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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 20:59 GMT 21:59 UK
New future for Nazi stadium
Ray Furlong
By Ray Furlong
BBC Berlin correspondent

The Olympic Stadium in Berlin was immortalised by Leni Riefenstahl's epic film images and Jesse Owens' sporting prowess.

The Berlin Stadium before refurbishment
The original stadium was designed under Hitler's orders

But now it has been given a new lease of life after a four-year renovation job.

The first performers were pop acts including Pink and Nena - she of the 99 Red Balloons -at an opening ceremony on Saturday night.

The stadium will later stage the 2006 World Cup football final, Germany's biggest sporting spectacle since reunification, exactly 70 years after the infamous Nazi Olympics.

"Whenever you enter, you will still know this was the site of the 1936 Games.

"You will pass all the old Nazi sculptures," said Peter Steinhorst, chief technician on the project.

"But there is also something new, and there will be multi-cultural events here."

The building is now a marriage of the 1930s and the 21st Century.

The graceful curves of its state-of-the-art transparent roof contrast with the jutting angles of the original towers and columns.

Euphoric crowds

From outside it looks much as it did in 1936.

The roof and other new elements like the VIP boxes, restaurants and underground parking are hidden from view.

"The history is there, the totality of the buildings is there. The whole Nazi landscape has not disappeared," says sports sociologist Guenter Gebauer.

The first spectators try out the new stadium
The refit cost just under $300m

"There are towers like in a fortress, and people who come will always ask where the Fuehrer sat."

I also asked - and Peter Steinhorst showed me.

It's still in the main VIP stand, but there's no longer a seat there.

The stadium was actually one of the few buildings in Berlin to survive the war almost unscathed, and has been used in the decades since.

Hertha Berlin plays Bundesliga football here.

But the decision to renovate, taken in 1998, came after years of anguished debate.

Some wanted to tear the stadium down and build a new one from scratch, while others favoured letting it slowly crumble like the Coliseum in Rome.

"It's good that they decided to keep it," says 94-year-old Siegfried Eifrig, who still has vivid memories of carrying the Olympic torch through the streets of Berlin back in 1936.

"There was euphoria inside the stadium, but the crowds didn't go there to see Hitler. They went for the Games," he says.

"This stadium has been renovated and modernised for the World Cup because it's a great structure. It's remarkable."

Divers performing at the Berlin Olympics
Leni Riefenstahl's film images immortalised the stadium

Indeed, Eifrig's only memory of seeing Hitler at the Olympics was during the relay.

"He slapped his thigh in frustration when a German runner dropped the baton!"

The stadium's partial new look is supposed to promote the Germany of today while remembering this history.

"The stadium recalls the dark elements present in its creation," said Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schilly, who attended the opening party.

"But in 2006 the world will look upon a modern, democratic, and open Germany."

The BBC's Richard Forrest
"The aim was to exorcise the ghosts of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis"

Obituary: Leni Riefenstahl
09 Sep 03 |  Entertainment
WW II bomb in Berlin stadium
09 Jan 02 |  Europe
Stadium guide: Olympic heights
29 Jun 00 |  2006 World Cup decision

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