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Football at the Capital City: Berlin's Olympiastadion and its Historic Moments

Updated on October 14, 2017
Antonio Martinez1 profile image

Antonio Martinez graduated from Montclair State University with a BA in History and a double minor in Russian Area Studies and Journalism.

Berlin's Olympiastadion
Berlin's Olympiastadion | Source

Any stadium can become part of a nation's culture, even with the dark Nazi past when it hosted the Olympics in 1936. Eighty years have this stadium stood where history unfolded with numerous stories, one almost not possible had it not survived a major scare in 2002.

It first came to prominence as a stadium for track and field. Nearly 80 years later, multiple sports have been played here at this venerable stadium, including football. It is a stadium that almost a decade since its massive renovation ahead of the 2006 World Cup has evolved into one of Europe's elite stadiums. Former Olympic torch bearer Siegfried Eifrig mentioned to a BBC correspondent in 2004:

"It's good that they've decided to keep it (the stadium). There was euphoria inside the stadium, but the crowds didn't go there to see Hitler. They went for the Games. This stadium has been renovated and modernized for the World Cup because it's a great structure. It's remarkable."

From its inception at the main venue of the 1936 Summer Olympics, Berlin's Olympiastadion evolved over the years into a footballing cathedral, which included the ultimate honor of hosting the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final on Jul. 9, 2006 and the UEFA Champions League final on June 6, 2015.

Hundreds of supports of FC Nürnberg out to support their team as the club faced Stuttgart in the 2007 German Cup. FC Nürnberg won 3-2 after extra time to claim the club's first major award since 1968 and its first German Cup in 45 years.
Hundreds of supports of FC Nürnberg out to support their team as the club faced Stuttgart in the 2007 German Cup. FC Nürnberg won 3-2 after extra time to claim the club's first major award since 1968 and its first German Cup in 45 years. | Source

Hannover's Shining Moment

Nürnberg's Wait Over

Last Clubs Standing over the Years

Since 1985, Olympiastadion has been the host venue for the final the German Cup. It has been the neutral venue where many teams capped off Germany's knockout competition in various ways. VfL Wolfsburg backed up its second-place finish in the Bundesliga by winning its first ever German Cup. Eighteen years after its only other final appearance, Wolfsburg overcame an early deficit against Borussia Dortmund by scoring three goals in 15 minutes to give Wolfsburg the German Cup.

Dortmund lost in the final for a second straight year, but it was different three years ago. Dortmund had overcome an early season stumble to win the Bundesliga with a then-record 81 points. Then, Dortmund followed that title with an exceptional performance, even with backup goalkeeper Mitchel Langerak playing for Roman Weidenfeller because of a rib injury.

Shinji Kagawa began the scoring in the third minute against Bayern München, and when Robert Lewandowski scored his hat trick, Borussia Dortmund was on its way to an impressive 5-2 victory. Dortmund's first German Cup and the club's first German Cup in 23 years as well as the club's first ever double in its 103-year history.

Other German clubs had ended lengthy droughts. Werder Bremen, Borussia Mönchengladbach and VfB Stuttgart each won during the 1990s as each of the clubs snapped long droughts between their previous cup triumphs. Schalke also ended a drought in 2001 thanks to Jörg Böhme to hold off a pesky Union Berlin that was playing in the third division at the time.

Schalke's victory came days after the club missed out on its first Bundesliga title since 1958.

Hannover won a cup final as a second-tier squad in 1992. Hannover faced Borussia Mönchengladbach at the German Cup final in which the match finished scoreless after 120 minutes for the first time. Penalty kicks decided the winner and for Hannover, goalkeeper Jörg Sievers saved two penalty shots for Hannover. Michael Schjønberg scored the winning goal as Hannover became the first club outside the Bundesliga to win this tournament.

A year later, third-tier Berlin-based Hertha BSC II, led by Carsten Ramelow, to have its crack at history in the Olympiastadion, having become the first reserve team to reach the final. In the end, a 77th-minute goal from Ulf Kirsten was the only goal as Bayer Leverkusen won its first German Cup.

Of all the lengthy droughts ended, no club has a more dramatic victory than in 2007. A banner by its club's fans read: "Auch in 39 Jahren Ohne Titel Waren Wir Stets Stolz und Treu!" (German, it means "Even in 39 years without a title, we were always proud and loyal.")

