Berlin is kicking off the all-Jewish European Maccabi Games tomorrow—a 10-day event where 2,300 athletes from nearly 40 countries will compete in 19 disciplines, from soccer and basketball to chess and bridge, reports the Local. If Berlin seems like an odd venue, well, "these are the games of reconciliation," says Alon Meyer, president of Maccabi Germany. Olympic Park, built for the XI Olympiad in 1936, was at the time off-limits to most Jewish athletes, reports NBC News, although Jewish athlete Endre Kabos from Hungary won the gold medal in both individual and team saber, while part-Jewish fencer Helene Mayer was allowed to represent Germany. Some Jews have expressed disapproval of the Games being in Berlin, and a 25% increase in anti-Semitic crimes over the last year means increased security measures.
After a memorial service today in the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp, German President Joachim Gauck will kick off the games tomorrow in front of 15,000 people at the outdoor amphitheater Waldbuehne, near the stadium where Adolf Hitler opened the 1936 Games. This is the first time the Maccabi Games, formed in the late 1800s as a ban on Jewish athletes grew widespread, are to be played in Berlin. The Games are not just a quest for the "muscular Jew," as Meyer puts it, but an egalitarian honoring of athletes across generations and disciplines. Organizers are also trying for a non-sports record: what they hope will be the biggest Shabbat party ever, slated for Friday. (The Holocaust may have been far worse than previously thought.)