Volkssport Olympiad in Germany

By Rod Smith
This item appears on page 12 of the August 2018 issue.

Flags flying on the stage during the opening ceremony of the 15th IVV Olympiad, in Koblenz, Germany. Photos by Rod Smith
Every two years, thousands of walkers converge somewhere in the world for the Volkssport Olympiad (www.ivv-olympiad-2017.com), organized by the Internationaler Volkssportverband (IVV), or International Federation of Popular Sports (www.ivv-web.org). My wife, Karen Heady, and I had the opportunity to participate in the 15th such event, June 6-10, 2017, in Koblenz, Germany.

The Volkssport world stresses fun and friendship combined with the benefits of good health and physical fitness in noncompetitive events. Participants each choose the sport, the distance and the pace.

National clubs in 43 countries are organized by volunteers, are nonprofit and involve millions of people. There is no age limit. At the latest Olympiad, we saw babies in backpacks, young families and school groups walking, but most walkers were middle-age to senior (perhaps a reflection of who has time and money).

As part of a summer vacation in Europe, we joined a group from Walking Adventures International, or WAI (Vancouver, WA; 800/779-0353, walkingadventures.com), that had just completed a 15-day Rhine River cruise combined with daily walking tours.

The cost for our 5-day, 5-night Olympiad trip with WAI was $1,375 each. (It was the scheduled extension to their cruise, and there was space available for us.) As with every WAI trip, this included all tips. The price also included a room in the Mercure Hotel Koblenz (Julius-Wegeler-Straße 6; www.mercure-koblenz.de/en), a local guide, Olympiad registration and the opportunity to take some optional afternoon trips.

On those trips, we visited Mainz and the Gutenberg Museum; Bonn and Beethoven’s birthplace; the Peace Museum Bridge at Remagen (site of the only bridge over the Rhine to remain intact in WWII), and Eltville, Germany (sometimes called the “City of Roses”).

Walkers from Japan enjoyed the complimentary wine samples on a walk through vineyards near Koblenz, Germany.

While walking is the main part of Volkssport, there was also swimming, cycling, inline skating and geocaching. Maps in Koblenz were available for routes ranging from 5 kilometers (5k) to an astounding 60k! Bicycles could be rented for 10 (near $11.50); electric-assisted bikes could be rented for 20 for use on 25k or 50k routes.

One walk took us by cable car across the Rhine up to the Ehren breitstein Fortress; another walk took us on a ferry across the Rhine. Over four days, we chose walks of 10k, 11k, 8k and 6k.

On our fifth day, Friday, we took off on our own by train to Mosel kern to hike 5k up to Burg Eltz (Eltz Castle), which is over 800 years old and is one of two castles along the Rhine that were not damaged or destroyed in war.

This was our fourth IVV Olympiad with WAI. Our first was in 2005 in Plzenˇ (Pilsen), Czech Republic, followed by Otepää, Estonia, in 2007 and Val Gardena (Grödnertal) in South Tyrol, Italy, in 2013.

Since we are still teaching full time, we have been limited to summer Olympiads. We missed Japan in 2009, Turkey in 2011 and China in 2015. The first Olympiad was in 1989, and the next one will take place Oct. 15-19, 2019, in Aix-en-Provence, France.

One of the highlights of an Olympiad is the Parade of Nations in the opening ceremony. Walkers line up behind their national flag in an Olympic-like procession. Countries are in alphabetical order according to the host language, but the host country comes last. (At Koblenz, several dozen people from the USA followed Hungary because the spelling of that country in German is Ungarn.)

Equally exciting was hearing different languages and travel stories during breakfast or at checkpoints as well as walking and talking with smiling people from many other countries.

Oskaloosa, KS

Karen Heady riding a cable car across the Rhine River in Koblenz.

Americans line up behind the US flag to march in the opening ceremony of the 15th IVV Olympiad — Koblenz.

The opening ceremony for the 15th IVV Olympiad took place near a large statue of German Emperor William I at Deutsches Eck in Koblenz.