Saturday, 29 October 2011

The 1936 Summer Olympic Village

The decision to hold the Summer Olympics of 1936 in Berlin had already been made by the IOC before Hitler's National Socialists came to power. However, as you might have guessed, Hitler and his thugs coshed the Olympic ideals on the head and stole the event for their own propaganda purposes. Here was surely a showcase for the physical supremacy and sporting prowess of the German race - or so the party line went. And so the games opened with the first ever Olympic torch relay from Olympia in Greece to the Berlin Olympic Village, carried by athletes chosen for their Aryan looks. Ironically, what most people remember about the 1936 games nowadays is the astounding performance by the black American track and field athlete Jesse Owens (four gold medals).

The 1936 Olympic Stadium is still very much in use - though extensively rebuilt and modernised - particularly as the home ground for Hertha Berlin football club. What is less well known is that the remains of the 130-acre Olympic Village (Olympiches Dorf) can still be seen. We made a journey out to the far Western edge of Berlin to photograph what has survived of it.

One building still intact is das Hindenburghaus, which was a Gemeinschaftshaus (or Community Centre) for the athletes and other visitors. It was named after Field Marshall, and second president of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, who was patron of the Berlin Olympic Games until his death in August 1934. You might also know that he had made Hitler Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, and signed the Enabling Act of  March 1933 which effectively gave Hitler carte blanche to run the country all by himself.

The Hindenburg House - main entrance
The two storey building with two long wings around a courtyard used to contain training rooms, administrative space, two chapels, a large ballroom, and, in the entrance foyer, a TV room. The TV room might come as a surprise to learn about, but in fact the Berlin Olympics were the first ever televised sporting event in World History. Private TV ownership was pretty minimal at the time, but 17 other TV salons were set up around Berlin where people could go to watch broadcast events live.

The Hindenburg House
Another place where athletes could go to chill out are the swimming baths:
Outside the Swimming Baths, with 'historical footbath' (so the sign says)

They don't look like they have been used in a long while, though there are apparently plans to renovate them and have people swimming there once more.

Swimming Baths at the Olympic Village
The Sports Hall is also intact though derelict, next to a 400-metre racing track, where the athletes could train:
Another large surviving building is the Speisehaus der Nationen or 'The Nations' Eating House', where at one time 40 separate seating-areas provided food for the athletes and visitors. One of the rooms has been decked out to show how it would have looked for the Italian delegation:

Italian Bistro
The building is otherwise all boarded up and in a state of decay, but with its stepped terraces and sweeping arc of concrete and steel you can appreciate how modern and innovative it must have been when it was first erected.

After the games and during the war, the Speisehaus was redeployed as a military hospital and filled with beds.

Das Speisehaus der Nationen
Around the back of the Speisehaus are a number of interestingly corroded metal doors, behind which vehicles were parked in garages:

Garage Doors at the Olympic Village

Some of the living quarters for the athletes ('Sportlerunterkunft') survive. There were originally 136 buildings like these, each given a name of a town in Germany.

Athletes' Living Quarters
Each of these buildings once contained 13 bedrooms, with two athletes per room, showers and WCs, central heating, and a day room. There were always two stewards on duty in each house who spoke the native language of the athletes housed there.

Today, many of the buildings are totally derelict:

Ruined athletes' accomodation at the Olympic Village
One building that thankfully has been restored is the one where Jesse Owens lived:

The Meissen House: Jesse Owens' Accomodation

Inside you can see how it looked at the time, all very cramped and Spartan;

Jesse Owens' shared room.
We can bang on about how racist the National Socialist regime was, but it is worth remembering that he was housed here together with white athletes, and could use the same restaurant as them and go into bars and clubs in Berlin and travel on public transport unhindered. This is in contrast with back home in the USA, where there was strict segregation between black and white Americans, especially in Alabama where Owens was born and lived. The Nazis did indeed view non-Aryans as inferior species, but at least Owens wasn't Jewish or Slavic. Not that foreign visitors to the Olympic Games would have been aware of the Nazi's despicable ideas about race: prior to the event all the 'Juden Verboten' signs and anti-Bolshevik posters were removed from the city in a campign by Propaganda Minister Goebbels to show the modern, dynamic, acceptable face of National Socialism to the world.

I am reminded in part of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, where political and religious persecution was played down to almost non-existent in the media, and whole shanty towns were bulldozed and people evicted in order to give Beijing the appearance of a clean city. Curiously, the son of Hitler's favourite architect, Albert Speer Junior, was commissioned to design the overall access plan for the Beijing Olympic stadium. Things that make you go hmmm.

After the war, the Olympic Village grounds became part of the Soviet Sector and later East Germany. The Soviets built an enormous army barracks across the road from the Olympic Village, and housed the families of the married soldiers in rows of vast Plattenbau high-rises built amongst the remains of the athletes' huts.

