July 1, 2014
After the stress-inducing breakin'-the-law mess of the previous day, it was quite a relief to wake up in our lovely Berlin apartment on the morning of Tuesday, July 1, 2014 safe in the knowledge that we would only be doing legal
activities this day. And such fantastic activities too! The plan was to start with a tour of the long-abandoned 1936 Olympic Village, which had recently been opened for tours, and to cap the day with a trip to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. We grabbed a coffee and headed on our way.
However, when we arrived at the Olympic Village, it initially looked like our bad Berlin karma from the previous day was going to continue to curse us. As Susanne checked us in, she was informed that they didn't have any record of our reservation, and there was no guide available to take us on the tour. However, from the brink of despair, we were rescued by a Germanic superhero in the form of a rather dorky-looking custodian (think a chain-smoking, taller, thinner Milton from Office Space
) who agreed to show us around the facilities!
Although the fact that the custodian didn't speak English meant that Katsy and I had to constantly ask Susanne, "What did he say about this?" or "Can you ask him about that?" at least it did take all the pressure of making small-talk off the two of us! Poor Susanne. She bore the burden like the trooper that she is!
And in the end, having the custodian (who had all
the keys for all
the sections of the village), give us the tour was an immense advantage! He ended up showing us areas that are off-limits for the "official" tours and I think he told us a few things that the regular tour guides probably don't admit. You'll see what I mean as I go through the photos...
But first a little background. In 1931, the Olympic Committee somehow thought it was a good idea to allow Germany to host the 1936 Olympics. Okay, maybe in 1931, they didn't realize how bad things would be by 1936, but by the time the Olympics rolled around, there was a ton of controversy surrounding Hitler hosting the games. When threatened with boycott, Hitler did
allow Jews and blacks to participate, bless his evil soul, and he even had most of the anti-Jewish signs removed from the vicinity of the games, so to seem a bit more welcoming. (Of course, at this same time, Sachsenhausen, the first concentration camp, was also being built, so we all know how welcoming those Nazis really were.)
Ultimately, Hitler viewed the games as a chance to impress the world with Germany's athletic and organizational superiority and to prepare for war. (Of course, that second part was all on the sly... but only slightly, as we'll see.) But then, as we know, that African-American Jesse Owens became the star of the games and took the spotlight away from the Aryan hosts, much to Hitler's annoyance. Still, the Games were probably the high point of Hitler's rule, the Germans did
dominate the medal count, and they did put on an impressive Olympics, some of the remnants of which we're about to see.
The Olympic Village housed the athletes from other nations and it was built to impress, with a state-of-the-art swimming pool, track and field and gymnastics practice facilities, and dining accommodations. Of course, the Nazis built the facility with War on the Brain: they knew all along that as soon as the Olympics were over, this was going to become a military hospital. So, they built the dining facilities with nice rounded walls and floors that would be easy to roll gurneys and wheelchairs down. And they added some nice militaristic touches like a bas-relief of marching soldiers and pro-Deutschland sloganeering too. Nothing like seeing marching soldiers to make you feel welcome in a foreign country, eh?
After the war, this part of Berlin was taken over by the Soviets, and as always, they made excellent use of the facilities for their own nefarious purposes. It became a military base and the basement beneath the swimming pool proved to be an excellent place for the KGB to interrogate and torture their unfortunate victims. The cremated remains of untold numbers of victims are scattered around the village.
After reunification, the site was abandoned and, like much of the former East Germany, it has fallen into ruin over the years. However, the tours are a great sign that the buildings will be stabilized and eventually renovated to become a museum documenting this fascinating history.
And now let's have a look at the photos I took while I was there.
This is the first location we saw: the very well-preserved gymnasium. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
This building is in the best shape of any of the structures here – hence, it wasn’t really that interesting. We like a bit more decay, you know… (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
We asked if this gymnastics vault had been used in the Olympics, but were told that it had been used in practicing but not in the actual Olympics themselves. Later, our guide (why don’t I just call him “Milton”?) showed us other equipment in far worse condition that he said was used in the actual competition. It’s not pretty enough to put on display though. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
I didn’t see that much of interest to photograph in the gym, but I did like the well-used floor with its variety of geometric patterns. (Yes, the floor is original to the building.) (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
X marks the spot. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Another shot of the floor… let’s see what else can I photograph in here? (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
The colorful windows of the gym. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
They had a model of the Olympic Village as it looked in its heyday. Most of the small structures here – the lodging quarters for the participants – are no longer there. I thought this might have been a vintage model but we were told it wasn’t that old. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Another view of the model. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
They had a small display of memorabilia from the games in the gym. The coolest thing was this bronze medal. I love the art deco look. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
Here’s the very track where Jesse Owens practiced before winning those gold medals! (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
I loved the pool. Isn’t it pretty? Milton told us that much of the damage to the blue tile occurred only a few years ago when they decided to fill the pool and hold an event for charity. Naturally the pool leaked and flooded the basement and it caused a lot of damage. Really, who comes up with these ideas? (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Milton proudly showed off the fact that the original electric windows from 1936 still worked perfectly and lifted up to bring in the fresh air. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
Another shot of the lovely pool. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
They didn’t actually hold any medal events here for the Olympics. The events were held at the Olympic Stadium in another part of Berlin and at other venues around town. This was just a pool to practice in. The athletes were impressed to have a pool at the village – that had never happened before. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
A view from the upper level overlooking the pool. I meant to go down and get some detailed shots of the tiles but next thing I know we were up here, and then we were somewhere else, and we never got back to the pool. This is just a minor regret though; the major regret is coming up soon. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Another view from the balcony. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
