I’ve written about Horst Milde and his impact on the running community in Berlin, then Germany, then across the world a couple of times in the past. Yet, though I have known him and occasionally worked with him over 25 years, I was unaware of the full extent of his impact on running in the German capital. On the occasion of his eightieth birthday today, October 24, below is a compilation and appreciation of Horst’s life in running, prepared for today’s celebration, and published in one of his brainchildren, German Road Races website.
‘Horst Milde celebrates his 80th birthday today, October 24. The ‘father’ of the Berlin Marathon has become synonymous with the development of the widespread culture of running in Berlin. He created a number of milestone events in the German capital: the Berlin Cross Country Run at Teufelsberg, while a student at the Freie Universität Berlin back in 1964; the Berlin Marathon, launched in 1974; the women’s race in the Tiergarten which now has 18,000 participants (first held in 1984 with help of Katherine Switzer); the Berlin Half Marathon (now 26,000 participants); the team relay with 27,000 runners (all these races are the biggest of their kind in Germany). The Night Run on Kurfürstendamm, the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day races and even the Berlin Prisoners’ race for inmates in the Plötzensee Prison are further examples of Milde’s initiatives. Still the chairman of German Road Races (GRR) Horst Milde has developed running in Germany for over half a century.
He initiated seven German championships in Berlin, including the German Cross-Country Championships, Marathon Championships, the 10,000m Men’s/3000m Women’s Championships, the Youth and School Relay Championships and from 1976 to 1984, several German University Cross-Country Championships within the SCC Cross-Country event.
Close friends describe his capacity for foresight and vision, which has helped him to promote many new developments, to look beyond the borders of his own events and learn from other races. Added to this was his ability to first wheedle his family, then friends and acquaintances into volunteering at the scheduled events as helpers and employees; thus over time building up a powerful and experienced team for the organization. Added to this was his important assertiveness to convincingly ‘knock on doors’ of mayors, administrations, police, licensing authorities and forest administrations – and before 1990 with the Allies in Berlin – in a way in which he was recognized as a partner in the interest of sport, not as an opponent.
At the Berlin Marathon, he was the first in Europe to introduce chip timekeeping, the “Blue Line” celebrated its premiere on the mainland in Berlin in 1990, wheelchair athletes were first able to participate in a marathon in 1981, and the inline skaters celebrated their debut in 1997 at the Berlin Marathon, the first event that offered inline skating as part of a major city marathon in Germany.
Milde, was not only an ambitious athlete (800 m best of 1.49.8, and twice German relay champion in the 3 x 1000 m with SCC Berlin), he also was a trained master confectioner with an MBA, and worked in the family bakery, which was created in 1903 in Tempelhof. In additional to all of that, he proved to be an excellent honorary organizer of (running) events.
Together with the Sports Department of the Free University of Berlin (FU Berlin), he founded the first cross-country race on Teufelsberg under the motto ‘Open to all of Berlin’. It was a premiere for a German running event, as it allowed non-club members to participate.
Thanks to his work getting the word out, 700 students, club and amateur runners romped on the Teufelsberg mountain in 1964. Ten years after the premiere cross-country event, Milde, who by then was in charge of public running events for the Berlin Athletics Federation, organized the first Berlin Marathon in 1974. With just few volunteers , there were 286 participants, and 244 finishers. The cornerstone of the Berlin Marathon was laid, even if the course in October 1974 was still far from any spectators in the forest area near Mommsen Stadium and along the Avus highway.
The rise of the Berlin Marathon began in 1981 with the move to the city center and the start at the Reichstag – and finish on the grand boulevard, Kurfürstendamm; then relocated in 2004 to the iconic Brandenburg Gate. The race soon became a major fixture on the international scene. “I never dreamed of this development; unlike today, we did everything as volunteers, and I was always looking wide-eyed at Fred Lebow and New York City!” Now the Berlin Marathon, with its 11 world records, is the ‘market leader’ of elite international marathon events.
An unforgettable international athletic sensation of its own kind: The All-Berlin New Year’s Run took place on January 1, 1990 with over 20,000 participants from all over the world and leading for the first time in 28 years from West Berlin through the Brandenburg Gate to East Berlin and back.
Then more politics came into play. Three days before German Reunification on October 1, 1990, 25,000 marathon runners from all over the world ran through West and East Berlin.
In addition to being Race Director for these ground-breaking events, Milde was also head of the Department of Athletics at SCC Berlin, initiator for the founding of German Road Races (GRR), ‘co-founder’ in 1982, and board member of AIMS (Association of International Marathon at Distances Races), member of the Federal Committee for Running of the German Athletics Federation, and is still Chairman of the AIMS Symposium in Athens since 2007. Further, he was involved in the founding of the World Marathon Majors (WMM) … indeed, a Jack of all trades!
Under Milde’s direction as head organizer, 340 events have been held with around 1.3 million runners participating. “We have indeed managed to shake up the population with these running ideas, getting people to think about their own health. We have succeeded in integrating young people and the disabled, with competitions for wheelchair athletes and hand bikers, as well as walking competitions…” For Horst Milde, the best praise he could receive is that he “turned the Berliners into runners or at least into spectators at the Berlin Marathon.” He is always full of ideas.
Milde also provided inspiration for modernizing the marathon event at the World Championships and the Olympic Games, when he suggested to the IAAF to make it a multi-lap course through the city centre, close to the general public, an idea that was ultimately realized at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin 2009.
He is also the largest collector for Berlin’s Olympia Park-based Berlin Sports Museum, the AIMS Marathon Museum of Running – Marathoneum. Great exhibits and collections from running and athletics are brought together by this initiative, which is unparalleled worldwide.
Despite having a full-time job with intensive research required for the bilingual GRR website and his work as GRR Chairman, while also looking after the five grandchildren of his three children Karsten, Mark (now the successful race director of the Berlin Marathon) and Gesine, there is also time to relax in the theatres and concerts of Berlin’s rich musical life with his wife Sabine – who supported him at work in the family bakery-pastry shop so that he could pursue his time-consuming “hobby”. Sabine has also successfully completed several marathons.
Needless to say, Milde keeps himself fit through regular morning runs…
Photo by Gesine Milde
A more detailed text can be found at: https://germanroadraces.de/?post_eng=horst-milde-the-founder-of-the-berlin-marathon-is-turning-eighty
And a video in German, produced by Prof Helmut Winter, Contemporary Witness, Horst MILDE – Berlin can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEGve18Drf8’