The television transmission crackles, the – now colored – pictures from summery Munich and the cheaper generation of new devices, they were the beginning of the era of color television in Germany:
“Munich, August 26, 1972, early in the morning. In a few hours, the largest sports festival in the world will start here, and athletes from 122 nations will move in under this roof.”
The 1972 Olympic Games in Munich – they should be a decisive event, a formative moment in German history, at least that’s how the two book authors, Uwe Ritzer and Roman Deininger see it:
“The 1972 games actually had positive connotations in so many ways, until this attack happened. The young Federal Republic has presented itself as the new Germany, as a relaxed model democracy. And then, of course, this attack on Jews on German soil immediately referred back to the great darkness before 1945. Well, that was a moment when the past and future of this young Germany met and it still has an effect today, it is still safe today relevant and interesting.”
Worldwide terror experience via TV
50 years later, Ritzer and Deininger, both journalists at the Süddeutsche Zeitung, have once again traced these games, the way there, the events themselves, but also their consequences: “The games of the century: the 1972 Olympics, terror and the new Germany‘ That’s the name of her book. Ritzer and Deininger are a well-rehearsed author duo and have already written a highly acclaimed biography of the Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder. Now also the games in Munich, …
“I declare the Munich 1972 Olympic Games open.”
…, which were more than just a sporting event: A 16-year-old German youth champion in the high jump will be the carefree face of this new Germany …
“But Ulrike Meyfarth, a blatant outsider, manages 1.90 and is now trying to get over 1.92.”
Make it, set a world record, win gold. But on the eleventh day the horror begins:
“It promises to be a nice, sunny day. At 4:40 a.m., fitters saw a couple of men with large tote bags climb over the fence of the Olympic Village. They think of them as returning athletes. But: They are Palestinian terrorists.”
A heavy shadow falls on the carefree, happy time, on the image of a new Germany. All eleven outstanding athletes who were taken hostage died. For better or for worse, the ’72 Games became a German, even a worldwide collective experience, says Deininger:
“The day of the assassination, which unfolded before the eyes of the world through the live broadcast on television, this seeing the disaster coming. This was a collective experience that signaled the arrival of international terrorism for many. There was terrorism before, but perception started with that. And that’s an event I would probably compare to the devastating impact of 9/11.”
The attacks on the New York Twin Towers in 2001. Deininger and Ritzer have written a thick and dense book: the eight chapters, plus prologue and epilogue, are spread over around 500 pages, supplemented by numerous pictures from that time .
1936 was the reference point for history
“We tried to draw inspiration from American historians who open up history to a wide audience. Whether we managed to do that is another question, but we wanted to tell the story very seriously and accurately, but at the same time it was dramatic and entertaining. Therefore, the book is also written in the present tense.”
And this is how the authors tell German, but also Olympic history:
“As we worked, we quickly realized that the history of these 1972 games would not be complete if you limited yourself to just over two weeks in the late summer of 1972, but that you have to go further and keep it, we started in the 1930s, because these games, the Hitler Games in Berlin in 1936, were the reference point through which one can first understand what was attempted in 1972.”
There are individual protagonists such as the then Federal President Gustav Heinemann, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, the hockey player Carsten Keller or the track and field athlete Renate Meißner, on the basis of whose lives the authors tell the story. This also includes the German sports functionary Willi Daume and the young Mayor of Munich Hans-Jochen Vogel from the SPD:
“Alfons Goppel himself brought his party leader Franz Josef Strauss on board: Bavaria’s growth is the big project of the CSU, Munich is the engine of this growth. And if the whole thing goes wrong, it gets stuck with the red mayor. On November 29, 1965, Daume, Vogel, Brauchle and Göppel flew to Bonn, where Ludwig Erhard received them at lunchtime with coffee and cake in the chancellor’s bungalow. The Chancellor is initially reluctant, perhaps also because his head of the Chancellery, Ludger Westrick, had warned him beforehand that the initial cost forecast of almost 500 million Deutschmarks would not be achievable. And wasn’t a new economy the chancellor’s big promise? To the astonishment of all those sitting around, Erhard overruled Westrick’s veto after two hours. You can’t always ‘mope around and announce unpleasant things to the people,’ he says. Westrick tugs at the Chancellor’s sleeve in desperation. But Erhard continues: People sometimes need ‘good news’. Olympic Games in Germany, that would very nicely reinforce his thesis that the post-war period is over.”
Sport, politics, society, the authors skilfully weave everything together and thus sketch – supplemented by an index of people and a list of sources – a major German event – but above all a formative section of German history.
Roman Deininger, Uwe Ritzer: “The games of the century. Olympia 1972, terror and the new Germany”, dtv, 527 pages, 25 euros.