23 May 2011
Torches ... and bells
The announcement of the route for the Olympic torch relay was made last week, and the BBC had some interesting content on its London 2012 website, focusing on the different designs of the torches going back to 1936, and describing the highlights of the torch’s progress on its numerous journeys from that date.
Many people are surprised by the fact that the Olympic torch was originally an idea of those arch propagandists, the German National Socialists, but Nazi rallies were often held at night with flaming torches - the idea being to introduce a note of high drama into the proceedings - and so the idea of carrying a flame into the Olympic stadium would have had an immediate appeal for them.
The torch was not the only innovation at the Berlin Olympics however: there was also an Olympic bell weighing many tons, which was designed by Walter Lemcke and cast by the firm of Bochum in Westphalia. Once completed, it set out on its journey to Berlin in January 1936, stopping in a number of cities on the way and accompanied - as the official report puts it - by “festivals and demonstrations”, with its arrival at Magdeburg being greeted “ by the entire population”. The bell was finally transported to the Reich Sport Field in Berlin where it was hauled up to its tower on May 11th. And there it stayed until it fell to the ground in the aftermath of the 2nd World War. Now it sits, cracked and immobile outside the old Olympic stadium.
The idea of creating a bell for each Olympics was never pursued thereafter, much to the relief no doubt of all the other OCOGS who would surely not have welcomed the logistical planning necessary for the lugging of the thing, here, there and everywhere. It would however, have made a wonderful subject for the BBC’s satirical take on the Olympics: Twenty Twelve.