David Gledhill, Olympic Village. Oil on canvas. Image credit: David Gledhill.

In September 2015, Deutsche KreditBank Stiftung and Palis Advisory GmbH, invited myself, Margaret Cahill, Peter Lewis and German artist Wolf Bertram Becker, to visit the 1936 Olympic Athlete Village, which lies thirty kilometres east of Berlin.

In 1934 work began to convert a former military base at Elstal Wüstermark for use in the Games. It is currently scheduled for redevelopment. Taken over by the Soviet military in 1945 and finally abandoned in 1992, the 325-acre site is largely in a state of disrepair. It features a fascinating blend of architectural and artistic remnants from both the Nazi and Communist phases of German history and represents a material index of shifting cultural and political ideologies. The shells of former Soviet housing blocks overlook a cultural centre complete with Nazi wall relief and Communist murals, an international dining hall or Speisehaus der Nationen, and a scattering of the original ‘cottages’ built for the national teams. A reconstruction of the four-times gold medalist Jesse Owens’s bedroom draws infrequent guided tours.  We were allowed to ‘access all areas’ and roam the site freely for three days of blistering late summer heat.

The project was timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Olympics and the 2016 Rio Games. My work focuses on the fate of Wolfgang Fürstner, the Commander of the Village and the man responsible for overseeing its construction, and on the surviving buildings from the Soviet era. Fürstner was demoted in accordance with the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 when it was discovered that his grandfather was Jewish. He shot himself at the site shortly after the close of the Games.

An exhibition of our work encompassing painting, printmaking, collage, video and 3D pieces opened at Deutsche Kreditbank’s Berlin headquarters in July. It will transfer to the refurbished gymnasium at the Village itself on 11 September 2016.

As featured in the Manchester School of Art, Research Degree Programme Newsletter Autumn 2016