Personal Essays

Marathon Running in Berlin

Last Sunday, together with more than 47,000 runners, hand-cyclists, and wheelchair athletes, a long-time friend and I completed the 2023 Berlin Marathon. Running is such an amazing activity….no other sport allows me (a 6-hour marathoner and late-blooming athlete) to share the field with a superstar like Tigst Assefa, who broke the women’s world record for marathon: 26.2 miles in an astounding 2:11:53.

Forming a beautiful mosaic of colorful singlets, runners of all styles from 156 countries started and ended near the Brandenburg Gate, a place symbolizing both division and peace. We ran through former East Berlin, near Checkpoint Charlie and the site of the former headquarters of the Nazi SS-Gestapo, where the remarkable Topography of Terror Museum now exists. Only a few hours before the start of Yom Kippur or “Day of Atonement,” the holiest day in Judaism, my fellow athletes and I received our medals in front of the Reichstag; we stood among same Linden trees that witnessed the terrors of the Holocaust less than a century ago. It’s impossible to get my head around it all.

Running the Berlin Marathon was not only an opportunity to push my body, but also my mind. Memories of the day will include not only remembrances of a city in which the scars of historical authoritarianism, genocide, and war remain, but also feelings of tremendous appreciation for all today’s Berliners for welcoming, supporting, and cheering us on.

Completing a marathon, like finishing anything hard, is life-affirming. The experience in Berlin also affirmed my gratitude for my freedoms and deepened my awareness of the tender fragility of democracy.

Start line: a mosaic of colors of 47,900 athletes from 156 countries

Finish line: in front of the Brandenburg Gate

We received our medals and ponchos near the Reichstag