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Berlin 36

Sir Rols

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Do any of our German members know anything more about this film?

She showered alone, shaved her legs several times a day and had a gruff, deep voice. It soon became clear why: the Nazis conscripted a man in drag to replace a star Jewish high jumper before the Berlin 1936 Olympics.

The film Berlin 36, which will be shown in German cinemas from next week, tells the extraordinary story of Gretel Bergmann, who was heading for an Olympic gold medal before she was bounced out of the squad. The Nazis wanted to ensure that Hitler would not be embarrassed by a Jewish athlete winning a gold medal for Germany. Her room-mate and eventual replacement, the film reveals, was Dora Ratjen — real name Horst Ratjen. “Dora”, despite his male hormones, managed to gain only fourth place.

Two years later, still posing as a woman, he set a new world high jump record for women of 1.70m — but was disqualified after a doctor discovered that he had strapped up his genitals. He was stripped of his title and was quickly conscripted into the army; his personal details disappeared from German archives.

“I never suspected anything,” Ms Bergmann, now 95 and living in the United States, told Der Spiegel news magazine. “We all wondered why she never appeared naked in the shower. To be so shy at the age of 17 seemed grotesque but we just thought: well, she’s weird, she’s strange.”

The timing of the film is particularly poignant, since officials are arguing over the gender of Caster Semenya, a South African runner who won the gold medal last month in the women’s 800 metres at the World Athletics Championship — in the same stadium that hosted the 1936 Olympics. The championships were held in the same Berlin stadium that was the venue for the 1936 Olympics.

Gender testingand hormonal and drug sampling are a relatively modern phenomenen. In 1936 it was still feasible for men to pose as women if the athlete had vaguely soft features, long hair — and if the team doctor had approved the athlete. All the indications so far are that the Nazis tried the trick only once, and did so at short notice. Horst “Dora” Ratjen survived the war, despite being sent to the Eastern Front, and later worked as a barman in Hamburg. He said that he had been pressured into the subterfuge by the BDM — the Nazi League of German Girls — to save the honour of Germany. Ratjen died last year.

Gretel Bergmann, was excluded from her sports club after the Nazi takeover, because of her Jewishness. “When the Nazis came to power in 1933, when I was 19 years old, I was no longer allowed to set foot in the stadium, not even as a spectator,” Ms Bergmann said. The sign on her sports club — now called the Gretel Bergmann Stadium — read: “No Jews or dogs allowed.”

She emigrated to Britain, was enrolled at a polytechnic and quickly became national high jump champion, with a jump of 1.55m. Towards the end of 1934 she was pressured by the Nazis to return and compete for Germany, after the International Olympic Committee had made Jewish participation a condition of Berlin being awarded the Olympics. She returned for fear of reprisals against her family.

But Jewish athletes were confined to training centres earmarked for Jews. They were usually underfunded and many of them failed to qualify; that, naturally, was the intention of the Nazis.

Ms Bergmann, however, managed to improve her performance. When she jumped 1.60m at a regional championship, it was clear that she was one of the strongest high jumpers in the world. The Nazi sports organisers would not let her perform in front of Hitler, however, and waited until the US squad had boarded their transatlantic liner bringing them to Germany — too late for America to boycott the Games — before informing Ms Bergmann that she could not possibly remain a member of the squad because of “under-performance”. By way of consolation she was given a spectator’s ticket.

Ironically, the high jump on that day in 1936 was won by Ibolya Csak — a Hungarian Jew.

Ms Bergmann — who later emigrated to the US and married a German Jewish sprinter, the doctor Bruno Lambert — says that she wept bitter tears. But it was also the hour of her strange shadow: the man in a female vest, Horst “Dora” Ratjen.

The Times

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I love this last one! I have a fact in my book: which was the first Olympics to use a blimp for photography? Not Berlin, but that photo sure could come in handy.

I think they digitally enhanced a lot of real 1936 footage and made them color also.

Here are some original pics of the blimp over the Olympic Stadium in 1936


It is mentioned that during the OC the blimp "bow" in front of the "Führer-box" under one of the photos - I suppose you are interested in this fact - it is furthermore explained how this was done by the crew of the blimp.

... and here is a pic from the Olympic Stadium out of the view of the blimp


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Was reading the production notes on this film, they changed the name of the hermaphoridte replacement of Gretl. Instead of the Hermann/"Dora" Ratjen in real life, (s)he is now Marie Kettler in the film. Hrrmph!!

How they always change those facts for film!! I guess they could not get clearance from the real Ratjen (who died last year) to use his/her name.

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