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1936 Olympic stadium rebuilt for Cup

8 June 2006

The Berlin Olympic Stadium is the most famous of the 12 stadiums which will be used at the football World Cup, a place legendary in sports for the 1936 Olympics where Jesse Owens stole the show from the Nazis.

Some 100,000 spectators cheered wildly at those games as the black American won four gold medals to make a mockery of Nazi claims of Aryan supremacy, with an infuriated Adolf Hitler refusing to enter the stadium when Owens competed.

But in the decades that followed, the place was half forgotten and rusting.

"It was dirty and pieces of cement were breaking off. I was at the 1995 German Cup final, and I told my son, 'I'm not going inside that stadium - it's too dangerous,"' said Peter von Loebbecker, the stadium's business manager.

That changed when Germany won the right to host the World Cup and the federal and state government poured $US310 million ($A418.95 million) into renovating the arena to host matches, including the July 9 final of soccer's showcase event, expected to be televised to more than a billion people.

The Olympic Stadium has been rebuilt under strict landmark preservation laws - with the stones taken out one by one and cleaned before being set back in place.

But it features a modern roof with built-in floodlights and Europe's biggest video screen.

"The unique thing in this stadium is the history has been kept, but now inside it is a modern arena," stadium spokesman Hans-Georg Felder said.

"Anybody can build a modern arena, but there aren't many like this anymore."

Rows of bank seating have been ripped out and replaced with seats, reducing the number of spectators to 74,000. During World Cup matches, that capacity will drop below 70,000 because of the space needed for the media.

The bowl where the Olympic flame burned still remains, and from a distance it looks like the coliseum the Nazis built, except for the partial roof which covers all seating and contains 5,000 lights.

The only complaint is that the track has been preserved and spectators aren't as near to the action as they are in pure soccer stadiums.

"It's hard to get the right atmosphere here unless there is 40,000 spectators - but that won't be a problem at the World Cup, all the matches have been sold out," Felder said.

The other 11 World Cup venues are either new or have undergone extensive renovation to get approval to host World Cup matches in Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, Hamburg, Hanover, Kaiserlautern, Leipzig, Nuremberg and Stuttgart.

Roy Kammerer

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