Stars and Stripes Front Page_October 7, 1964
Stars and Stripes Front Page_October 7, 1964

At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, East and West Germany competed as one team, under a single flag, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Ode to Joy) their national anthem. But the unity of the “German” team was more of a mirage, as geopolitical realities extended Cold War distance to the athletes.

At the time, the Iron Curtain was a philosophical metaphor for the Cold War, but the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin was a very real barrier. Only three days before the opening of the 1964 Olympic Games, it was reported that 57 people had successfully escaped from East to West Berlin through a tunnel dug under the wall. As was written in the AP report, “it was believed to be one of the biggest mass escapes since the Red Wall was erected in the summer of 1961.”

During the existence of the Wall, from 1961 to 1989, around 5,000 people escaped in a variety of ways – balloons, tightrope, and tunnels. The 57 who escaped made it through what is now known as “Tunnel 57”.

A civil engineering student in East Berlin named Joachim Neumann was able to sneak past border guards to West Berlin posing as a Swiss student in 1961. And while Neumann continued his studies in West Berlin, he also began to apply his learnings to the building of tunnels under the Wall.

Neumann’s first project was on a team building a tunnel in 1962, resulting in the successful escape of 29 people over two days, September 14 and 15. Neumann had a girlfriend in East Berlin, but was unable to inform her in time of the day of escape. But Tunnel 29, as it is now known, was Neumann’s realization that he would have other opportunities to bring his girlfriend to freedom.

Unfortunately, the next attempt to build a tunnel ended in calamity as the East German secret police uncovered the existence of the tunnel under progress. One of the people arrested was Neumann’s girlfriend, Christina, who was held for 8 months before being sentenced to two years in prison.

Joachim and Christina Neumann
Joachim and Christina Neumann

And Neumann continued to work on tunnel projects from the West Berlin side, including an excavation from April to October in 1964, the very one cited in the AP article above. Here is how the site, Berlin Wall Memorial, tells the rest of the story.

The escape operation was supposed to begin on October 3, 1964. But Joachim Neumann had to take an exam that day. When he returned to his apartment, he found a letter from his girlfriend. She wrote that she had been released early from prison and was back in Berlin. Joachim Neumann had to be at the opening to the tunnel in three hours and wasn’t able to find a courier on such short notice. He asked his friend to help and rushed to Bernauer Strasse. It was his job to greet the people escaping on the East Berlin side. It was quite late when his girlfriend appeared before him. She was one of 57 people who

Vinicius and Tom, the Mascots for the 2016 Rio Olympics
Vinicius and Tom, the Mascots for the 2016 Rio Olympics

When I first looked at the emblem that was selected to market the Tokyo Games in 2020, my initial impression was that a committee had created it.

“We need to emphasize teamwork.” tokyo emblem dropped
“Don’t forget Japan – how about a red circle?”
“Needs to be modern looking.”

When I look at the mascots for the Rio Olympics, which were recently unveiled, I get the sense these creations too smack of a committee’s touch. Vinicius (named after a Brazilian poet) and Tom (named after a Brazilian musician) are imaginary creatures. On the rio2016 website, there is an audio explaining what Vinicius is:

…a magical being was created – a mixture of different Brazilian animals, blessed with their many qualities: the agility of the cat, the sway of the monkeys, the grace of the birds. With his keen sense of smell, he can sniff out exciting adventures and discover the clues to solve great mysteries. His incredible hearing allows him to find the most enthusiastic fans. He can imitate the voice of any animal, increasing his powers of communication.

I can hear the words of the committee:

“It needs to be an animal – kids love animals!”
“Which one? Jaguar, parakeet, monkey?”
“All of them!”
“Don’t forget Brazilian music.”
“Bossa Nova!”

Did you ever see the Jim Carrey movie, The Majestic? Carey plays a Hollywood screenwriter in the early 1950s, and the movie opens up in just such a committee meeting – a brainstorming session with studio executives on a possible movie storyline. How many of the voices in this clip can you recognize? They are all big-time Hollywood directors. Scroll down for answers.

Personal Note: Apologies to

Abebe Bikila winning gold in the marathon in Rome in 1960.
Abebe Bikila winning gold in the marathon in Rome in 1960.

He ran into the night along the Appian Way, torches held by Italian soldiers lighting the way, the only sound the onlookers would notice is the pidder padder of his barefeet on the road.

A complete unknown, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, won the marathon at the Rome Olympics in 1960. He was a member of the Imperial Bodyguard in Ethiopia, a country where people got around by running, commonly without shoes. When Bikila arrived in Rome, he tried on various pairs of shoes, but he could not find a pair that did not hurt and cause blisters.

