Berlin’s Olympic Stadium where Pope Benedict XVI will hold a giant mass Thursday is steeped in history, from the 1936 Games showcasing Hitler’s dreams of racial supremacy to the 2006 World Cup final.
German-born Benedict’s sermon is set to be one of the high points of his four-day trip, his first state visit to his homeland, but the ghosts of his country’s Nazi past will hang heavily in the air.
The stadium was built for the 1936 games, famous for the performance of black American sprinter Jesse Owens, who made a mockery of Nazi master race theories by winning gold in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and the long jump.
Designed by Werner March, advised by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer, it remains an imposing example of Nazi architecture, with vast grey towers and a neo-classical aspect.
The stadium survived the Allies’ intense bombardment of Berlin practically intact, and once Germany surrendered in 1945 it became the headquarters for British troops.
Its name was changed from the Reichssportfeld to the Olympiastadion and it was gradually stripped of all signs of the Nazi regime including giant swastikas and “Aryan” statues.