Travel

'Rixdorfer Strohballenrollen': Part 2, The Thrilling Conclusion

Popraci - Rixdorfer Strohballenrollen

"We don't expect to win," Mathias Helfert says.

"There's a lot of competition this year, but the most important thing is just to do it."

As I chat with Helfert, teams dressed like flowers, farmers, and comic book characters practice pushing enormous hay barrels around historic Richardplatz.

The long awaited 178th annual Rixdorfer Strohballenrollen Competition, also known as "Popráci" was finally here.

Last weekend, I headed down to the festivities to take in the exciting action.

Helfert and his team, employees at Rixdorf's local 109 year-old butcher shop, Blutwurstmanufactur, have competed for the past four years, since the festival's revitalization.

"Last year, we came in 14th or so," Helfert says. "But the year before that we came in 4th."

The team from Blutwurstmanufaktur are not the only repeat rollers. Last year's winners, a team from Neukölln's Rue Bunte, were dressed like characters out of a Western film, with cowboy hats and handkerchiefs around their mouths. The Green Party Neukölln team, also celebrating their fourth year as participants, were dressed like sunflowers.

Rue Bunte, dressed in Western attire, attempt to hold on to their position as Hay Barrel champions. i

Rue Bunte, dressed in Western attire, attempt to hold on to their position as Hay Barrel champions. Tam Eastley for NPR Berlin hide caption

itoggle caption Tam Eastley for NPR Berlin
Rue Bunte, dressed in Western attire, attempt to hold on to their position as Hay Barrel champions.

Rue Bunte, dressed in Western attire, attempt to hold on to their position as Hay Barrel champions.

Tam Eastley for NPR Berlin

"It's harder this year," Jochen Biedermann says, from Green Party Neukölln.

"It's been a wet summer, so the hay barrels are heavier. But we're not here to win. It's just fun."

The day opened with a welcome speech from Norbert Kleeman of the organizing committee. Captains from all the teams, 20 in total, got up on stage and introduced themselves. In keeping with the festival's history, the Czech Republic was heavily represented, with the Czech Ambassador Rudolf Jindrák present, the mayor of Neukölln's sister city, Ústí nad Orlicí, and two Czech teams.

Ústí nad Orlicí's team was dressed like big Czech beer bottles, and another team from Prague dressed like sailors. Zdenek Ešpandrem, Mayor of Ústí nad Orlicí, said he was excited to be present at the competition for the first time.

"And of course, I hope that our team wins," he said towards the end of his speech, eliciting good-natured boos from the crowd.

"People have a negative view of Neukölln," Marion Wegner, of the organizing committee, says.

"It's our goal to invite people from other neighborhoods of the city, show them what Neukölln is like, and to improve its reputation." Zelheldorf's participation was not overlooked, and, at the end of the day, they received a special prize for bravery.

And so the excitement began. Each team raced and rolled against one another, and the six teams with the best times competed in the semi-finals. Indeed, some races were incredibly fast, and spectators were warned to keep out of the way of speeding hay barrels. The team from Ústí nad Orlicí was particularly fast, and perhaps they were at an advantage considering they had just won the Hay Barrel Rolling Competition in their home town the week before. As teams neared the finish lines, cheerful spectators applauded, ran alongside the exhausted participants, blew whistles, and banged on pots and pans with wooden spoons.

"The first 10 to 50 meters are the most important," Biedermann explains. "You have to have a good start and be the first one on the curve. I've never seen a team win that wasn't the first one on the curve."

Mathias Helfert tells me his secret plan to win the race: "We have to get on the inside of the curve," he says "and be very quick in the first 50 meters."

Last year's winners from Rue Bunte (left) lose their title and come in second place, tied with Blutwurstmanufaktur. i

Last year's winners from Rue Bunte (left) lose their title and come in second place, tied with Blutwurstmanufaktur. Tam Eastley for NPR Berlin hide caption

itoggle caption Tam Eastley for NPR Berlin
Last year's winners from Rue Bunte (left) lose their title and come in second place, tied with Blutwurstmanufaktur.

Last year's winners from Rue Bunte (left) lose their title and come in second place, tied with Blutwurstmanufaktur.

Tam Eastley for NPR Berlin

In the end, Helfert's strategy pays off, and the team, clad in their butcher uniforms, rolled their way to a second place tie with Rue Bunte. The Beer bottles from Ústí nad Orlicí were the excited winners with a final time of 1:52, and they left the festival carrying an enormous trophy. The grand prize? An all expense paid trip to the Czech Republic.

Next year's 179th annual Strohballenrollen will take place on September 8th and 9th in Rixdorf.

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