An iconic image of Muhammad Ali provided the inspiration for Timm Kölln’s photo essay of his hometown race – the Berlin Six-Day, the longest-running event of its type in the world.
Neil Leifer positioned himself in the roof of the Houston Astrodome in 1966 to capture one of the greatest photographs of The Greatest, the champion wheeling away from the stricken Cleveland Williams, flat on his back on the canvas, with Ali’s arms aloft as the referee counted out the unfortunate challenger.
Kölln took to the rafters of the famous Velodrom for a bird’s eye view of the riders circling the track – almost merging with the boards, creating a pure graphic experience via double exposure images from above.
The Madison, that potentially devilishly confusing event that has been central to the Six-Day race since its inception, becomes a blur of high-speed, multi-coloured jerseys, handslings in progress, riders intricately negotiating the ever-changing, weaving snake of cyclists.
Back at track level, sprinters, proud as oversized peacocks, tense their spectacular quadriceps, showboating for the crowd with long-lasting track stands before the furious dash to the line.
And stehers – ‘stayers’ in English – all but extinct in Six-Day racing, thrash round on their bizarre-looking specially adapted machines, tucked behind equally bizarre-looking powerful motorbikes, standing proud on their roaring BMWs to afford maximum shelter to their charges.
The effect of Kölln’s double exposure photos captures the essence of a Six: music, lights, action, speed – an alcohol-fuelled riot of bike racing so perfectly suited to Berlin and its party atmosphere.
But also the confusion. Who is winning? What lap are we on? What are they sprinting for? Hang on, why is a man on a peculiar BMW tearing round the banking? Why is my head spinning?
Relax, have another beer, go with the flow. That’s Six-Day racing.