The 1936 Olympic Village

by jonnywhitlam

In honour of my home country doing an amazing job of showing the world how to put the olympics on I spent a rainy (very rainy) day in July exploring the old olympic village in Elstal, Brandenburg. I’d heard that the site was abandoned and that you could just walk in and poke about a bit. On arrival though my friend and I found we had to pay €2 to get into the site. A lot of the buildings are under renovation, a small amount of information is available about the 1936 Games as well.

In 1936 Nazi Germany hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Many countries throughout the world boycotted the Games in protest to Hitler’s racist and authoritarian society. Many countries still participated, however, making for a fairly skewed medals table. Germany came out on top of course, with a medal count 89 to their nearest rival’s 56 (USA).

There are many myths, lies and controversies about these games, the glaring one being Hitler’s so-called refusal to award African-American athlete Jesse Owens his gold medals. Hitler wanted to only award German athletes their medals, was advised to award them to everyone and then refused. Owens was not a ‘special case’ this way. Moreover the head of state hardly ever hands out the medals. Imagine the Queen doing that today, it’d be a bit absurd, no?

Owens was the most successful athlete in the Olympics that year, winning 4 gold medals. He had only been selected for the US team in place of Jewish participants, so as not to embarrass Hitler. Upon returning to the USA Owens was invited to visit the White House. He had to enter through the back door. Owens was reported as saying at the time that as a black man he felt he had more freedom in Nazi Germany than in America.

Despite ongoing renovations at the site in Elstal many of the buildings stand as ruins. The ruins aren’t quite as old as their 76-year history would suggest though. The site was appropriated by the Soviet Union following the occupation of Germany in 1945 as a result of World War II. The site was thusly turned into a military installation. It would appear to me from the architecture that the Soviets vastly expanded the site in the 1960s in their favourite pre-fabricated concrete style.

Check out the pictures below.

Above: Spiesehaus der Nationen (Eating House of the Nations). 

Above: The Athletes Quarters (under renovation). Below: Jesse Owens’ living quarters were in this building. 

I wanted to do the whole post in black and white, however these last two photos really need to be in colour: