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Berlin 1936 By Oliver Hilmes

Release date: 22nd February, 2018
Publisher: Bodley Head

List Price: £15.99
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Observers who fear that Russian leader Vladimir Putin will use the summer’s World Cup tournament as an opportunity to stoke the already fervent fires of indigenous nationalism and ensure his nation is shown in the most favourable light possible may wish to read Berlin 1936.

The Berlin Olympics are generally perceived to be the most overtly nationalistic modern Games , although according to author Oliver Hilmes, in a disappointingly disjointed narrative, this wasn’t necessarily the case.

By 1936, the Nazis were already powerful enough to show off Berlin as another cultured European capital. The decadence of earlier years, unforgettably portrayed in the movie Cabaret, had been swept away and visitors could stroll through the city, visit galleries, or sit at pavement cafés and watch the world go by.

Though the authorities had removed hoardings advertising the anti-Jewish newspaper Der Sturmer and another paper had urged Germans not to downplay “foreign triumphs” during the Games, clues to their future intentions were evident.

Emulating the parades of triumphant Roman generals, Hitler would travel along the11-kilometre Via Triumphalis in an open-top Mercedes to the Olympic Stadium, an arena modelled on a Roman amphitheatre. The route was lined with giant swastikas and Olympic flags, below which some 40,000 paramilitaries kept a close eye on the hundreds of thousands of Germans and tourists keen to catch a glimpse of Germany’s leader.

On the surface at least, Berlin was a friendly city of efficient trams and spotlessly clean streets. The 1936 Games could also boast that they were the first to broadcast television pictures of the sporting action to public salons across the land, but as American novelist Thomas Wolfe, who had first visited the city in 1926 would point out, the “poisonous emanations of suppression, persecution and fear” became evident before the Games had ended.

Readers expecting an engaging combination of sport and social history will be disappointed with Berlin 1936. The staccato style, which sees the author leap from one undeveloped theme to another, coupled with an overuse of the present tense, undermine what is potentially a great story. Perhaps that will be written following this year’s World Cup.


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