Oliver Hilmes translated from the German by Jefferson Chase

Berlin 1936

Sixteen Days in August

Publication Date: Feb 06, 2018

304 pp


List Price US $12.99
ISBN: 978-1-59051-930-1


List Price US $24.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-929-5

A lively account of the 1936 Olympics told through the voices and stories of those who witnessed it, from an award-winning historian and biographer

Berlin 1936 takes the reader through the sixteen days of the Olympiad, describing the events in the German capital through the eyes of a select cast of characters—Nazi leaders and foreign diplomats, sportsmen and journalists, writers and socialites, nightclub owners and jazz musicians. While the events in the Olympic stadium, such as when an American tourist breaks through the security and manages to kiss Hitler, provide the focus and much of the drama, it also considers the lives of ordinary Berliners—the woman with a dark secret who steps in front of a train, the transsexual waiting for the Gestapo’s knock on the door, and the Jewish boy fearing for his future and hoping that Germany loses on the playing field.

During the games the Nazi dictatorship was in many ways put on hold, and Berlin 1936 offers a last glimpse of the vibrant and diverse life in the German capital in the 1920s and 30s that the Nazis wanted to destroy.

Excerpt from Berlin 1936

Joseph Goebbels is a great admirer Strauss’ ‘Olympic Hymn’. ‘It is truly wonderful’, he gushed after one of the rehearsals. ‘That fellow really can compose.’ Hitler, too, is satisfied with Strauss, telling one of his assistants to summon the composer to be congratulated after the ceremony. ‘Handshake with Hitler’, Pauline Strauss will note in her diary.

Spectators get no respite. As Strauss is still climbing down from his platform, the torch bearer charged with taking the Olympic flame the final kilometres from the Lustgarten to the stadium arrives through the Eastern Gate, runs across the oval track to the Marathon Gate and ignites a giant bowl of fire. Then Spyridon Louis, the gold medallist in the marathon at the first modern-day Games in Athens in 1896, presents Hitler with a symbolic olive branch from Olympia in Greece. At the end of the ceremony, the athletes—represented by the German weightlifter Rudolf Ismayr—take the Olympic oath. After reciting the vow, he waves a swastika flag instead of the Olympic one. Baillet-Latour is appalled at this violation of protocol. But what can he do?

The opening ceremony is almost over. Before Hitler leaves the stadium at 6.16 p.m., the musicians perform the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Georg Friedrich Händel’s Messiah—the final item on the programme. As the choir sings ‘And he shall reign forever and ever, king of kings and lord of lords forever, hallelujah, hallelujah’, the Polish ambassador to Germany, Józef Lipski, discretely taps Baillet-Latour on the shoulder. ‘We have to be on our guard against a people with such a talent for organisation’, Lipski whispers in the count’s ear. ‘They could mobilise their entire nation just as smoothly for war.’

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Guardian, The Telegraph, Daily Mail, and Finacial Times

“[Berlin 1936’s] publication earlier this year felt like a gift. Historian Oliver Hilmes has created an almost miniaturist narrative of the most controversial Olympics ever staged…Jefferson Chase’s excellent translation gives us taut prose that adds to the sense of unease.” —The Guardian, Best Books of the Year

“Memorable…Hilmes’s deceptively jaunty, even comic tone echoes that of the Games themselves.” —Financial Times, Best Books of the Year

“A masterpiece, and a highly original one too. Hitler’s notorious 1936 Olympics are only the starting point for a detailed evocation of an era…phenomenally immersive.” —The Telegraph, Best Sports Books of the Year

“A small masterpiece—you actually feel like you were there.” —Daily Mail, Best Sports Interest Books of the Year

With the skill of a novelist, Hilmes weaves into his account the menacing presence of Hitler, deviously staging the Games to deceive a global audience unaware of the horrific evils he is about to unleash. A riveting drama.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Illuminating…[Hilmes] offers memorable sequences, from chillingly amusing…to harrowing.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A great work of narrative history.” —Shelf Awareness

“A panorama of that fateful summer….Hilmes provides fascinating insights into the events….A unique sports history recommended for all libraries.” Library Journal

“Extraordinary…[Berlin 1936] casts quite a spell.” —Boston Herald

“Hilmes provides dark insights into the Nazi-run 1936 Olympics…fascinating.” —Jerusalem Post

“Sensational, sensory, and smartly sophisticated, this is a fine example of history come fully and meaningfully alive.” —Jewish Book Council

“Fascinating…Hilmes has gathered testimony from diaries, newspapers, and other sources that show how those Olympic days were experienced by the ‘ordinary people’ of Berlin.” —Signature Reads, 9 Best Books to Understand Fascism and How It Works

“[A] witty, ironic diary of the final transitional days of Berlin, from bohemian superpower, to Goebbels-inspired new social media center for the gangsters of the Nazi party…It captures a moment in time never seen before…A delight to read.” — Stephen Hopkins, director of Race

“Oliver Hilmes’s Berlin 1936 is a punchy, vibrant, and highly original account of the most controversial of all modern Olympiads. By viewing each day of the festival through a wide cast of characters, from diplomats and sportsmen through coroners and concentration-camp inmates, Hilmes pulls the reader into the drama of the moment without neglecting the wider context of Nazi oppression and brutality.” —David Clay Large, author of Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936 and Munich 1972: Tragedy, Terror, and Triumph at the Olympic Games

“A rewarding read for the specialist historian and general public alike. Hilmes has written a history that succeeds where other narratives of the ‘Nazi Games’ often fail. He manages to bring these sixteen days in the summer of 1936 back to life by unfolding a panorama in which the everyday and banal interacts with the special and extraordinary in often surprising and insightful ways.” Professor Kay Schiller, author of The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany