Much of the pagentry of the modern Olympic Games dates from the 1936 NAZI Berlin Olympics. A HBC reader is compiling an album of his Mother's life growing up in Berlin. She was not a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), the girl's division of the Hitler Jugend. She performed in the 1936 Olympic Games opening ceremony. She is in the lower left group facing the Olympic torch / cauldron. This was taken just before the girls refilled the stadium field after revealing the 500 boys in rotating rings. The girls resurged on to the field around them to form the white flag background and form a" living" Olympic flag. Rather impressive." These kind of displays were part of the NAZI Health through Joy program. Similar displays were organized for the annual NAZI Nurenberg Party Rallies. Our reader provides more details about his mother's experience here/ "Saturday morning, August 1, was a once in a lifetime day of JOY as my mother arrived at her school, Uhland Oberlyceum, dressed in her special white jumper for dress rehearsal and boarded one of two military trucks sent to take her group of 60 girls to the stadium. At 8pm that night the "Festspiel Olympische Jugend" of 1,000 would perform to an audience of 100,000 in the Reich Stadium with music composed by Karl Orff and Werner Egk to the brilliant choreography of Dorothee Gunther & Maja Lex. A sea of white costumes parted to reveal 500 boys in lines that bent to form the Olympic rings rotating as the Berlin Opera chorus and Philharmonic Symphony performed Beethoven's Ode to Joy choral finale. 30,000 white doves were released above their heads. My Mother said they practiced that section relentlessly to make sure they hit their 'marks' on the stadium field on the right notes of the music. One has to look very closely, but you can spot the portable speakers on tall poles placed strategically on the outer lines of the track so the performers could hear on both sides of the field the music at the same time without a delay echo and thereby be late unintentionally. Can you spot the 'arches' in the girls' hands? They were added early into the choreography rehearsals as a way to help keep the 1,000 girls spacing symmetry even as they went from one formation to another. The stadium feild was easy to get disoriented on, as it was so large. The public's reaction was so overwhelming that three additional ENCORE performances were given on the 3rd, 18th, and 19th. An Olympic memory never to be forgotten.
Much of the pagentry of the modern Olympic Games dates from the 1936 NAZI Berlin Olympics. Pagentry was something the NAZIs were very good at. Before the Berlin Olympics there was not much pagentry associated with the games. It was all about the atheletes with some perfunctory ceremonies. At the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, for examole, the big event was 24 hula dancers. Compare that to the spectacle we see here (figure 1). And thgere were no torch relays from Olympus which today is such an important part of the Olympic ceremonies.
A HBC reader is compiling an album of his Mother's life growing up in Berlin. She had just entered the Uhland Oberlyceum and was about 11 years old at the time of the Olympics. Germany at the time had many different kinds of secondary schools. Most were academic selective and working-class children often did not attend them. Secondary school started much earlier in Germany or did then in
1936, than it does in the United Statres today. It was common in Europe to begin secondary studies at about 11-12 years of age. Admission to a German secondary school was decided on one's 12th birthday and only after a lengthy written examination . At that time, a decsision was made by a school board which decided if one's aptitude score was bettter served in a trade
school instead of higher learning. The schools had differeht names such Gymnasien/Oberschulen, Lyceum, Realschile/Hauptschule, ect. The difference generally was bassed on the curriculum. Some had classicl curriculums with an emphsis on Latin. Othgers had a stronger emphasis on math and science. Most of the schools were single gender schools. We are not sure at this time just what a Oberlyceum was, but hopefully some of our German readers will know.
And a reader tells us, "I can explain the difference between a Gymnasium and an Oberlycum. Most German secondary schools were single gender schools. We note come coed schools in the towns where funding two schools was prohibitively expensive. Most city scecondary schools were single-gender schools. And this did not chsnge until after the War. We see mixing during 1948. Boys attended Gymnasiums like Humboldt Gymnasium. Girls attended Oberlyceums. The curriculums were similar, although the girls' schools had homemaking courses like cooking and sewing.
At Uhland Oberlycum the curriculum revolved around languages and arts and sciences with extra currular activities like rowing. As a younger girl she ws made the coxen who called out the "srrokes" on the school "shell" rowing team.. They competed against other Oberlyceums, winnig a few trophies.
The teachers as they prepared the girls for the Olympics tried to match up heights, weights,and levels of ability to make cohesive teams who could work well and a team and make a good first impression. These students were sent to a final selection process at the Reich Stadium by the two lady choreographers. The boys and girls were very excited about the Olympics and this there was a great desire of most to be chosen and become a part of the big event.
My mother was not a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), the girl's division of the Hitler Jugend (HJ). At the time of the Berlin Olympics, participation was still optional.
Our reader tells us, "My mother was never a BDM girl and most of her friends were not either. Only at the end of the year was the first of three Hitler Youth Laws decreed (December 1936).
