Robert Hampton

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26th September 2014

Berlin Day 3: Standing on Hitler’s Balcony
Posted by at 9.26pm | No responses | Out and About

Sunday didn’t get off to a promising start. I checked out of my hotel and emerged into heavy rain. Oh dear. First order of business: find an umbrella.

This was not as easy as it sounds. Sunday, in Germany, means that most shops are closed. I took a shortcut through a fragrant U-Bahn station and emerged onto Kurfürstendamm, where the throbbing heart of Berlin’s retail offering was shuttered and silent. However, there was a stand selling umbrellas. I was charged €7 for a bright orange umbrella, which was wrong on many levels, but it kept me dry.


Suitably sheltered from the elements, I strolled down Kurfürstendamm in search of Fasanenstraße. Like the pathetic sandal-wearing leftie that I am, I had perused the Guardian web site and found an article recommending 10 of the best breakfast and brunch spots in Berlin. One of its recommendations was Café Wintergarten on Fasanenstraße, and it was just a few minutes walk away from my hotel.

As an aside, I wish I’d found this article a couple of days earlier. My breakfast on Saturday had consisted of a Snickers bar that I’d extracted from a U-Bahn vending machine. Still, better late than never.

Berlin Fasanenplatz

I walked down Fasanenstraße, reaching a pleasant little square in Fasanenplatz. The rain had abated by this point, but there was still a dampness in the air. The carpet of fallen leaves gave the place a really Autumnal feel.

It was only then that I realised I’d walked too far, and had to retrace my steps back to the Café. Then I walked too far again. I turned around more times than Bonnie Tyler, but eventually found the café. It was in a building slightly set back from the street, and the blob on Google Maps wasn’t quite in the right place. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Café Wintergarten

I entered the café and took a seat. The interior was spectacular, with high ceilings and walls adorned with artwork (I forgot to take any pictures, but you can get an idea from the photos on TripAdvisor). I felt slightly intimidated – I was surrounded by middle-class Germans enjoying a light bite to eat, and here I was, wearing a tatty anorak and with an umbrella dripping onto the floor.

The menu was entirely in German, but there were various set menu options for breakfast which my limited grasp of the language could comprehend. The Guardian article had recommended the smoked salmon with a glass of champagne, but I’m not Joan Collins and wasn’t quite ready for that level of decadence. I ordered Frühstück Nummer Eins – 2 Rühreier mit Schinken, 2 Brötchen, Croissant, Butter, Honig, Konfitüre, Kräuterquark und Orangensaft. I knew that Rühreier mit Schinken meant “Scrambled Eggs with Ham”. The rest would be a bonus.

The first thing to arrive was a variety of bread rolls (the aforementioned Brötchen) with a croissant and various spreads to put on them – there was jam, honey and cheese. I was a little unsure of German bread roll etiquette – would I spread the cheese on the wrong roll and invite ridicule? I think I managed to get away with it without looking like too much of a tourist.

Then the eggs came, and they were delicious. I do like scrambled eggs, although I rarely have them at home because I am genuinely too lazy to whisk an egg and heat it in a pan for five minutes. These were very nice, light and fluffy, with the ham chopped up and mixed in with it, which is exactly how I like it. And again, I forgot to take a photo, so you’ll just have to imagine it.

The waitress came back and started speaking to me in German. I was caught off guard, and had to ask her to say it again in English.

“Did you enjoy your food?”

“Das schmeckt mir sehr gut!” is what I should have said, but didn’t. If she had marked me down as an ignorant English tourist, she was polite enough not to say it. I recovered enough to ask for “Die Rechnung, bitte,” before paying the bill and making my escape. Lovely food, though. Would definitely go back again.

I walked back to the Ku’damm and continued my stroll. I passed the Apple store, where there were already people camped outside (literally, with sleeping bags and everything) waiting for the iPhone 6.

