Monday, August 1, 2011

The Magnificent Olypiastadion Berlin

At Sporting Chance Press we look at character and the qualities that we develop within ourselves in sports and life. In sport, the internal battle athletes face within themselves is often on display for the rest of us. If an athlete is struggling with fear, confusion, anger, or frustration, it's often seen in his or her play. On the other hand, if the athlete is confident, focused, calm and determined, it is likewise visible to fans.

We all know place is important to us and it's one of those externals that impacts us internally. Athletes are often interviewed about some major championship series that is being played at an "away" venue.

"Will it be difficult to play in Yankee Stadium as the visiting team?"

"You won the first two games of the series at home, but how will the team play at Joe Louis Arena?"

"How will you overcome the noise factor at Lambeau?

More often than not, the athlete will have a plucky reply:

"Our fans are great and we love them at home, but we really don't care where we play in the championship."

"The field is the same for both teams."

"We expect to quiet the crowd early and keep it that way."

Deep down inside we know the venue means something to most people--whether it's the most important factor or not, and whether the athletes can overcome the venue influence. Athletes are special people and many thrive on challenge.

Recently, I read a brief story on the Olympiastadion in Berlin--this is a venue of historical importance that is making a new life for itself. Essentially, the stadium exists on the site of the several other sports structures. Originally, the site was developed in 1909 as the Grunewald horse race track which had a capacity of 40,000 and featured a depression measuring 85,000 square meters. In 1916 when Berlin was awarded the 1916 Olympics, an organization and fund-raising effort began that led to the construction of the National Stadium and other sports facilities on the site that were completed in 1913. Unfortunately for Germany and the rest of the world, world conflict in the form of World War I cancelled the Olympic Games.

The stadium resumed it's role as a sports venue after the war. In the 1920s plans were hatched for another stadium reconstruction that would allow for increased attendance, but the Depression put those on the shelf. In 1930-1931, after Germany was awarded the hosting of the 1936 Olympics, plans for refurbishing the stadium percolated once again.

When Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, the Nazis went to work to make their new Imperial Sports Center a venue that could showcase the Reich's might to the world. Hitler had plans to construct a new Germany with buildings that would dwarf those in Paris and other European capitals. Much of Hitler's obsession with architecture is documented in Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich.

Hitler's plan for an Olympic Stadium called for demolition of the old stadium and the building of a new highly visible stadium that was 10 meters below ground and 13 above the ground. The new building was so spectacular in scale and difficult to construct that at one time, 500 companies with a total of 2,600 workers were employed.

The Stadium was the site of the XI Summer Olympic Games that took place in August of 1936. Many remember the games for the incredible performance by Jesse Owens who won 4 Olympic Gold in what must have been for him the most "away game" venue possible. Owens, of course, was the consummate athlete who could play "away" regardless of where the "away" turned out to be. He is famously quoted: “I let my feet spend as little time on the ground as possible. From the air, fast down, and from the ground, fast up.” With that kind of attitude, venue was no problem for Owens.

After the war, the stadium in Berlin and other related facilities were slowly put back to use, reconstructed and remodeled. They were used by the British during their post-war occupation and gradually turned over to the Germans. In 2000, a combination of private investment and government backing initiated a huge program that renovated the stadium and expanded it into a multifunctional sports facility now known as the Olympiastadion. Included in the reconstruction was a new lower ring that allowed the addition more seats while shortening the distance between infield and stands. The stadium includes 76 new VIP boxes and 13 new Sky boxes.

The Olympiastadion hosts the National Soccer League games and many other events both sporting and entertainment. The stadium boasts a seemingly floating roof supported by 20 filigree steel columns, advanced lighting technology and a spectacular audio system.

The Olympiastadion was host to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the crowning jewel of sports events for many Europeans and many others throughout the world. From soccer to U2 concerts, the venue is one of the most magnificent today in all the world.

An interesting turn of events in the life of the stadium site is a planned visit by Pope Benedict XVI. His Holiness is getting ready for a visit to his homeland in September. The Holy Father will celebrate the Eucharist at the Olympiastadion on September 22, 2011. So far, there are 50,000 people registered to attend the Mass. Although his Holiness was born and raised in Bavaria, a good 400 miles from Berlin, I think of the Olympiastadion as a home venue for the Pontiff.

Image is from Chrisgj6 at en.wikipedia.
Information on the history of Olympiastadion
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books. Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout is a personal chronicle of Chicago Bears Senior Director Patrick McCaskey that looks back at decades of spiritual enrichment and life lessons from athletes, coaches, religious and everyday people. McCaskey recalls the stories of those who strived to make the cut on and off the field—plus people who left comfortable lives to serve the under-served in extraordinary ways.

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