The man is clad in oozing mud from head to foot. His eyes sparkle against his grey-brown body suit. He has the typical look of a Mud Olympics participant, just a couple of minutes after the games have got underway.
Whether it is fish tennis, an eel relay race or mud football, the goal is always the same: to get utterly muddy. "You become one with the mud, you become part of the natural environment," says event organizer Michael Behrendt, describing the lure of the mud fight. And now the successful event is in its sixth year. These days teams with fanciful names like "The Mud Dogs," "Silt-Woodlouse FC" or "Henry's Mud-Splashers" have to register for the competition months in advance in order to secure their place in the mucky proceedings.
Only 32 teams can take part given the time limit set by the tides, which, by the afternoon, renders the pitch unplayable. But, truth be told, the pitch is never really in a playable condition in the first place. "The players sink up to the knee in silt and mud. It hardly makes for an elegant game," admits Behrendt. By day he writes for the local paper, and like the numerous organizers and assistants, he works for the festival as a volunteer.
The event, which has become famous even outside Germany, was inspired by an accident. A couple of sailors whose boat became wedged in the mud of the Elbe River decided to pass the time by playing football. The match may not have been particularly aesthetic or clean, but it was a lot of fun. It developed into the Mud Olympics, which now attracts around 6,000 spectators every year.
Eel-Scented Inner Tubes
And Behrendt says there is huge potential to expand the sporting program: "Any sport you can play on land can be played on mud too. It just looks more ridiculous," he said.
Many players underestimate the conditions and arrive with the wrong equipment, he adds. "Rubber boots don't work at all, they just get stuck in the mud." The most effective footwear has turned out to be old sneakers, bound as tightly as possible to the feet using adhesive tape. "We don't tell people stuff like that though," he says. "It's always fun when they fall into the mud. It's a soft landing, after all."
One of the most popular competitions is the eel relay race. Instead of real eels, participants use bike inner tubes filled with rice and a vibrator to create a realistic wriggling effect. "We actually wanted to use real eels but we decided against it following a phone call from Greenpeace," said Behrendt. Now at least the smell is authentic. Local fishmongers hoard fish remains for days before the competition which are then used to lend the inner tubes a pungent aroma. "The smell is absolutely realistic. You're happy when you've passed the 'eel' onto the next player."
He is not bothered by the environmental impact of the races -- not least because all footprints and traces of their antics are wiped away by the next high tide. "I think there are many worse objects in the Elbe River than the couple of shoes which we lose during the competition," he says.
This year's Mud Olympics takes place on Aug. 30, 2009 in Brunsbüttel, Schleswig-Holstein.
World Beard Championship
Participants in the World Beard Championship, the brainchild of the Association of German Beard Clubs (VDB), fall into 17 categories, depending on whether they have, for example, a "musketeer chin beard," a "Garibaldi full beard" or maybe even a "Kaiser-esque moustache." The slickest styles are usually to be spotted in the "freestyle" section. The proud participants usually don an appropriate hat to complete their look.
The World Beard Championship takes place on Sept. 19, 2009 in Gründau-Lieblos in the state of Hesse. The deadline for registration is Aug. 18.
Plastic Duck Racing
The Tübingen Duck Race, where thousands of yellow plastic ducks bob down the Neckar River, is now in its 11th year. Some 6,000 yellow ducks are released into the river, where they race their way towards the finishing line. The first arrivals get there in 45 minutes.
The event may be smaller than the famous duck race events in Singapore and London but it is still a special moment when, at the start of the race, a truck tips masses of plastic ducks off a bridge into the waters below.
Tübingen Duck Race, Oct. 10, 2009, Neckarinsel, Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg.
Two hands and one leather strip are all that is needed for finger wrestling, a Bavarian sport which mixes elements of a tug-of-war competition and wrestling. Staring at each other across a heavy table, which is screwed to the floor, the contestants wait for the referee to start the competition. "Both wrestlers, ready... and pull," he shouts. Then they try, using all their strength, to pull each other across the table.
Even though the duel is usually over after a few quick seconds, the spectacle remains a key part of many Bavarian beer tent festivities. The regional association of finger wrestling has a clear set of rules to ensure clean play.
The German Finger Wrestling Championship is held at a different location each year. This year it takes place on Aug. 15 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria.
Roman Frolics in Trier
Gladiator fights in an amphitheatre and sandal-clad soldiers: Germany's most important Roman festival takes place in Trier every year. The city was once the biggest Roman settlement north of the Alps.
More than 20,000 visitors come to drink mead and shop for antique handicrafts. Among the entertainments there is also a dentist, who shows the brave, or foolhardy, how people dealt with inflamed gums 2,000 years ago.
The "Brot und Spiele" (Bread and Games) festival takes place Aug. 14-16, 2009 in Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate.
Leather Britches Competition
This winter sport is practiced in the Erzgebirge (Iron Ore) mountains in Saxony in eastern Germany. Participants speed down a snowy slope while sitting on a leather rag.
The unusual pursuit originated through a local custom whereby workers added three-cornered leather patches to their pants to make it more comfortable to sit for a long time -- not to mention easier to slide down steep gradients.
The Leather Britches World Championship takes place in Neudorf, Thuringia in February.
In this competition, the top sportsmen move rocks weighing more than 300 kilograms (661 pounds). The traditional Bavarian stone lifting competition, called "Stoalupfn" in the local dialect, is a matter of brute force. The goal is to move the huge stone over the 100-centimeter (39-inch) mark. The tradition is centuries old and historical stone lifters were the subject of local legends.
Herzog Christoph von Bayern, for example, was said to have thrown a 200-kilo rock past the meter mark in the 15th century (and today the very stone is said to adorn a local house). And in the 19th century, the butcher Hans Steyrer reputedly moved 254 kilograms using just his middle finger. He even went on a European tour to flaunt his skills.
The International German Men and Women's 'Stoalupfn' Competition takes place Aug. 16, 2009 in Dachau, Bavaria.
A tournament for lawnmowers drivers attracts thousands of visitors every year to the Elbe River island of Krautsand. Despite being advertised as an international competition, the event, on closer inspection, has a distinctly local flavor. Last year the three medal winners all hailed from the region.
Ever since 1997, the competition has been held once a year. In total, its unusual drivers have to race along a 15-kilometer track which steers them through muddy patches and puddles.
The next Lawnmower World Championship takes place on May 13, 2010 on Elbinsel Krautsand in Lower Saxony.
German Deer Call Competition
This is not a straightforward question of blowing on a hunting horn. Here the tasks set include emulating a "deer searching for its young" or a "duel of two deer." These were just two of the disciplines at the European championship held this year in Dortmund.
For more than a decade, the competition has been held at the "Hunt and Hound" trade fair in Dortmund. Even if you don't necessarily want to have one of the noisy participants as a neighbor, seeing them on the stage is an entertaining spectacle.
The next German Deer Call Competition takes place Feb. 2-7, 2010 at the "Hunt and Hound" trade fair in Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia.
If your hobby is forming a five-strong team and tugging a 16-ton bus around your neighborhood, then you should sign up for this festival, held on the historic market square in the town of Wolfenbüttel. A prize of €1,000 goes to the team which is the first to yank their bus over the 30-meter-long course.
The Bus-Pulling Championships take place on May 2, 2010 in Wolfenbüttel, Lower Saxony.