My next destination was the Olympic Stadium, located in the north west suburbs of the city. I walked to Savignyplatz S-Bahn station where I caught a train to Olympiastadion.

Olympiastadion is a sprawling station with ten platforms. Only two of them are in regular use; the remaining eight are only pressed into service on event days for special trains. On this Sunday morning, however, all was quiet. A few trains were stabled in the platforms but there were few people around.

Olympiastadion S-Bahn Olympiastadion S-Bahn

I made my way to the stadium, passing a building which, through the pictogram and wording on the sign, leaves you in no doubt as to its purpose:


Another few minutes and I was standing on Olympischer Platz, with the stadium’s massive entrance looming above.


The Olympiastadion is open to the public most days. For a small admission fee, you can enter the stadium and walk around the stadium and its grounds. Many parts of the building are off-limits, and if you want to see them you need to book on one of the guided tours.

This was a feat in itself. Most guided tours are only in German; the English language tours are offered only a few times each month. The Olympiastadion web site said that there would be a tour on 14th September, but it took me some time to actually find the tickets for sale. Still, my persistence paid off, and I joined an assortment of other tourists at 12.30pm where our cheery tour guide, Mark, greeted us and led us inside.


Although the stadium has been used for many purposes in recent years, including athletics championships and as a concerts, it is primarily a football stadium. The 2015 Champions’ League final will be played here, and it is the home to Berlin’s Bundesliga team, Hertha BSC. “They are the ‘elevator team’,” explained Mark, “they are constantly up and down between divisions.”

Because the stadium is a listed building, Hertha were not allowed to add any signs or logos to it. The one permanent reminder of their presence is the running track around the edge of the pitch, which is in the team colours.


The gap in the stadium at the far end was an innovation dating from the stadium’s construction in 1936. It actually caused problems, as it weakened the structure, requiring extra support pillars to be built. The roof over the stands dates from 2006, when the stadium was renovated for the World Cup. Mark described an incident one winter, when heavy snow settled on the roof, which was at risk of collapse. Helicopters had to be drafted in to blow the snow off the roof.

Next, we were taken into the VIP area. Outside, plush leather seats. Behind them, a small restaurant area where food and drink is served to the great and the good of German society. Angela Merkel (a confirmed football fan) has entertained guests here.

Olympiastadion VIP area Olympiastadion VIP area

And then Mark pointed out the balcony where Hitler stood to watch the Olympics.

There’s no getting away from the building’s history. This was the venue for the 1936 Olympics, which the Nazis exploited to showcase their “new” Germany to the world. On that level, they scored a propaganda victory. The games were a dazzling spectacle which impressed many (it’s easy to organise stuff like this in a totalitarian dictatorship). The persecution of Jews and other groups was temporarily lessened, only to resume with a vengeance once the games were over and all the journalists had gone home. I couldn’t help but think of the recent Sochi Winter Olympics, and the Russian government’s extreme anti-gay prejudice.

The swastikas may have been removed after 1945, but there is no attempt to hide the stadium’s role in the dark times of Germany’s past. Refurbishments and renovations over the years have made the Olympiastadion into a modern arena, but this is all on top of the original, stark concrete structure from the 1930s. It’s rather chilling to look up and see the place where history’s most evil despot once stood.

Olympiastadion Balcony

We headed downstairs to Jesse Owens Lounge. This huge hall is, of course, named for the black American sprinter who won four gold medals at the 1936 Games. Much of the space is given over to a giant cafeteria which can be hired out for parties or corporate events. It’s what he would have wanted.

Jesse Owens Lounge Jesse Owens Lounge

We continued down more stairs, heading for the deepest basement section of the stadium. Our next stop was the stadium’s chapel. Yes, you read that right – a chapel.

We were warned not to touch the walls, which are covered in fragile gold leaf. This unfortunately made the place look like it had been decorated by one of the England WAGs. The multi-lingual Lord’s Prayer embossed in the walls did give some dignity back to the place.