Soviet High-rise Flats at the Olympic Village

These were only abandoned after reunification and the departure of Russian soldiers in the 1990's, but the buildings have quickly become ruined:

Who knows what will come of these buildings, or the remains of the Olympic Village itself. The German authorities probably find themselves in a dilemma: on the one hand, this is a historic site that deserves to be preserved, but on the other it resurrects the phantoms of a terrible time in German and World history. At the moment, the area is fenced off with barbed wire but is accessible to the public (during the Spring and Summer up until October 31st - cost 1€ entrance fee). You can even go on guided tours around the site and inside the buildings, but I doubt if you will find mention of the Olympic Village in many tourist guide books or coach tours. With so much more demanding renovation projects taking money out of Berlin's coffers, I don't think that much will be spared to do anything other than make sure the Olympic Village buildings don't become a danger to the public. But we'll see.

If you want to visit the Olympishes Dorf for yourself, then take a red RE2 out to Elstal Bahnhof, where you can get a bus (the 663) up the hill (or walk - it isn't too far) to the Eulenspiegelsiedlung. That's not the stop signed Olympishes Dorf, but the Eulenspiegel housing estate which is right next to the one and only entrance to the Olympic Village area. You will know you are at the right spot when you see the bronze statue of Till Eulenspiegel himself

Till Eulenspiegel - with owl and mirror, naturally.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Roller-skating Cow Sugar

Early morning. Cup of espresso in a cafe at Gesundbrunnen. Sachet of sugar. What do you associate this scenario with? Oh yes, happy roller-skating cows of course! Wahnsinn!

Maybe Baby

What would you do if you suspected you might be pregnant (German: Schwanger)? Apparently, in Germany anyway, one option would be to go to the railway station and get a pregnancy kit from the automatic dispensing machine. That's what is being advertised here in any case:

Shwanger? Then put your coins in the machine down the Bahnhof and get a pregnancy testing kit.

Now, I don't think a railway snack dispenser would be my first port of call in such a situation. Not unless I felt a bit peckish for a Twix as well. Or maybe I'd got bored waiting for a train and thought, 'I know, I think I'll just test to see if I am pregnant before the S2 to Alexanderplatz gets in.'

Interestingly, the Maybe Baby pregnancy tests are stacked just next to the BillyBoy condoms, and at 8€ a pop for the test compared to 3€ for condoms I think the Selecta people are implying it would have been better value for money to have used the Johnnies in the first place. Considering how many times I have pumped in 80 cents for a packet of Nic Nocs (crispy coated peanuts) only to have them not drop down into the dispenser, 8€ is quite a risk. Not quite the same level of risk as unprotected sex of course.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


Goldelse, atop the Siegessäule, is looking resplendent in the Autumnal sunlight today!


Friday, 21 October 2011

Berlin Festival of Lights 2011

It's that lovely time of the year when the trees explode into a last minute display of colour before the long cold Winter sets in. It is also the time of festivals of light around the World, and particularly the one in Berlin.

Here are a few photos I took from this year's event (as usual, click for bigger):

Brandenburger Tor

The Fernsehturm

KaDeWe department store


Unter den Linden

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Türkische Küche für Anfänger - Turkish Cuisine for Beginners

One of the fantastic things about living in a foreign land is how it brings us into contact with other cultures, and I don't mean just German culture. An important part of the Berlin mix is the large number of Turkish people who have settled here, and their contribution to Berlin life is apparent in many ways. Not least of these is the accessibility to wonderful Turkish cuisine, which can be sampled anywhere from the ubiquitous 'Kebap Imbiss' (kebab snack bar) to first class restaurants serving multiple courses of Turkish delights.

I am quite adept at cooking up Indian dishes, but haven't tried much Turkish creations. So, as there is always a first time, I started simply with an adaption of a recipe for börek given to me by my Turkish colleague at work, Ümit.

Here are the ingredients I started with (click for bigger):

Ingredients for making börek
All the ingredients were bought either at the local supermarket, or for the pastry and spices a Turkish shop - of which there are many in Berlin, though maybe none in High Wycombe or Rotherham.

(Please note before I go on - I don't do exact quantities in cooking. It ain't the way I roll. Live with it.)

So, to make börek you need:
  • a packet of ready-made pastry, called yufka in Turkish, and Teigblätter in German, or approximately filo in English.
  • Some feta-type cheese. Here I've used a block of sheep's cheese - or Schafskäse in German. Whatever you do, don't use Stilton or Dairlea triangles - it won't work.
  • Some frozen spinach.
  • one medium-sized onion.
  • a couple of teaspoons or so (depending on taste) of freshly ground cumin seeds. Called kimyon in Turkish, and Kreuzkümmel in German.
  • a good amount of blue poppy seeds to sprinkle on the top, called mavi haşhaşin in Turkish, and Blaumohn in German.
  • A couple of egg yolks.
  • a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper.
First thing to do is gently warm your frozen spinach in a pan. How much you use depends on how much you like spinach. But if you think of the size of your dish, and you are going to make two layers of it, then that's about how much you need. (Did I mention I don't do quantities?)

