100 Years Ago: The Games That Never Were

While the 1936 Nazi Games have made big waves in German media this summer, another part of the capital's Olympic history has been fortgotten and remaines untold: One century ago, on July 1st, 1916, Emperor Wilhelm II planned to open the Games of the VIth Olympiad. It did not happen, the Games were the first to fall victim to a war.

Officially, Berlin 1916 was never cancelled. This is even more astonishing, considering the efforts Imperial Germany made to put on a grandiose propaganda spectacle. The "German Stadium" (pictures: Bundesarchiv, Library of Congress), opened on June 8th, 1913, by the Emperor himself, had a price tag of 2.25 million Reichsmark. "The structure was opened with almost religious fervour and military pomp", The New York Times recorded. The Games themselves should have cost 1.3 million Reichsmark.

For Germany's sports authorities, the chance to stage the Games was a big chance to get the upper hand over the Gymnastics Association ("Deutsche Turnerschaft"), a powerful, nationalistic and partly anti-semitic opponent in the struggle for supremacy in the country's sports scene. When Berlin was awarded the 1916 Olympics in July 1912, Crown Prince Wilhelm took over patronage for the Organising Comittee. The organisers even planned to stage the first winter sports events in the history of the Games at the Feldberg, deep in Black Forest (picture: Hoffotograf Franz Schilling).

But the Olympic dream evaporated in the summer of 1914, when World War I broke out.

On March 16th, 1916, the German Stadium was the scene for "Patriotic Games", including military marching, running over obstacles, and throwing hand grenades. The Olympic Spirit had gone long before. Ferdinand Goetz, leader of the "Deutsche Turnschaft", in 1914 had already scorned that he could not image "to give a friendly reception to all the enemies, the English, the Belgians, the French and the Russians coming to Berlin".

It was a kind of swan song for the1916 Olympics - and a premonition of discussions to come 20 years later. By then, the "German Stadium" had given way for Hitler's "Reichssportfeld" and the brand new Olympic Stadium.

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