That title was the 1967-68 Bundesliga, won by FC Nürnberg, who also were the tournament's inaugural winners back in 1935. Nürnberg reached its first final in 25 years, but last won the cup since 1962. In 2007, its opponent VfB Stuttgart sought its first double after winning the Bundesliga, but Nürnberg had swept both meetings by three goals in the season.

Nürnberg trailed 1-0 before tying the match in the 28th minute at 1-1 on a goal from Marek Mintal. Two minutes after Mintal's goal, Stuttgart's goal scorer Jeronimo Cacau received a red card for a cheap shot on Andreas Wolf. Having joined the team in March 2007, Marco Engelhardt scored to put Nürnberg up 2-1. However, Stuttgart got a chance after Mario Gomez was taken down in the penalty area; Pavel Pardo scored on the ensuing penalty kick, and the match finished 2-2 in regulation.

In extra time, Jan Kristiansen broke the tie in the 109th minute with a thunderous shot to secure Nürnberg's fourth cup with the 3-2 victory.

Bayern: Kings of the German Cup

Since 1985, Bayern has been the best of German football as it won the German Cup 10 times in Berlin since 1985, doing so in many ways. Bayern throttled VfB Stuttgart 5-2 thanks to Roland Wohlfarth's hat-trick and a brace from Michael Rummenigge, younger brother of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. In 1998, Bayern overturned a 1-0 deficit against MSV Duisburg thanks to goals by Markus Babbel and Mario Basler in the final 19 minutes to win 2-1. In 2014, extra time was needed to secure Bayern's 17th cup with goals by Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller scored the only goals of the game against Dortmund.

That 2-0 victory was the third time Bayern and Dortmund met in a cup final. In 2008, the final was played on April 19, the earliest date for a cup final in 30 years. The final was significant in that both captains were retiring at the end of the Bundesliga: Bayern's Oliver Kahn and Dortmund's Christian Wörns. Also leaving Dortmund to take the managerial job as Switzerland's football team was Ottmar Hitzfeld. He looked to cap off an impressive career which includes a UEFA Champions League triumph in 1997.

It looked likely after Luca Toni put Bayern up 1-0 in the 19th minute. However, Dortmund scored late in regulation through their key player, was previously was known for having scored the goal that denied England a place at Euro 2008. Mladen Petric scored in the 89th minute to force extra time, where scored late in the first half of extra time thanks to Toni's second goal of the match.

Dortmund's task to equalize grew harder when Jakub Blaszczykowski was sent off for yellow card accumulation and Bayern won 2-1.

The Fight for Survival

Mixed Fortunes for Club Football

Olympiastadion also hosted Bundesliga matches as Hertha Berlin has called it home for nearly half a century. One of Hertha's best victories came in its season opener on Aug. 10, 2013, when it defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 6-1. The result saw Hertha top the table for the only time that season; the victory matched the biggest home win by any Bundesliga club that season.

Hertha's fortunes in recent seasons have yielded mixed results. When the club finished fourth in the 2008-09 season, Hertha defeated Bayern München, Stuttgart, and Hamburg. At that same season, Hertha Berlin lost to Energie Cottbus (who would suffer relegation that season). In the following season, Hannover 96 was the only team Hertha Berlin defeated at home as Hertha Berlin endured a miserable season en route to relegation.

In 2011 and 2013, Hertha lost three matches in those two seasons en route to winning the second division titles on both occasions. One of those victories included a 4-2 home win over Fortuna Düsseldorf seen by over 36,000 in 2011. The next time these two clubs met, both were fighting for a spot in the Bundesliga in a relegation-promotion play-off. Days after finishing 16th in the Bundesliga, Hertha lost 2-1 at home to Förtuna Düsseldorf after leading the match since the 19th minute.

Hertha Berlin participated in European club competitions, and 1999 saw the club play in the Champions League. It was the club's first participation in Europe in two decades, which began on Aug. 11, 1999; when Hertha defeated Cyprus's Anorthosis 2-0 with goals by Ali Daei and Michael Preetz. Hertha Berlin made it to the second group stage thanks to victories over Chelsea and AC Milan during that campaign, as well as a 1-1 draw against Barcelona.