Now peel and finely chop an onion and heat in olive oil for a few minutes until translucent.

When the spinach has stopped looking like a green sluch-puppy and the onions are see-through but not starting to brown, take the pan with the spinach off the heat and add the onions.

Now ground up some cumin seeds and add to the mixture. Add a few twists of the pepper and salt mills as well if you want. It's a free country.

Probably about now is a good time to start the oven warmng up: you are aiming for 180 degrees C or whatever your local currency is.

Take a deep dish - I used a rectangular one - and line the bottom with grease-proof/ baking paper, or rub a bit of marge onto it. The sheets of pastry you'll be layering in your dish will probably not be the same size as your dish (it was at this point that I found out my sheets when unpacked were enormous and circular), so you will need to get the kitchen scissors out and cut it to shape. You will need eight sheets.

In a cup, beat up your egg yolks, together with a bit of olive oil (to help the mixture spread evenly) and milk (to make it go a lovely brown colour).

Start assembling your börek!: 

1. Place pastry sheet 1 in the bottom of the dish, on top of the baking paper. 
2. Brush the pastry all over the top side with the eggy mixture.
3. Place pastry sheet 2 on top of that.
4. Add one half of the spinach/onion mixture.
5. Place pastry sheet 3 on top of it.
6. Brush the pastry with egg.
7. Place pastry sheet 4 on top of it.
8. Now get your block of feta cheese and crumble it finely and evenly over the pastry sheet.
9. Next add sheet 5.
10. Brush it with egg. You see the pattern now?
11. Add sheet 6.
12. Now add the rest of your spinach mixture, and spread it out evenly over the pastry.
13. Next add pastry sheet 7.
14. Brush it with egg yolk mixture.
15. Add the final sheet of pastry.
16. Brush this layer as well with whatever egg mixture you have left.
17. Finally, sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds.

Now all you have to do is pop it into your over for 30 mins at 180 degreees C.

After half an hour, take it out of the oven, slice, plate up, and enjoy! Of course, if you want a more substantial meal then whilst you were letting the börek bake then you could cook some vegetables or something. Broccoli in my case, though only one of us had it. (clue: it wasn't me).

A slice of börek should look something like this (at least, mine did!):

My first attempt at making börek!
It was delicious (though not as delicious as the one Ümit gave us to sample at work!), and surprisingly filling. Lecker, lecker, lecker!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Gedenkstätte der Sozialisten and Plötzensee Prison

Yesterday we ventured into deepest Lichtenberg to visit the Gedenkstätte der Sozialisten (Memorial to the Socialists) in the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde). I don't believe it is on the top-ten wishlist of many tourists to Berlin - probably not even the top one hundred - but in its day (the Soviet DDR era) it was an important memorial to, and resting place of, anti-fascist fighters and members of the German Communist (KPD), Social Democratic (SPD), and Socialist Unity (SED) parties.

The cemetery was founded in 1881 as a normal municipal graveyard, and continues to be used as such today, but ever since the burial here in 1900 of Wilhelm Liebknecht (founder of the SPD) it became the place for prominent socialists to be buried.

Wilhelm Liebknecht's grave and monument.
Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde
Wilhelm Liebknecht's son was Karl Liebknecht, who together with Rosa Luxemburg led the Marxist Spartacist League and violently opposed the formation of the Weimar Republic in the uprisings after the end of WWI. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured, interrogated and tortured, and then murdered by a group of paramilitary Freikorps who were intent on wiping out Communists. What remained of them after their horrible treatment (Luxemburg was shot in the head then her dead body dumped in the Landwehr canal) was buried in this cemetery in January 1919 together with other Spartacists also murdered in the Freikorps bloodbath. After this event, an impressive modern architecture "memorial to the Revolution" was designed by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - later to become the director of the Bauhaus - and unveiled in the cemetery in 1926. You can only see the memorial now in archive photos, such as this one  held by the Bundesarchiv, because in 1935 the Nazis destroyed it and levelled the graves.

