Historical Berlin New plans for the Olympic park the Nazis built

Berlin authorities have commissioned a study to figure out how to revitalize the park surrounding the city's historical Olympic Stadium.
Quelle: dpa
Living history: The stadium is regularly used by soccer teams but the surrounding park has fallen into disrepair.
(Source: dpa)

In the fall, Berlin’s state senate will release a master plan for development of the park surrounding the Olympic Stadium, a sports facility built by the Nazis for the 1936 games as a showpiece for German nationalism. The Olympic Stadium, constructed from 1934 to 1936, was a point of pride for the Nazi regime. More than 100,000 people packed into the stadium at one stage, and Leni Riefenstahl created a propaganda film from the games that influenced sports documentation for decades to come.

But today the 130-hectare park around the site is nothing to boast about. While the stadium is used regularly for events like soccer games, the park around it has been neglected for years. Most of the buildings in it need renovations, some are barely usable and some even need to be demolished. About three dozen smaller buildings built after 1945 are slated to be demolished. Other buildings, many of which are protected as historic sites, need new roofs, modernized windows and doors, better fire protection or reinforced basements.

One ambitious goal for the renovators is to reduce energy consumption by 80 percent compared to 2010 usage.

The Olympic stadium continues to have huge historical significance. The Nazi party initially wanted to ban black, Roma and Jewish people from competing in 1936 but Adolf Hitler eventually relented due to pressure from the Olympic Committee. Still, many Jewish athletes were discouraged from participating or decided to boycott the games. While some Americans also encouraged the US to boycott the games altogether, African-American newspapers argued that victories from black athletes would help undermine the Nazi’s white supremacist beliefs. That year, Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the US in track and field events.

Quelle: dpa
Jesse Owens won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
(Source: dpa)

After World War II, British troops occupying Berlin used the northern part of the Olympic park as a headquarters, and it remained closed to the public until the Allied forces officially left in 1994. The site reverted to federal and then city ownership, but the state senate has had little enthusiasm for taking on the project of rejuvenating the dilapidated site. Berliners passionately debated whether the stadium should be renovated, with some critics arguing that such a symbol of the Nazi regime should be left to crumble.

Part of the antipathy also boils down to finances. The cost of renovating the park — excluding the Olympic Stadium itself — was estimated at €125 million ($154 million) back in 2001, and it’s likely to cost more than €200 million today. The senate has budgeted only €84 million for the project. The Olympic Stadium itself already underwent a €45 million renovation, which ended in 2004, to prepare for the 2006 FIFA world cup.

The new report will take stock of all facilities in the park, ranking them by modernization and renovation requirements. All those improvements have to be done while remaining operational, a source in the sports administration told the Tagesspiegel.

In August this year, the historic arena will host the European Athletics Championships. Additionally one of the major users of the park is Berlin's local soccer team Hertha BSC, which has played regularly at the stadium since 1963, as well as various amateur sports teams and a high school.

Ulrich Zawakta-Gerlach is a reporter at Tagesspiegel, a sister publication to Handelsblatt Global. Grace Dobush is an editor based in Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected]