‘Happy Games’ at the Expense of Security?
The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich were to be seen as a cheerful and peaceful contrast to the Nazi propaganda-laden Berlin Games of 1936. This aim was also reflected in the planning of the security concept. Optimal security with minimal regulations and a less visible police presence were the target. Consequently, it was decided to work with a civilian security service to protect the Olympic site.
Political demonstrations were forbidden through the creation of a no-go zone in the city centre. VIPs among the guests and athletes expected were to be given special protection. In addition, a restricted area by-law prohibited prostitution in the inner city area. In this way, the ‘invasion’ of criminals and sex workers that was feared could be counteracted. Known as the ‘Münchner Linie’ (Munich Line) these preventive measures fitted into the change of strategy already adopted by the Munich policeforce since the mid-1960s.
The danger of politically motivated attacks was discussed several times in advance and political extremist groups were under observation. These factors, however, were not incorporated in concrete preparatory work undertaken by the police. In view of the terrorist attack on 5 September 1972 this turned out to be a fatal mistake.
Voluntary Service for the ‘Happy Games’
In 1970 the police and the Olympic Committee had already agreed to employ a civilian security team on the Olympic site. Its members were to be unobtrusive and psychologically trained to maintain a peaceful atmosphere.
The security service wore sporty, casual clothing that fitted in with the overall visual design of the Games. During the day, the team members were unarmed and their main task was to make security checks at entrances. Their presence was to be friendly; they were to intervene in small disturbances and hand offenders over to the police, if necessary.
The Olympic Village was not part of the security area covered by the police but came under the organising committee. The fact that members of a Palestinian terrorist group were able to gain access to the Olympic Village with ease on 5 September 1972, proved the concept behind the unobtrusive security service to have been a weak point with dire consequences.
Prevention Instead of Escalation
The strategic approach adopted by the Munich policeforce underwent a fundamental change in the mid-1960s. While training and operational tactics had, up until then, been strikingly military, characterised by authoritarian measures to enforce power, the ‘Schwabinger Krawalle’ (Schwabing Riots) of June 1962 marked a turning point.
After the five-day street battle between the young of Munich and the police, the excessively harsh police measures were criticised. Under Chief Constable Manfred Schreiber new operational tactics were introduced. The concept, later known as the ‘Munich Line’ focussed on de-escalation and envisaged the introduction of preventive measures at the earliest possible stage.
A psychological initiative was set up to develop communicative conflict resolution strategies as alternatives to a confrontational approach. Public relations work was to be carried out more offensively. These elements were coupled with a resolute law enforcement and strict, preventive regulations.
Many decisions made in the course of planning for the 1972 Games can be traced back to this new strategic approach. Preventive measures such as a ban on demonstrations and a restricted area by-law came into force as a consequence. A large pop-music festival project was abandoned for security reasons and stricter regulations for the ‘Spielstraße’ (Games Street) introduced. Last but not least, the idea for a civilian security service for the Olympic site resulted from this approach as well.
On the basis of the ‘Olympic Truce protection act’ demonstrations in the pedestrian precinct and on the entire Olympic site were banned during the Games. Nevertheless, numerous groups used the attention of a global public to draw attention to their issues. Almost every day peaceful demonstrations took place.
Protests against the Games had already been held during the planning phase. Left-wing groups in particular disapproved of the Olympics as an ‘imperialist’ display by different nations. There were satirical protests by groups such as the ‘Anti-Olympic Committee’. This planned a ‘hippy Olympics’ with disciplines such as sandcastle building or long-distance spitting to express disapproval.
These harmless countermovements aside, it was sometimes difficult to assess the degree of radicalisation within the numerous political splinter groups. As a consequence, many of them were under constant observation by the police.
During a demonstration on 2 September 1972 several activists broke through the barriers into the no-go zone at ‘Stachus’. It resulted in a mass brawl between the police and demonstrators. During a demonstration on 2 September 1972 several activists broke through the barriers into the no-go zone at ‘Stachus’. It resulted in a mass brawl between the police and demonstrators.
After the terrorist attack on 5 September there were numerous protests demanding an end to the Games and sharp criticism of the course of action chosen by the organising committee and law enforcement bodies.
The police and the city authorities expected a strong influx of prostitutes and a resultant increase in crime during the Olympic Games. As a result the city council voted on a restricted area by-law in March 1972. This prohibited prostitution ‘for the protection of public decency and youth’ in designated restricted areas in the inner city and on ‘Oberwiesenfeld’.
However, when the police cordoned off the ‘Leierkasten’ brothel in Zweigstrasse as well as other establishments on 10 April 1972, turbulent scenes ensued. The sex workers refused to accept the ban. Onlookers and clients gathered in front of the building. The women incited the crowd to break through the barriers, enticed them with discounts and entertained them with strip shows.
With great amusement reports on Munich’s ‘Battle of the Tarts’ were broadcast throughout Germany. This did not lead to the by-law being uplifted. The brothels eventually moved to residential areas in the city’s suburbs.
The restricted area, that now extends far into the city’s outskirts, still exists today. The hit song ‘Skandal im Sperrbezirk’ by the Munich band ‘Spider Murphy Gang’ was written in 1981 based on a further tightening of the restricted area by-law.