Although I’m not a massive sports fan, I can appreciate a good stadium. The Olympic Park in London is an incredible place to explore (and watch the Olympics in!), and I’ve done stadium tours of both Wembley and the Nou Camp in Barcelona. Added to my more than slight obsession with Roman amphitheatre design and the Colosseum and these buildings are places that I always seek out to visit.
But the Olympic Stadium Berlin (or the Olympiastadion) is a little bit different to all the rest. Located just on the outskirts of Germany’s capital it has an incredible history from Nazi Germany right up until the present day. I went to visit to find out more (and explore this colossal stadium).
There has been a stadium of some sorts on this site since 1916, known as Grunewaldstadion due to its proximity to the Grunewald Forest. It was built for the 1916 Olympics which sadly never took place due to the outbreak of World War One. In fact, it was built on the site of an old racing course, and even today you can see the original ticket booths on the site.
When the IOC decided to make Germany the host of the 1936 Olympics in 1931, it was decided to just restore and reuse the stadium already built for the cancelled 1916 Olympics. But, as ever it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
In 1933 the Nazis came to power in Germany, and saw the upcoming Olympic Games as a perfect place for a spot of propaganda. Because of this, Hitker ordered the creation of a much bigger, more impressive stadium and sports complex in Grunewald with the original architect of the 1916 stadium retained to do the job.
Because of its intended use for Nazi propaganda, it was built as a vast, imposing building, with hints of the Colloseum in Rome in its design. It was sunk into the ground, and by the end of its construction it held 110,000 people, with a special stand for Hitler and his associates. It was a major monument designed to show Germany’s power and supremacy to the rest of the world, not just in sporting terms but in how their buildings and architecture dominate the landscape.
Walking around now, when it is almost empty, is a very strange experience. It feels almost hollow at times, and lifeless. The imposing structure is so big it’s almost impossible to take in in one go – which is exactly what Hitler intended.Although on the outer reaches of the main city, it's an amazing place - the Olympic Stadium Berlin.Click To Tweet
The 1936 Olympics
If the construction of the Olympic Stadium was to make an architectural point about Nazism and the supremacy of West Germany, the 1936 Olympics were intended to be the cherry on top of a very elaborate piece of propaganda – fascist theatre if you will.
Hitler very much saw this as an opportunity to promote his government and ideas of racial supremacy and the Nazi party paper, wrote in that Jews should not be allowed to participate in the Games in any way. After being threatened with a boycott, Hitler seemed to relent to allow others from different racial backgrounds to participate from other countries, but German Jews were banned.
But it wasn’t as simple as that. Although Germany was the most successful country overall with 89 medals total, Jessie Owens won four gold medals in the sprint and long jump events and was the most successful athlete to compete at the Games. This damaged the image Hitler wanted to portray about the supremacy of Germany and the Aryan race, and this archive video show how brilliant his victories really were.
Modern day usage
The entire stadium was renovated in 2004, in order to restore the original architecture of the Third Reich era, as well as make it a stadium fit for more modern usage, with new seats and entrance locations. It a stadium that is used for very many purposes, including open air concerts and events, including bands like the O2.
It can now seat 74,475 people and is the largest stadium in Germany for international football matches – if you watched the 2006 World Cup you would have seen it on the TV.
The most notable post-war usage for the Olympic Stadium is that it now hosts Hertha BSC, Berlin’s local football team who have played here since 1963. However, that won’t be for much longer, as Hertha BSC are looking to build a privately funded, pure football arena somewhere else in Berlin by 2025. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the stadium then, given its tumultuous history.
You can visit the Olympic Stadium Berlin both independently and on a tour. It costs 8 EUR to view the stadium, and 12 EUR for a highlight tour which will allow you to see more of the stadium and restricted areas, and learn more about both the Nazi and modern history. Opening times vary, depending on football matches and times of the year, so it is best to check the website before you go!