But even after this there was not at fierst struct enforcement of the decree. Not until the passage of the 1941 Law was my mother forced to sisn up. This made membership mandatory. A refusal to join could lead to the arrest of the parents and the the youth taken from your home to bascially a government orphanage. That was about 5 years after mother performed in the Games. And she even ducked out on that. Sge signed her self OUT of the first mandatory meeting stating that her family
was moving to Munich and she would register with that cities local BDM girls which never happened. er feeling was to be a BDM? nein danke! (No thanks!) Her two kid sisters were in the RUNDFUNK choirs and able to concentrate on music and NOT getting any BDM political indoctrination attempts. Ah the salvation of music!!!
The performers in the Olympic displays were chosen from the city's secondary schools. This meant that they were middle-class children and teenagers. Prior to rehearsals and selection for the secondary girls and boys. Each school ( Oberlyceum and Gymnasium) in Belrin receievd a written notice directed to their physical education department and gymnastic teachers. They said given the size of presentation being planned for the upcoming Olympics, they wanted them to select the boys and girls by their gymnastic skills and musicality for thr two planned public spectacles--the opening cermonies and the first day of the Gymanstic competitions. The teachers then began what might be called trials on their school fields. A massed choroegrpahed presentation involving wooden gymnastic "horses" that the children would wivel on and leap on and vault over. The children that perfrmed well selected by the teachers at each of the schools. They woulkd the narrow the group down to appoximately 60 students from each of Berlin's major secondary schools. It was done on the basis of skill and ability. Had the Olympics been held latr, membership in the BDM might have been a requirement, but this was not yet the case.
So my mother's first year of secondary school at Uhland Oberlyceum got this special tret to be seleceted to perofm in the Olympic ceremonies. And even at age 12 years, the children all knew they were doing something very special and were expected to learn as quickly as they could and be as polished as they could do their two production numbers As the World
was literally coming to see them as this was the first chance to show the world that Germany's citizens had made their way back from a massive depression. So they needed to be the best they could be for soon the world's eyes would be focused on them.
There were weeks of day long rehearsals. The students practiced in their spare times the steps and patterns every chance they got. My Mother said that they practiced therir routine relentlessly to make sure they hit their 'marks' on the stadium field on the right notes of the music. Can you spot the 'arches' in the girls' hands? They were added early into the choreography rehearsals as a way to help keep the 1,000 girls spacing symmetry even as they went from one formation to another. The stadium field was easy to get disoriented on, as it was so large. The the first few rehearsals were very disorienting when they arrived at the giant Reich Stadium and saw how really BIG it was and how easy it was to to end up facing the wrong direction . This could occur hen one was in a circe step and the circle didn't quite make it to the appointed spot to break outto a new pattern formation. You could easily find yourself at 6 oclcok instead of 9 oclock. And they had to get used to carrying the 'arches' in one's hands during one section as they were very rigid. Thee girls tried to line up their knuckles with the girls on either sude. The arches then helped keep the spacing looking perfect. The choroegraphers were really smart working with assistants to test out the chorogarphy before teaching it to the children massed togethert. Can you imagine trying to teach 1,000 girls any step and get them all to move as one on the same beat? Fortunatley in this FIRST for choroegarphed presnetations, they had specially composed music that had differnet melodies with diffrnet kinds of instrumentation that the girls coudd recognize quickly and associate with a certain step. Ditto for the boys. They crouched bent over to snaked betwen the rows of girls undected by the stadium spectators until the girls parted revealing them as they stood up right to start the bending of the five lines into the Olympic rings. It was practiced rlentelessly to make sure it looked not just good.. but perfect. Every week for about 2 months prior to the August performance military trucks with benches arrived at the schools weekly to shuttle
the students from school to the Reich Stadium. Aand then return them to their schools after rehearsals. The gymantsic portion was work done at their schools and then all the teams were brought to thre ReichbStatium for placement rehearsals of where their teams would do their repeat of the same choroegrpahy taught at each of the schools during the week when they
were not at the stadium learning the opening ceremony. One of her favorite memories is the unexpected vendors who showed up in the Reich Stadium at breaks. They thus could buy a hotdog for lunch. And they worked up nice appetites from the repitions of the "run throughs" done over and over in the afternoons. Their chorogarphers were very good. They knew exactly how many steps it would take for them to walk in time to the music and when a hop in the steps was called
for and how far across the field it would put them ... or not. It was a time consuing set for weekly rehearsals that lasted all day.
The final performnce developed over time. Some times the children learning in the mornings of a new pieces of choroegrpahy or changes made when the girls just were repeatedly getting something wring. Tht wasrare, byt suggested to the choreographers tht someting wasn't right. Then there were run thorughs in the afternoon before taking the trucks back to their schools and then on home. And in the last few weeks the number of all day rehearsals increased a lot as the finishing touches were added. The public came in during the last week to watch the rehearsals from the stadium seats and made them more confident of performing with smiles on their faces and enjoying sudden bursts of applause. In the last week, they simply skipped classes to do the stadium rehearsals that made it a lot like a brief summer vacation. And my mother and presumably the other children didn't mind that in the slightest!
