Fences and overgrown greenery obstruct the view of the 56 hectare site of the former 1936 Olympic village in the Brandenburg Elstal. There is great interest in the history of that place and the controversial Olympic Games of the time. At the moment, during the Games in Tokyo, which are also under special auspices. Because…
Fences and overgrown greenery obstruct the view of the 56 hectare site of the former 1936 Olympic village in the Brandenburg Elstal. There is great interest in the history of that place and the controversial Olympic Games of the time. At the moment, during the Games in Tokyo, which are also under special auspices. Due to the pandemic and the increasing number of infections, they are taking place without spectators and under many conditions. From August 1 to 16, 1936 in Berlin it was the political situation that put the competitions in a special light.
Today, only a few of the 145 accommodations for the more than 3,000 male athletes are located 18 kilometers from the Berlin Olympic Stadium – the female athletes were housed in the Berlin-Charlottenburg Sports Forum. Many of the community houses near the training and recreation center have also disappeared or are in a desolate state, such as the sports hall and the swimming pool.
After the Soviet army moved to the area used by the Wehrmacht after the Olympics in 1945 and left it in 1992, nothing happened for years. The DKB Social Involvement Foundation has tried to secure a lot from 2005 to 2019. Then it was over, as the start of housing construction in the area progressed. Interest in the place continued.
Because the Open Monument Day, which always takes place in September, attracted about 500 visitors for guided tours. Other offers were actively used. Even today, many spectators are drawn to the pioneering road signs that read “Olympic Village”. A Danish tourist has just walked through an open gate to catch some of the old flair. “This is private building land, access prohibited,” says Marco Voigt and sends him away. He can understand curiosity. For him it is important to preserve the history here. He is the project manager of the Terraplan company, which, according to the planners of the 1936 Olympic buildings, will renovate the old substance and build new homes on seven hectares of historic land in the first construction phase in the spring of 2022. This requires 100 million euros from commercial project manager Gerhard Trubel. All apartments are sold to investors. The rental is ongoing. An interested person has just arrived from Munich. Others are in the process of setting up – from Berlin, Brandenburg, Poland, South Africa, Ireland, Denmark and Turkey. It has to be international, like the Olympics.
Voigt, who has a special soft spot for the history of the place, looks for traces of the past: a 1936 lighter with the Olympic rings, bowls for the athletes, drinking bottle, whistle and a metal ball are just some of his finds around the former diner of the Nations. It will house 115 apartments, eight in the adjacent former boiler house, with details from the history such as paint, stucco, terrace and carpeting. Terraplan also had 20 new houses built on the site of the athletes’ quarters. Sashes and house entrances are designed in the colors of the Olympic rings, ie the five continents, the shape of the door handles is based on the eatery of the nations with service wing and new buildings.
A place of tranquility, in the spirit of the Olympic idea of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern games from 1896 in Athens. He attached great importance to non-political competition and tolerance. In 1936, this idea was trampled. The Reichswehr Ministry, without whose funding the athletes’ accommodation would not have been possible, had a strong influence on the project. Although the construction of massive houses for the athletes was a novelty in Olympic history, later military use was already planned – for an infantry school of the Wehrmacht. The dining hall of the nations became a hospital.
Despite calls for a boycott, all country delegations traveled to the country except the Soviet Union. The Americans found their way to the so-called Sachsen-Weg and caused a special commotion. Because the history of the location of the Elstal barracks is also linked to the successes of the legendary African-American Jesse Owens. His four gold medals in sprint competitions and in the long jump were not in the interest of the German rulers. For them, only the performance of the German team that eventually led the national classification counted.
The fact that the exceptional athlete Owens stayed in the Bautzen house on Sachsen-Weg should only be known to historians and visitors who took part in one of the coveted tours. The room allocated to him in the neighboring Meißen house does not correspond to reality, historian Jan Bejšovec said when asked. Almost restoring the original state was financially more favorable here. In any case, the Meissenhuis shows how the athletes lived here. For many of them this was luxury – in a double room with bathroom and shower for 20 to 26 athletes, depending on the type of building, two stewards, a common room and a terrace – and in the diner of the nations a separate dining room for each of them. the 49 participating countries.
Nine of the once ten houses on Sachsen-Weg are still standing, most in disrepair, such as the Chemnitz house and the legendary Owens house in Bautzen, whose roof collapsed after almost 30 years without being used or renovated. . Each house had its own story. All the German cities that sponsored one of the accommodation buildings designed them with photographs and paintings. The house of Chemnitz was also given a face of its own by the industrial city. Some newspaper articles from that time can still be found in the city archives. In one of the “Allgemeine Zeitung Chemnitz” of 4./5. In July 1936 it states: “As is known, the city of Chemnitz has taken over the name sponsorship of the team house number 106 on the Sachsen-Weg. The house … has a total of 26 beds. The athletes will live in a single room. Rooms with two beds each Each room will be decorated with photographs of the city of Chemnitz. … The common area has two beautiful murals.”
From the terrace of the former eatery, Marco Voigt points over the fence to Sachsen-Weg and holds a historic postcard over the railing: “Look, this is what it looked like in 1936.”
The sponsorship of the houses was not only related to advertising for the cities of the same name. It was intended to pump financial resources into the organizers’ coffers and to document the German Reich with the layout of the buildings. Despite all the propaganda, the athletes were thoroughly enthusiastic about the conditions they encountered, according to the accompanying letters of thanks. There is also a greeting message from American athletes who sent them to the “Allgemeine Zeitung Chemnitz”. Historian Emanuel Huebner quotes them in his book “The Olympic Games of 1936”. The message can be translated as follows: “Dear Sirs, we appreciate your hospitality and assure you that we are honored to live in a house in the Olympic Village named after your city of Chemnitz.”
As the town names written on the walls of houses on behalf of the DKB Foundation fade, and more historic details fade with increasing decay and vandalism, enthusiasts like Marco Voigt and those who have once walked the property want to keep the heritage alive. It is important to them to preserve history with designed museum spaces in the dining hall of the nations and tours on special occasions.
Its purpose is to remember the sporting achievements, the dark side of the games and its later use by the Wehrmacht and Soviet army. There is also an association involved. But he needs fellow campaigners and benevolent owners. In the meantime, there must be another investor. It is uncertain whether he follows the intentions of a comprehensive historical picture at this point. In the year of the Tokyo Olympics, at least one commitment could be an example.