Karlshorst Racetrack – Horseracing in East Germany

Karlshorst Racetrack boasts a tradition of thrilling horseracing events that goes back over a 100 years. Read on to find out more about the turbulent history of the track in the district of Lichtenberg within easy reach of Central Berlin.

Creation and Construction

The racetrack on Treskowallee in the Karlshorst neighbourhood was built in 1893-94 on a plot sold to a Charlottenburg-based horseracing club by Sigismund von Treskow, who owned a lot of land around the area. The club commissioned the architects Johannes Lange, Rudolph Jürgens and Martin Haller to design the new racetrack.
The track opened in 1894 and was initially used for steeplechase racing.

Traberrennen 1910
Visitors of the Racetrack Karlshorst 1910; source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-071-45 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Harness Racing during the Socialist Era

Immediately after World War II, the Soviet commander of Berlin, Nikolai Berzarin, ordered the track to be enlarged to twice its original size and recommissioned for harness racing. Karlshorst was the GDR’s only harness racing track, while the Hoppegarten racecourse in nearby Brandenburg was reserved for thoroughbred racing.

Following the establishment of the German Democratic Republic in 1949 and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, Karlshorst Racetrack was nationalised and merged with the Prieros and Lindenhof stud farms to form the “Volkseigene Betrieb Trabergestüte und Trabrennbahn” (State-Owned Stud Farms and Racetrack for Harness Racing) in 1977.

Trabrennbahn Karlshorst
Harness Race 1985; Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1985-0811-001 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Wall cemented the isolation of East German harness racing from West-German equestrian centres and led to a reorientation and new direction for the discipline mandated by the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) and aimed at promoting “socialist harness racing”. According to an official proclamation adopted at the SED’s 9th Party Congress in May 1976, “socialist harness racing” was tasked with contributing to “the continuing enhancement of East German citizens’ athletic and cultural standard of life with regard to leisure activities” by providing “interesting and high-quality racing events” to satisfy East German workers’ “needs for sports, recreation and relaxation”.

Traber im Rennen
Trotter and jockey; Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1988-0814-009 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite government subsidies to ensure that the facilities, including stables, technology, spectator stands and catering, were maintained in good condition, harness racing at Karlshorst was never quite up to western standards. With private breeders and racing stables increasingly pushed out of the market by state-owned enterprises, the competitiveness and performance of East German harness racing started to suffer. A lack of funding for quality trainers did little to improve the situation.

The Racetrack Today

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Mariendorf Racing Club leased the facilities to hold twice-weekly races. This arrangement lasted until the early 2000’s, when equestrian sports fell on hard times across Germany. To safe the facilities, a part of the site was sold as building land in 2004. Today, the Karlshorst Racetrack is once again thriving and able to hold twice-monthly racing fixtures.

Whether you’re a veteran aficionado or completely new to harness racing, check out the upcoming race dates at Karlshorst Racetrack and don’t miss your chance to watch a race and take a punt – all within easy reach of Central Berlin.