Sochi’s gigantic games – a visit to “ground zero

Sochi's gigantic games - a visit to

The graveyard may stay. A little hidden behind blue tarpaulins, stone slabs with artistic portraits of the deceased defy the swirling dust. On the huge construction site where the sochi olympic park is being built, the graves between the stadium and the figure skating palace are the last relic of days long past. The former residents of the area were forcibly relocated, their houses demolished. For the gigantic project of winter games of opposites on the black sea and in the north caucasian mountains, the makers are only being held back by the peace of the dead at the most.

If you want to find out what the olympics in russian will look like in two years, start your journey in lukewarm to the coast. Here, the eaves of five ice rinks are already rising into the winter sky, cranes as rough as towers are pulling up the olympic stadium. Trees, grassy areas, a bird sanctuary are to follow. For the sporting image campaign of an entire country, the former summer health resort has set everything back to square one. "Ground zero" is what mayor anatoli pachomov calls the state of sochi at the beginning of the work – the "zero hour".

Such an atmosphere of the end of the world arises during the night drive to the second center, the mountain town of krasnaya polyana. A fast track is to take olympic tourists to the competitions on snow in just under half an hour. The rollers still rotate here, shrouded in a ghostly fog, and workers hover on the tracks in the glare of the spotlights – a total of 50,000 are toiling away on the olympia construction site.

Skepticism whether all the promised marvels would be completed by the time of the opening on the 7th. The hosts counter in a friendly but firm manner that the project will be completed by february 2014. "If putin promises the people a railroad, then there will be a railroad," says a senior ministry official on the bumpy ride in a minibus shuttle, "no matter what it costs."

With a construction budget of more than 24 billion euros, the city, where head of government vladimir putin used to reside as president in the summer, has already secured the title of the most expensive winter games in history before the start. Money is no obstacle. The advertising signs at the edge of the muddy road show why. "Gazprom 2014" is written there female on blue. The state-owned company builds the laura ski resort for cross-country skiing and biathlon. Moreover, the prestigious olympic project has rarely received such support from the private sector. Metal entrepreneur vladimir potanin invests heavily in his resort rosa chutor, where alpine medals are awarded.

To the meeting with the billionaire oligarch at the downhill slope, the journey continues with two gondolas and a chairlift: welcome to the high-security zone. On the road, which, seen from above, winds its way up the mountain, police officers stand at every concrete pillar with a sinister expression on their faces.

Three guard posts are set up like border crossings, signs on the metal detector warn of forbidden objects – from pocket knives to radioactive material. Light gray security walls with barbed wire prevent people from leaving the prescribed paths. A feared attack by terrorists from the conflict region of abkhazia, just a few kilometers away, seems almost inconceivable in the military cordon with 5,000 guards. The price is a feeling of oppression, no one goes jogging here without a passport.

Meanwhile, in the press tent, potanin is lying in his chair with his ski boots stretched out more than he is sitting down. Questions about the rampant corruption that the russian court of auditors deplores elicit a mude smile from him. His topic is another. Spectacular images of the first world cup and especially olympics should make russians want to spend a skiing vacation in its hotels.

However, often only the foundation walls are still standing. "Honestly, with all the security people and the construction work, it"s not realistic that atmospher will be here anytime soon," potanin says, quickly diverting the conversation to the future, "but it will come right after playing."

Russia not only wants to demonstrate its economic strength with the olympics. A cosmopolitan image is also to be created on the rough sports stage. At the reception of the mayor in the first gondola station, a cossack choir from the kuban region animates central european journalists to dance. Even a folk group with – so it is announced – georgian-origin inhabitants of sochi shows its program. Mayor pakhomov repeatedly asks the translator to point out that people from 100 different nations live in his city.

Bernhard russi also knows the language barrier. "The problem in this particular case is that you have to translate not only the language but also the philosophy," reports the swiss athlete on the edge of the descent that bears his handwriting. Since 2006, he has been designing the course, which has been praised by most of the athletes, and he has felt his way into the russian soul during about 20 visits. "They are a very, very melancholic people, that"s what i felt at the beginning too. But this then turns extremely, and you then very quickly have very fat friends."

With a view of the facades of the houses, the path leads back down to the valley by gondola. In brown, orange and yellow pastel shades, the illuminated hotels and the bell tower look like a film set. After the first visit, it remains unclear how real the russian winter dream really is, how high the price for nature and people will be. A question that will probably be asked not only by the mourners on the shores of sochi, who can only visit their dead relatives with a security pass.