Suggestion Angers Berliners Should Hitler's Stadium Sell its Name?

Berliners are shocked at the suggestion that their Olympic Stadium may take on the name of a sports goods company in a sponsorship deal. The site where Jesse Owens embarrassed Hitler by winning four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics is a sacred piece of German history and shouldn't be flogged for a few million euros, say critics of the tentative plan.

The head of Berlin's main soccer team has suggested selling the name of the city's Olympic Stadium, site of Hitler's 1936 Olympics and the 2006 World Cup final, to a sponsor for much-needed cash, triggering protest from local politicians and citizens who say the venue must keep its historic identity.

Werner Gebauer, supervisory board chairman of first division soccer team Hertha BSC, told the local newspaper Der Tagesspiegel that revenues from a sponsorship deal could help Berlin prepare for a possible bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games that would exorcise the ghosts of 1936.

"We could show the world that Olympic Games can take place at this site that aren't abused for political purposes," said Gebauer. "An Olympic bid costs a lot of money. So why don’t we talk about possible sources of finance?"

But the prospect of Berlin following the example of other branded stadiums around Germany such as Munich's Allianz Arena, Nuremberg's Easy-Credit Stadium or Dortmund's Signal Iduna has left Berliners aghast.

A tradition that should be preserved?

"The stadium is a piece of German cultural history and commercial interests should be secondary to that," Eric Schweitzer, president of Berlin's chamber of commerce, told the newspaper Die Welt. The president of Berlin's regional sports federation, Peter Hanisch, said: "One shouldn't sell oneself for a few million euros. The name Olympic Stadium stands for a tradition, it should be preserved."

Media reports said sports group Nike may be interested in a sponsorship deal for the stadium which would generate at least €5 million per year, to be shared between the city of Berlin and the Hertha BSC club, the stadium's most important tenant.

The local government has distanced itself from the dispute and stressed that it wasn't holding talks with any sponsors. "We're far away from taking down the Olympic rings," Petra Rohland of the city's planning department told Tagesspiegel. She added that the stadium was subject to historic-monument protection rules and added that "it's inconceivable at present that we would give up the name."

The stadium has only just undergone a €242 million refit for the 2006 World Cup. But revenues from a sponsorship deal would help fund further extensive restructuring of surrounding sports facilities including a pool and riding arena in preparation for an Olympic bid.

The mass-circulation newspaper Bild ran the banner headline "Hands Off the Olympic Stadium" this week and came up with 10 reasons for keeping the name and the six Olympic rings, including this one: "Because the next smartass will get the idea to rename the Brandenburg Gate as the McDonald's or Burger King Gate."