Berlin: A walk in the (Olympic) park

The approach to the Olympic Stadium

Got the post-Olympic blues? The London 2012 Olympic Park may have closed its doors for now, but the Olympic Stadium in Berlin is always open and well worth a visit…

If you’re the kind of person who likes alternative sights, panoramic views and sporting history, you’ll love Berlin’s Olympiastadion.

The London 2012 Olympic Games was a resounding success, and will always be remembered for conveying the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect.

But it hasn’t always been this way. In 1936, the Olympic Games were held in Berlin at the height of Nazi rule. Hitler wanted a spectacular Games at a spectacular venue to promote his party’s propaganda in front of a worldwide audience, and so the Olympiastadion was born. It was known at the time as the Reichssportfeld.

The whole building is a rare surviving example of the architectural style of the Nazi period – no glass or concrete, just stone.

100,000 spectators watched Jesse Owens win his four gold medals here, much to Hitler’s disgust – he reportedly refused to congratulate black athletes.

The Olympic Stadium is miles away from the centre, on the western suburbs of Berlin. It took me around an hour to get there from Alexanderplatz, although some of that time was taken up by trying to get my head around the city’s perplexing public transport network.

I class myself as a fairly intelligent guy, but understanding the city’s U-bahn (underground) and S-bahn (city) train system was beyond me, although I had had a skinful of beer the day before so wasn’t feeling too bright. The lines are colour-coded but there are too many of them that share a similar colour, not helpful when you’re a bit worse for wear.

The park is so big it is served by two train lines. I arrived at Olympia-Stadion station by U-bahn, but somehow left from a different station (Olympiastadion) on the S-bahn.

The entrance to the grounds is through a little door in the gift shop to the left of the main gates. Once you’ve paid the €7 fee, first stop is the stadium itself. As well as hosting the German version of the FA Cup final and the occasional athletics meeting, it’s the home of Berlin’s top football team, Hertha BSC (twice German champions, albeit both in the 1930s).

Despite being Germany’s capital and most populous city (3.5 million), Berlin doesn’t have a great footballing pedigree, and Hertha currently ply their trade in the country’s second division.

Imagine there being no London teams in England’s Premier League (there are six in 2012/13)?

The stadium had a makeover before Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, so there’s a nice new transparent roof, a blue running track around the pitch and 74,500 seats. Although my visit was not on a match day, and the stadium was more or less deserted, the view of the pitch from the furthest seats away was excellent. I could imagine this to be a fine place to watch football with a full crowd and rowdy atmosphere – on a par with Camp Nou and Bernabeu.

Outside the stadium is the outdoor aquatics centre with diving boards, pool and steep sided stands. It was being used by kids when I was there, so I thought it best not to take any photos – here’s one I googled below:

The €7 fee includes a visit to the clocktower, or Glockenturm. This 77m high tower overlooks the stadium, and the lawned area known as the Maifeld. It houses a replica of the Olympic Bell, which was used to sound the opening of the 1936 Olympic Games. The original bell was damaged in WWII and no longer sounds.

From the top of the tower, I was surprised to hear the silence interrupted by the sound of leather on willow. On the Maifeld below me, there were Germans playing cricket. Although Netherlands are regulars in the cricket world cup, I wasn’t aware that the game was played anywhere else in mainland Europe. In fact, the Maifeld is home to the Berlin Cricket Club, and Germany has been part of the ICC since 1991 with a world ranking of 37 – equal with Mozambique.

The view’s not bad from up here either, with the Olympic Stadium in the foreground. You really appreciate just how far away from central Berlin you are, as you can just about make out the TV Tower in the distance. Behind you, planes come in to land at Berlin’s Tegel airport, while to the left you’ll see the chimneys of Siemensstadt – the huge factory city of the manufacturing giant, Siemens.

It may have a reputation as a dreary city, but whichever way you look, you’ll be struck by how green Berlin is.

Categories: GermanyTags: , , , , ,

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