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München 72

‘Happy Games’ at the Expense of Security?

19

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.

Chief Constable Manfred Schreiber (5th from l.) poses with Hermann Wöhrle (7th from l.), head of security, and staff in the Olympic stadium. Well-known athletes from the civilian security team, such as the track and field athlete Jutta von Haase (6th from l.) and the boxer Paul Hogh (3rd from l.) were selected to be at the press event.
Unknown photographer, 1972, Polizeipräsidium München

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.

A police motorbike patrol and a security staff member in the Olympic park.
Unknown photographer, 1972, Polizeipräsidium München

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.

Demonstration in Munich on ‘Antikriegstag’ (Anti War Day), 1 September 1972. Protests against the Vietnam War and criticism of the Olympic Games were key issues at the rallies.
Klaus Rose, photograph, 1972, IMAGO/Klaus Rose

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.

Two security staff members at the Olympic Centre. Portable walkie-talkies, binoculars, torches, a map of the city and a language booklet were part of their standard equipment. Only some of the night security staff were armed.
Unknown photographer, 1972, IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

The security team was made up of around 1,800 members of the policeforce and the Federal Border Police who had volunteered for this duty. Most of them were recreational athletes who were exempt from their police jobs for the duration of this service.

Fotografie einer Frau in blauer Uniform und einem großen Funkgerät
One of 30 female security staff members on duty in the Olympic Village. While the men in the security staff were housed in the Bayernkaserne, accommodation was provided for the women in the Studentenstadt in Freimann.
In: Die Spiele, vol 1, ‘Die Organisation’, ed. by the Organisationskomitee für die Spiele der XX. Olympiade München 1972 e.V., Munich 1974,, p. 293.

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.

 

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During his time with the Bundesgrenzschutz (Federal Border Guard) in 1972 Robert Fuchs was offered the opportunity to work as a civilian security guard at the Summer Olympics in Munich. He was on duty at the opening ceremony in the Olympic stadium and in the boxing hall during the Games.

 

 

Horst Diebel was a member of the security staff, pictured here in Simbach/Inn shortly before the start of the Games. His uniform passed into the collection of the Münchner Stadtmuseum in 2016 and can be seen in the exhibition ‘Munich 72 – Fashion, People and Music’ from 29 July 2022 onwards. The casual, sporty clothing style was intended to avoid echoing the strict appearance of police uniforms. The suit was part of a collection designed for all Olympic staff members by André Courrèges, among others, under the direction of Otl Aicher.
Unknown photographer, 1972, Münchner Stadtmuseum

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.

Crowds of people and mounted police on Leopoldstrasse during the ‘Schwabing Riots’. A complaint by a resident about noise caused by young street musicians triggered the four-day street battle.
Rudi Dix, photograph, 1962, Stadtarchiv München (FS-NL-RD-2076-A-33)

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.

Police officers lead a man away after his arrest. Several thousand people were involved in the riots. The Munich police reacted with a disproportionate use of force.
Rudi Dix, photograph, 1962, Stadtarchiv München (FS-NL-RD-2076A35)

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.

 

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Christian Weis was a senior police officer at Munich’s Police Headquarters until his retirement in 2022. He is chairman of the association ‘Münchner Blaulicht e.V.’ that is dedicated to prevention and education work based on police history. Here Christian Weis tells how security measures have advanced since the Summer Olympics.
Television van with extendable antenna. As part of measures introduced with the ‘Munich Line’, these vehicles were used for video surveillance during demonstrations to provide better documentary evidence.
Unknown photographer, c. 1960, Polizeipräsidium München