Charlotte Knobloch

Munich's would-be 2018 fairy tale

MUNICH -- Five years ago, Germany played host to a great soccer World Cup. Everything worked; after all, this is Germany. Beyond that, for a month, this nation, capable of such melancholy, came alive with optimism and hope. Just a couple months later, a movie debuted that captured that summer's spirit. The movie, from director and producer Sönke Wortmann, is called Deutschland, Ein Sommermärchen -- "Germany, A Summer's Dream."

The movie instantly became a huge hit. It remains a knowing cultural reference, one that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, used here in briefing the press moments before greeting the members of the International Olympic Committee's 2018 Winter Games evaluation commission.

Referring specifically to the "summer fairy tale," the chancellor -- speaking through a translator -- said she believed Munich's bid for the 2018 Games had a "great chance to plan a winter fairy tale," adding, " I believe that since Germany is such a fantastic host, the world can look forward to the Games here in 2018."


The challenge now for Munich, as the IOC commission on Friday wrapped up its month-long tour to the three cities in the 2018 derby, is quite simple. As everyone knows, fairy tales rarely come true.

Just ask that 2006 German soccer team. It finished third.

The IOC is due to pick the 2018 site in a vote on July 6; Annecy, France, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, are now in the race.

There is, to be sure, much for supporters to tout in this Munich bid.

For starters, it's Germany. Things do work here, and work incredibly well.

They proved that with the logistics that made the soccer tournament move in 2006. And again with the track and field world championships in Berlin in 2009. And again just last month with the alpine skiing world championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, an hour south of here in the Bavarian Alps, where the skiing events would be held if Munich wins in 2018.


Merkel and the German government at all levels are wholeheartedly behind the bid. For all the blather about landowner and farmer opposition -- there were three lonely protestors standing roadside at one would-be venue here this week. Three protestors isn't even a card game.


German financial support underpins winter sports -- that is, worldwide. Moreover, German fans have proven time and again they are crazy for winter sports. But Germany hasn't had the privilege of staging the Winter Games since 1936, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

If Munich were to win, it would be the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games.


The IOC -- at least until it went for Sochi in 2014 -- has had an affinity in recent years for Winter Games in big cities. See, for instance, Salt Lake (2002), Torino (2006), Vancouver (2010).

Munich not only fits that pattern -- it arguably might be the best of that pattern. It's an easy hour from Gapa, as the ski area is colloquially known, back down to the city.

This week, the IOC could have checked out the poetry slam at the BMW museum; the Bayern Munich soccer game; or, immediately outside their hotel, a funky shrine to pop star Michael Jackson. Or dozens and dozens of world-class restaurants and interesting cultural events.

Gunilla Lindberg, the evaluation commission chairwoman, said at a news conference here Friday night that the group "absolutely felt the atmosphere and the passion for the Games."

"To put it in a nutshell," Thomas Bach, the German IOC vice president and senior bid leader said at a follow-up press briefing, "this is a bid with no risk but fun."

So why is the Munich bid, which has to date raised 29 million euros, about $40 million, said to be the largest amount ever for a non-American bid, widely perceived to be trailing Pyeongchang, with Annecy a distant third?

While $40 million is indeed a lot of money, this was the news in early January: Samsung Group announced plans to boost investment to a record $38 billion in 2011.

That's not fairy-tale money. That's the real deal, nearly 20 percent of South Korea's gross domestic product.

Samsung is, of course, a leading Olympic sponsor.

If that may yet prove the ultimate factor complicating Munich's drive, there may be others.

The Munich bid is premised on the re-use of many of the iconic venues from the 1972 Summer Games -- re-packaging them, if you will, for Winter Games use.

The gymnastics hall where Olga Korbut tumbled her way to four medals, three of them gold, in 1972? Figure skating and short-track speed skating.

The swim hall where Mark Spitz won a then-record seven gold medals? Curling.

That seems cool, right?

Except that the while the IOC tends to talk a good game about "sustainability," it also in recent years has favored bids with huge construction projects.

Witness the construction booms in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and, especially now, the forthcoming sequence of Games -- London (2012), Sochi (2014) and Rio (2016).

All these Games will leave concrete evidence, from the IOC's perspective, of the transformative power of sport on society. And in this race, the Koreans are the ones who have built a brand-new winter resort from scratch, just as they promised the IOC they would do -- and they still have more building to do, including a high-speed rail line from Seoul to Pyeongchang.

Indeed, the Munich 2018 bid bears striking similarities to the campaigns that Great Britain and the United States ran for soccer's 2018 and 2022 World Cups -- in essence, come here, use the venues we already have and make a lot of money.

Didn't work. Russia (major infrastructure boom) and Qatar (immense construction project) won going away.

To be sure, the IOC is not FIFA. At the same time, the IOC has itself shown in the votes for Sochi and Rio its own expansionist tendencies. That's why the Korean tagline is "new horizons."

Will the Munich 2018 bid prove the turning point? Or is it, simply put, up against a relentless geopolitical reality in the international sport bidding scene?