Bikila and his fellow runner Abebe Wakjira decided to run barefoot. This was a decision that embarrassed them. They felt people were laughing at the poor Ethiopians who could not afford shoes, so they stayed hidden in their tent until the marathon began.

But Bikila’s triumph had a tremendous ripple effect over the decades. Not only was Bikila a victory for Ethiopia, he was a symbol of pride and achievement for all of Africa. Bikila became the role model so important to sparking the imagination of other would-be long-distance runners in impoverished Africa.

Wrote David Maraniss in his book Rome 1960, “as the first black African to win a gold medal, Abebe Bikila paved the way for what would become a long and illustrious line of East African distance runners. Many were from Ethiopia but even more hailed from Kenya, led by the brilliant Kipchoge Keino, who won the metric mile at Mexico City, outpacing the American Jim Ryun, and took home the steeplechase gold four years later in Munich.”

Here we are, decades later, at the recent IAAF Track and Field Championships in Beijing, it was Kenya that topped the medal tables, with Ethiopia in the fifth rank.

Maraniss cited a poem published in The Ethiopian Herald on the death of Bikila.

He made our flag to fly
Right above
Dead and gone Mussolini
Then and then
Abebe led, Mamo followed
Ethiopia led, Kenya followed

Here is the video of Bikila’s triumph in Rome.

UPI_1October 1964
UPI_1October 1964

You’re sound asleep, you’re jarred awake by an abrupt shaking of the bed, and suddenly your senses dial up to 100.

Earthquake!

That’s how many of us experienced Tokyo at 5:49 Saturday morning. It wasn’t a rolling “uh-oh-something’s happening” kinda tremor. It was a thumper, the kind where your abode goes vertical, and your heart stops oh-so briefly.

Power forward on the US Men’s basketball team, Luke Jackson, recalls an earthquake in the early stages of his stay in Tokyo. It was 4:14 a.m. on September 30, 1964 when an earthquake rattled the city. “The bed started to move across the floor. I didn’t know what was going on. I was told that it was an earthquake. You lose your equilibrium.”

Expressway Akasaka Mitsuke, from the book "Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service"
Expressway Akasaka Mitsuke, from the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Service”

“It was my first time in Tokyo. Very nice people. Wonderful experience. We landed in Japan and the bus took us straight to the Olympic Village. When I saw the roads going through all the buildings, an amazing network of some 45 kilometers… I had been in New Zealand and Australia before but had never seen a road way like that. No intersections! No stops!”

Tokyo was pulling out all the stops to give the impression that it was a modern, efficient and clean city. One of the infrastructure improvements were the highways that wove through the cityscape above the ground, which impressed many people, including Indian field hockey Olympian, Gurbux Singh, who recounted his arrival to Japan above.

But not everything was perfect, as Robert Whiting wrote for The Japan Times last year.

Also unfinished were six of the planned expressways. Only two of the eight main expressways approved by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1959 were fully completed, with two more only partially constructed. The elevated expressway from Roppongi to Shibuya was one of the incomplete projects. It remained unfinished for several more years.

Those highways that were finished were clogged with stop-and-start traffic. As a Chicago Tribune correspondent named Sam Jameson put it, “Building an expressway system based on a mathematical formula of a two-lane expressway merging into another two-lane expressway to create a two-lane expressway was not the smartest thing to do. It guaranteed congestion. The system had to have been designed by someone who had never driven.”

You can see black and white film of the highway construction in this 1963 newsreel from Pathe.

Ad from The Japan Times, October 16, 1964
Ad from The Japan Times, October 16, 1964

When I was growing up in the 1970s, writers would put the words “cheap” and “polyester suit” inevitably in the same sentence. For example, “He folded like a cheap polyester suit.”

But in the 1950s and 1960s, when advances in technology were constant reminders of how more civilized we were becoming, polyester was all the rage. Since polyester was a strong fiber, it would not wrinkle and it would maintain its shape. Additionally, it had an insulating property so that polyester fabrics could be designed to keep the body warm in cool weather.

These artificial fibers that would eventually be called polyester were created by chemists in two different companies, ICI in the UK and duPont in America. In 1957, Japanese manufacturers called Teijin and Toray Industries licensed ICI production technologies from ICI, and eventually went on to create their own polyester blend called Tetoron. From that point on, Japan mastered yet another industrial process started in the West.

Teijin’s ad above displayed in the Japan Times during the Olympic Games tries to express the idea that polyester is not only beautiful, it’s traditional. Teijin probably wasn’t well known in the West, but my guess is that quite a few people were wearing Teijin shirts and slacks. Maybe even the Brady’s