The Berlin Hasenheide is ‚historical’ ground for international sport and is closely associated with the name Dr. Hon. Friedrich-Ludwig Jahn. Jahn came to Berlinin 1809 and taught at theGrauenKosterHigh Schoolan the Plamann Education Institute. In the fall of 1810 he founded together with Friedrich Friesen the “German Federation” which was seeking a national and political union.
In June, 1811, Jahn and Friesen established the first public gymnastics grounds in the Hasenheide. Jahn writes in his book “Die deutsche Turnkunst” which appeared in 1816: “In the beautiful springtime in 1810 at first only a few but then more and more students accompanied me to the fields and forests on school-free Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. The numbers of participants continued to grow. Games for youths were played and simple exercises were performed. And so it went on into the hot summer days when an unbelievable number of boys came together. This number did decrease, but a nucleus had been formed which remained together during the winter. Together with this group the first gymnastics grounds in the Hasenheide were built in the spring of 1811.”
The Hasenheide, the former Hasengarten of the Great Kurfürst of Brandenburg, was situated far from the gates ofBerlinin the community of Rixdorf, today the city district Neukölln. The first equipment used by Jahn and his students consisted of oak branches easily reachable from the ground and on which they did chin-ups and swing-ups. Later equipment for climbing, balancing beams, jumping-poles, a wooden parallel bar and a horizontal bar were erected. For those participating Jahn procured suitable training suits made out of gray linen. A contemporary writer reports about the gymnastics activity: “Already in the summer of 1811 the number of pupils climbed to 300, from all social classes, from the private school to the academic lecture halls, from orphans to the sons of princes.” The citizens of Berlin watched this beginning of gymnastics – according to Jahn – with amazement and smiled at the young boys who were practising jumping, throwing, climbing and wrestling under the direction of a young bearded man in the Hasenheide and Rollberge. In the summer of 1812 the gymnastics ground were enlarged and a long race track was added.
With the outbreak of the wars of liberation in 1813 the gymnastics movement was interrupted. Jahn and all his gymnasts who were fit for military service joined the fight against Napoleon. At the end of 1814 he returned and dedicated himself to the continued development of the gymnastics grounds. Thousands of Berliners and citizens from Rixdorf gathered daily in the Hasenheide to watch Jahn and his gymnastics. On one day alone in 1817 1,017 gymnasts came to the Hasenheide – the highest number ever! Two years later public gymnastics was forbidden.
In addition to his teaching and his direction of the gymnastics grounds Jahn held numerous lectures and published much promoting a union of the small German states and demanding the establishment of a constitution for all citizens. This was a thorn in the side of the Prussian government, and his gymnastics grounds were closed by the police in 1819. Gymnastics was completely forbidden after the murder of the Russian Privy Councillor Kotzebue by a member of a student organisation.
From then on Jahn was considered a demagogue. He was accused of being the first to have spread ‘the highly dangerous idea of German unity’. He was arrested. His trial lasted until 1825 an ended with an aquittal. Jahn still had to leaveBerlinand was confined to the town ofFreyburgan der Unstrut. When the government changed hands inPrussia, this political restriction was lifted. A bitter man he stayed in Freyburg and distanced himself from the gymnastics movement which was beginning to blossom again. He appeared in public for the last time in 1848 as a delegate of the first German National Assembly. He died onOctober 18, 1852, at the age of 75 in Freyburg an der Untstrut.
The old gymnastics grounds in the Hasenheide were no longer used after the gymnastics ban was lifted. The facilities ware destroyed and the grounds levelled and converted into a shooting range. In 1844 near the old gymnastics grounds a new facility was opened by Prof. H.F. Maßmann, one of Jahn’s students. It remained at the disposal ofBerlinschools and organizations until 1934.
During the second German Gymnastics Festival in 1862 inBerlina cornerstone was laid for am memorial to Jahn. The construction of the monument lasted a decade and cost in all 12,000 thalers. The dedication of the memorial with a 4-meter high statue of Jahn, by the sculptor Erdmann Encke, took place onAugust 10, 1872, in the presence of many delegations from all over the world. For the elevation and pedestal of the monument, stones were gathered in all parts ofGermany,Europe, and overseas and sent toBerlin– often with great difficulty. The heaviest stone, a 30 Zentner (hundred-weight) block of granite, came from the Habichtswald nearKassel. 120 of 130 stones had engraved inscriptions which have only recently been restored. These include, among others, stones from the Hohenzollern castle, the Duppel Entrenchment No. 2, Steckelberg – the birthplace of Ulrich von Hutten -, the castle Sickingen with the year 1594, Hohenstaufen, Kyffhäuser, theTeutoburger Wald, Heidelberger Schloss, the houses where Lessing and Jahn were born, and theLeipzigbattlefield.Berlinorganizations are also represented, the Männer-Turnverein Vater Jahn Rixdorf (TuS Neukölln), the Turngemeinde inBerlin, and the Berliner Turnerschaft. A stone from abroad carries the inscription: “Der Gott, der Eisen wachsen ließ, der wollte keine Knechte – Am Tage der Abschaffung der Sklaverei in Missouri am 11. Januar 1864 (God, who made iron grow, did not want slaves – The day of the abolition of slavery in Missouri January 11, 1864)“. Other stones came fromNew York,California,Kansas City,Chicago,Illinois, Cincinatti andPhiladelphia.East Asiawar represented with a stone fromManila.Canadasent a stone fromFortScott.Australiasent blocks of stone from Melbourne and Tamuda. Seven gymnasts made the dangerous climb to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain and brought back a stone on which the inscription “German Gymnastics Union Rio de Janeiro” was engraved. More stones came from theTyrol,Austria,Bohemia,Italy,Siebenbürgen,Spain,Paris,London,Hungary, and from other countries and places. Swiss gymnasts sent two pre-historic stone axes which were found in theBodenseeand which can be seen on the front of the monument.
The gymnastics grounds in the Hasenheide and the Jahn monument are well-known in all the world. “Jahn Celebrations” with international participants have taken place regulary in the Hasenheide. The 100, 150 and 175-year anniversaries celebrating the founding of the “Turnplatz Hasenheide” were gloriously celebrated. In 1934 the reorganization of the Hasenheide and the Jahn Memorial was begun. The old gymnastics grounds had to make way for a 25 hectar large memorial grove which was planted around the newly erected Jahn monument. These grounds were dedicated during the Olympic Games in 1936.
The Hasenheide and the Jahn Memorial were only slightly damaged during the Second World War. From 1949 to 1954 the district council Berlin-Neukölln created an even larger 50 hectar “Volkspark Hasenheide” which has become a green oasis of peace and quiet in the middle of the hectic life of the metropolis. A garden, a wild-life preserve, an outdoor theatre, and a mountain, called theRixdorferHeights, made from the rubble an ruins of the Second World War have all been built in close proximity to the memorial. Near the 400-year-old “Jahn-Eiche” and the “Friesenhügel” there is a wooden plague which commemorates the establishment of the first gymnastics grounds by Friedrich-Ludwig Jahn. Large sport centers have been built not far from the Hasenheide, the outdoor swimming pool on Columbiadamm and the Jahn Sport Hall.
A visit to the Hasenheide an the Jahn Memorial in theBerlindistrict Neukölln is a worthwhile journey into the international history of gymnastics and sport.
Official program to the 6. Gymnaestrada Berlin 1975