The girls were sent home with a patttern and white materials for their performance costumes--white jumpers and blouses. They were to be made at home to cut down on costs. Her grandmother Arndt was a profesional seamstress and set out follow the pattern explicitly. Only she misunderstood the hemline instruction for 'uber' mening over. In Germn can mean dually above or below. So when she cut the skirt portion. she looked at the instructions and said. 'WAS' ...what? Surley they coudl not mean the skiort hem was this much ABOVE the knee. No respectable young lady wears a skirt THAT SHORT. And certainly not HER granddaughter!!!! So she cut it out and hemmed it 6 inches below her knee measurement. So when my mother showed up at school to get on the truck to the stadium, she discoverd that she was the ONLY one who girl who had a skirt THAT LONG. "AAAAaaaaaaaa!!!!!" A very upsetting discovery for a first year secondary school girl. Readers who are fimilar with children tht age or perhaps thst age themelves will appreciate the trauma involved. And this was to be csuch an importaht, happy day. She was nearly in tears by the time she arrived at the Reich Stadium. She had to do the dress rehearsal that way. Fortunty...some one had thought to bring boxes of safety pins along. And as soon as the rehearsal as over, some kind ladies helped saftety hem her skirt up to the right length, pulling the hem up under her
skirt. And thus she was ready to perform THE perofmance of a lifetime all the time hoping her skirt lined with safety pins wouldn't pop open and poke her and make her white jumper bloody. Looking back NOW, it is kind of funny, but as a 12 year old trying to fit in and be as perfect as she could be just like everyone esle--it was a major traumatic experience. But as they say, the show must go on! And mother DID her bit in one of the most spectacular staged events of Olympic history.
Germany at the time was a very insulr country. Few Germnans had traveled aboroad, even to neigboring countries. And trips to distant countries were virtually unknown except for the wealthy. Thus Germans had very little experience with with people of different races. It was very rare to see Africans or Asians in Germany. One of the funier things the girls were told about the visitors that were coming from different countries is pretty silly by today's standards. The schoolgirls were told there was an easy way to identify oriental visitors, people they hadn't seen before.
They were told to walk behind them and sniff the air. "Chinese people smell like spices and herbs, Koreans smell like cabbage, and Japanese people smell like fish." This was apparently based on the food they consumed in their native countries. Kind of silly huh? But if their teachers told them that, they MUST be telling them the truth. why would they lie to schoolgirls? So while on a subway train, she and her firends found a seat across from a man of color on the train. They had never seen a black man before. And as they sat waiting for their stop, they tried not to stare. Finally my mother and her girl friends used their minimal English to speak to him. He was very polite and told them that he was a musician brought to Germany for the Olympics to play in a hotel nightclub for their American guests. [HNC Note: Germany did not need musicians. It was probablt the Euyropean country most nooted for music. They did need, however, night club muscians, especially one who could play jazz or American popular music thst jazz had begun to influence. Jazz was popular with young Germans, but even by 1936 the NAZI regime was beginning tobdisciurage jazz which they considered to be degenerate.]
My mother summoned up her courage to ask, "May I touch your hand?" "Sure!" and he put out his hand to her. She shook it and then looked at her hand. She asked, "Does the chocolate color come off?" She eplains, "We were very inquisitive as children nearing age 13 years of age! He smiled and said, No it doesn't." The questions continued, "Well then, is it everywhere or only on your hands and face?" And he replied no, it is EVERYWHERE!" The bell rang for their stop, so she and her girlfriends stood up and each shaked his hand and said, "Thank you very much. Have a wonderful time here in Berlin" and stepped off the train compartment at their destination. the stuff that memories are made of.
She performed in the 1936 Olympic Games opening ceremony. She is in the lower left group facing the Olympic torch / cauldron. This was taken just before the girls refilled the stadium field after revealing the 500 boys in rotating rings. The girls resurged on to the field around them to form the white flag background and form a" living" Olympic flag. Rather impressive. Saturday morning, August 1, was a once in a lifetime day of JOY as my mother arrived at her school, dressed in her special white jumper and boarded one of two military trucks sent to take her group of 60 girls to the stadium. At 8pm that night the "Festspiel Olympische Jugend" of 1,000 would perform to an audience of 100,000 in the Reich Stadium with music composed by Karl Orff and Werner Egk to the brilliant choreography of Dorothee Gunther & Maja Lex. A sea of white costumes parted to reveal 500 boys in lines that bent to form the Olympic rings rotating as the Berlin Opera chorus and Philharmonic Symphony performed Beethoven's Ode to Joy choral finale. 30,000 white doves were released above their heads. One has to look very closely, but you can spot the portable speakers on tall poles placed strategically on the outer lines of the track so the performers could hear on both sides of the field the music at the same time without a delay echo and thereby be late unintentionally. The public's reaction was so overwhelming that three additional ENCORE performances were given on the 3rd, 18th, and 19th. An Olympic memory never to be forgotten. Dress reherasal was early in the morning of the actual day for performane on August 1st. That made for a very long day. Their portion for the opening cermeny wasn't strated until 8 pm that night. They were thus VERY TIRED girls and boys by the end of the day. But what a wonderful memory to be able to say, "I was a part of!".
These kind of massed displays were part of the NAZI Health through Joy program. Similar displays were organized for the annual NAZI Nurenberg Party Rallies.
Loftin, Anne. E-mail message, July 22, 2012.
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