An impressive example of early 1970s architecture
Think of Munich’s best-known sights, and the Olympic Park will no doubt count among them. The imposing Olympic Tower soars above Munich’s skyline, providing a recognizable landmark for all those who live in or visit the city. Indeed, the sweeping canopy of the Olympic Stadium roof is one of Europe’s most unusual architectural structures.
The venue began life in the 1960s, when the city chose Oberwiesenfeld, a desolate, flat region four kilometers away from the city center, as a site for the twentieth Olympic Games to be held in 1972. The Royal Bavarian Army used to exercise on the site, which had also served as Munich’s first passenger airport. Within six years, the Olympic Park was created, at the foot of the 290-meter-high Olympic Tower. The park’s design was meant to fulfill three aims: firstly, the twentieth Olympic Summer Games were supposed to be games of short distances—i.e. various events would be held within close proximity to each other. Secondly, the Olympic facilities in Munich were intended to symbolize democracy and freedom following the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, which were held under the Nazi regime. Thirdly, the Games venue was to be surrounded by greenery.
The result was an 850,000-square-meter park with man-made rolling hills, including the Olympic Hill, erected from the debris of World War II, and an artificial lake. Sports facilities were then integrated into the landscape, including the Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Hall and the 50-meter-long Olympic Swimming Pool. There is also an Olympic Ice Sport Center, which opened in 1991. With its 600 seats and 60 x 30 meter ice surface, this is one of the largest ice-skating centers in Europe. In a bid to preserve the green landscape, the buildings were lowered into the ground, so that only a third is visible from the surface.
The stadium itself was designed by German architect Günther Behnisch. Its tent-like steel roof, made from pylons as high as 80 meters, a web of wire cables and acrylic glass plates was, at the time, considered state of the art. The sweeping and transparent canopy symbolizes the Alps, just an hour’s drive away. The open, light buildings with huge glass walls were also meant to reflect a new, democratic and optimistic Germany as reinforced by the official slogan: “the happy Games” (die heiteren Spiele).
However, the stadium and its adjoining Olympic Village became infamous for the events that overshadowed the 1972 Games—namely the shooting of Israeli athletes—rather than celebrated as the site of the athletic achievements of competitors such as British sprinter Mary Peters.
Today the site is the biggest sports park in Europe, attracting around five million visitors each year. Some 160 million people visited the venue since 1972—whether it be to use the extensive sporting facilities, to simply stroll the grounds or to attend one of the several hundred music, sports or commercial events held there every year.
Most of these events have taken place in the Olympic Stadium, which has a maximum capacity of 75,000 and which was home to soccer club FC Bayern München before it relocated to the Allianz Arena in 2005. Perhaps the most notable event in many natives’ minds was the legendary final of the 1974 World Cup, when Germany beat the Netherlands by 2-1.
The stadium is also famous in English soccer lore as the site of England’s 5-1 win over Germany in September 2001. Other major events held there have included the 1985 Davis Cup Finals, the UEFA European Cup in 1988 and the 2002 European Athletics Championships.
Sport aside, the park plays host to many open-air concerts by international stars, such as Robbie Williams and the Rolling Stones. Guns ’n’ Roses filmed part of their “Estranged” video there when they visited Munich in 1993. There have also been treats for classical music fans, such as a performance of La Traviata. Other well-known personae to have graced the stadium include Pope John Paul II, who held mass there in 1987.
But even without a specific occasion, the Olympic Park rarely fails to impress. On a good day, visitors can enjoy superb views of Munich and the Alps from the Olympic Tower’s 190-meter-high viewing platform or while eating a meal in the tower’s revolving restaurant. For a more unusual treat, take a tour along the rooftops of the stadium and abseil down on to the pitch, or take advantage of a range of other behind-the-scenes tours. See www.olympiapark-muenchen.de
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© MF Hoyal/March 06