Since then, there has been hardly any success for Hertha in Europe, with only a 2006 Intertoto Cup and two trips to the knockout stage to show for since 2000. Hertha hit a nadir in 2001 after losing 3-0 to Switzerland's Servette in a UEFA Cup third round match. Six years later, Hertha suffered another embarrassing result in 2009. It happened to be Latvia's first game in the group stage of any UEFA club competition, and Ventspils secured a 1-1 draw in Berlin. A 1-0 loss to Heerenveen continued Hertha's struggles; by Dec. 16, 2009, Hertha was on the precipice of a knockout stage berth.

Gojko Kačar scored the only goal against Sporting Lisbon to send Hertha Berlin into the knockout stage.

Fans attending a World Cup match between Ukraine and Tunisia in 2006.
Fans attending a World Cup match between Ukraine and Tunisia in 2006. | Source

Penalty Shootout in Berlin

The World Welcome at Berlin

At one point, Olympiastadion hosted a one-game playoff to determine who would play in the 1962 World Cup. Two weeks before that match, Switzerland defeated Sweden 3-2 to force the play-off. Sweden led in the play-off, but Switzerland came back with two goals in 11 minutes to qualify for the World Cup.

The 1974 World Cup saw Chile, who were eligible amidst political turmoil and controversial circumstances, play all three group stage games here: West Germany, East Germany, and Australia.

Chile's 1-0 loss to West Germany featured more than a Paul Breitner 18th-minute goal. Carlos Caszely was the first player sent off with a red card since the introduction of yellow and red cards. Chile scored its only goal in the second match against East Germany while its third match against Australia was a scoreless stalemate played in torrential rain.

Thirty-two years later, Olympiastadion hosted six games at the 2006 World Cup. Brazil began its search for a sixth World Cup by defeating Croatia 1-0 on a goal from Kaka on June 13, 2006. That same scoreline helped Sweden score its first goal of the tournament after nearly 360 minutes: an 89th-minute goal from Fredrik Ljungberg enough to eliminate Paraguay. The 1-0 result also helped Ukraine defeat Tunisia to reach the Round of 16 thanks to an Andriy Shevchenko penalty.

Germany played twice during the tournament. In a battle to determine the group winner, Germany won 3-0 thanks to two goals from Miroslav Klose and a third by Lukas Podolski. Klose proved vital when Germany faced Argentina in the quarter-finals - his goal in the 80th minute tied the match after Roberto Ayala put Argentina ahead.

A penalty shootout decided this game made famous and infamous.

Germany's goalkeeper Jens Lehmann had notes about potential penalty takers he would face. But when Esteban Cambiasso came to take his penalty kick, Lehmann looked at the paper and did not even see Cambiasso's name at all. Lehmann made the game-clinching save, but after Germany had won 4-2 in the shootout, a fracas broke out between both nations and the result was not pretty.

Leandro Cufre became the first player red-carded after the match finished for kicking Per Mertesacker.

Another game decided on penalty kicks happened to be the 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France, which saw early goals from Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi. In extra time, Zidane and Materazzi would be part of the game's pivotal moment. A minute after Gianluigi Buffon denied his headed shot on goal; Zidane headbutted Materazzi on the chest. Zidane, one of only four players to score in two different World Cup finals, became the fourth player sent off in a final.

Six years earlier, he scored the golden goal to help France defeat Italy at Euro 2000. But on France's second attempt, David Trezeguet had missed his attempt as his shock struck the crossbar. Italy did not miss an attempt, and Fabio Grosso scored the winning goal to give Italy its fourth World Cup.

Fans attend the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 Women's World Cup ahead of Germany's match against Canada. The 2-1 victory for Germany set an attendance record for a women's football match in Europe.
Fans attend the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 Women's World Cup ahead of Germany's match against Canada. The 2-1 victory for Germany set an attendance record for a women's football match in Europe. | Source

Coming of age for Women

Even women had their say at this stadium, many who have gone on to have significant careers. Before her golden goal at 2003 Women's World Cup, Nia Künzer established a dynasty for FFC Frankfurt. Her lone goal in the German Women's Cup final against FCR Duisburg in 1999 was the first of seven trophies for the club over the next ten seasons.

