The sun is already high in the sky, with temperatures looking to reach 25 degrees. Robin Klinkert sits casually on a tree stump next to the lift at his Black Mountain Bike Park in Elstra, enjoying a brief moment of calm. In a moment he’ll be back on his mini excavator and off to the forest. “We’re just about to start this year's season and there’s still some work to do on the routes. Sometimes I might be out in the woods until 11 at night”, Klinkert says. Spending all day outdoors, the smell of fresh timber, rolling up his shirt sleeves – a huge step after 12 years as a development engineer with Audi AG in Ingolstadt and the USA, working in the office on a laptop.
What drew him back to the burgeoning region of Dresden was his wish for a career change, the opportunity for self-development and, not least, his home country. To his visitors (young or old, beginners or pros), that translates into an incomparable feeling of flow on four varied routes with different levels of difficulty, nestled in the wonderful local West Lusatian countryside!
“Swapping my laptop for a mini excavator was a big step. But one I wanted to take, come what may.”
From 4 to 2 wheels
His professional career started as a student at Dresden University of Applied Sciences (HTW), on the “International Production Engineering” degree programme. An industrial internship brought him into contact with his future employer, with whom he also wrote his diploma thesis before graduating in 2004. Klinkert went on to spend two years at Audi in Ingolstadt before moving to the USA for five years. There, he worked as an intermediary between auto manufacturers and his customers, advancing the vehicles’ technical development. It was during this time that he came up with the idea for a bike park.
Now, he has overcome his own inertia by helping his visitors “get off the ground” – with great success. Over the past year, cycling enthusiasts of all ages have flocked to Schwarzenberg from all over Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and even Austria or Switzerland.
“I have ridden bikes ever since I can remember; I took part in professional cycle races for a long time, including in the USA. I’ve been making my own routes since I was 14. But for a long time, having my own bike park was more or less wishful thinking.” At some point, however, his dissatisfaction at work got too much for him, and the urge to create something of his own grew stronger and stronger. It is a step that Robin Klinkert has not regretted to this day. As well as the entrepreneurial aspect, one of the key factors behind his return was the feeling of being “at home”. Of course, his family and friends welcomed him with open arms. “But it did involve leaving behind some very good friends in Ingolstadt. That wasn’t always easy.” He adds: “People tend to take the easy route and dislike change, so taking a leap in the dark, whatever the consequences, wasn’t always simple in every situation.”
“I have ridden bikes ever since I can remember; I took part in professional cycle races for a long time, including in the USA.”
The step towards independence
In 2014, he came to the decision to take the step to independence. But some hurdles stood in the way of his dream of owning his own bike park. Could the project be partially funded? What permits were required? Those were just two of the many questions Robin Klinkert had to answer. Going back to his safe job, or even giving up entirely, were never an option.
“I just kept on telling myself, this is what I want, so I’m seeing this project through, come what may!” That was the attitude that enabled Robin Klinkert to open the park as a trial run after just one year, at the end of August 2016. Since then, the routes have been constantly maintained and developed.
More support wanted
For Robin Klinkert, one of the biggest weak points was the support provided by the authorities. “The bike park is a truly unique selling proposition for the region; it has enormous potential as a tourist attraction, extending well beyond the region's borders. Despite that, it felt as if I was more or less being left to my own devices for most of the planning and implementation phase.” Klinkert sees this as where the “Wachstumsregion Dresden” (“Dresden, a fast-growing region”) initiative can come in, offering better support for the self-employed and for innovative ideas and thus helping even more projects like his to grow in the region.
“A well-connected advisor who does not just give you phone numbers you can find yourself online, but instead offers support with complex processes. That would be my personal wish for anyone starting up a visionary project.” Another aspect which he sees as problematic is the trend in rental costs in the region: the gap between people’s incomes and what they pay on rent is narrowing.
By this point, Robin Klinkert is sitting on one of his wooden ramps, which he put hours of work into building himself. Behind the jump, there is a drop of a good three metres. The ghost of a grin flits across his face. It is the same grin seen on everyone daring enough to take the ramp and to overcome their own inertia – whether here at the Black Mountain Bike Park or by returning to the burgeoning region of Dresden.
This story is also found at so-geht-sächsisch.de
The interview was conducted by Peter Glumbick and Daniela Retzmann
Photographs by André Wirsig and Tobias Ritz.</span>