In the early 1930s, the Weimar Republic won the bid to host the 1936 Summer Olympics resulting in the need for venues for this major sporting event. The architect Werner March (1894 – 1976) subsequently designed a reconstruction plan for the Deutsches Stadion, which has formed the center of the present Olympiastadion since the 1910s.  At Hitler’s instruction, March drafted plans for  a centrally located, monumental new stadium  to accommodate more than 100,000 people.

Today’s Olympiastadion is a modern version of the original, monumental  Greco-Roman style stadium built  in 1934 on Adolf Hitler’s instructions to host the 1936 Summer Olympics. The fascist underpinnings  of the architecture are still  visible  on the site if you know where to look. With the election of  Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) as Reichkanzler on January 30, 1933, the basic conditions for the Olympic Games in Berlin changed. The planning of the site, henceforth referred to as the “Reichssportfeld”, was placed under the control of the “Reich Ministry of the Interior”. Thus, not only a sports arena was to be built, but a site was to be created that would prove suitable for mass events.

It was decided that the architectural form of the arena should draw  its design from  the models of Roman and Greek colossal buildings and places of worship. Sculptors such as Karl Albiker (1878 – 1961) und Arno Breker (1900 – 1991) were commissioned for the artistic decoration of the site. They created  statues that celebrated the Aryan man and his martial potential –  who Albikers Diskuswerfer for example, regarded  less as athletes than as “Aryan” soldiers.

The stadium is overlooked on the western side by the ″Glockenturm″ (clock tower) which, during the planning phase, was called the “Führerturm” (the Führer’s tower) symbolizing Adolf Hitler’s visible  role in the state structure. The site is to be understood as a generally staged project that ultimately reflects the “Führerstaat” in its structure. Six functionless towers are arranged around the stadium, each named after one of the “six tribes”. Through the “Langemarckhalle” and the “Podbielski Eiche, the First World War is memorialized and the warlike tone of the structures is evident. 

After the 1936 Summer Olympics, the stadium continued to be used for sporting events. Increasingly, however, it hosted mainly major political events of the National Socialist dictatorship. For example, the visit of Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945) in 1937 was celebrated with a torchlight procession on the “Maifeld”. Finally, in the spring of 1945, the stadium was at the center of the fight for Berlin. The so-called “Volkssturm” and divisions of the “Hitlerjugend” were supposed to defend the “Reichssportfeld” after an incendiary speech by Carl Diem (1882 – 1962).  Numerous young people died in this conflict as they were sent to fight the Red Army without training and were poorly armed. To this day, the stadium grounds uncritically commemorate Carl Diem and his contributions to  sports, though his crimes remain unmentioned in this context. Diem was a formative figure in the staging of the Olympic Games including introducing the torch relay, the ceremonial opening of the competition, and the closing gala. Diem  was also responsible for customizing  the structures with  heroic and sacrificial myths of fallen soldiers from the First World War.

Status of the Renaming

As a former center of National Socialist politics and a place of execution of the propaganda-charged Olympic Games in 1936, Berlin must do educational work on the perintent geographical spots. The history of National Socialism and how the Berlin sites were exploited in the service of that history is now conveyed primarily through guided tours.

Our Recommendation

Berlin als ehemaliges Zentrum der nationalsozialistischen Politik und als Ausführungsort der propagagandisch-aufgeladenen Olympischen Spiele 1936 hat Aufklärungsarbeit vor Ort zu leisten. Die nationalsozialistische Geschichte und Aufladung des Ortes vermittelt sich vor allem durch geführte  Touren.


Breymayer, Ursula/ Ulrich, Bernd: “Heldengedenken” Der Kampf um die Erinnerung an die Toten des Ersten Weltkrieges. in: Rother, Rainer (Hg.): Geschichtsort Olympiagelände, 1909 – 1936 – 2006. Berlin 2006, S.22-37.

Donath, Matthias: Architektur in Berlin 1933-1945. Ein Stadtführer. Berlin 2007.

Hettlage, Bernd: Olympiastadion Berlin. Berlin 2006.

Huse, Norbert: Unbequeme Baudenkmale. Entsorgen? Schützen? Pflegen? München 1997.

Kluge, Volker: Olympiastadion Berlin. Steine beginnen zu reden. Berlin 1999.

Odenthal, Anna Maria: Denkmalpflege. Die geschichtswahrende Modernisierung des Olympiastadions. in: architektur + bauphysik 7. Berlin 2006, S.2-6.

Schäche, Wolfgang/ Szymanski, Norbert: Das Reichssportfeld: Architektur im Spannungsfeld von Sport und Macht. Berlin 2001.

Tietz, Jürgen: Sport und Erinnerung. Das Berliner Olympiagelände. in: Rother, Rainer (Hg.): Geschichtsort Olympiagelände, 1909 – 1936 – 2006. Berlin 2006, S.10-21.

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