Olympiastadion Chapel Olympiastadion Chapel

The chapel supposedly provides a place for athletes to pray and reflect, and is also curiously popular with Hertha BSC fans as a place to get married or christen their child. Personally I can think of better places to hold a ceremony than a small windowless room surrounded by a maze of twisty corridors, but there you go.

Next we were led down some more corridors, into the players’ changing area. Now, I have little interest in football, but I actually was quite looking forward to this bit. This may have something to do with the fact that Hertha BSC had played a match the previous day, and there was undoubtedly some lingering testosterone in the air.

Olympiastadion Changing Room Olympiastadion Changing Room

It’s all very plain. Hertha BSC are not allowed to put any of their own insignia or signs up (certainly nothing along the lines of the famous “THIS IS ANFIELD” sign) so it’s all very generic. The most interesting thing was the stern “DO NOT USE SOAP” warning in the jacuzzi – according to guide Mark, this notice was ignored once and the resulting bubbles almost reached the ceiling.

Not sure why I took the trouble to take a photo of the showers, to be honest, nor am I sure why I’m taking the trouble to share it with you now. Still, if Liverpool get to the Champions League final next year, you’ll be able to picture the squad in here.

Olympiastadion Changing Room Olympiastadion Changing Room

We were then led back upstairs and out into daylight. We emerged near the “gap” at the far end of the stadium, above the Marathon Tunnel, where the marathon runners in the 1936 Games entered the stadium at the end of their run. Here, a plaque commemorates the gold medallists of the 1936 games. The centre tablet names the officials involved in the construction of the stadium – note the gaps, where the names of Hitler and other prominent Nazis have been removed.

Olympiastadion plaque

And that was more or less it for the tour. I walked round the edge of the stadium back to the front entrance, passing the open-air swimming pool on the way. It wasn’t the warmest day, but there were plenty of hardy Germans happily splashing away.

I was feeling peckish, and luckily there was a snack bar open on site. My love of German sausage knows no bounds (stop it). I’d indulged my taste for Currywurst the night before, but decided to go for a plainer Bockwurst with bread roll – a hot dog, basically. My Coke bottle said “Share a Coke with Mario” – two months after the World Cup victory, Germans are still in love with Mario Götze – and who can blame them?


Final stop was the Hertha BSC Store. No, seriously. I wanted a souvenir of my visit, and the football club shop seemed as good a place as any to get one.

I picked up an Olympiastadion mug straight away, of course. Wherever I go, I always seem to end up with a mug. If there’s one thing at home I’m not short of, it’s receptacles for tea.

Then I saw all the clothing on offer. Full replica kits and various sports gear. I was tempted to get an official Hertha BSC shirt (they are sponsored by Deutsche Bahn, after all) but settled for a training top.

Hertha BSC top

I’ve worn it a few times at the gym and can confirm that the Dri-Fit anti-sweat technology works well. Definitely worth the (whisper) €40 it cost.

Forgive me if it sounds like I went a bit over the top. The trip so far had been surprisingly cheap; I still had about €200 or so in cash burning a hole in my pocket at this point. Also, I was getting the train home (of which more later), so I was freed from the tyranny of airline baggage limits. Why not go crazy with the souvenirs?

It’s probably the first and only time I will ever buy something from a football shop, unless its a birthday present for my Dad.

So, that was the Olympiastadion. I had been there for well over two hours and had found the whole thing absolutely fascinating. The tour had cost just €11 – amazing value for what you get. This was definitely one of the highlights of my whole visit, but it was time to move on.

I needed to get to the Nollendorfplatz area and I knew that the U-Bahn would take me straight there, so I headed to Olympia-Stadion U-Bahn station for a train.

U-Bahn Olympia-Stadion

Yes, the U-Bahn station’s name contains a hyphen, while the S-Bahn station doesn’t. And yes, that inconsistency did really annoy me.

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