Alpine Resort Town's Uncomfortable Past

An icy wind is blowing through the ski stadium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Alois Schwarzmüller, 66, has his hands pushed deep into his jacket pockets. Tourists are strolling through the arena, one of Germany's best-known winter sports venues. The Alpine World Ski Championships will be held here in 2011, and the Four Hills ski jumping tournament recently attracted 25,000 fans.

The visitors view the stands and look up at the slalom course on the Gudiberg mountain. A group of Japanese tourists poses for a photo in front of the large ski jump. "And over there, if I may draw your attention to it, is the Führer's gallery," says Schwarzmüller.

Schwarzmüller, standing with his back to the ski jump, points to a terrace above the Olympia Haus restaurant, which offers a view of the entire arena. "Up there -- that's where he stood," says Schwarzmüller, who is a retired high-school teacher. Adolf Hitler, accompanied by his deputy, Rudolf Hess, was wearing a heavy winter coat when he opened the 1936 Winter Olympics, the biggest sporting event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to this day.

A Friendly Dictatorship

At that time in Germany, opponents of the Nazi regime were being murdered or sent to concentration camps. The anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws had been passed only five months earlier. But for 10 days in the Bavarian ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Nazis presented themselves to the international public as a friendly dictatorship. Half a million visitors attended the games. Signs that read "Jews Not Wanted," which had previously been prominently displayed throughout the town, were removed for the duration of the games.

The 1936 Winter Olympics have faded into obscurity. Nowadays, the Summer Olympics that took place in Berlin a few months later are more commonly associated with the Nazis. This is partly the result of the Nazis' bombastic staging of the summer games in the capital of the German Reich, and of the overblown images shown in filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl's films. But it is also the result of Garmisch-Partenkirchen having concealed its own history for decades.

The town, one of the top resort destinations in the Alps, boasts a casino, fine restaurants and high-end boutiques, and the ski lift up to the Kandahar run is considered one of the most advanced in Europe. Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Munich have submitted a bid to co-host the 2018 Winter Olympics. In February, a delegation headed by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer will travel to the Vancouver Olympics to present the German plan, and in March the first official application package will be submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Because of the bid, the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is keen to play up the sporting achievements of the 1936 Olympics. But residents of the popular tourist destination are less interested in reexamining the political circumstances of the games.

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