Finger wrestling and ring riding – regional sports in Germany
There is far more to sport in Germany than football. Typical regional sports such as Bavarian finger wrestling and Northern-German ring riding have developed over hundreds of years, helping to solidify the cultural identity of their respective regions.
Germany is a country of sports enthusiasts! The nation has over 90,000 sports clubs, whose approximately 24 million members participate in a vast range of sports, mainly at amateur level. Many sports are popular throughout Germany, the most notable of course being ball sports such as football and handball, while others are traditionally only found in certain regions of the country. Some German sports are known around the world and others are only really found in Germany.
Finger wrestling – a typical Bavarian sport
Pictures of people wearing traditional Bavarian dress at Munich's Oktoberfest will no doubt be familiar to people the world over, but fewer people are likely to have heard of finger wrestling, a sport in which two men attempt to pull each other across a table using one finger. Incidentally, the German idiom 'to pull someone across the table' (to cheat or trick somebody) is derived from this sport. The two opponents sit opposite each other at a table, put their middle fingers in a leather strap and then pull with all their might when a signal is given. A catcher stands behind each of them to prevent them falling backwards if one of them suddenly lets go.
In times past, finger wrestling was used in rural areas as a way of resolving disputes, which often involved two men vying for the affections of a woman. Modern day Germany even has a finger wrestling championship. Matches usually take place in traditional beer tents, with opponents wearing customary Bavarian dress. More than just a popular regional sport, finger wrestling has become an international tourist attraction.
Mighty middle fingers: championship in finger wrestling (in German only)
Competing for flags in Northern Germany
Ring riding is a regional sport which is played primarily in Northern Germany. It dates back some 600 years to the knights' tournaments of the Middle Ages, when it was principally an exercise for varlets, young aristocrats who served the knights while being trained by them at the same time. Victors are rewarded with flags.
Nowadays, ring riders compete at public tournaments. They must ride their horses under so-called 'gallows' while spearing a small brass ring with their lance. Simple enough, you might think, except that the ring is only around two centimetres in diameter and the horses must gallop under the gallows. It takes a considerable amount of skill to control the horse and spear the ring with a heavy lance at the same time.
Northern Germany is not the only place where ring riding is a popular regional sport; it is also enjoyed in Southern Denmark and in the border areas of the Netherlands. Unlike finger wrestling, ring riding is also practised by women and children.
Regional sport has a second meaning in German
It refers to sports that are mainly played at regional rather than national level. Some sports may not have a national league, but they do have county or regional competitions involving sportsmen and -women who are just as competitive and enthusiastic, even though most of them are not professional athletes. It is at regional level that the elite athletes of the future are trained, which is why chairs of sports clubs and trainers often criticise the gap in quality between regional and professional sport when it comes to facilities and conditions. They want local authorities to invest as much in the upkeep of regional sports pitches and sports halls as they do in prestigious facilities such as large football stadiums.
Many other regional sports in Germany
There are of course many other regional sports, including Klotstockspringen, which is a type of pole vaulting, and Boßeln, which is similar to the French game of Boules. All of these sports are played primarily in rural areas, which may be due to the fact that, in the days before television, radio and the internet, young people living in the countryside had to provide their own entertainment, and so local sports clubs became much more important to community life in rural areas than in cities.
Are there regional sports in your country?