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Deutsches Stadion (1913–1934)

Under the Open Sky

Shortly before World War I, the Deutsches Stadion was opened on the premises of what was then the Grunewald horse-racing tracks in West Berlin. It had a football field, a running and cycling track, and an annexed 100-metre swimming pool. From 1920 onwards, part of the newly established Deutsche Hochschule für Leibesübungen was housed there. The founding of the educational institution marked the beginning of the professionalisation of sports in Germany. In keeping with the nationalist thinking of the time, the training centre was intended to contribute to the “elevation of the people’s health” and “physical education,” as stated in a commemorative publication celebrating the institution’s tenth anniversary.

“The two basic elements of the university, research and teaching of physical education, were already at home in the [German] stadion. It was therefore only logical that the university moved to the stadium. There we had what we needed above all: an excellent sports field for athletics [sic] and games and a swimming track.”

Gerhard Krause, trainee at the Deutsches Sportforum, about the founding of the Deutschen Hochschule für Leibesübungen, 1930

There was tremendous interest in the new college. In the Weimar Republic, sports became more popular than ever: new sports facilities were sprouting up everywhere, the newspapers and radio stations regularly reported on competitions and tournaments, school sports were introduced, and the ideal image of a well-trained body started shaping culture and advertising. Thus, the number of students, both male and female, grew rapidly. To meet the growing need for space, the Deutsches Sportforum was built in the neighbourhood of the stadium.

Erich Heckel, Stadion, 1930, Brücke-Museum, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023

In 1930, Berlin successfully applied to host the 1936 Summer Olympics. Possibly inspired by this announcement, Erich Heckel captured the academy’s training at the stadium’s swimming pool in a painting and a woodcut of the same year. He unsuccessfully submitted the painting to the art competition of the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Shortly thereafter, the Deutsches Stadion was demolished on Adolf Hitler’s orders, and from 1934 onwards it was replaced by a gigantic new building for the propagandistic staging of international sports competitions: the Olympiastadion. Although some parts have since been structurally modified, the building is still in use today.

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