In some respects fortunately, Lichtenberg became part of the Soviet Sector after the Second World War and the DDR built a replacement monument, ceremoniously unveiled in 1951. That is what we can see today. It consists of a central monolith carved with the words 'die Toten mahnen uns' ('the dead remind/admonish/urge us') around which is a rotunda of graves and memorials of famous socialists reburied from elsewhere in the cemetery. And so, of course, Rosa Luxemburg is there:

The central memorial stone and Rosa Luxemberg's grave
Rosa Luxemburg's gravestone, close up.
In a similar style, next to her is Karl Liebknecht's grave. Their lives and beliefs are commemorated here every second Sunday of January.

In this exhalted inner circle are the graves of socialists who perished opposing the Nazis, such as Ernst Thälmann and Rudolph Breitscheid. Indeed, the whole memorial reads a little like a street-map of any former East German town. Post-War DDR leaders are also buried alongside these heroes, including Wilhelm Pieck and Walter "Nobody has the intention of building a wall" Ulbricht.

Gedenkstätte der Sozialisten rotunda.

The outer circle is lined with the older (and wealthier) graves of fathers of the SPD. They have an individuality that the central plaques lack, and are particularly enhanced by ivy and ruby red 'Wilder Wein':

Even further from the centre are wall niches where the urns of formerly prominent politburo members (many of whom even Google hasn't heard of) are adorned with bunches of plastic flowers. That's rather sad, as you can imagine how at the time their nearest and dearest would have been so proud of them being interred here, even if on the outer periphery of the monument.

The Friedrichsfelde cemetery has other things of interest beyond the Socialist Memorial, if you like wandering around graveyards, which isn't everybody's cup of tea. Particularly poignant is the gravesite and memorial to a tragic boating accident at Treptow Hafen on 5th July 1951 when the ship Heimatland blew up with at least 28 children on board who perished. The memorial is boat-shaped, carrying the remains of 16 of the young victims into eternity.

Memorial to the Heimatland disaster 1951
One interesting area of the cemetery has a number of famous artists, writers, and performers including the marvellous artist and sculptress Käthe Kollwitz:

Käthe Kollwitz gravestone
Another area is reserved for the burial urns of victims of Fascism and the Nazi regime. This is marked by a piece of 'sculpture' emblazoned with the red triangle given to political prisoners in the labour camps.

Gräberanlage für Opfer des Faschismus und Verfolgte des Naziregimes
The aim is to give a dignified burial for the victims of fascism and Nazism as they finally pass on, and around 900 urns occupy this area, all marked with plain granite stelae.

Graves for the victims of fascism, right up to the present day.
Before leaving the cemetery, it is perhaps worth noting the almost total absence of crosses and weeping angels and other Christian symbolisms of death. This is, after all, a 'Socialist Cemetery'.

After leaving Friedrichsfelde we travelled across to the other side of Berlin to remind ourselves of what the victims and heroes were up against in the sheer brutality of the Nazi regime. We went to Plötzensee Prison in Charlottenburg, a place of horror where many many thousands of political prisoners and conscientious objectors were illegally executed, including thousands caught up in the retribution after the failed von Stauffenberg 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. There is little to see here, but what there is is shocking: the row of meathooks from which the murdered kicked out their last gasps of life.

Inside the execution shed at Pötzensee Prison
The wall of the execution shed has been turned into a memorial to the victims of the dictator Hitler. Note the barbed wire on the wall to the left (click for bigger) and the water tower. The prison is still in use, though obviously now in accordance with proper legal sentencing and justice.

Plötzensee memorial
The urn in the foreground contains earth from each of the former German concentration camps.

Urn filled with soil from German concentration camps.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Bauhaus Archiv

Totally adore Bauhaus.

All we ever wanted was everything
All we ever got was cold
Get up, eat jelly
Sandwich bars, and barbed wire
Squash every week into a day

The sound of drums is calling
The sound of the drum has called
Flash of youth shoot out of darkness


Saturday, 1 October 2011

It's English Jim, But Not As We Know it!

It is always endearing to find an information board in some remote part of Germany with a little Union Jack offering a translation for British tourists. It is thoughtful of the local tourist Amt to provide this service, even though the number of Brits who make their way to these places is probably pretty negligible. The effort put out is particularly touching when the designers of the information board obviously couldn't find a competent English translator, or anyone who could do a proof-read. But still they go ahead in a spirit of welcoming visitors. This was surely the case with this information board, discovered on a cycling tour we did today from Angermünde (Uckermark) to Schwedt on the Polish border (click for bigger):

p.s. if any worker for a German tourist board would like a native English proofreader to check over their content before booking the Printers, please drop me a line. Though I might be tempted to introduce a few quaint errors just to bring a wry smile to the lips of fellow Brits.

The best translation fail ever though must surely be the Swansea road sign where 'No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only.' was translated into Welsh with the automatically e-mailed response from the translator as: 'I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.'


Spotted in Angermünde (Uckermark):
Actually, it is a datacoms company: Wendler Telefon- und Funktechnik. They of course also have a WTF website.