Must it contend as well with distinct IOC politics -- in particular the clear intent of other interests to bring the 2020 Summer and 2022 Winter Games back to Europe? And, as well, another complexity -- Bach's presumed run for the IOC presidency in 2013, and how, if at all, that factors into a 2011 campaign for 2018?

Another potential complication: Munich is promoting a "festival of friendship," and in that regard it's unclear how the use of one more iconic venue, Olympic Stadium, will resonate with the IOC members come July 6.

Everyone knows what happened here in 1972. The stadium is where Avery Brundage, the then-IOC president, declared after the Palestinian terror attack and the deaths of 11 Israelis that the Games "must go on."

Speaking Thursday at the stadium to the evaluation commission, Uli Hoeness, the president of Bayern Munich, noted the "echo of history," and said that coming back in 2018 would offer an "extra dimension" that would be "connecting the past to the future."

If Munich wins, Olympic Stadium is where the 2018 opening and closing ceremonies would take place.

Lindberg, speaking Friday, noted that she and two others on the evaluation commission -- New Zealand's Barry Maister and Japan's Tsunekazu Takeda -- were here in 1972, and came back here this week with "mixed feelings," with "sadness at what happened" but fondness for the "good organization of the Games," adding, "The IOC took a decision to go on with the Games and I think that was the right decision."

As her remarks underscore -- it remains, 40 years later, no simple matter.

In large measure, Munich and Germany have undeniably moved on since 1972, confronting challenges such as the end of the Cold War and reunification. The stadium, meanwhile, has been used for countless numbers of events.

Moreover, the World Cup proved unequivocally that Germany could safely play host to a mega-event and show the world a good time. It doesn't need the 2018 Olympics for that purpose, according to Chris Young, co-author of the 2010 book, "The 1972 Munich Olympics and The Making of Modern Germany," who said it follows that the "vibe of the [2018] bid" is thus not "we have a past we have to deal with" but "we can put on a world-class, great show."

At the same time, the last time much of the world last connected the words "Munich" and "Olympic" was 1972. To think that the 2018 bid will not provoke look-back pieces in the international press, particularly as July 6 approaches, would be naïve.

Charlotte Knobloch, the head of the Munich Jewish community, observed, "The Olympic Games of 1972 are, let there be no doubt, especially for Jews, inextricably linked to the attacks of the time. Both from the point of view of drama and of far-reaching impressions, the events were similar to those of 9/11. If now, 36 years later, Olympia were to return to Munich this would certainly not mean that the past has been cut out. Should the Games of 2018 be awarded to Munich, we would, in my mind, connect them also with the Games of 1972 reflecting them. At the same time it is also a matter of showing the world the Munch of today."

Between now and July, the Munich strategy would seem straightforward -- try to seize momentum at the IOC bid-city meeting in mid-May in Lausanne, Switzerland, with Bach leading the way, then build toward the vote.

Asked at the news conference to assess where Munich is now in the race, Bach demurred: "Where we are is difficult to say. We don't want to lead the race all the way. We want to win at the end."

The back story of the 1936 Winter Games

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany -- Most everyone knows how Jesse Owens went to Berlin and won four gold medals at the Summer Olympics in 1936. As the legend goes, Owens showed Adolf Hitler a thing or two about the Nazi myth about superiority. Birger Ruud of Norway is also one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time, a great ski jumper who could also beat you at alpine racing. Moreover, his story is one of incredible personal courage. After his time in the Olympic spotlight, he spent 18 months in a Nazi prison camp and then, upon release, joined the Resistance, where he used his unmatched ski skills to find and hide ammunition dropped from British aircraft.

It is no accident that the photo of Ruud's moment of triumph in the ski jumping event at the 1936 Winter Olympics, here in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, high in the Bavarian Alps, makes for perhaps the emotional centerpiece of an unprecedented exhibition that brings to light not just the story of those Games – but, more importantly, the back story.

Here in the photo are the three Olympic champions: Ruud, the winner, just as he had been four years before, flanked by the bronze medalist, Reidar Andersen, another Norwegian, and the silver medalist, Sven Eriksson of Sweden. Here, too, is the then-president of the International Olympic Committee, the Belgian Count Henri de Baillet-Latour. And over on the right side of the photo -- here is the jarring note that underscores the great lie of the 1936 Winter Games, the notion that sports and politics don't mix: Karl Ritter von Halt, the organizing committee president, snapping a sharp stiff-armed Nazi salute.

It's not a pretty picture. Indeed, it's jarring. But it is an honest photo. It happened. And that is precisely why it's on display, now, after 75 years, along with dozens of other photographs and other materials that confront the ugly history of the 1936 Winter Games, the town's mayor, Thomas Schmid, said.

"We really said that for this 75th anniversary we need to talk about this openly -- the 'dark side of the medal,' he said, referring to the title of the exhibit, which opened here Feb. 15 and which the Museum of Tolerance has already expressed interest in bringing to Los Angeles.

