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Olympic Games Germany 1936 Poster - World War Era

Olympic Games Germany 1936 Poster

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  • Berlin 1936 1-16 Aug - Olympische Spiele
  • Eng - "Berlin 1936 1-16 Aug - Olympic Games"
  • German olympic poster
  • Year: 1936
  • Artist: Franz Wurbe

The story of this poster
Vintage Summer Olympics Sport Poster 1936 Olympic Games Berlin Germany

Published by the German Railways Head Office for Tourist Traffic and the Propaganda Committee for the Olympic Games.

Picture shows a man in gold wearing a green laurel leaf headpiece below the five Olympic rings dominated by the triumphant Brandenburg Gate Quadriga (the four horses leading an ancient chariot sculpted by Johann Gottfried Schadow; 1764-1850) The History behind the olympic gamesThe Controversial Berlin Games of 1936.

The contention that surrounds this summer's Olympic Games has eerie echoes of the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Then, as now, there were threats of a boycott and the International Olympic Committee was being buffeted by disagreement and criticism. Today the IOC is being criticized for failing to control the behavior of a repressive Communist regime, but in 1936 it was suffering a similar battering for failure in the face of an equally oppressive Fascist regime.

Although the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, wasn't a sports enthusiast he was sold the idea of hosting the 11th Olympiad of the Modern Era by Joseph Goebbels, his zealous propaganda minster. Goebbels managed to convince Hitler that by staging the 1936 Games, Germany would be provided with a world platform on which to demonstrate the high moral philosophy of the Nazi Party. The resulting influx of visitors would also bring in much-needed foreign currency.

Goebbels obviously pitched a good sales presentation because Hitler quickly accepted the plan. The IOC accepted the offer, and Berlin was consequently awarded the 1936 Games. Had the IOC foreseen the trouble this would cause on the world stage they might not have agreed so enthusiastically.

Initially, it seemed the perfect place. There was a site already reserved to the west of Berlin which had been earmarked for the 1916 Games, but the conflict of the First World War put paid to plans to stage any world-wide competitions that year. Covering 325 acres, the site would be a showcase for the Nazi Party.

The cost of the stadium would eventually amount to 42 million Reichmarks, but the resulting edifice was a triumph of Art Deco architecture. A natural stone stadium was created for the athletics which was capable of seating 100,000 spectators, and there was an impressive VIP rostrum for high ranking Nazi Party officials, IOC members, and favored friends of the Party leaders.

The Games were to be notable for being the first time the Olympic flame was brought by relay from Greece, and for being the very first Games to be televised. Twenty-five large screens were set up all over Berlin to allow those Berliners who were unable to buy tickets to follow events in the stadium.

The first rumble of discord was heard when it was discovered that Germany would not be including any Jewish athletes in the national team. This came as no surprise to anyone living in Germany at the time, as for several years Jews had been banned from public sports facilities such as swimming pools, or athletic tracks. Internal rows amongst IOC members raged, and the USA threatened a total boycott of the Games. This particular argument went on for months as the USA was considered to be the major medal winner, and a decision to abstain from participation was not greeted with enthusiasm from US politicians and citizens alike. Finally, the American Athletic Committee bowed to pressure and the team agreed to attend. They did, however, refuse to give the Nazi salute at the opening ceremony, saying that they only saluted their President....and he would not be present.

Berlin was desperate to make a good impression to the outside world, so the city was cleansed from top to bottom and anyone thought liable to make a public disturbance was deported to a special detention center outside the city. All over Berlin the Olympic flag flew alongside the Nazi swastika, and the impressive Brandenbourg Gate was draped with forty-foot banners displaying both emblems. In the streets all anti-Semitic signs were removed, and enthusiastic Berliners offered a warm welcome to the thousands of visitors that thronged the Strassen and bierkellers of their city.

The opening ceremony was a triumph for Nazi efficiency. The massive airship, The Hindenburg, drifted majestically over the stadium as the athletes marched past a smiling Adolf Hitler, who accepted the salute. The German National Anthem was played, together with the Horst Wessel Lied (the official anthem of the Nazi Party) and the spectators were treated to displays of the finest examples of Aryan gymnastics that the regime could put on.

The whole occasion would have been a complete coup for the Party had it not been for Jesse Owens. The Alabama-born son of a share-cropper, James Cleveland Owens came to Berlin and walked away with four gold medals for track events. Adolf Hitler was widely reported to have been incensed by his victories, as the Party hierarchy were convinced that Germany's Aryan athletes would (and should) triumph on the track. For many years after the event it was rumored that Adolf Hitler had refused to shake hands with Owens or any of the other black athletes, but more recently this has been repudiated.

A lasting record of the 1936 Berlin Games was created by the German film maker, Leni Riefenstahl. This again was not without controversy. The film was commissioned by the IOC, but for many years the source of the funding remained a mystery. It is now generally accepted that the Nazi Party provided the funds, which ensured that the titanic work was seen as a glorification of the German ‘Master Race'. Entitled simply 'Olympia' the four hour film was way ahead of its time. Techniques were used to film the competing athletes that had never been used before, like cameramen riding on wooden trolleys to keep pace with the runners, and amazing shots of divers seeming to hang in the air. Riefenstahl's work has subsequently been acknowledged as the forerunner of today's sporting reportage.

Born in Berlin in 1902, Leni Riefenstahl had come to prominence during the thirties with her innovative film making. Her most famous film was her depiction of the Nuremburg Congress Rally of 1934 entitled 'The Triumph of the Will' and she continued to produce propaganda materiel for the Nazi Party throughout the 1930's and beyond. She was a favorite of Adolf Hitler, and greatly admired for her Nazi propaganda work by Joesph Goebbels. This support was to do her no good at all after the defeat of Nazism, and consequently her career in film making went into decline. Despite her denials that she had ever been a Party activist she was interned in a French detention centre for four years. On her release, work was hard to come by and she often found herself at the centre of public protest. Later, Riefenstahl carved out a new career in still photography and became a champion of the cause of the Nabu tribe in the Sudan. She died in Germany in 2003 aged 101.

Over the years the Berlin Games have come to represent the unattractive face of discrimination instead of the spectacular celebration of sportsmanship that Hitler envisaged, and two totally different personalities will be forever associated with the images that came from that summer in Berlin - Jesse Owens, the grandson of a slave who's joyous face beams out from old newsreel photographs, and Leni Riefenstahl, the Berliner who's ground-breaking film was meant to show the world the perfection of a new Aryan world. A world which, thankfully, never came to fruition.

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