The Olympiastadion Experience: Football and Representation in Berlin

Football undoubtedly contributes towards Germany’s identity as a nation. On my visit to the Olympiastadion, I experienced the stadium as a powerful ‘representational’ space (Bale, 1998: 271). Drawing from my experience of watching football in England, I understand that stadia crowds can generate an overwhelming ‘emotional niche’; unusual sites of intense passion which are rationalised by societal norms (Schafer and Roose, 2010). By interpreting videos, images and audio recordings, I reflect upon my unique urban experience of an international football match between Germany and Brazil in Berlin.
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On my walk towards the Olympiastadion, the atmosphere was energetic as noisy German fans gathered outside the ground. I could sense the excitement and pride of travelling Brazilian fans, chanting and dancing outside the turnstiles. I was caught up in a collective space of patriotism and joy where people bonded through their national colours. For me, this illustrated how fandom can nurture and shape particularly complex emotions which extend far beyond the terraces (Ashmore, 2017: 31).

On first sight of the Olympiastadion, I was very impressed by the architectural grandeur. Then, as I paused to make sense of the stadia’s past, I found it impossible to overlook the geopolitical events of the last century. Given that the stadium hosted the controversial 1936 Olympic Games, I found myself considering Olympiastadion as an architectural relic of Nazi Germany. History was everywhere. Just outside the stadium, spectators congregated down ‘Jesse-Owens-Allee’.

Jesse owens

The street name is important because it serves to memorialise the African American athlete who won four gold medals at the Olympics, contesting Hitler’s claim of Aryan racial superiority (Large, 2007). I found this very thought provoking, prompting me to reflect upon the significant political changes which have occurred in the modern history of Berlin. After a few minutes had passed, my thoughts quickly returned to the football and I entered through the turnstile.

As I walked into the stadium, I was instantly drawn to the strength of national pride within the atmosphere. I walked up the steps to find my seat, feeling the buzz of some 74,000 football fans eagerly anticipating the spectacle. Initially, it surprised me that there was no section of the crowd exclusively for Brazilian fans, instead, spectators were sat alongside each other. I hadn’t witnessed this type of arrangement in England and it made me feel particularly welcome as a visitor. Before the match started, national anthems were played and I found myself reflecting on history once again. The  ‘Deutschlandlied’ anthem has represented Germany in various forms since 1922. Originally, the first stanza began ”Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles” which directly translates to “Germany, Germany above all else”. But, following the Second World War, given the first stanzas association with Nazi Germany, it was instead replaced by the third stanza. Despite this, the music has remained unchanged which created quite a reflective atmosphere when it was played before the match.

On a separate note, I believe that international football plays an important role in continuing to enhance feelings of togetherness in Germany, moving beyond narratives of separation which existed throughout the Cold War. For example, Germany’s EURO 2024 slogan ‘#UnitedByFootball’ was visually displayed at the match. Arguably, this motto illustrates the sentiment of a modern, forward-looking Germany. In effect, football could be seen as a leading force for reconfiguring contemporary national identities (Hunter, 2003: 422). Moreover, given the prominence of families and children at the event, I would consider that football fandom in Germany is very friendly in comparison to some English football stadiums I have visited in the past. This comparison continued when reflecting upon the police presence. Whilst there were armed police inside and outside the stadium, they were far from intimidating. The police were actually inviting travelling Brazil fans to take pictures with them which surprised me given that police in England often pay more attention to separating the rowdy home and away fans.

The experience I had has certainly provoked me to think of German football culture as a force of national and international unity. Also, I found that the Olympiastadion experience differed vastly to what I have encountered in England. Looking back, it is clear that the Olympiastadion can be understood as both a sporting venue and a geopolitical entity.

Reference List and Suggested Further Reading
Ashmore, P. (2017) ‘Of other atmospheres: football spectatorship beyond the terrace chant’, Soccer & Society, 18 (1), pp. 30-46.

Bale, J. (1998) ‘Futurescapes of football’ in Brown, A. (eds) Fanatics! Power, Identity and Fandom in Football. Routledge, pp. 265-278.

Hunter, J. (2003) ‘Flying the flag: Identities, the nation, and sport’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power10(4), pp.409-425.

Jarvie, G. (2003) ‘Internationalism and Sport in the Making of Nations’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 10 (4), pp. 537-551.

Large, D. (2007) Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936. New York: W.W. Norton

Schäfer, M.S. and Roose, J. (2010) ‘Emotions in sports stadia’ in Frank, S. and Steets, S. (eds) Stadium worlds: Football, space and the built environment. Routledge, pp. 229-244.

Tamir, I. (2014) ‘The decline of nationalism among football fans’, Television & New Media15 (8), pp. 741-745.

United by football (2018) To gather a further understanding of football as a force for re-branding Germany’s national identity, visit this website: https://united-by-football.de/en/

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