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Culture

Leipzig: A David Among the Olympian Goliaths?

In the shadow of London, New York and Istanbul, Leipzig is easily overlooked as a contender for the 2012 Summer Olympics. But according to the city’s mayor, it’s exactly the smallness that gives it a competitive edge.

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A charming downtown, but does Leipzig have the prestige to host the Olympics?

When Leipzig was selected in April as Germany’s best hope for hosting the Summer Olympics in 2012, thousands of people took to the streets in celebration. The mid-size city in the former East Germany beat off competition from Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Stuttgart and was catapulted into the international spotlight.

The unassuming Olympic hopeful found itself lined up against stiff competition from the likes of the world metropolises London, Paris and New York. Even Istanbul and Rio de Janiero possess a certain world-renown and a heavy dose of exotic flare that goes beyond anything Leipzig can offer.

But the city, the second-largest in Saxony, isn’t letting size get it down. In fact, it’s hoping its smallness will actually help it win the competition and bring the Olympic flame to Germany for the first time in more than 30 years.

According to Leipzig’s mayor Wolfgang Tiefensee, Leipzig’s compactness is its unique selling point. All the Olympic venues will take place in a very small area making travel between the different sporting events and organization quick and efficient. Leipzig is a David among Goliaths, Tiefensee told Deutsche Welle in an interview on the city’s chances for winning the games.

Size is not everything

The mayor is convinced "bigger is not better." In the future, he says, the International Olympic Committee will be looking for cities that can organize the best possible games at the lowest possible costs. Keeping the games in a compact area will help achieve this goal, Tiefensee explains. "We have worked out a very compact concept with 97 percent of the total medals awarded within a ten-kilometer radius."

In addition, Leipzig will focus on erecting temporary facilities rather than extensive long-term building projects, thus further helping to keep costs down.

Culture is important too

Although Leipzig doesn’t have the international appeal of its larger competitors, it is nonetheless trying to advertise its cultural history in the hopes it can win points in the IOC voting. An official Leipzig Olympics Web site points out that Bach, Mendelssohn and Martin Luther all have connections to Leipzig, and that the city’s many churches and old buildings lend the city an old-world village-like charm.

In terms of recent history, Leipzig is campaigning on the fact that it is the only city from the former Eastern Europe competing for the Games, and it wants to establish the Olympics as a part of its post-communist development. Tiefensee is bargaining on the fact that the IOC still remembers the peaceful revolution of 1989 which led to Germany’s unification and started with peace marches and protests in Leipzig. "It was a starting point in changing the political way of the world," the mayor swoons. "and this is something we can link with the Olympic Games."

And of course for sports enthusiasts, Tiefensee says Leipzig is famous for the several different athletic forms developed in the city: football, gymnastics and cycling (the exclusivity of such a claim may be a question of interpretation).

"We have a very great passion for sports," Tiefensee claims. "Some 3,700 graduates from over 120 countries attended the city’s sports college," and indeed many of former East Germany’s Olympic medallists trained in Leipzig.

Germany’s best chance?

The last time Germany hosted the Summer Olympics was in Munich in 1972, the year 11 Israeli athletes died in a Palestinian terrorist attack. Germany has sought to refurbish its Olympic image since then, but the country has had seven unsuccessful bids, most recently campaigning to host the 2000 Summer Games in Berlin under the banner of a unified Germany.

Leipzig is hoping to achieve what the German capital has not and is playing up on the reunification theme as part of the city’s unique dynamic and image the rest of the world can latch on to as a focal point. Tiefensee is certain the lesser-known German city stands a good chance in hosting the games: "We have perfect conditions, and we have a story to tell."

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