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Fans of Nürnberg show their support inside Berlin's Olympiastadion in 2007

Berlin’s Olympiastadion: Germany’s cathedral of history and soccer

Fans of Nürnberg show their support inside Berlin's Olympiastadion in 2007
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"Berlin's Olympiastadion: Germany's cathedral of history and soccer"
Caption: Fans of Nürnberg show their support inside Berlin's Olympiastadion in 2007
Location: Berlin, Germany
Image by: Lienhard Schulz

Germany has an abundance of stadia that have attracted so much of the sports world; that includes one major venue opened in 1936 and since has hosted numerous events. This cathedral of sport began its nearly 80 years of history with the 1936 Summer Olympics. It was one of only a few buildings to go unscathed during World War II; that included a discovery of a bomb in 2002 beneath the stadium ground.

Berlin’s Olympiastadion will add one more major honor on June 6, 2015 in its sporting history. This is the same venue that showcased excellence in athletics: Jesse Owens in the 1936 Summer Olympics and Usain Bolt 73 years later in the IAAF World Championships in Athletics. It served as the home of the Berlin Thunder in NFL Europe. Nearly 80 years of history has seen Olympiastadion witnessed numerous sporting events, not to mention being the central stadium for the 1936 Summer Olympics. 

It is in soccer that the Olympiastadion has become a premier venue for Germany. This started during the 1936 Summer Olympics; the venue featured Italy, Norway, Austria and Poland contesting matches in two semi-finals, the third place match and the final. This stage would witness the coming of age for Norway’s first ever World Cup goal scorer: Arne Brustad scored a hat trick to give Norway the bronze medal over Poland. It was Italy that won the tournament against Austria; a vast number of Italian players would reap the rewards of a World Cup victory two years later in Paris, including Pietro Rava. 

Olympiastadion had to wait  38 years before another major soccer tournament: the 1974 World Cup. It was the site of Chile’s three group stage matches; the South American country would miss out on the second group stage after only two draws and a Sergio Ahumada goal (the only one for Chile in that tournament). A major moment came about in 2004 as to the fate of the stadium; that decision would lead the venue to host the final of 2006 World Cup. 

Olympiastadion witnessed six entertaining matches during the 2006 WOrld Cup, with BrazilSweden and Ukraine each wining in the group stage 1-0. Germany played twice here: the first was a 3-0 victory Ecuador to win the group. Then, Germany defeated Argentina on a penalty shootout, marred by an ugly brawl that saw one player even red-carded. The final also saw another significant red card: that of Zinedine Zidane and his headbutt in the second half of extra time. That came minutes before he nearly put France ahead, but not before Gianluigi Buffon made a critical save. Italy would triumph on the penalty shootout. 

Olympiastadion has also hosted qualifiers for major tournaments. It was Nov. 15, 1995 that Germany qualified for Euro 1996 (which they would win); they overturned a 1-0 deficit by getting two goals from Jürgen Klinsmann and another from Thomas Hässler as they defeated Bulgaria 3-1.

Another major qualifier would ended up being a hiccup in an otherwise impressive campaign. Germany qualified for the 2014 World Cup in style; it was at the Olympiastadion that Germany dropped their only points. Germany did so in shocking fashion: they blew a 4-0 lead as Sweden roared back in the final 28 minutes. The comeback was complete when Rasmus Elm’s stoppage time goal tied the match and finished 4-4. 

Major soccer matches were not limited to only men’s soccer; one of the largest crowds at the stading featured women’s soccer and the progress it had made in Europe and the World. June 26, 2011 was the opening day of the 2011 Women’s World Cup: Olympiastadion hosted just one match at the tournament. An attendance of over 73,000 fans watched Germany continue its winning ways. Goals from Kerstin Garefrekes and Celia Okoyino da Mbabi would helg Germany win 2-1 against Canada. The match remains a record for most fans at a women’s soccer match.

Women’s soccer was also once a staple at the Olympiastadion: it was at this stadium that the Frauen DFB-Pokal (Women’s German Cup) hosted the final from 1985 until 2009. FFC Frankfurt enjoyed much success here in the tournament, which included five straight Frauen DFB-Pokal victory between 1999 and 2003 and two more in 2007 and 2008. It was in the 2009 edition that a record margin of victory was set.

Before 2009, FCR Duisburg set the record for largest margin of victory in a final in 1998 during its record setting scoring campaign in its 6-2 victory over FSV Frankfurt. In 2009, FCR Duisburg scored 26 goals en route to winning the tournament. That run included two goals each by Annemieke Kiesel and Inka Grings as FCR Duisburg crushed Turbine Potsdam 7-0. 

Today, Olympiastadion is the showpiece for Germany’s premier club competition: the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) has been held at the stadium since 1985. The finals over the years have seen many interesting plots; four stand out in particular.

The 2001 DFB-Pokal final remains the last one to feature a Berlin club. This club was not Hertha Berlin, but rather Union Berlin. Union Berlin was in the third division of Germany soccer when they made their first ever final, eliminate Bochum and Borussia Mönchengladbach in the process.

Its opponent also made history; Schalke would end up breaking its own drought on May 26, 2001. Two goals from Jörg Böhme gave Schalke a 2-0 victory and its first DFB-Pokal since 1972. That victory provided a bit of comfort for Schalke; it was seven days earlier that Schalke thought they won the Bundesliga for the first time since 1958 with a 5-3 victory over SpVgg Unterhaching, only for Bayern München to snatch the title with a last-gasp goal. 