"We can't make it go away," Schmid said. "But we can show how Garmisch-Partenkirchen has changed."

The 1936 Berlin Summer Games have, over the years, been the subject of extensive study. Not so the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Games just months before.

Building upon the success of the 1932 Los Angeles Games, the 1936 Berlin Games announced the emergence of the modern Olympics as a worldwide phenomenon.

A confluence of factors explains why -- the expanding reach of communication technologies, the attempt by the Third Reich to use the Berlin Games as a massive propaganda exercise, the power of the film "Olympia" by Leni Riefenstahl, Jesse Owens' four medals and more.

To this day, of course, the 1936 Berlin Games remain a source of enduring controversy.

Again, the reasons are complex. The Riefenstahl film, for one. Just to pick another, many of the stories from Berlin have remained alive: Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, the only Jews on the U.S. track team, were denied sure gold medals when they didn't run in the 400-meter relay; they were told the day of the race they would not run, for reasons never made clear.

In comparison, the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen -- it's as if they hardly happened.

And yet, as Charlotte Knobloch, the leader of the Jewish community in Munich and Bavaria, put it, those Winter Games hold significance that deserves to be fully, deeply understood:

"People have, of course, gladly glossed over the fact that this was a most revolting show of propaganda, a nasty deception of public opinion worldwide, under whose guise the very first signs of the Shoah," the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, "could already be detected."

Why look back now at 1936?

Munich is bidding for the 2018 Winter Olympics. An IOC inspection team is in Germany this week; the full IOC will pick the 2018 site in a vote on July 6. Annecy, France, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, are also in the 2018 race.

The Munich candidacy proposes to hold ice events -- skating and curling -- in the city. The snow events -- skiing and so on -- would be in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Thus the impetus to re-visit 1936, the mayor and others stressing that the 2018 process affords the opportunity for reflection, perhaps even healing.

In February, meanwhile, the 2011 world alpine ski racing championships were held here in "Gapa," as Garmisch-Partenkirchen is colloquially known on the ski circuit. Some 100,000 euros, roughly $138,000, from the championships' cultural budget -- supported by the German federal ministry of the interior -- was allocated to fund the exhibition.

That took care of the logistics.

As for the will to get it done:

This exhibition is the first of its kind in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Not once in 75 years has there been anything like it, according to Alois Schwarzmuller, a retired local high-school teacher, long-time community activist and one of the exhibit's primary curators.

For decades, he said, most of the archives were locked away in communist East Germany. It was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall that one could even get at the files, he said.

Then more time had to pass. It just did, he said.

"The first generation -- they were the Nazis ... They did not allow us to go behind the wall.

"The second generation -- in community politics, they told me it was only a sports event," Schwarzmuller said, meaning the 1936 Winter Games. "There was nothing else.

"Now I think it's time. We have a generation that wants to be informed."

The way the story has been largely understood for the past 75 years, Schwarzmuller said, is that the 1936 Winter Games offered near-perfect organization, an array of new buildings and impressive competition venues.

Reality check:

The Games served as cover for a brutal dictatorship that oppressed political opponents and that harassed, humiliated and disenfranchised Germany's Jews. That is "the dark side of the medal":

-- A photo depicts Gapa-area road signs above another announcing, "Jews not welcome."  Such "not welcome" signs disappeared by the Feb. 6, 1936, opening ceremony. They came right back after the Games.

Baillet-Latour, the IOC president, had encountered numerous such signs on a visit to the area just four months before the Games. He was "especially horrified," historian David Clay Large writes in the sole chapter devoted to the 1936 Winter Olympics in his first-rate book "Nazi Games," to see too that "the speed-limit markers on dangerous turns included explicit exemptions for Jews, thereby encouraging them to kill themselves."

-- A photo shows Hitler at the 1936 Winter Games opening ceremony. Some number of the Austrian team "unmistakably" shouted out, "Heil Hitler!"  as they left the stadium at the end of the ceremony, Large writes, causing Hitler to "gaze wistfully" across the border. Innsbruck is just a few kilometers away.

-- A photo of von Halt, the Winter Games organizing committee chief, is accompanied by a striking caption. It says, in part, that von Halt took part in 1936 and 1939 in visiting concentration camps in Dachau and Sachsenhausen. "As a convinced national socialist," it says, "he approved suppression of political opponents and the destructive anti-Semitism that was done by the brown dictatorship since 1941. At the collapse of Berlin he sent in the last hours very young soldiers and old men to fight hopelessly against the Red Army."

"We need to tell people what happened," said Christian Neureuther, who having grown up in Gapa is something of local ski royalty and whose voice thus carries locally, nationally and even abroad. He raced at three Winter Games. So did his wife, Rosi Mittermaier, and she won three medals, two  of them gold, skiing in 1976 in Innsbruck. Their son, Felix, skied at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games.

"Everyone thinks the 1936 [Winter] Games were fantastic and beautiful," Christian Neureuther said. "The truth comes out here -- the two sides of the medal."