Berlin is more than just a good loser many Germans are downright happy OLYMPIC DREAMS DASHED

September 24, 1993|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- They took to the streets by the thousands. They filled bars and dance halls. They cheered and chanted, hugged and kissed, and rocketed shrieking fireworks into the sky.

Their city, at long last, had been defeated. On international television, no less.

Such is the turbulent state of civic pride these days in Berlin, one of four cities that lost out yesterday to Sydney, Australia, in a bid to become the host of the Olympic Games for 2000.

One celebrant, Simone Roch, may have summed up the opposition viewpoint best last night, saying, "I don't like the fact that on the one hand they build up these big sports stadiums, and on the other hand they're closing public pools. They should be spending money instead in public housing, schools and playgrounds. I'm glad the Olympics aren't coming here."

Opinion polls here have shown that, after initial reluctance, most Berliners ended up rooting for their city to win. Most were won over by projections that thousands of new jobs would be created.

But the anti-Olympics crowd never bought into the jobs argument, saying that few of them would have been long-term, and they never stopped fighting back. They staged demonstrations, held rallies and occasionally burned a car or lobbed a firebomb into one of the local businesses supporting the Olympics bid.

So last night was a victory celebration for them. One of the more raucous celebrations of the defeat was at the sold-out Traenenpalast (Palace of Tears), where more than 1,000 stood crammed together before a stage, swilling beer and filling the hall with cigarette smoke.

A troupe of Ukrainian clowns warmed up the crowd with some slapstick, then a German rap band sang an anti-Olympic anthem, with the lead rapper reading lyrics from a dog-eared computer printout.

Then it was finally time for the announcement, and attention turned to a huge video screen. The crowd booed loudly at each shot of the Berlin 2000 delegation, saving especially nasty shouts for local Olympic committee member Steffi Graf, the tennis star. But the men softened considerably whenever commentator Katerina Witt, the Olympic figure skater, appeared the screen.

When the announcement finally came -- "And the winner is Sydney" -- they erupted like crazed fans at a soccer match, raising their fists in the air and cheering loudly for several minutes before breaking into chants.

The pro-Olympics people seemed to take the defeat in stride, as they milled around wurst stands and beer vendors at their own party.

"Berlin is down in the dumps, but we gave it our best effort. We were really striving," said Manfred Salewski, 51.

Mr. Salewski has tasted his own Olympic glory, winning a gold medal in judo in the Rome Olympics in 1960 for East Germany. But his life since then has taught him never to get too wrapped up in civic-mindedness. As a young man, he lost his job as an engineer shortly after he quit the Communist Party and ended up driving a bus for a living.

So now he's philosophical about things like people celebrating his city's defeat.

"There are contrasts everywhere in life," he said. "Some people get along, some don't. For them, it is a simple way of saying yes or no to something, whether it's politics or whatever."

That's probably the sanest kind of attitude to have here nowadays. The for-and-against-the-Olympics split is only the latest fracture in a town that seems to add a new one each month ever since the Berlin Wall came down four years ago.

East and West Germans have quickly grown dissatisfied with each other. Skinheads and neo-Nazis of the Far Right battle with communists and socialists of the Far Left. The Haves go at it with the Have-Nots. The anarchists rail against everybody.

But for one brief moment last night, there was unity in the air, even if unintentional.

On one side of the sidewalk, leftists and anarchists strolled, cheering and shooting off fireworks.

Just down the street, a few dozen members of a Far Right crowd walked along, also chanting in celebration.

The reason for their joy? Keeping the Olympics out of Berlin will mean fewer foreigners here in 2000.

"Germany remains German!" they chanted, tossing firecrackers as they walked.

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