in a forest

Documenting the existence of a particularly charged group of trees given as seedlings (the seedlings are often said to have been presented by Hitler himself, though it seems much more likely the bulk of them at least were were presented by Olympic Committee members) to the 130 gold medalists at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, in a forest forces us to confront the complexity of historical memory.

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Installation view, Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Spain, 2014.
Installation view, Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Spain, 2014.
Installation view, Espai d’art contemporani de Castelló, Spain, 2014.
Installation view, The Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, 2012.
Seeding, Georges Miez’s Olympic Oak, Winterthur, Switzerland. Little information concerning Miez has been uncovered. He won Switzerland’s only Gold Medal in 1936 for the Men’s Floor Exercises in Gymnastics. One article suggests that at another time he was also a personal trainer in Hollywood to Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. The same article notes that at the time of his death in 1999 (aged 107) much was made of Miez’s refusal at the 1936 games to honour the fascist salute, though it goes on to add that footage of the games shows many others did the same. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Jack Lovelock’s Olympic Oak, Timaru Boys’ High School, Timaru, New Zealand. Featured in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, Lovelock set a new world record and won gold in what some regard as one of the finest 1500m Olympic finals of all time. In his thesis James Constandt refers to Lovelock entrusting his seedling into the care of teammate Cecil Matthews to deliver it home to New Zealand. By the time it arrived it was in poor condition but was nursed back to health and in 1941 was planted at Timaru Boys’ High School. 2005-2010. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Louis Hostin’s Olympic Oak, Parc de l’Europe, St. Étienne, France. According to one source this tree was moved around 1945 from Cimetière de Montmartre, where it was discovered mysteriously growing over a German soldier’s grave, eventually making its way to the park in St. Étienne. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Imre Harangi’s Olympic Oak, Nyíradony, Hungary. Google translations of Hungarian sources indicate this tree was a graft taken from Harangi’s ‘original’ oak (a few kilometres away in Hajdúsámson) and planted here in his hometown as part of the ceremony surrounding his triumphant return from the games. The Nyíradony oak subsequently died and was then later replaced, possibly with another graft. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Cornelius Johnson’s Olympic Oak, Koreatown, Los Angeles, United States of America. Growing in what was probably the back yard of the athlete’s mother. Difficult to find, this tree was mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article dated 2007. Cornelius Johnson received one of several Gold Medals won by African Americans at the games. He returned to the U.S. where racial segregation was practiced until 1964. Johnson died in 1946. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Toni Merkens’s Olympic Oak, Velodrome, Köln, Germany. Toni Merkens won his Gold Medal for cycling in the Men’s 1000m Match Sprint event. His oak is standing, in what is now a carpark, next to Köln’s velodrome and stadium. As yet little further information is available about this oak and its recipient though internet sources indicate that Merkens was killed in World War Two on the Eastern Front. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Imre Harangi’s Olympic Oak, Hajdúsámson, Hungary. Significantly, the Hajdúsámson oak is located next to the memorials in Szabadság tér (Freedom Square). It seems likely that at the time of planting a graft was taken from this tree and planted in Harangi’s nearby home town of Nyíradony. The Nyíradony oak subsequently died and was then later replaced, possibly with another graft. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Willi Kaiser’s Olympic Oak, Gladbeck Stadium, Gladbeck, Germany. In his thesis on the Olympic Oaks, James Constandt states that the planting of this tree was delayed by 12 years, due in part to Willi being in a Russian prison. Later, apparently in the face of neglect and disinterest from the Gladbeck City Council, Willi spent the last 14 years of his life caring for his monument himself. He died in 1986. By 1992 the bronze plaque under the tree had completely corroded away and Willi’s son began negotiations with the Mayor to arrange a replacement. When this image was made there was a new marble plaque under the tree. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Undine (also Ondina and Trabzon) Valla’s Olympic Oak, Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Bologna, Italy. Valla was the first Italian woman to win a Gold Medal. Her oak had been growing healthily until the stadium was enlarged in 1990 at which time it was either cut down or died as a result of being unable to adapt to its new situation. In 1997 a replacement oak was planted in a ceremony with Valla in attendance. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Tibor Berczelly, Aladár Gerevich, Endre Kabos, Pál Kovács, László Rajcsányi, and Imre Rajczy’s Olympic Oak, Berettyóújfalu, Hungary. In a park beside the main road, in the middle of Berettyóújfalu, are two nearly identical oaks. Though only the other has a plaque, indicating it was awarded to Endre Kabos for the Individual Sabre event, a local hotel owner indicated that this one was for the Sabre Team’s Gold Medal. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.
Seedling, Unknown Athletes’ Olympic Oak #1, Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam, Netherlands. By the canal behind the stadium, this is one of a pair of oaks, growing side by side that were most likely awarded to the swimming relay team of Rie Mastenbroek, Willy den Ouden, Tini Wagner, and Jopie Selbach and to Nida Senff, also a swimmer. Both of these oaks are currently unmarked though historic photos show small intricate round wrought iron fences protecting them. Rie Mastenbroek also received two other oaks in the 100 and 400 metres Freestyle and these were given to the Rotterdam Zoo. According to James Constandt, both of these died “during the awful bombardment” by the German Luftwaffe. 2011. Diptych, C-type prints 1.2 x 1.5m each.