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Culture

An Olympic-sized Facelift

Germany's national soccer coach Jürgen Klinsmann has big plans to lead his team to victory in the 2006 World Cup. If he does, the hosts will be celebrating on the pitch at Berlin's newly renovated Olympic stadium.

For the past four years, construction work has dominated the picture of the stadium, costing the city some €242 million ($291 million) and -- some soccer aficionados would claim -- the home soccer club, Hertha BSC, its ranking in the league tables. But now the facelift is complete and the arena will be officially opened on Saturday.

Olympiastadion in Berlin 1936

The newly finished Olympic stadium in Berlin, 1936

The new stadium is a state-of-the-art affair, which has gone a long way towards exorcising the ghosts of its Nazi past. German Interior Minister Otto Schily sees the revamp as a chance for the capital and the country to move on without forgetting. "Today's Berlin Olympic stadium represents Germany's historical change, and at the same time, preserves memories from the dark pages of its creation," Schily, whose responsibilities cover sporting affairs, said in a statement.

Dark beginnings

Construction on Berlin's Olympic stadium originally began back in 1934, and was completed by 1936 in time for the Olympic Games under the Swastika. Symbolic of imposing Third Reich architecture, its has still managed to become an important Berlin landmark.

After the facelift, the gray sandstone exterior of the building is still reminiscent of the past, but the architects have incorporated enough modern elements to make it a welcoming venue for the city's sporting and entertainment events. At the same time the 74,000 seat stadium is fitted with 35 plaques explaining the history of the arena during the Nazi era.

The new, improved version has a transparent, wing-like roof, a unique sound system and additional rows of seating which bridge the previous gap between the pitch and the spectators. "The task was to preserve the character of the stadium while at the same time bringing it up to modern standards and giving it a lighter counterbalance through the roof compared to the heavy, massive stadium walls," Alexander Goerbing, spokesman for the construction company overseeing the project, told the Reuters news agency.

And the reactions so far have been positive. "The building is one of the few Third Reich buildings left, but the new stadium doesn't exude the bombastic feeling of the Nazi era," Hans Joachim Teichler, a member of the advisory panel supervising the renovation, told Reuters.

A taste of things to come

The celebrations to mark the opening of the new stadium will get underway on Saturday evening, with pop stars Nena and P!nk providing some of the musical entertainment. They will be joined by the Berlin star conductor Daniel Barenboim with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra and the perfomance artists from the Blue Man Group from the United States.

As the night of entertainment reaches its end, the stadium will fall quiet again for a few hours before Herta BSC start warming up for the first match under its new roof - a friendly against the top Turkish team Besiktas Istanbul on Sunday.

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