C Abschlusszeremonie Performance (c) Weltgymnaestrada 2007
Sometimes Erwin Reis suddenly remembers how fantastically smoothly everything went the last time. That’s when a glow creeps into his eyes and the fine laughter lines tighten across his brow … and then the Managing Director of the World Gymnaestrada 2019 can’t stop himself from smiling, then laughing and then beaming for minutes on end. “That was a festival,” he almost shouts, “that was paradise in Vorarlberg for a whole week!” And that’s the way it is: you’d probably have to search long and hard before finding someone like him again. Full of energy and – as he says himself – with nerves of steel and that irresistible nothing-is-impossible charisma as well as, of course, the best team ever, Erwin Reis has actually managed to bring the World Gymnaestrada to Vorarlberg for a second time. Only Berlin has succeeded in doing so in the just under 70 years of the event’s existence.
With the best team ever, Erwin Reis has actually managed to bring the World Gymnaestrada to Vorarlberg for a second time.
The 16th World Gymnaestrada, to give it its official name
… is even on paper the biggest gymnastics festival in the world. More than 20,000 gymnasts and participants from more than 50 countries for one week. But that’s just the numbers. Anyone who’s ever taken part in one of these events will never forget what actually happens. It’s not just the thousands of athletes from Sweden and Brazil and South Africa and Australia – there are also the tens of thousands of locals who can’t wait to see their guests. To welcome them. To cheer them on. To chat, eat and drink with them, to dance, sing, laugh.
A World Gymnaestrada is a week-long example of international understanding. Proof that it’s actually easy for people from different cultures to come together beyond politics. It doesn’t always have to be about higher! faster! further! – and, although we live in a world of ‘me first’, there’s something else: There’ll be no scoring for any of the demonstrations and shows. The World Gymnaestrada is really simply about what it says on the tin: ‘Come together! Show your colours!’ Show us what you can do – and sweep us away!
Acrobatic art at the World Gymnaestrada
Since the first World Gymnaestrada in 1953, the gymnastics festival, which takes place every four years, has almost always been staged in major cities: Lisbon, Zurich, Helsinki, Berlin, Rotterdam. It was a little miracle that the in comparison tiny Dornbirn was suddenly chosen to host it with venues all over Vorarlberg in 2007. But because, among other reasons, the people in the region presented a spectacle that the world of gymnastics couldn’t stop talking about, the World Gymnaestrada is now coming here for the second time.
People quickly realised that something wonderful was happening here. Last time, we had 6,000 volunteer helpers. It’s possible that there could be even more this time.
“People quickly realised that something wonderful was happening here,” says Marie-Louise Hinterauer, President of the Gymnaestrada. “Last time, we had 6,000 volunteer helpers. It’s possible that there could be even more this time.” She’s particularly looking forward to welcoming those participants who’re going to find getting to Vorarlberg particularly difficult. The gymnasts, for example, from Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands and several smaller African states who – she says – will all be bringing an immense lust for life with them to Dornbirn. During the first Gymnaestrada, a bus driver, for instance, continued his tour even though he’d technically finished work: “Gymnasts from South Africa were on the bus. And they were enjoying themselves so much and singing so beautifully that he didn’t want them to stop.”
Everyone is in fact working almost around the clock to ensure that the event from 7 to 13 July 2019 will be the biggest festival that the Rhine Valley – no – Vorarlberg has ever experienced. Marcel Bösch, for example, is getting one of several national villages ready in Lustenau. A total of 1,800 gymnasts are going to be accommodated there, in schools where twelve camp beds are being set up in each classroom (a total of ninety schools in the Rhine Valley have been reserved for overnight accommodation). “The people in Lustenau are preparing an all-round no-worries package for the guests,” he says. “The gymnasts won’t have to concern themselves with anything, breakfast is even going to be brought to them by helpers at the crack of dawn.”
Marc Brugger, who’s responsible for sponsoring and marketing, on the other hand, came up with the idea of the Host Loaf to enable athletes from financially weaker countries to travel to the region. A certain amount is going into the kitty for every loaf of bread that Vorarlberg’s bakers sell (see box). The funds are being used to pay for travelling expenses.
Bread for a good cause
Marc Brugger, who’s responsible for organising the sponsoring and marketing for the World Gymnaestrada in Vorarlberg, actually came up with the idea while he was in a bakery. The Host Loaf has been created to help gymnasts participate in the sports festival. People taking part in the Gymnaestrada usually pay their travel expenses out of their own pockets – but depending on where they’re from, it’s sometimes impossible for them to shoulder that burden. That’s why the organisers set up the Rainbow Project to provide financial support for some of the gymnasts. And that’s where Vorarlberg’s bakers became involved. They developed a special bread made of spelt and whole grain that’s perfect for athletes and anyone who wants a healthy diet. With every loaf of this special bread that’s sold, 50 cents are being donated to the Rainbow Project. A total of 115 bakeries are helping out in this way and 90,000 Host Loaves had already been sold by December 2018 – the funds raised have allowed the organisers to invite the gymnastics federations from Nepal, Malawi and Oceania to take part in the event. The Host Loaf also has benefits for people buying the bread: they have loyalty cards which are stamped for every loaf they buy. And when the cards are full, they can call themselves Premium Hosts – and claim a free ticket to the gymnastics festival.
Karl-Heinz Winkler and his team are handling the logistics of transport. Cooperation with the Vorarlberger Verkehrsverbund (VVV) and Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) public transport systems is what makes the staging of such events as the World Gymnaestrada possible in the first place. The challenge is to get 20,000 gymnasts and 10,000 visitors smoothly from A to B by bus and train every day. Karl-Heinz’s carefully developed public transport concept for the first Vorarlberg World Gymnaestrada 2007 was so successful that it became the standard in the region after the event.
You need partners who are used to working together, as well as experience and a good instinct.
And this time he’s planning to organise most of the lines as express routes that will take passengers directly to the exhibition centre on buses that will be running every five to 10 minutes. All trains (four per hour in both directions) will be stopping at Schoren station. Karl-Heinz wants the World Gymnaestrada 2019 to be an almost car-free event like it was in 2007. There’s also a massive side effect in that the ideas and investments that are flowing into the public transport concept for the gymnastics festival are again going to deliver benefits to Vorarlberg’s residents and visitors after the event.
The organisers are certain that Dornbirn and Vorarlberg are going to surprise the gymnastics world for a second time
They’ve held hundreds of preparatory meetings and talks. Some have been flying all around the world to talk to people on marketing missions and in the end were able to convince everyone that Dornbirn and the entire region would be a great place to hold the World Gymnaestrada for the second time after 2007. “And we’re going to show everyone again,” says Erwin Reis, “that people in Vorarlberg are really wonderful hosts.”