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Bathtub Races getting international spotlight

Evgeny Baranov, left, and Sergi Dogotar from the Voice of America network film a story on the Berlin Bathtub Races, last month. The program, in Russian, debuted online last week.

By Josh Davis, Associate Editor

(July 5, 2018) Berlin’s annual Bathtub Races went international this year as the subject of a two-minute TV spot on Voice of America.

The network, begun in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda, is a U.S. government-funded international broadcast service sent out in more than 40 different languages and with an estimated weekly global audience of more than 236 million, according to the official website.

Public Relations Officer Anna Morris said Voice of America’s Russian service filmed the races.

“They are working on a series titled ‘Small Town America’ and Berlin was the first segment,” she said. “The story will be posted to social media and included into their Current Time TV channel.”

Evgeny Baranov, one of two men who produced the segment, said he enjoyed his time in the town.

“It was a great pleasure for us to visit Berlin, that turns out to be definitely the right choice when it comes to comprehending what is ‘small town feeling,’” Baranov said in an emailed statement. “Berlin is a charming place, but this charm is built not only by the old architecture, lovely stores and the events such as the bathtub races. This charm is primarily built by the locals and their undeniable ability to make people from other places feel their irresistible involvement into Berlin’s life.

“We had a chance to talk with many excited people who speak about Berlin in a way like they spend the whole life there – but in the end, it turns out that they come from other places and just got amazed with the town’s vibe. This hospitable and vibrant ‘small town feeling’ is easy to find at Berlin, and our visit to the town was positively a thing to remember,” he added.

The two-minute spot pans around Main Street neighborhoods and the downtown, showing off the shops, galleries and restaurants, as well as the crowds gathered for the races. It also highlights the quirky excitement of the event.

Resident Mike Wiley, dressed in a bathrobe and shower cap as one of several “Bathmen” who led the annual parade of racers, was interviewed by Voice of American and dubbed into Russian.

He said he nearly wet himself with laughter watching it for the first time.

“The funniest thing is I have a nephew and his wife who are both Russian interpreters,” Wiley said. “I sent it to him and he said, ‘You speak better Russian than I do!’

“I really enjoyed it. I just about pissed my pants when I first saw it,” he added.

Jeff Smith, who competed in the races for Salt Water Media, was interviewed as well.

“How do I feel about being on Russian television? My first thought was that my secret identity had been revealed,” Smith said. “Then, I wondered if they’d translated what I’d said properly, or if I was quoted as saying something about how awful America is and how the fascist imperialist capitalists were forcing me to run this ridiculous race for a meal.

“On a serious note, it is an honor to represent Berlin on the world stage, and to know that our little town and its quirky little races have gotten the attention on the international stage. Soon enough, the competition will have to be opened to competitors from around the world. Berlin will host the World Cup of bathtub is races,” he added.

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams, in a word, said he thought the video was great.

“I think it captured the spirit of fun that is the heart of our Bathtub Races, while also showing our town’s sometimes quirky charm and natural friendliness,” Williams said. “All in all, I thought it was a very appropriate introduction to ‘America’s Coolest Small Town’ to folks in Russia.”

Berlin Economic and Community Development Director Ivy Wells also enjoyed the TV spot and said she planned to showcase it on town social media.

“The Berlin Bathtub Races are an international hit now! How fun it was to watch from their viewpoint,” she said. “It was such a pleasure to meet them.”

At a Town Council meeting last week, Berlin Police Cpl. Merle Bragg said he spoke with the production team during the filming and there was mention of sending representatives from Voice of America back next year to compete in the races.

Wells, asked about the possibility of an international competition of Berlin Bathtub Races, replied, “why not?”

To view the segment, titled in Russian “Гонки на ваннах,” visit