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by Tamara Treichel


BEIJING, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- The German city of Heidelberg has a reputation for research, romance and a beer in between; the centuries-old university town famous for its castle ruins has inspired Nobel laureates, philosophers such as Hegel, and writers such as Goethe and Twain. Yet few people today may be aware that almost 45 years ago this month, Heidelberg hosted the Paralympics, inspiring wheelchair-bound athletes from around the world to strive for excellence despite their disabilities.


An exhibit "The Paralympics Spirit -- From Heidelberg to Beijing" that opened on July 26 in Heidelberg's Olympic Training Center and runs through September may deepen Heidelberg's historical association with the Paralympics.


Co-organized by the Beijing Municipal Archives and the Heidelberg Municipal Archives, it showcases the history of the Paralympics and the achievements of its participants in a multicultural context just in time for the Paralympics that are set to be held in Rio this September.


Today's Paralympics for athletes that fall into different impairment categories are a major international multi-sport event held in tandem with the Winter and Summer Olympic Games. The Paralympics' humble beginnings reach back to World War II, when Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a German-Jewish doctor who had fled to Britain to escape Nazi persecution, organized a sports competition for British war veterans with spinal cord injuries, the so-called Stoke Mandeville Games.


The first official Paralympics were held in Rome in 1960, and in August 1972, Heidelberg jumped in for Munich at the last minute to host the games at its Olympic Training Center. Roughly 1,000 disabled athletes from 41 nations attended.


Besides being a dignified platform for disabled athletes to compete with their peers, the Paralympics raise awareness of the everyday challenges people with disabilities face, a prime example being the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


As a developing country, Chinese people with disabilities benefited from their country hosting the Paralympics as measures were taken to facilitate their integration into society, such as developing accessible public facilities, making mobility easier and more convenient, and offering rehabilitation services, education and employment for them.


In an exclusive e-mail interview with Xinhua, Dr. Peter Blum, the director of the Heidelberg Municipal Archives and the mastermind behind the exhibit, looked back at the opening with a lot of optimism and enthusiasm.


"Of course we would have appreciated even more visitors on opening day at this historic locale of the 1972 Paralympics," he said. "But we should remember that Heidelberg is not Beijing (Heidelberg has 160,000 inhabitants compared to Beijing's 22 million plus)."


Blum said that next to staff from the Heidelberg and Beijing Municipal Archives and the Chinese Consulate in Frankfurt, some of the contemporary witnesses from the 1972 Heidelberg Paralympics were present for the opening.


For example, Joerg Schmekel, who had helped organize the 1972 Paralympics, and Hennes Luebbering, a wheelchair-bound athlete who had won multiple medals, attended.


Another guest was Uwe Kraeuter, a former Heidelberg student who had left to work in Beijing in the 1970's and went on to marry the Chinese movie actress Shen Danping. Kraeuter is now a well-known cultural ambassador between the two countries.


When asked about the content of the exhibit, Blum said there are 40 display panels in English that give an overview of the Paralympics' history starting from 1972 with an outlook on the Winter Paralympics that will be held in Beijing in 2022.


"The Heidelberg Municipal Archives have also contributed some display panels on local media reports of the 1972 Paralympics. You can just feel the curiosity and enthusiasm of Heidelberg's residents at the time," Blum said.


Besides display panels and historical photos, the exhibit also features a short film with English and Chinese subtitles on the Beijing Paralympics produced by the Beijing Municipal Archives. Visitors can even try out conventional and racing wheelchairs to get a better feeling for what it is like to have impaired mobility, which adds an interactive dimension to the exhibit.


Blum said the aim of the municipal archives in jointly organizing the exhibit was not only a reflection on the past of the Paralympics, but more importantly a projection of a future vision -- namely, the social inclusion of disabled people. He believed archives have a special role to play in this.


He suggested that archives should make their cultural heritage accessible to help achieve a solution to both contemporary and future problems. "One could say that today's archives have a socio-political task, so to say, a task that transcends borders and cultura

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