It would be another six years before another club ended a long drought, made well-known through a banner that was unfurled in the 2007 final. The banner read this:

“Auch in 39 Jahren Ohne Titel Waren Wir Stets Stolz und Treu!” The phrase translates to: “Even in 39 years without a title, we were always proud and loyal! But as we’re already here, we will take the cup home with us.”

The 2007 DFB-Pokal would prove to be the breakthrough moment for FC Nürnberg. During the regular season, FC Nürnberg swept both meetings against eventual champions Stuttgart: that included winning the opening game of the season in Stuttgart 3-0 and the team’s first game in 2007 4-1.

Nürnberg won the first ever tournament in 1935, but it had been 45 years since the club won the DFB-Pokal. Nürnberg survived two scoreless draws by winning both on penalty shootouts against SpVgg Unterhaching and Hannover 96. Nürnberg would get a major chance against Stuttgart again: the match was 1-1 when Stuttgart’s Jeronimo Cacau was red-carded and Nürnberg played with a man advantage from that point. The match finished 2-2 in regulation and in the 109th minute, Jan Kristiansen broke the tie to score the winning goal, giving Nürnberg just its fourth ever DFB-Pokal in the 109th minute. More important was that Nürnberg had its first major honor since winning the Bundesliga in 1968.

Cup finals can also be used as a farewell for key players; that was something Manuel Neuer did in 2011 against an upstart second-division Duisburg. The 2011 DFB-Pokal would be Neuer’s last game for Schalke before he were to play for Bayern München next season; he went out a winner, thanks to great goalkeeping and a two goal performance by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Schalke matched the biggest win ever at a DFB-Pokal final (also set by Schalke in 1972 against Kaiserslautern) by thumping Duisburg 5-0. 

Neuer and Bayern München reached the DFB-Pokal final in the following year; he and the club would get thumped by an emerging club in 2012

Borussia Dortmund had swept Bayern München 1-0 both away and at home; it also capped off a record setting season thanks to Robert Lewandowski. The Polish international scored a hat trick as Borussia Dortmund won its first DFB-Pokal since 1989 with the 5-2 victory. 

Many German clubs have gone on to win the DFB-Pokal here at Olympiastadion; only one club can say it is their home since 1963. Over 50 years of history have seen Hertha Berlin play meaningful matches in the Bundesliga. One of the club’s most successful victories came recently. It was Aug. 10, 2013, when Hertha Berlin hosted Eintracht Frankfurt. Hertha Berlin did not just win, but rather thumped Eintracht Frankfurt. Two goals each from Gustavo Ramos and Sami Allagui gave Hertha Berlin a 6-1 victory and first place in the Bundesliga after one game. 

Hertha Berlin looked to establish consistency as the club alternated between Germany’s top two divisions since 2010.  How the club played at home was a major difference in a span of two seasons. Hertha Berlin lost to eventually relegated Energie Cottbus, but recorded memorable victories over Bayern München, Stuttgart and Hamburg en route to a fourth place finish in 2009. A year later, Hertha Berlin only managed a 1-0 victory against relegation-threatened Hannover as the club was relegated after finishing last in 2010. 

The club did return to the top flight by winning 2. Bundesliga in 2011, only for catastrophe to strike again in the following season. The main moment came on May 10, 2012: Hertha was fighting to stay in the Bundesliga: with the first leg at home, Hertha Berlin lost 2-1 to Förtuna Düsseldorf and would be relegated on five days later. 

Hertha Berlin has participated in major European club competitions and the signature moment for the Hertha at the Olympiastadion began on Aug. 11, 1999. Goals from Ali Daei and Michael Preetz helped Hertha win 2-0 against Anorthosis (Cyprus) as the club would reach its first ever Champions League. Hertha Berlin would reach the second group stage thanks to victories over Chelsea and AC Milan. 

It was Sept. 22, 1999 when Hertha Berlin won its first game at Olympiastadion: Daei scored both goals to give Hertha Berlin a 2-1 victory against Chelsea. Darius Wosz would be the hero in the next game: his goal was enough to give Hertha Berlin another home victory,  defeating AC Milan 1-0.

Hertha Berlin also hosted matches at the UEFA Cup and Europa League, but with mixed results. Two scoreless draws at home against Lens and Steaua Bucharest were enough to send Hertha Berlin to the Round of 32 in the 2005-06 edition. A year later, a 2-2 draw against Odense (Denmark) would ultimately doom Hertha Berlin for a chance to reach the group stage. 

Hertha Berlin lost a crucial match at home against Galatasaray on Dec. 8, 2008 and went out of the UEFA Cup. The 2009-10 UEFA Europa League saw Hertha Berlin record yet another stunning home loss: a 1-0 loss against Dutch club Heerenveen and the club was headed for yet another early exit.  Hertha Berlin won crucial road games against Heerenveen and Latvian club Ventspils and had a chance at the Round of 32. They did so with a home victory against Sporting Lisbon: ojko Kacar scored the only goal to send Hertha to the Round of 32.

Whether Hertha Berlin reached another major tournament, one thing is certain about Olympiastadion: it will host at least one major European match in 2015. It will come on June 6, when Olympiastadion was awarded the hosting duties for the Champions League final.  

Olympiastadion will always look to continue its soccer history amidst the global history that encompasses the stadium. 


More about this author: Antonio Martinez