Künzer scored at another final three years later where another star was coming of age in German women's football. A hat-trick by Birgit Prinz helped Frankfurt win 5-0 against Hamburg. A year later, Künzer and Prinz added a fifth straight trophy; the result came courtesy of Duisburg's Martina Voss-Tecklenburg scoring an 89th-minute own goal.

One of Germany's best players, Voss-Tecklenburg played at the first German Women's Cup final held in Berlin in 1985 as her club lost to FSV Frankfurt via a penalty shootout. Four years later, Voss-Tecklenburg played for Siegen when she scored the team's fifth goal as the club won its fourth straight German Women's Cup. Nine years later, Voss-Tecklenburg helped Duisburg win the final, with Inka Grings scoring a hat-trick as Duisburg thumped FSV Frankfurt 6-2. Finally in 2009, Voss-Tecklenburg was the manager for Duisburg and Grings still kept scoring; her two goals helped Duisburg win 7-0 against Turbine Potsdam.

Künzer, Prinz, Voss-Tecklenberg and Grings each played a role in Germany's ascent in women football. That growth reached an apex in 2011 when Olympiastadion established a record at the Women's World Cup. Germany hosted Canada in the tournament's opening match of the 2011 Women's World Cup, which was the second game played in the tournament. Olympiastadion saw a European record attendance of 73,680 in attendance to watch Germany win 2-1 against Canada.

An Unlikely Comeback

Numerous Home Stories over the Years

Germany hosted many fixtures at Olympiastadion and at times had success.

That success saw Germany had a 13-match unbeaten streak after its quarter-final victory over Argentina. Two years later, Germany suffered a bit of revenge from one of its chief rivals. A year after Germany spoiled Germany spoiled England's first ever match at the new Wembley Stadium. England returned the favor by winning 2-1 in a friendly at Olympiastadion.

It was its first loss at Berlin's Olympiastadion in 35 years.Olympiastadion. It was also England's third win at this stadium, having done so also in 1938 and 1956.

In 1956, England's Duncan Edwards scored his first ever goal for his country while Colin Grainger and Johnny Haynes scored in a six-minute span as England defeated West Germany 3-1. England's 6-3 victory in 1938 saw one of the most controversial and darkest moments for the country. As Germany was its enemy during the 1930s and 1940s, England sought appeasement and during pre-match ceremonies in Berlin, England's team performed the Nazi salute to the crowd.

This gesture unleashed a chain of events many speculated in allowing Germany to invade Czechoslovakia.

By the 1970s, Germany became a powerhouse in football, beginning with a scoreless draw against England that sent West Germany to Euro 1972, which they would win. Five years later, West Germany defeated Italy 2-1 to record the nation's first victory over its opponent in 38 years. It also saw Karl-Heinz Rummenigge scored the first of his 45 goals for his country when his goal in the 58th minute put West Germany up 2-0. After two stunning defeats to Bulgaria in 1994, Germany secured a spot at Euro 1996 with a win against Bulgaria. In 1995, Germany avenged recent losses by Bulgaria to ensure a place at Euro 1996, with Jürgen Klinsmann scoring twice in that match to give Germany a 3-1 victory.

Also in 1983, West Germany throttled Turkey 5-1 with braces each by Rudi Völler and Rummenigge as West Germany reached Euro 1984 at Northern Ireland's expense. Finally in 1997, Germany trailed Portugal 1-0 on a 70th-minute goal in a 1998 World Cup qualifier. Portugal had won in Germany in World Cup qualifying before; Kirsten's 80th-minute goal gave Germany a vital point that helped them in reaching the 1998 World Cup.

Germany's most recent match here was a shocking result, nonetheless, having led 4-0 after 55 minutes against Sweden in a World Cup qualifier. Sweden roared back in the last 27 minutes: it began with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and ended with Rasmus Elim's goal three minutes into stoppage time as Sweden drew 4-4 with Germany.

Whether the occasion, one thing is sure about Olympiastadion: it has managed to stand and will stand the test of time as the stadium will continue its soccer history. For so long, football has what made Olympiastadion speak out to the world.

© 2014 Antonio Martinez

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