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Wustermark, Germany

Hitler's Olympic Village

The 1936 Summer Olympics site is a crumbling remnant of sportsmanship and a history its host country would like to forget. 

Little known to most tourists and even Germans, on the edge of Berlin lie the chilling abandoned remains of “Hitler’s Olympic village,” built for the so-called Nazi Games of 1936.

Germany won the bid to host the 1936 Summer Olympics two years before the Nazi Party came to power, and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler saw this as an opportunity to spread Nazi propaganda and build up Germany’s military machine.

Hitler oversaw the construction of the Olympic village in Wustermark, on the outskirts of Berlin. In its heyday the now decaying complex included state-of-the-art dormitories, dining areas, training facilities, a swimming pool and hosted some 4,000 athletes in luxury accommodations the likes of which had rarely be seen. Ironically, it was designed to portray an idyllic, picturesque image of a peaceful Germany to the world (the 1936 Games were the first to be televised) and the Führer even named the complex the “village of peace.” Meanwhile, the intention from the start was for the German army to use the complex once the Games were finished. 

Hitler also tried to force anti-semitic politics on the event, lobbying to forbid Jews and black people from participating in the Games, though this hateful ploy failed as other nations threatened to boycott. In fact, despite this attempt to showcase the superiority of the Aryan race, the great American sprinter Jesse Owens won four gold medals that year. (According to displays at the site a fan wrote to Owens urging him not to accept the medal but the letter was intercepted by the Gestapo.)

During World War II, the Olympic complex was used as a hospital for German soldiers, and it was taken over in 1945 and used as a barracks by the Soviet Army, which occupied the complex for almost 50 years until the fall of communism, repurposing the old swimming pool and training facilities for the likes of KGB interrogations. Where the village had once featured a mural of marching German soldiers, a painting of the Red Army was added, depicting Soviet soldiers planting the hammer-and-sickle flag on the German parliament.

After the Soviets, the complex sat abandoned for years and fell into ruins. The old Olympic village has been left largely untouched, and relatively unknown even to citizens in Germany, as its Nazi history made it a source of shame in the country. Recently, however, a few athletic tournaments have been held at the site and efforts are underway to restore the complex into a living museum, though as of 2015 there were also plans to develop the crumbling complex into townhouses and apartments as Berlin’s population booms.

Between April and October, daily tours of the site are given to students and visitors, and so far one room has been fully restored: the reconstructed dormitory used by Jesse Owens, a shining superstar in the otherwise dark history of the 1936 Summer Olympics.

Know Before You Go

In the off season the site is not well kept and difficult to visit as it is fenced in and protected by security.

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