The original Nürburgring was meant to be a showcase for German automotive engineering and racing talent, and was built with both purposes in mind. Construction of the track, designed by Otto Creutz, began in September 1925—there was then a single 28.3 km (17.5 mile) circuit of 6.7 metres in width and a total of 174 bends. It could be split into two sections: the Südschleife (Southern loop) of 7.5 km (4.8 miles) and the Nordschleife (Northern loop) of 22.8 km (14 miles), with both sections sharing two straights (one of which was the start-finish straight) of 2.2 km (1.4 miles) in length. The first World Cycling Championship race took place on June 19, 1927, and the first German Grand Prix a month later.
In 1929 the full 'Ring was used for the last time, and future Grands Prix would be held only on the Nordschleife (though minor races used just the Südschleife). Many memorable pre-war races took place at the circuit, featuring the talents of early Ringmeisters (Ringmasters) such as Rudolf Caracciola, Tazio Nuvolari and Bernd Rosemeyer.
After World War II, racing recommenced in the 1950s and the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring again became the popular venue for the German Grand Prix as part of the Formula One World Championship (with the exception of 1959 when it was held on the AVUS in Berlin). It featured a new generation of F1 Ringmeisters, with racers like Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart and Jacky Ickx. By the late 1960s it was apparent that the track was becoming increasingly dangerous for the latest generation of F1 cars, and in 1970 the German GP was temporarily moved to Hockenheim while the Nordschleife was under reconstruction. Taking out the bumps and installing safety barriers (armco) did much to improve safety, but it was not enough in the long run. By 1976 the track, primarily due to its extraordinary length of 22.8 km, was unable to meet the ever-increasing safety requirements, and was also deemed unsuitable for the burgeoning television market. A near-fatal accident of one of the most vocal opponents of the track, Niki Lauda, at that year's Grand Prix conclusively sealed the fate of the old Nürburgring.
In 1981, work began on a 4.5 km (2.8 miles) replacement circuit built next to and partly over the old one, and it was completed in 1984. This new Nürburgring, though in character a mere shadow of its older sibling, has seen the return of F1 to the 'Ring, briefly in 1984 and 1985, but more permanently since the mid-1990s.
The former Südschleife is now mostly gone or converted to a normal public road, but the Nordschleife is currently a one-way public toll-road with no speed limit. At a slightly reduced length of 20.8 km (13 miles), the Nordschleife is frequently closed off for testing purposes, but at other times it is often open to anyone with a car or motorcycle. This Nürburgring is a popular attraction for many racing enthusiasts in Europe and beyond because of its history and the considerable challenge it still provides (accidents are very common).