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Berlin's Olympic Legacy



80 years after the 31st Olympiad launched in Rio de Janeiro, the first Games to take part in South America, the facilities for an earlier, highly controversial competition are rusting and crumbling on the outskirts of Berlin. Held three years after the Nazis came to power in Germany, the 11th Olympic Games were seen by the Nazis as an opportunity to present the new Germany at its most glamorous and powerful. Three years after the international contest, the same country dragged the entire continent into the most destructive war in human history. After securing the right to host the Games in 1931, Hitler appointed the architect brothers Werner and Walter March to design and build the Olympic Stadium, which is still in use, and the Olympic village, situated in Elstal on the outskirts of Berlin, which housed the 4,000 odd athletes that came from 50 countries to compete in the Games. Hitler initially wanted to ban all black and Jewish athletes from the games but had to relent when numerous countries threatened a boycott. Jesse Owens, the black American track and field athlete who went on to become the most successful sportsman at the 1936 games with four medals, proved a major embarrassment to the Nazi ideology of Aryan supremacy.

The Olympic Village's history reflects the history of Germany from the 1930s to the demise of Soviet Union and German reunification. During the war the village, ironically dubbed the "village of peace" by the Führer himself, became a military hospital for Wehrmacht soldiers. When the Soviets marched into Berlin it was turned into military barracks and remained a Red Army facility until 1992, when the Soviet Union vacated Berlin. The most recent traces left throughout the many abandoned and derelict buildings, therefore, bear witness to decades of Soviet occupation evidenced by the presence of the ubiquitous socialist housing block, or 'Plattenbau' in German.

For now, the Olympic Village lies as it was left in the early 1990s and has started to attract regular visitors keen to explore this curious legacy of the Games and the various powers that ruled over this part of Germany. The village has been a protected site since 1993 and some foreign investors have shown interest in redeveloping the former 'House of the Nations' into luxury flats. In the meantime the sprawling site in Elstal gives a glimpse of a turbulent period in German history.
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