Association of International Marathons and Distance Races

The home of world running™

Running into history BMW Berlin-Marathon

01 July 2024, 2pm

From a fun run in the woods to a global marathon highlight

50 years of the Berlin Marathon

BMW Berlin-Marathon
Sun 29 September 2024

Acht finisharea20 berlin08

When the starting gun for the 1st Berlin People's Marathon was fired on 13 October 1974 in front of the Mommsen Stadium, none of the 286 participants could have imagined how the race would develop over the coming decades.

Photo 1, BU: Start of the premiere in 1974 on Waldschulallee

From the second edition on the start and finish were moved into the Mommsenstadion. In 1977 Christa Vahlensieck ran a new world best time of 2:34:47,5.

The Berlin Marathon, organised by an all-volunteer team, enjoyed increasing popularity in the late 1970s but retained its image as a fun run in the Grunewald woods. Meanwhile, metropolises such as New York and London, with their spectacular city marathons, were showing how things could be done in Berlin.

At a meeting with the Berlin Chief of Police race co-founder Horst Milde was introduced as a “madman” for wanting the course to run through the city. But the “madness” won out and the Berlin Marathon moved out of the Grunewald and into the city. On 27 September 1981 the field in front of the Reichstag was the starting point of the first 42.2 kilometres through the city for 3486 runners from 30 nations. The finish line was right in the centre of West Berlin at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

Photo 2 BU: The first start in front of the Reichstag on 27 September 1981

In the early 1980s the Berlin Marathon developed into one of the five biggest marathons in the world. The course ran partly along the Berlin Wall. Berlin’s top sporting event also attracted a lot of attention in the eastern part of the city. From 1987 to 1989 the start of the race was moved to directly in front of the Brandenburg Gate due to the increasing number of participants. During these years, African runners dominated the race for the first time.

Photo 3 BU: The big push. Participants stretch at the Berlin Wall

The first run through the Brandenburg Gate in 1990 was an emotional milestone. A few days before the reunification of Germany 25,000 enthusiastic athletes from all over the world celebrated by running and caused a worldwide sensation. Former East Berliner Uta Pippig won the women’s race with a new course record of 2:28:37.

Photo 4 BU: The first Berlin Marathon through the open Brandenburg Gate

The Brazilian Ronaldo da Costa sprang a big surprise in the 1998 race. After a modest first half he dramatically sped up and, in the race of his life, pulverised the 10-year-old marathon world record with a time of 2:06:05. Shortly after crossing the finish line he did a cartwheel and danced the samba. A year later crowd favourite Tegla Loroupe from Kenya improved the women’s world record to 2:20:43. The message went around the marathon world: Berlin’s course is fast!

Photo 5: Ronaldo da Costa during his world record samba on Berlin’s streets

Since 2000 there was a Japanese women’s winner for six years in a row. One of these was Naoko Takahashi, who was the first woman to break the 2:20 barrier in 2001 and gave the Berlin Marathon its 4th world record. Her run was also broadcast live on Japanese TV and generated record ratings.

Photo 6: Naoko Takahashi runs a new world record in 2:19:46 in 2001

On 28 September 1997 inline skaters took part in the Berlin Marathon for the first time. The race quickly developed into the world’s largest inline marathon. In 2003 9612 athletes rolled through the city. Olympic speed skating champion Bart Swings from Belgium became a serial winner. He won eight times and set a fantastic course record of 56:45 in 2022.

Photo 7: Spectacular finishes in inline skating

In 2003 the traditional race made another quantum leap. The new course, with start and finish between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column, landed right in the heart of the city. Ever since then the unforgettable highlight for every participant has been the finish with the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of German reunification.

Photo 8: The Brandenburg Gate is the emotional highlight just before the finish line

From 2006 to 2009 Berliners celebrated their marathon hero Haile Gebrselassie. One of the most successful long-distance runners of all time the Ethiopian chose Berlin as the venue for his greatest triumphs over the classic distance and became a legend here.

The Berlin Marathon became more and more international with the total number of participants (running, inline skating, wheelchair racing, hand biking) reaching 40,000 and still rising.

Photo 9: Haile Gebrselassie becomes a Berlin Legend

Since 2006 the Berlin Marathon has been a member of the AWMM (Abbott World Marathon Majors), an association of six of the biggest marathons in the world. It is in the illustrious company of top events in the sporting metropolises of Tokyo, London, Boston, Chicago and New York. The result is a lively exchange of ideas and experiences.

In 2011 the Berlin Marathon sold out in record time of just under three hours. Since then there has been a lottery to meet the ever-increasing demand for the coveted starting numbers.

From 2015 another marathon icon left his mark on the Berlin Marathon. The Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge ran two world records in his five victories. He too will forever be a hero of the city.

Photo 10: Eliud Kipchoge runs a fantastic world record in 2022

The final highlight so far, however, was achieved by a woman. Tigist Assefa from Ethiopia ran a sensational world record of 2:11.53 at the 49th BMW BERLIN-MARATHON on 24 September 2023, beating the old record by more than two minutes. A total of 13 world records have been broken at the Berlin Marathon, more than at any other.

We are looking forward to the 50th edition of this fascinating and inspiring event!

Photo 11: Tigist Assefa runs into new dimensions in 2023

See the latest news from BMW Berlin-Marathon


For further information on our partners, click on the logos above.

Distance Running

Official quarterly magazine of AIMS

Cover of 2024 Edition 3

Latest issue:
2024 Edition 3

Cover: Halong Bay Heritage Marathon, Vietnam

Keep up to date!

For the latest race dates please consult the official online AIMS calendar.

You can also subscribe to the AIMS calendar in your calendaring application of choice, whether on your phone, tablet or computer. Simply subscribe to webcal:// in your calendar app.

the home of world running™

AIMS Headquarters | OACA Olympic Complex | Av Spyros Louis, Athens, Greece | © AIMS 2024

Powered by Distance Running Limited