Berlin′s Iconic Stadium Completes Rehabilitation With Cup Final | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 08.07.2006

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Berlin's Iconic Stadium Completes Rehabilitation With Cup Final

When the World Cup final between France and Italy kicks off in Berlin's Olympic Stadium on Sunday, the weight of history will hang heavily in the air.

A venue steeped in the history, Berlin's Olympic Stadium hosts the 2006 World Cup final

A venue steeped in the history, Berlin's Olympic Stadium hosts the 2006 World Cup final

The stadium was built for the 1936 Olympic Games, infamously intended by Adolf Hitler to showcase Aryan racial supremacy, an idea that black American sprinter Jesse Owens made a mockery of by winning four gold medals.

It underwent a 240-million-euro ($280 million) overhaul for the World Cup, re-opening in 2004 with a spectacular new roof, improved stands and a distinctive blue running track.

Just months before the World Cup kicked off, amendments were made to the stadium, with bridges erected across the moat between the stands and the running track after a consumer watchdog criticized its safety arrangements.

The capacity for the final will be 69,000, reduced from the 72,000 for the matches in the earlier rounds because of the extra media seating required.

The match is arguably the biggest event in the city since the ceremony to mark the reunification of Germany in 1990 after the Berlin Wall was toppled the previous year.

The Brandenburg Gate, which the wall obscured as it snaked through the city, has provided the backdrop for the Fan Mile at the World Cup, where up to one million people have watched matches on giant screens.

And as the host nation surged into the semi-finals, the scenes of joy and harmony among fans from around the world have exceeded the organizers' wildest dreams.

The origins of the Olympiastadion, to give it its German name, date back to the 19th century when horse racing was held on the site.

A stadium was built there for a bid for the 1916 Olympics, but the outbreak of World War I prevented the Games taking place.

Hitlerf ordered a new stadium with Olympics in mind

When Hitler was made chancellor in January 1933, the plans for the stadium took a new direction as the Nazis quickly grasped the propaganda value of an Olympics. Hitler ordered the old venue to be demolished and commissioned a new design by Werner March.

Olympiastadion in Berlin 1936

The Olympiastadion in 1936

Despite constant concerns that construction was behind schedule, the stadium and surrounding complex was ready in time for the opening ceremony on Aug. 1, 1936.

Hitler ordered a halt to any anti-Semitic attacks during the Games, so that they would appear to the outside world as a celebration of peace.

Owens took gold in the 100 meters, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay, and recalled in his autobiography that he had waved in greeting to Hitler, who he said returned the gesture.

During World War II, a bunker was prepared under the stadium to house the Nazis' radio network.

Somehow, the stadium survived the intense bombing of Berlin practically intact. Once Germany surrendered, it acted as a headquarters for British troops.

Efforts were made to erase stadium's Nazi past

Eröffnungsfeier des Olympiastadions in Berlin

The renovated stadium was reopened in July 2004

Its name was changed from the Reichssportfeld to Olympiastadion and it was gradually 'de-Nazified' - emblems of the regime were removed.

In 1974, the stadium was partially roofed to host three matches as West Germany staged the World Cup, but it had a peripheral role in the tournament and the final was played in Munich.

The renovated stadium now occupies a central role in the German sports and cultural calendar: it is home to Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin, is used for the German Cup final and after the World Cup final it will host concerts given by the Rolling Stones and Robbie Williams.

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