European DeSpair, Day Four: Nineteen Thirty-Six!

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. I hope you enjoyed these photographs.  It was a great experience to be able to explore this location with Milton.  Next stop: Sachsenhausen.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *