The End of the Wiking Saga

1936 Olympic rowing – Wiking coming off the water at Grünau after winning the repechage heat beating Australia and Czechoslovakia.

6 February 2023

By Julian Eyres

Julian Eyres continues his story about the German boys who took the bronze medal in the eights at the Belin Games in 1936. What happened to the crew and their young coach, Karl-Heinz Schulz (KHS), after the Olympic Games and after the Second World War? (Find the first part here and the second part here).

A young KHS.

After the Wiking Club eight’s success in winning a bronze medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, their 25-year-old coach, Karl-Heinz Schulz (KHS), suddenly found himself admired and feted. He and his crew had demonstrated that a club crew could succeed without the benefits of the state sponsored system and Karl-Heinz was determined to use his newfound fame to keep the Nazis out of rowing.

Wiking’s eight gathering around a Mercedes, 1936.

His reputation was further enhanced the following year when the Wiking crew won the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta. The crew consisted of four 1936 Olympians: Schmidt, Hannemann, Loeckle and Völs, who were joined by Bier, Friedrich, Braun, Mosch and Mayer (cox). They beat Jesus College, Cambridge, by 1/2 a length in the final in what must have been a bittersweet victory for Steve Fairbairn as his old alma mater had been beaten by his young German protégée using the Fairbairnian method. KHS also put together a composite coxed four from Wiking and TG in Berlin, which won both the German National Championships and the European Championships in 1937.

Wiking wins the 1937 Grand Challenge Cup by beating Jesus College, Cambridge, in the final. Wiking’s crew: bow U. Beir, 2 H. Friedrich, 3 H. Braun, 4 R. Mosch, 5 G. Völs, 6 W. Loeckle, 7 H.J. Hannemann, stroke H. Schmidt, cox F.W. Mayer.

Despite these club successes by the year 1937, it was becoming increasingly difficult to avoid Nazi directives. Calls within the Nazi Party to incorporate all sportsmen into the Hitler Youth or SA (Storm Detachment) were becoming louder. Herbert Schmidt, the stroke of the Wiking eight says that, “In our sporting circles we were aware that we had to be particularly careful not to be swallowed up by one of the Nazi organisations.” KHS fought against a threat to ban his rowers if they would not join the Marine branches of the Hitler Youth and SA, arguing that they would rather quit. He won that particular battle but eventually had no choice: all sports clubs were taken over by a Nazi organisation.

The Head of Youth Rowing at the German Reich Association for Physical Fitness (NRSL), Heinrich Pauli, saw KHS as someone who was not afraid to voice his opinion, “against the prevailing doctrine” and persuaded him, “to join the leadership of youth rowing”. From 1937 to early 1939 the records show that KHS became a member of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi Party. Whether his party membership was a requirement in order to continue his involvement in rowing or KHS believed that he would have more influence from the inside is not known. However, we do know that he worked to defend sporting excellence above mere militaristic fitness. According to his secretary, Charlotte Pöschla, he issued countless exceptions, undoubtedly groundless, to allow his rowers to avoid aspects of the Hitler Youth service. However, his opposition to the regime did not go unnoticed and, despite being promoted within the ranks, there was increasing hostility towards him from Nazi political leaders, rowers and civil servants within the NRSL. Particularly antagonistic towards him was Arno Breitmeyer, a national title winning rower back in the 1920s who was vice president of the NRSL and sports editor of the Nazis’ official newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter.

In early 1939 things came to a head when KHS was arrested by the Gestapo and, after eight weeks of interrogation, was brought before a court. He was found innocent of three charges: a) disparaging State Secretary and Reichs Sports leader, Hans von Tschammer und Osten, b) disclosing party structures, and c) criticising the Hitler Youth education. However, he was sentenced to eight months in prison for contravening laws around ‘moral behaviour’. Exactly what he is supposed to have done is unclear, but it seems to have involved displaying what the Nazis considered to be an over liberal attitude at some point in the past. The paragraph under which he was charged focuses on sexual misconduct, emphasising that homosexuality and prostitution were classed as crimes, but his sentence was far too short for that to be a feasible accusation. A more likely explanation is that either he committed a minor offence against their moral code or that he refused to condemn anyone for their private lives. Heinrich Pauli, the only defence witness in the case, commented afterwards, “Thus the goal of eliminating him through personal defamation had been achieved in a mean way”.

Documents later revealed that his sentence had been expunged, and that there was no evidence of KHS being involved in Nazi activity despite apparently being formally a member of the party, from which he was promptly expelled at the time of his arrest.

After serving seven months he was released, immediately conscripted into the Army, and took part in the invasion of France before requesting a transfer to the Navy in 1940. Posted to a torpedo patrol boat, KHS served all along the coast of Europe and North Africa and was awarded the iron cross first and second class.

By 1944, whilst many people were looking for ways to escape from Berlin, KHS was back, determined to stay because, as he said, “the collapse of fascism was approaching its final phase” and, “as an opponent of Nazi politics and convinced of the futility of war. I wanted to experience this in Berlin.” His journalistic skills enabled him to secure a post with the German Broadcasting Company (RRG) for a while but, in May the following year, he was captured by the Russians when they took Berlin and commandeered the RRG’s Broadcasting House Building. By managing to convince the Russians of his usefulness, he avoided the fate of the thousands of German prisoners of war who were held captive by the Russians and never seen again. Instead, he was employed by the Russians as a reporter and announcer for a year before being sacked. He lost his job under the Allies’ denazification process because of his pre-war involvement with Nazi organisations and being denounced anonymously, and falsely, as a wanted war criminal. He was finally exonerated by the Denazification Commission in 1949.

A photo of KHS after the War.

KHS did not return to rowing after the war. Perhaps memories of the infighting and his pre-war denunciation affected his view, or he may have wanted to distance himself from any association with the Nazi party. Maybe he simply felt that he had nothing else to prove. Instead, he turned his attention to football and became the coach for SG Oberschöneweide in Berlin. His major triumph during his tenure there was to lead both the first and second teams to their respective league titles during the 1946/47 season. The first team also reached the final of the Berlin Cup Championship where, after being 3:0 down at half time, they emerged as the winners after extra time, 3:4.

SG Oberschöneweide – Berlin Cup Champions 1946/47 Season.

Sadly this remarkable coach died tragically young from a thrombosis after surgery in 1951 at the age of 39. At his grave the pastor quoted one of KHS’s maxims offered to his athletes when things looked grim, “Chin up and carry on”.

After the death of the well-respected KHS, the Cup for the Berlin Football Championship was named after him from 1954 to 1970.
Grünau 1986: Olympians 50 years on – a reunion of some the members of the Wiking’s eight with other German rowers from 1936.

Like KHS, all the other boys in the German boat of ’36 survived the war but have now passed away. In 1966 the Wiking club caught up with their most successful rowers, by then all in their fifties, and asked what they were up to:

Alfred ‘Ari’ Rieck (1914-2000), Bow:
Manager in the mail order company Schöpflin. He returned to Berlin after the war until 1962 when he moved to Fürth. While in Berlin he was actively involved at the Wiking Rowing Club, coaching the juniors. For the club’s journal he wrote a series of articles entitled “A Chat with the Past”, recounting the story of the 1936 Olympic crew’s path to success.

Helmut Radach (1915-?), No. 2:
An employee of Frankfurt Airport’s statistical department. Returned to the sport after the war both as a coach and rower at Hamburg and Germania Rowing Club and Flörsheim-Rüsselheim in Frankfurt. He enjoyed rowing as stroke in a four and eight. In 1966 at the age of 51 he told the club that he still did a good work out on his rowing machine in the cellar, “Wednesdays and Sundays, a thousand strokes in interval training, as taught by KHS.”

Dr. Hans Kusche (1914-2003), No. 3:
Returned to Berlin and set up a medical practice but he could not put the oars aside rowing on Berlin’s waters in his spare time.

Heinz Kaufmann (1913-1997), No. 4:
Independent Advertising Consultant. Continued to be involved in rowing after the war. He rowed competitively and coached with great success at Bamberg Rowing Club.

Gerd Völs (1909-1991), No. 5:
Returned to Hannover after the war and was a coach at Angaria Rowing Club for many years. He rowed in senior competitions until he was 40, then in the Veterans. He bequeathed his 1936 eight bronze medal to the German Sport and Olympic Museum in Cologne, Germany.

Dr. Werner Loeckle (1916-1996), No 6:
Obstetrics and Gynaecological Specialist. He returned to the sport after the war but only in his capacity as a regatta doctor.

Hans-Joachim Hannemann (1915-1989), No. 7:
Civil servant at the Ministry of Defence. He returned to Berlin and to competitive rowing after the war. He was instrumental in building the new Wiking club house, was the club’s chairman from 1950 to 1953 and a coach. He moved to Bonn, coached at WSC Godesberg, and became a FISA umpire in 1958.

Herbert Schmidt (1914-2002), Stroke:
Head of Radio and Television Sports Department at the broadcasting company Senders Freies (Radio Free Berlin). He reported, naturally, on watersports, especially rowing and canoeing. At the time of writing in 1966 he had covered all National, European and World rowing championships as well as reporting from the 1960 Rome and 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Wilhelm ‘Willi” Mahlow (1914-?), Cox:
Civil servant at the Berlin Regional Finance Office. Returning to Berlin after 1945, he joined Alfred Rieck and Hans-Joachim Hannemann at Wiking to help build a new club house and train the juniors.

The 1936 Wiking eight saga has run its course but their rowing legacy lives on, their achievement is still celebrated and will continue to be as long as the water flows past their club house in Berlin.

4 comments

  1. Excellent account of sporting endeavour and coaching excellence. What a man KHS must have been, to swap from Olympic rowing to Professional football and succeed in both sports, außerordentlich!
    Thank youJ, ulian Eyres.

  2. Thank you for your kind comments. I agree, KHS was clearly an exceptional man. I only wish there were accounts of his motivational speeches: they must have been quite remarkable!

    • A fascinating story to run onside “Boys in the Boat”, with interesting similarities of succeeding against the odds.
      Thank you for it, John Beresford.

      • Thank you John. I agree that the best stories in sport are always the ones with the human element such as athletes overcoming the odds.

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