41st BMW BERLIN MARATHON on 28 September 2014

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What is the Music Marathon?

The music marathon

The course of the BMW BERLIN MARATHON is also the stage for an almost continuous live concert. Every 500 metres one of the 80 bands will be urging on the runners and serving as an attractive venue for the spectators as well. No other marathon of this magnitude gets over 1,000 musicians out on the street. Some of the highlights are the samba band at the “Wild Boar” (Wilder Eber”), the Turkish rock band at Kottbusser Tor and the jazz big band at Yorkschlösschen in Kreuzberg. The sounds of one group will barely be fading away when the next beating drums are already within earshot. If you are lucky, you may even get your very own piece played for you as you pass the packed grandstands toward the finish. In 80 different beats through Berlin: an experience of sound and running that will echo on long after the event.

You can view a selection of 40 of the 80 bands on the interactive course map.

Interview with John Kunkeler

John Kunkeler

How it all began and developed, where things get tricky in the organisation and the complaints happen – you will find that all out in this interview with John Kunkeler, the initiator of the Music Marathon.

When did the Music Marathon get started?

At the end of the 1980s, the square at “Wilder Eber” was at the 35 km mark. For many runners that is the decisive spot where they “hit the wall”. In order to keep the marathon runners motivated, a drumming group from Detmold was engaged to help them keep moving. Cheerleaders lined the street and cheered on the runners to the beat. The square at “Wilder Eber” became one of the highlights of the course of the Berlin Marathon.  Then when there were issues with the different sponsors of the group from Detmold and those of the Berlin Marathon, the organisers thought: We can do this alone with local groups instead and provide them with our own gear. That was the starting shot for the music marathon in Berlin.

How did the Music Marathon continue to develop?

The idea to add live music along the course to make the Berlin Marathon even more attractive for both participants and spectators was received with open arms. The bands that participated one time raved about the fabulous atmosphere and immediately signed up to participate the following year. Talk of the crazy marathon event quickly spread around music scene. There were more and more requests from bands that also wanted to have a spot along the 42,195m course. The rapid development continued. There were many challenges, however, as the number of bands increased.

How do you organise the performances of the 80 bands?

The samba and percussion bands rarely require electricity. For the rock groups and some of the jazz bands, however, they often need juice for their amplifiers. We usually are able to get plugged in at a bakery or news shop, which are open early anyway.  Once in a while a resident will help out. We have to record how much energy is used, of course. Also we have to pay attention to the noise emissions and direction of the sounds, as we try to disturb the residents as little as possible. For a 42 km course there are bound to be some complaints, so we try to avoid as many as possible from the onset. Church is usually in session on Sunday mornings, so I have to take that into consideration when setting up a band location. The weather plays an important role too. An entryway to a building or a bus stop can be helpful when there is inclement weather.  As Berlin has had its share of wet marathons, some of the experienced groups bring along small party tents to be prepared for any downpours. 

What are your criteria for selecting the bands?

You have to have just the right touch in determining what bands should perform at what pay. With so many great musicians in the city, it is difficult for many of them to earn their living with music. I try to share the pay fairly. Some of the established bands have to play where I place them. School bands, on the other hand, get the home advantage when I select their venues. Many groups have logistical issues with getting to their locations, so I often have to find quick creative solutions. 

What are the strangest things that have happened?

One band that was playing in front of a bar did not quite hit the musical taste of the guests still out from the night before. They were repeatedly offered a round of drinks in an attempt to make their breaks longer. In a different case, a policeman complained about the noise. The frantic bandleader called and I was able to resolve the conflict. A few years ago the course was changed on short notice due to construction. The band that was at its regular spot was surprised at how quiet the street was on the day of the marathon, and how easy it was to get across the roadblocks. Luckily we cleared things up at the last minute just before the first runners reached their relocated venue. 

What are your future plans?

For the first time, in 2012 we will have an international group performing. 60 drummers from the Danish band Slagkraft will be playing at Strausberger Platz. The Danes participate in by far the greatest numbers of all foreign nationalities, with over 5,000 runners. Danish voices and their colours, red and white, fill the streets along the course. If we continue to invite more and more bands from around the world, we will better fill our claim to be an international marathon and cosmopolitan city. That would be a wonderful development.Jazz-Club Schlot

John Kunkeler, born in Dordrecht, near Rotterdam, in 1947, came for love to Berlin at age 22. He studied Politics and Romance Studies at the Free University of Berlin and worked as a French teacher. After serving as chairman of the athletics department for the sports club BSV 92 and heading the BSV Sportcasino Wilmersdorf for six years, in the mid-1990s he turned his full attention to gastronomy. He opened the jazz club Schlot with his running friend Stefan Berker, which they then moved from the Edison Courtyards to the centrally located district Mitte in the year 2000.  In 1996 he joined Sport Club Charlottenburg, where he currently coaches.

John Kunkeler was part of the music marathon from the very beginning. He provided the both the idea and the implementation, and volunteers his time to organise all 80 bands. He is a passionate long-distance runner himself, with a best time of 2:26:47 h at the tender marathon age of 42.  He is also responsible for the course measuring and for the pacemakers at the BMW BERLIN MARATHON.

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