Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pigeon racing lives on in the European Capital of Culture

Most people consider pigeons a nuisance, but for some Ruhr Valley natives the birds are a way of life: a family activity, an obsession, even a profession. Once a hobby for miners, pigeon racing now attracts the wealthy.

Thousands of peeled eyes and pricked ears follow the coveted first lot as it's brought to the auction block in Dortmund's expo center. Within a few minutes the bids reach 6,000 euros ($7,730), and then the item is "going once, going twice, going three times, sold." The crowd roars as the happy bidders step forward - to claim their new homing pigeon. This hullabaloo isn't about quicker postal service. The pigeon is for racing.

Twenty thousand pigeon fanciers visited Dortmund's annual homing pigeon fair and auction in the heart of the Ruhr Valley this year. Although the former mining region is European Capital of Culture for 2010, it is still richer in local color than high art. Case in point: the region is and remains Germany's pigeon-racing stronghold.

Pigeon sport is changing though, like the Ruhr area itself.

A whole new game

In his half century of pigeon racing, Dietmar Schulz has seen the sport change considerably. The 66-year-old retired locksmith from Bochum remembers the days when 30 pigeon fanciers lived on his street. Now there are only three. Back then, in the summertime, the weekly release and return of the pigeons was the primary source of entertainment and bonding.

"In the 40s, 50s and 60s, there were soccer clubs, pigeon clubs and rabbit clubs," he recounted. "That was it."

At the time of Germany's reunification in 1990, well after pigeon racing's heyday, there were still around 80,000 breeders in West Germany alone. Today the German Association of Homing Pigeon Breeders estimates around 60,000 in all of Germany.

Even so, the competition has become a good deal fiercer. Dietmar Schulz and his wife Heike no longer bring home the big prizes. They cannot keep up with today's wealthy breeders, some of whom can afford to buy single pigeons for the price of small houses and hire drivers to cart their birds hundreds of kilometers each day for training flights.

To read more: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5441881,00.html

Pigeon sport costs a great deal of time and money

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