By Kai Pfaffenbach
There are a few things you expect as a German photographer from cozy Frankfurt when your boss sends you to cover the test events for the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympic winter games in Russia.
Will it be heavy snow and cold you have to brave? How difficult will communication be (as I don’t speak Russian)? How will the general feeling of Russians be about Germans a few days after they celebrated the anniversary of their big victory over Hitler’s sixth army in Stalin-(Wolgo)grad during WWII in 1943? Well, after nine days within the 70km (43 mile) perimeter of the 2014 Olympics I can say it is a bit of everything but it is definitely a balancing act between extremes.
When you read the invitation letter of the Organizing Committee you learn that “Sochi2014 will be the most compact Winter Games in the history of the Olympic Movement”. The Games will be held in two clusters. The coastal cluster where all indoor events (speed skating, curling, ice hockey etc..) will be held and the mountain cluster around the (former) village of Krasnaya Polyana and the alpine resort of Roza Khutor where the outdoor venues are located. When the Games start on February 7, 2014, a new rail track should connect the coastal cluster with the mountains. With less than one year to go construction works are well under way but for now a narrow bumpy road is the one and only way to get up and down. Dozens of tunnels and bridges need to be built through the valley along the “wild water” river. Sometimes it seems bizarre when the graveyard of the little suburban village of Krasnaya Polyana is less than 100 yards away from the Olympic lane.
Its about 50km (31 miles) between the city of “Adler” where the Olympic Park is located and the mountain cluster. The host city of Sochi is another 20km (12 miles) down the road from Adler, located on the coast of the beautiful black sea. In Sochi itself is little to see of the Olympic hysteria, but in and around Adler construction work is more intense than I have ever seen before. Here starts the next balancing act between the extremes: when it doesn’t rain or snow it is so dusty that it is difficult to breathe and when it’s wet literally everything is covered in ugly grey-brown mud.
Mischa, my driver and fixer had difficulties steering his little car around potholes up to 15cm (6 inches) deep when he took me outside the Olympic Park at the seafront near Adler. The architecture of the Olympic stadium looks impressive. It’s an outdoor arena for the opening and closing ceremony and it will be used for football afterwards. Just a stone’s throw away things don’t look as pretty. There are houses which are half demolished on official demand as they are within the perimeter of the Olympic Park, scrapped buses or cars and large piles of garbage just next to people who sell oranges or knitwear on the streets of Adler near the Abchazian border to make a living.