Thursday, February 28, 2008

A symmetrical tour: The Olympic Stadium in Berlin

Browsing through my photographs I gleaned from my recent visit to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin I noticed that I rather often had chosen symmetrical views of this big edifice and its surrounding architecture. No wonder: they do suggest themselves, since the Olympic Stadium and most of the related buildings and squares are built symmetrically along an axis that is orientated from East to West (with an angle towards the South).

Of course this awe-inspiring and well ordered architecture was intentional. Hitler realized the chance he had using the 1936 Olympic Games - awarded to Berlin 1931, two years before Hitler's rise to power in Germany - as a propagandistic platform for Nazism, presenting his regime powerful and modern, but at the same time peaceful and open to the world. We all know what it was in reality: racist, antisemitic, preparing for war, and with deep roots in nationalistic-fascist, backwards oriented, "völkischer" ideology.

Forbidden looking inside stairway at the Olympic Stadium. Click here for large version

The Olympic Stadium and all the surrounding facilities and buildings, built 1934-1936 for the Olympics, reflect this clash between modernity and backwards oriented ideology. For one the stadium oriented itself on antique ideals - it's partly modeled after the Colosseum in Rome - but it recognized the need for modernity, and another important influence was the architecture of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, host of the Olympics 1932.

The same clash between modernity and nationalistic ideology can be seen looking a bit closer at the details of the architecture: facades made from natural stone and classical and neoclassical forms abound, but those natural facades only conceal the state of the art concrete and iron building technology that was being used.

Colonnades at the Olympic Stadium with natural stone facades. Click here for large version

Also the classical and at the same time modern stadium is only part of the whole architecture; it is supplemented in the west by a large field, the Maifeld ("Mayfield"), used for propaganda events. The Maifeld has gigantic stands, and in the center of those a militaristic memorial was located, the "Langemarck-Hall", originally dedicated to young soldiers killed in a battle of the first world war, glorified as heroes by the National-Socialists. In the East the "Olympic Square" can be found, a large place for deployments of all sorts during the Third Reich. More on that later. In the North finally we find a smaller Olympic Swim stadium, complemented by a smaller square (Coubertin-Platz) on the South side to keep the symmetry. Google Earth shows how the whole ensemble looks today (follow the link for a view of the map).

Of course the question poses itself what to do with the stadium and its surroundings after the end of the national-socialist regime: demolish all of it? Or only the buildings and structures that today still emanate the spirit of the National Socialist like the Langemarck-Hall? Or re-use as a historical information center and at the same time - in true Olympic spirit - as a place where people of all nations can meet and celebrate?

Detail of the stadium's modern roof. Click here for large version

The Germans decided for the latter. So nowadays on one side you find a modernized and renovated Stadium, shining like new since the 2006 World Soccer Championship, with a fascinating modern roof (originally it had none, for the Championships 1974 it got a first, smaller one); on the other side all buildings and squares have been retained, but supplemented by information tablets you'll find all over the place and a museum giving extensive historical background of the whole area. And where do you find the museum? At the Langemarck Hall, now serving information needs and nothing else.

We'll now look closer at the stadium. To get to the scene we first need to travel there - and we get there with the subway, leaving it at the station "Olympia-Stadion":

Click here for large version

A short walk brings us from the station to the Olympic Square ("Olympischer Platz"), and here our walk on the big East-West axis (tilted a bit to the South) of the Olympic area begins. The square - as already said - was used for deployments, one of them an infamous one: on November 12th 1944 people came here to be sworn in as a sort of "Hitler's last army"; it was one of ten places in Berlin that served this senseless purpose. Nowadays it's used mainly as a parking lot:

Click here for large version

Now were looking at the entrance of the stadium, where the Olympic Rings are held by two towers - the tower of Prussia and the tower of Bavaria. The naming of the towers - there are two additional pairs at the West side of the stadium - follows nationalistic ideology after which all Germans came from one of six clans or people: the Bavarians, the Prussians, the Saxons, the Frisians, the Swabians and the Franconians. The towers are named accordingly.

Click here for large version

If we move further towards the stadium we can note one thing: it looks big, but it is not towering above us as big as other great stadiums. The reason for this we can discover if we move into the stadium, and climbing only a few steps we now see it: it's built as an "Earth stadium", meaning the field and the lower tiers are built into the earth, and only the upper tier rises above the ground:

Click here for large version

Moving further we can look down into and toward the East side of the stadium. In the center background we can see the Marathon gate, where the Marathon runners came in for their last rounds. Further back we see part of the Mayfield with its central tower, the "Glockenturm" or Bell tower, not belonging to the clan towers - it rises on top of Langemarck hall:

Click here for large version

Now we have moved to the Marathon gate and turn around 180 degrees for a look at the container for the Olympic flame, framed by the modern roof:

Click here for large version

Let's step a bit back now to have a wider look at the Marathon Gate framed with tablets showing the winners of the 1936 Olympics:

Click here for large version

Here now a closer look at the tablets on the left side, listing Jesse Owens as winner of the prestigious 100 and 200 meter races - he also won the long jump and the 100 m relay race. Hitler certainly was not amused, as this didn't fit his racial theories at all:

Click here for large version

Let's turn around 180 degrees again for this view of the Mayfield, 375 meters wide with gigantic stands; field and stand could be used by up to 250.000 people for propagandistic events. During the Olympics it was used for Polo and for gymnastic shows. Nowadays it's used for all sorts of events, to name only one: Phil Collin's 1994 concert of his "Both sides" tour:

Click here for large version

For another look at the bell tower we'll now leave the East-West axis, and see it through another pair of the clan towers, this time the Frisian and the Saxon towers:

Click here for large version

Going to the South of the stadium we'll finally risk a look a the Olympic Swim stadium:

Click here for large version

Hope you enjoyed the tour - in spite of all the, not all the time too pleasant information!

1 comment:

Chris said...

This is my first visit to the Castle of the Pano King :-)
I shall have to bookmark it.

Very well done, and informative as always!