Photograph of the week: Munich Olympic Stadium, Germany


The Munich Olympic Stadium is so much more interesting than just a place for 22 grown men or women to kick around a round, synthetic-leather-clad ball. It’s true that this footie-mad nation continues to use the stadium as a ground zero of sorts to feed their passion for the beautiful game. It has, after all, played host to any number of major football events and matches, including the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final, the 1988 UEFA Euro Final, the European Cup Finals in 1979, 1993 and 1997, and the 2012 UEFA Women’s Champions League Final, to name just a few.

But did you know that the stadium, built between 1968 and 1972 for the 1972 Summer Olympics, was constructed in a pit made by bombings during World War II? The pit is said to have made construction easier, which was, no doubt, somewhat of a relief given the magnificent scale and scope of German architect Günther Behnisch and engineer Frei Otto’s visionary masterpiece.

What’s more, did you know that the architects took inspiration for the construction of the sprawling, light-as-air, tent-like roof, from spiderwebs and diatoms (a major group of ocean algae)?

This same spectacular roof, which covers not only the main grandstand of the Olympic Stadium but extends across the Olympic Hall, the Olympic Pool and the paths connecting the buildings, was also nearly the reason Behnisch & Partner were not awarded the contract for the stadium. The selecting panel deemed the idea too risky and unfeasible, and initially threw their bid out. In the end, though, beauty and imagination won the day and they were awarded the contract. The result? A city landmark, and architectural sensation, which continues to sell out to tens of thousands (69,250 to be exact) of fans on a regular basis – be it for sports events, music concerts, or even touring car fans.

To build the roof, a complicated net of steel cables was first woven on the ground and then lifted up and fastened onto masts which are secured with more cables. Add large sweeping canopies of acrylic glass, stabilized by yet more steel cables, to the mix, and you have a complex which many think imitates the Alps. Whatever you see, mountains, spiderwebs or microscopic ocean creatures, there is no denying the structure is quite spectacular.

The ingenuity and vision of this venue doesn’t stop at its construction either. Case in point: in December 2006, the stadium made history by becoming the first venue to host the Tour de Ski cross-country skiing competition. In yet another nod to the Alps, the venue made its snow for the event by combining hot air with cold refrigerated water to create the type of icy snow commonly experienced in the Alps.

Meanwhile, as a concert venue, the stadium has hosted more than its fair share of the greats. The Rolling Stones. Bruce Springsteen. Michael Jackson. Tina Turner. U2. Guns ‘n Roses. Sting. Dave Matthews Band. Elton John. AC/DC. Metallica. Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Coldplay. Madonna. Celine Dion. Rihanna. This list could go on for days. So we’ll stop there. But suffice to say, chances are, if you’ve heard of them, they’ve played here.

Situated at the heart of the Olympiapark München in northern Munich, you can visit the stadium outside of sporting events and concerts almost every day. (It is only ever closed for general public visits on December 24th and 31st, and for special events.) To get there, take the U3 underground via Olympiazentrum, followed by a 10-minute walk to the Olympic Park, or take Tram 20 und 21, stopping at Olympia Park West, or Tram 27, stopping at Petuelring.

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Comments (6)

  1. Roger says:

    I’m always astounded how many decisions rest on a whim or a knife-edge. How many potentially great plans, like Behnisch and Partner were rejected rather than given a chance?

    Changing topics, the advertising agency had their plans for the Compare the Meerkat campaign rejected time and time again. What a disastrous decision that could have been for Compare the Market.

  2. Elizabeth Knowling says:

    These Photograph of the Week pieces are becoming my favourite A Luxury Travel Blog feature. The pictures are brilliant but it is the story behind the picture that I really enjoy and I’m very grateful for all the research that goes into producing the text that tells the story.

    Hopefully, people will start sending photos in from all over the globe. It would be fantastic to have some from the early days of travel too. I remember reading the amazing story of the first flight from Australia to London. It was far from direct and with numerous stops. Photos from early travel would make for fascinating reading.

  3. Steve says:

    I think the stadium is very much a sign of the times. They are all multi-purpose now and not just for sport which is the way it should be, everyone should find something they enjoy going on at such a great stadium. The days of a stadium just being for athletics during the summer or for a weekly game of football are long gone.

  4. Steven Ham says:

    Stadium Tours are always good fun. I’ve done a few now. I enjoy seeing all the incredible logistics that go into organising events at big stadiums. There’s always a surprise or two. I remember being shocked to learn that down in steamy Louisiana clouds formed in the roof of the New Orleans Superdome.

    Definitely have to see if I can do a tour of this magnificent Munich stadium, it’s already built some history.

  5. Sam says:

    I never knew it was built in a pit from World War II bombings. That just makes it all the more meaningful, especially for someone like me who doesn’t care much for the Olympics. I do find the architecture truly awe-inspiring through, and now you’ve said about diatoms and spiderwebs I can see the inspiration in the design. It’s brilliant that it’s been used so vastly to host such big names as a concert venue, too.

  6. Vernon says:

    Ah, the classic sunset picture? Why is it that every picture seems so much more effective when it’s got all of those orange, red and yellow colours in the mix? Do PR people get taught to use a sunset image whenever they can?

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