Modern Munich

May 5th, 2011


On a recent study trip to the Bavarian region of Germany, a few friends and I absconded from a guided tour to visit the 1972 Munich Olympia Park. The leading architects had a heavy shadow to lift; the last Olympic Games in Germany were held under Nazi rule. German architect Günter Behnisch  and engineer Frei Otto approached the challenge with a dramatic fluid form that was technically and aesthetically ground breaking for its time. The expansive acrylic glass canopies provide cover without restrictive enclosure, and induce a playful, optimistic atmosphere, which was an intended contrast to the oppressive, monolithic architecture of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Incase one were to miss the intent of the modern Germany, the official motto of the games was "Die Heiteren Spiele" ("The Happy Games").


Unfortunately, as we know, the games and beautiful innovative facilities were overshadowed by a vicious political and ethnic crime. In what became informally known as the Munich Massacre, Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches were taken hostage by the Islamic terrorist group Black September. When the terrible ordeal finally ended, 11 Israelis, 1 German police officer and 5 terrorists had died. Today, the event is commemorated in guided tours, but the park administrators have not let the event overshadow future uses of the space. The whole park is alive with activity – the Olympic pool is now a community swimming centre, a zip line had been strung up from one side of the stadium to the other, and the stadium is fully booked with summer concerts and football games. Every country has dark events in its past. The commemoration of this sort of event is often a tricky task – where do you draw the line between public education of the historic event and allowing the community to move forward and move on? If conservation of the architectural elements keep feelings of hate and distrust alive, is it better to sweep the memories under the rug, or at least to the back of one's mind? In the built environment, is it sometimes better to forgive and forget and let the documentation rest in the pages of history?

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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