Olympic Games, Berlin, 1936

The healthy and powerful body as the symbol of a nation was masterly depicted by Leni Riefenstahl (1902 – 2003) in the film “Olympia”, a photo reportage about the Olympic Games in 1936 in Berlin. The antique roots of the games became the model for an ideal society. Riefenstahl turned the ceremony into a ritual, and at the same time into perfect propaganda for the Nazi regime. Although Riefenstahl remains very controversial up until today, her films and books are still references.

There are a lot of picture postcards and official publications about the Olympic Games of 1936. In this exhibition, however, we have chosen to show the Games from the perspective of the spectator. The amateur photos provide a more intriguing image of the atmosphere and the political impact.

For her film “Olympia” Leni Riefenstahl was inspired by that other cult film, “Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit” (1925) of Wilhelm Prager. Riefenstahl was involved in both productions: in “Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit” she acted, in “Olympia” she would direct as well. There are many analogies in the language of both films.

“Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit” was a promotion picture to the modern body culture. The new health cult goes back to different myths. The German civilian is depicted as a fat bourgeois living an unhealthy and unethical life. The film had to motivate spectators to develop a healthy mind in a healthy body. Only fit and balanced individuals could save the nation.

Gerhard Riebicke (Germany, 1878 – 1957) was the photographer on the set of “Wege zu Kraft und Schönheit”. Same of the photographs he made then have now become icons of present day nude photography.  

In the exhibition we show both film, next to a large number of original documents and photographs by Gerhard Riebicke.


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