Massive and imposing, the Olympiastadion was originally built in Berlin for the 1936 Olympic Games. Today, it is still in use. Here's how to visit the Olympic Stadium to witness an excellent—yet sobering—example of the architecture favored by the National Socialist Party, picture Jesse Owen's record-breaking wins, or attend one of Germany's top festivals or concerts.
History of Berlin's Olympic Stadium
Construction of the stadium began in the early 1930s, on the site of an older athletics center. It was to be the centerpiece of an entire sports complex: the Reichssportfeld (known today as Olympiagelände Berlin), which housed other structures like the Waldbühne amphitheater. Adolf Hitler hoped architect Werner March's imposing design would set the stage for the Nazis to prove their total superiority at the Olympics. Officially opening on August 1, 1936 at the opening ceremony of the Games, the Olympiastadion had the capacity to hold 100,000 people.
Despite Hitler's attempt to use the Games to demonstrate Aryan supremacy, African American athlete Jesse Owen dominated in track and field; he won four gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4 × 100-meter relay.
Since the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Olympiastadion has endured many changes. At the beginning of the Second World War, a portion of the complex was transformed into an underground bunker and storage unit for munitions, food, and wine. In 1972, it underwent major renovations—including the addition of two partial roofs—to prepare for the 1974 World Cup.
By the 1990s, the stadium was once again in need of work. There was debate whether it should be rebuilt as a football-specific stadium, or simply renovated as a multi-purpose space. It was decided that it should be kept true to form, and revamped with better seating, luxury suites, a new roof, and total capacity placed at 74,475. On August 1, 2004, the Olympiastadion's 68th anniversary, the modernized site re-opened.
Today, the site is used for concerts and sports; past competitions held here include the 1937 German football championship, 2006 FIFA World Cup, 2009 IAAF World Championships in Athletics, FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011, and the UEFA Champions League Finale 2015.
Of course, the Olympiastadion is an attraction all on its own. The stadium is home to the beloved football club—Hertha BSC—with tours available of the VIP areas, changing rooms, and the underground warm-up training hall. Even on non-event days, an estimated 300,000 visitors come to Olympiastadion.
What to See at the Olympiastadion
- Ostkurve: The "east curve" section of the stadium is always reserved for Hertha fans. Expect it to be filled with enthusiastic blue and white fans.
- Bell Tower (Glockenturm): Constructed of limestone, this 253-foot-high observation tower was also designed by Werner March. Visitors can ride the elevator up to the highest point on the site and get the best view over Olympiagelände (Olympiapark). Admission costs 4.50 euros (about $4.85) for adults.
- Langemarckhalle: Between the columns on the outer walkway, there is an exhibition on the history of the site, and a memorial dedicated to fallen soldiers from WWI.
- Guided Tours: These can last anywhere from one hour to 120 minutes. You have a few options: You can take a tour of the highlights, a tour dedicated to the Hertha football team, or a premium tour (which explores Olympiapark's culture, sports, and architecture). Tours are offered in several languages (the English language one runs every day at 11:30 a.m.). Note that there are tours on days with scheduled events. If you miss the tour, take advantage of the free app with insider tips, video and audio files, and an in-depth tour.
- DFB-Pokal Final: Every spring, the Olympic Stadium hosts the German football cup final.
- ISTAF international track and field meet: Held every September at the stadium.
- Concerts: Every summer, Olympiastadion transforms into one of the best open-air stages in the country. Among the many big names that have played here include the Rolling Stones, Madonna, and Coldplay.
- Run the Track: You don't have to be a professional athlete to run on the legendary track. There are regular events for amateurs like B2RUN or BIG25.
How to Visit the Olympiastadion
If you go to an event like a football match, you can wander the grounds to your heart's delight and enjoy the Olympic Stadium as it is meant to be enjoyed. To come here on non-event days, you need to purchase visitor tickets. Admission costs 8 euros (about $8.60), which includes entry to the bell tower. There are also family rates of 19 euros (about $20.50) as well as individual discounts. Visitors with the Berlin welcome card receive free entry without a guide.
Opening hours are generally from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., although winter hours (November to March) are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Olympic Stadium is located about 4 miles to the west of Berlin, and can be reached in 25 to 40 minutes via Berlin's public transit system. You can take the underground (U-Bahn) line of the U2 to the U Olympia-Stadion stop, or the S-Bahn line of the S5 to the S Olympiastadion stop. You could also hop on bus lines M49 or 218, which would require a short walk.
If you drive to the Olympic Stadium, there is ample parking available on non-event days. Note that during events, parking is much more limited.
What to Do Near Olympiastadion
You'd be forgiven for forgetting you are in the capital of Germany: The stadium is surrounded by woods. Among the trees, you'll find various parks, sports facilities, and a history trail that wanders through the Olympic site. Featuring 45 panels in English and German, the trail covers Olympiapark's origins and development under the Nazi regime.
Next to the stadium, there is an open-air swimming pool (Sommerbad) that has a fascinating design and top-notch facilities.
There are limited food and drink options outside the stadium; luckily, it is an easy ride back into the city, and you can find everything from street eats to fine dining accessible via public transport.