nearly every weekend around Germany, they are not covered with the tenacity of more traditional sports such as soccer, track and field, biathlon, curling, and ski racing. But look around the cities and into the mountains and it's difficult to find young people participating in the sports -- soccer aside -- that are being fed back to them via the national media.
Instead, they're riding mountain bikes, BMX bikes, skateboards and, at two river locations in downtown Munich, they're surfing. But even Mittermüller concedes that she was surprised when the traditional city of Munich, and not a more modern locale such as Berlin or Hamburg, was chosen as X Games host for the next few years. But for ESPN and the German team running the bid to host the X Games, Olympiapark seemed the perfect fit.
"Olympiapark has held concerts and large traditional sports events and was the location for the home soccer team for 30 years," says Frank Seipp, head of Munich's local organizing committee. "Forty years after the Olympics, we liked the idea of bringing young people back to Olympic Park in a very different atmosphere. In the United States, there are many more possibilities for pro skaters and BMX riders. Those chances are limited in Germany, but the X Games is a good chance to motivate young people and show them how far you can take these sports."
Constructed to host the 1972 Summer Olympics, Olympiapark is one of the few Olympic venues utilized year-round for cultural, religious and sporting events. And it has seen its share of action sports action. In the past five years, the venue has hosted the sports trade show ISPO, big-air snowboard contests, a 2012 Red Bull X-Fighters stop and the Etnies European Open skateboarding comp.
The city of Munich, much like Denver, is a hub for summer and winter action sports. In the summer, just like skiers and snowboarders in the winter, mountain bike athletes from around the world fly to Munich because of its easy accessibility to more than 100 mountain resorts within two hours of the city center.
"We fly into Munich, ride the skateparks, do some cross-country rides and photo shoots with the magazines based there and then head to the big-mountain resorts in the Alps," says Canadian mountain bike legend Darren Berrecloth, 31, who will make his X Games debut -- along with the sport of Mountain Bike Slopestyle -- in Munich. "The slopestyle scene was nothing in Germany a few years ago, and now there are so many jumps and kids riding everywhere. There's such versatile terrain, so the mountain bike scene is becoming really popular."
The two river waves -- on the Flosslande and Eisbach rivers -- draw surfers 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, even in the winter, when water temps can dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Then we just put on our 5 millimeter wetsuits and bring generators to surf at night," Mittermüller says. In Munich alone, there are more than 30 skateparks accessible by public transportation and dozens of popular, often photographed street skate spots, including the Geising bank and a 10-stair handrail at local brewing company Lowenbrau.
And because of the high price of gasoline -- nearly $8.50 per gallon -- bikes are the choice mode of transportation in major cities such as Munich. "There is such a spirit for these sports in Germany," Mittermüller says.
And that spirit is spreading.
"When I started riding BMX 10 years ago, the X Games were broadcast in Germany, but in the middle of the night and not on major channels," says BMX Street competitor and X Games Barcelona silver medalist Bruno Hoffmann, who grew up in Stuttgart, about 2½ hours northwest of Munich. "Action sports were underground. We were surprised if we saw a kid we didn't know with a bike in my town. But now, so many kids are buying bikes that we've lost track of who's riding. And with X Games in Munich on the main TV channels in prime time, people who've never seen BMX before will see it and the scene will keep growing."
Hoffmann attributes the immense growth of BMX and skateboarding in the past 5-10 years to the accessibility of action sports videos online and the number of concrete, outdoor skateparks being built in major cities around Germany. Kids who were unaware of the possibilities of what can be done on a bike or a skateboard can now watch videos of athletes halfway around the world or go to a skatepark and learn by watching the best in their towns.
"There is starting to be so much talent here," Hoffmann says. "Action sports are growing. They're not as big as soccer yet, but it's getting there slowly."
Internationally known pros such as Mittermüller, Hoffmann and former snowboard pro David Benedek are a rarity in Germany. Unlike the first two X Games international locales, Germany is not known as an international skate or freestyle snowboarding hotspot. Most U.S. fans would be hard-pressed to name five pro action sports athletes from Germany. But with a growing scene, more support and access to the best competition in the world, these athletes believe Munich will be on the action sports map by the time the event pulls out of town in 2015.
"I will never forget the first time I went to the U.S. for a contest and I saw big, perfect jumps with wide takeoffs, like nothing we had in Germany," Mittermüller says. "I got a glimpse of the good life and wanted more. When kids here who ride bikes and skate see the possibility at X Games, the same will happen to them. They'll want more, too."