The city of Berlin, not much noted for its soccer prowess but a keen fan nonetheless, has been campaigning to host world club football's most important match since 2002.
And this summer, on June 6, it will finally get its wish. The Olympic Stadium will be the venue for the final of the European Champions League, the annual tournament that decides Europe's best team. With the beginning of the knockout phase of the competition next week, the countdown will begin.
Preparations in collaboration with the Union of European Football Associations and the German Football Association have been underway for more than a year, with UEFA representatives spending five week-long visits in the city.
Hosting the final, which is broadcast to more than 200 countries, is an extraordinary challenge. In just a week, the Olympic Stadium must be converted from host of the DFB Cup final on May 30 to host of the most important game in European club soccer.
This seems like a straightforward job, but the venue must undergo numerous changes.
This is the Olympic Stadium's super year. Christoph Meyer, Events director, Olympic Stadium
Perhaps the biggest is the removal of the green DFB color scheme around the stadium and replacement with UEFA's blue. New signs also have to be put up. There further is worry that the stadium's struggling home team, Hertha Berlin, may be relegated out of Germany's top league just days before the DFB Cup Final, prompting yet another color scheme change.
“This is the Olympic Stadium's super year,” said Christoph Meyer, the venue's events director. He is one of just 25 full-time employees at the venue, and they have their work cut out. The Champions League final will be attended by 70,000 people, and about 5,000 people will be working at the stadium in the buildup to it.
As with every final, tickets for the game are in high demand. UEFA won't announce until next month how many tickets will be offered to fans of the finalists, or how many will go to officials, sponsors and the general public.
But figures from recent finals give an indication. In Lisbon last year the stadium had space for 61,000 people; of those, 24,000 tickets went to associations and sponsors, 17,000 to fans of each of the two finalists, and 3,000 were sold to the general public. A year earlier, at London's 86,000-capacity Wembley Stadium, three times as many tickets were reserved for the public.
Public tickets for the Berlin match will be sold via a lottery system on UEFA's website, the first time the organization has done this. Those wanting to improve their chances of securing a ticket should try to get one via the fans allocation, or via a reseller.
The cheapest tickets for fans cost €70 ($80) each, and the most expensive Super Platinum Plus loge seats, which include catering service, go for €8,900. In comparison, the most expensive loge tickets for the DFB Cup final cost €950.
As the crown jewel of European association football, the Champions League final has an extraordinary significance. Frank Henkel, Berlin senator
The Berlin Football Association (BFV) has little hope of getting any tickets. “There will hardly be any at all,” said its president, Bernd Schulz. But he hopes that the final will be a good opportunity for increasing awareness of Berlin as a soccer destination, especially among the young.
The BFV is responsible for providing volunteers to carry out stewarding tasks at the Champions League final. Several hundred are being recruited. “In this way, Berliners also have a chance to be there and make a contribution to this event,” Mr. Schulz said.
The historic Olympic Stadium, home to the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics, has already benefited. It is now 4G-enabled, a development to which UEFA contributed. The Berlin Senate has also invested in the venue, with €300,000 of funds being used on improving stadium technology, parking spots for the severely disabled and a guidance system for those who are visually impaired.
“As the crown jewel of European association football, the Champions League final has an extraordinary significance and possesses a superlative image value for Berlin,” said Frank Henkel, the city's senator for sports.
Hosting the final is also putting Berlin in the spotlight at a time when even bigger sports competitions are at stake. The city is competing with Hamburg to secure the German Olympic Sports Association's nomination as a candidate city for the Summer Olympics in 2024 or 2028. And Germany also wants to host the European Soccer Championship in 2024, for which the Olympic Stadium would no doubt be top choice for an even bigger soccer final.
This article first appeared in daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]