Tim Koch writes:
On 1 September HTBS sadly announced that the National Rowing Foundation’s National Rowing Hall of Fame at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, has been forced to closed and that no other place has yet been found for its exhibits – which will have to go into store. Personally, I am surprised that one of the great Ivy League rowing universities cannot find a little space amongst their vast acres. While a ‘minority sport’ such as rowing cannot expect to have too many museums dedicated even in part to its rich heritage, it is a shame that the rowing historian now only has one spiritual home: Henley’s River and Rowing Museum (RRM).
The RRM’s award winning building was opened in 1998 and today attracts 114,000 visitors a year. Its Education Centre alone is visited by 20,000 adults and children annually. In 2012, The Times newspaper named it as one of the top 50 museums in the world. Part of the reason for its success is that the museum is dedicated not only to the history of rowing but also to the history of the town of Henley. Further, it also addresses the modern interest in ‘green issues’. Using the Thames as a starting point, ‘it explores the environmental, ecological and social impacts of water and rivers across the world’.
I had assumed that there were no other museums dedicated all or in part to the sport of rowing so I was recently pleasantly surprised to find that there was a least one other such place – albeit a very modest affair. Searching the internet for information of rowing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, I came across a blog written between August 2013 and August 2014 by Jill Mazullo from St Paul, Minnesota, a keen rower who spent that time living in the German capital with her husband and family. The blog is called “Lost in Berlin” and it has the splendid subtitle ‘Speak little, observe much, row often’. Sound advice. In her first post Jill wrote:
I didn’t expect to do this, but after a few mass emails about rowing, I realized that perhaps overloading my friends’ email in-boxes wasn’t the best way to stay in touch. It’s gonna be a long year, and I think I need to write some of this down, if only to keep myself sane. If I follow through with this site, I will post about navigating this foreign environment without much German, managing three kids in three different schools, keeping track of my opera-going husband, and rowing on new bodies of water whenever possible.
In May 2014, Jill posted a piece about a visit to the site of the rowing and canoeing events in the 1936 Olympics in the Berlin suburb of Grünau on a lake called the Langer See (‘The Long Lake’). She entitled it ‘The Boys in the Other Boat’, a reference to the German Crew that came third to the winning University of Washington eight, something recently written about by Daniel James Brown in his much acclaimed book, The Boys in the Boat.
Berlin was awarded the 1936 Olympics before Hitler came to power and initially he was sceptical about hosting it. Goebbels eventually persuaded him of its potential propaganda value and from then on enormous efforts were put into staging the event. Now remembered with embarrassment as the ‘Nazi Olympics’, at the time it was thought of as a huge success. The host nation was especially pleased as it was a definite case of Deutschland über alles with German athletes dominating the Games – including the Olympic Regatta.
Germany achieved a medal in every rowing event and came first in five of the seven boat classes (single sculls, coxless pairs, coxed pairs, coxless fours and coxed fours). In the two rowing finals that they did not win, they only just lost and then only to two legendary crews. The double sculls race was won by Britain’s Beresford and Southwood (with Germany second) and the eights race was won by the University of Washington (with Germany third, one second behind the Americans).
The English version of the 1225 page Official Report on the Games (published in 1937) is available online here.
It is worth giving it time to download as it is a remarkable document and not as dull as you may expect of something produced by a committee of Teutonic statisticians. The text is very readable and there are some wonderful pictures, all making it well worth skimming through, particularly the rowing section (pages 996 to 1018) which gives an account of the remarkable organisation at Grünau. Incongruously perhaps, page 1130 has a picture of Bedford School in England with Jack Beresford planting his ‘Hitler Oak’. See Greg Denieffe’s 2012 piece on HTBS about this unique Olympic prize.
The history section of the website for Rüsselsheimer Ruder-Klub has some nice pictures of German achievements at all the Olympic Regattas, including 1936.
Jill posted the above scan of an old postcard showing that Grünau has a long history of wassersports. The website zukunftingruenau.eu (‘The Future of Grünau’) shows many more historic postcards of the area, many depicting rowing. To see them all click here and here. Some of the best are reproduced below.
The Grünau Regatta Course has its own German language Wikipedia page. It says that the first official regatta on the course was held on 27 June 1880 and that it is the oldest sports venue in Berlin still in use. In 1881, the first German inter city regatta (involving Berlin, Dresden and Stettin) was held there and this led to the establishment of the Berlin Regatta Association which established rules for competition. Though it has six lanes and is 2000 metres long, the course no longer meets the requirements for international competition.
Returning to Jill:
Where the western Olympic Stadium has been renovated, the Grünau grandstands have been left to decay. They’re still usable, but nothing fancy. On the day I visited the wooden benches were thick with dust…… Earlier (a member of Ruderclub Wannsee) had mentioned that there’s a Wassersports Museum built under the grandstands, and by chance an employee was there and the door was open, so I went in. Inside I saw old wooden shells from decades past, as well as memorabilia from the 1936 Olympics and photographs of rowers who had raced there.
Jill found that the little Wassersportmuseum had a eclectic display of rowing memorabilia – but was none the worse for that. Read her full description of her visit here. In my view, when it comes to rowing museums, one must misquote Dr. Johnson: ‘It is not how well it is done; you are surprised to find it done at all’.