The view looking straight down at a basin below the upper viewing area at the swimming pool. The pool itself is just out of view a few more feet in front of the basin. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Backstage behind the pool, several of the rooms had damage from a fire and were missing the outer layer of stucco. This revealed the Russian newspapers that were plastered along the walls. This one looked really old but it was only from 1987. Alas… (Samsung Galaxy S4)
Then Milton took us up to the diving board. Well, what’s left of the diving board. The board itself is gone. Still, it was a cool view from here. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Another view of the diving board. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
In the old dressing area behind the diving board side of the pool, there was some damage and you can see the original grass insulation. Weird! Now I guess I need to confess my Great Morbid Mistake. Milton took us down under the swimming pool – an area that other tours are never allowed access to! This was, of course, the area where the torture was performed by the KGB. But… I didn’t know that at the time! He didn’t tell us that detail and I only learned about it later. And it was dark and “unphotogenic” down there so I didn’t take a photo. I know. Kill me and stick my skull on a pole! I deserve it. *sob* (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
So, after we left the pool, we walked past several crumbling old guest houses and entered one that was in excellent shape. This room has been made up to look like it did when Jesse Owens stayed there. Except we had Milton as our tour guide – and he confessed that this isn’t actually the cabin that Jesse stayed in. Jesse’s cabin is a crumbling mess next door, so they just mocked up this one instead. Truth is power, my friends. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
This is the actual cabin that Jesse Owens stayed in, per Milton. The front half doesn’t look THAT terrible… (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
But when you look at the back end of it… you can kinda see their point in calling it “in terrible disrepair”. Bummer. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
The grandest structure at the village is the “Hall of Nations” or something like that – an immense oval structure that housed all the kitchens and dining halls for the athletes, along with a theater and some other amenities. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
They have some displays up outside the Hall of Nations. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
This particular room was the dining hall for the Italians. It’s the only one that’s been restored as of yet – most of this building is quite deteriorated. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
MIlton had another surprise for us in here. He took us to a room that is normally off-limits where rotting equipment that was used during the games is stored. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
This room next to the dilapidated equipment had an old Soviet painting on the wall. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Not sure what is says? Something to do with motors maybe? Garage? Anyone know? Anyway, this was a remnant from the Soviet occupation on a door at the Hall of Nations. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
As I previously mentioned, all of this was built to be a Nazi military hospital after the Olympics. It has that kind of feel to it. Must have been a nice hospital. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
And the military aspirations of the Nazis were put on blatant display with this artwork that was next to the theater. The Soviets had covered it up when they occupied the building, but it was uncovered recently during renovation work. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
I was really excited to see this because it is so rare to see actual Nazi-era decorations, since the world was obviously quite keen to obliterate any symbols of the Nazis after the war. This is truly a rare find! (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
Marching off to their doom… (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
You can see a remnant of the red paint from the Soviet cover-up. I believe they had plastered over the whole thing, but luckily, being a stone bas-relief, it was easy to remove the plaster and reveal the sculpture underneath. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
And here’s the signature of the artist. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
This is the theater. It’s in pretty good shape. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
And at first I thought, okay, kinda nice, kinda boring… until I turned around… (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
And who should appear but Comrade Lenin! One of the best left-overs from the Soviet occupation. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
Isn’t it fabulous? (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
One more shot of the back wall of the theater in all its communist glory! (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Here’s another remnant of the Soviet occupation: a painting showing the downfall of Nazi Germany. It’s sad how deteriorated this is. I saw a picture in a book
that showed it intact a few years ago. 🙁 (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Another Soviet mural, depicting the brutal battles of World War II. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Close-up of a wounded Soviet soldier in the mural. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
Another mural close-up. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
Detail of a building at the village. I think this is still part of the Hall of Nations. Oh, it’s all blurring together now… (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
I liked the colors and the trees, so I took the photo. That’s how I roll. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
Another rustic shot. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
This old German sign had been sanded away by the Soviets, but it was still just barely legible. Susanne said that it says something like, “Germany, we trust in you.” Big mistake… (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
The last 1936 vintage treasure that Milton showed us was this sauna that was built at the request of the Scandinavians. Hence the boat imagery. The painting is vintage 1936. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Close-up of the sauna painting. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Close-up of a bit of the tile from the ruined sauna. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
Information about the games can be found on big boards around the site. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
And then at the back of the village, we encountered a slew of breathtakingly ugly old Soviet buildings that were constructed as apartments when this was a Soviet military base. Nothing like Eastern Bloc Architecture, eh? (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
And here’s an ugly Soviet building in Infrared! (Camera: Canon Rebel XT converted to Infrared)
More ugly Soviet buildings in ruins. There was a slew of them. (Camera: Canon Rebel T3i)
And another Soviet apartment building. (Camera: Canon Rebel XT converted to Infrared)
The phone camera version. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
An infrared shot of one of the buildings. (Camera: Canon Rebel XT converted to Infrared)
There were a few single-person bunkers around the site as well. I’m not sure what good they would have done during war, but hey, they looked creepy enough! (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
This bunker looked like he had a grumpy expression on his face. (Camera: Canon Rebel XT converted to Infrared)
And before we left the village, Bob posed in a bunker. He would soon come to regret this glamorization of war, as we were now on our way to one of the saddest places on earth: Sachsenhausen Prison Camp. (Camera: Samsung Galaxy S4)
I hope you enjoyed these photographs. It was a great experience to be able to explore this location with Milton. Next stop: Sachsenhausen.