MUNICH, Germany, Aug. 2, 2012 — At first glance, the apartment building at 31 Connolly Strasse doesn’t stand out as particularly significant. That is, if one doesn’t know the history of what happened here.
There are no T-shirts, magnets or other useless tchotchkes for tourists to buy. This is not a tourist attraction.
This is a place that would be nothing more than the former Olympic Village, if not for the events of a day in September 40 years ago.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 1972, eight Palestinian terrorists stormed into apartments here, killing two Israeli Olympic athletes and taking an additional nine hostage. The episode – known as the Munich Massacre – ended tragically hours later at the the city’s Fürstenfeldbrücke airport.
The events not only marred the 1972 Olympics, they left their mark on each subsequent Olympic games and remain a subject of discussion 40 years later. Politics and the Olympics have always gone hand in hand, but the events of the 1972 games remain unmatched, even to this day.
“No act of terrorism has ever destroyed the Olympic movement and none ever will,” then Olympic President Juan Antonio Samaranch said during the closing ceremony of the 1996 games in Atlanta, referencing both the 1972 Munich Massacre and the Olympic Park bombing during the Atlanta games. “…More than ever we are fully committed to building a better, more peaceful world in which forms of terrorism are eradicated.”
But, to visit 31 Connolly Strasse is to at least begin to understand the past.
The events of Sept. 5, 1972, began when Arab terrorists – from a group known as Black September – entered the Olympic Village by scaling a six-foot-tall fence, apparently a not-uncommon occurrence as witnesses seemed unfazed. The situation was compounded by authorities’ botched response following a 20-hour standoff.
The nine Israeli hostages were killed following a gunfight at the airport. The news stunned an already shocked world.
“When I was a kid, my father used to say, ‘our greatest hopes and worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight,” sportscaster Jim McKay said on ABC. “… They’re all gone.”
From the onset, the 1972 Summer Olympics aimed to present a drastically different view of the country than the last summer games held in Germany in 1936, when the country was ruled by Adolf Hitler.
The 1972 games fell during the middle of the Cold War – Germany was divided into East and West Germany. Following the end World War II less than three decades earlier, the West had moved on to become one of the major economic powerhouses of Europe.
The games were nicknamed the “Happy Games.” Olympic security guards were unarmed and police dogs were out of the question given that the Dachau concentration camp was only miles away from the site of the Olympics.
There were athletic highlights at the Olympics – swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals, and Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut burst on the scene like a nova – but any accomplishments were easily overshadowed by the tragedy. If Olympic officials wanted peace and harmony to serve as the games’ enduring image, they failed. Perhaps the most famous image of the games is that of a hooded-terrorist standing on the apartment building’s balcony.
“The Olympics is a wonderful opportunity for individuals from all nations to come together for friendly competition and fellowship,” U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said in a statement. “As athletes from all over the world compete in this year’s Olympic Games, we are reminded of the senseless and brutal killing of 11 Israeli athletes and officials at the Summer Games in Munich 40 years ago.”
Following the Olympics, the village was converted for residential use and is today home to about 10,000 people. The modern-looking structures earned the derogatory nickname “concrete citadel.”
The building at 31 Connolly Strasse is relatively anonymous, except for the small marker out front topped with stones – a Jewish tradition similar to leaving flowers on a grave. The marker includes the names of the 11 Israeli athletes killed during the 1972 games.
Residents seemingly come and go without worry or bother about the harrowing landmark that looms nearby; stopping to ask one resident for directions, it seems some are unaware of the location’s inextricable link with history. Surely, the events of Sept. 5, 1972, must remain in the back of their minds.
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