Postcard from Munich

PP contributor Simon Goodall has recently upped sticks and moved from London to Munich. Here, in his first postcard from the city, a trip to the city’s Olympic stadium gets him thinking about 2012…

Having let rain put me off my original plan to join an ex-pat cycle tour on my first Sunday in Munich, I fell back on option B and headed for the Olympic park for a swim. A trip to Munich’s Olympic swimming pool turns out to be a treat: it’s so much easier to count your lengths when they last fifty metres. Added to which, the pool has a huge open window facing out on to the park and is itself a spectacular structure. The spectator stands curl round half the pool in a clean concrete crescent, all following the curve of the hillside like an ancient amphitheatre. Covering hill and pool is a solid perspex tarpaulin that looks like a cross between several huge tepees and a circus tent. This transparent tent mimics the Alps that on a clear day can be seen behind it and continues across the entrance square to cover the principal buildings, including the stands of the main stadium (until recently the home of Bayern Munich).

It’s democratic people-friendly parkland and the openness and greenness of the development is very reflective of Munich as a whole and the spirit of community and open access that pervades the city. Much of suburban Munich is as close as you can get to the Le Corbusier dream, with people living in high-rise flats surrounded by acres and acres of greenery and forest. Here high-rise is not synonymous with deprivation and crime. When I look out of the window I could be in the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, but for the well-kept lawns, the quiet, the good air, and the peaceable old ladies digging the communal garden. The buildings though are near identical.

Of course the spirit that created this was very much a postwar one. The designers of the Olympic park, at pains to avoid the sort of monumentalism on show in Germany’s previous Berlin games, sunk the big stadia into the landscape. The 80,000-seater arena looks like a small hill with a funny bat-wing roof over it until you actually get inside and it all opens out below you. The thirty-year anniversary brochure I purchased in the gift shop still makes much of this ‘people’s park’ intent.

Of course, the 1972 games were overshadowed by tragedy – the Munich massacre, an attack directed at Israeli athletes by Palestine terrorists, which killed all eleven Israelis and several others, with accusations of gross mismanagement pinned largely on the German police. Wilfrid Spronk, General Manager of Olypiapark Múnchen GmbH, opens his introductory blurb with this optimistic glossing of those terrible events: ‘The first stormy years of new experiences are over now…’ – if this is a reference to the hijacking incident he goes no further.

What perhaps rescued the Munich Olympics from being only about terrorism is that it does have a lasting positive legacy for the city. It claims to be the first Olympics to really concentrate on the legacy issues during construction and having spent a long morning both using the facilities and wandering around I am inclined to agree with the Mayor’s ecstatic quote, again in the brochure, that ‘the Munich Olympic Park is an eldorado for sports, games, entertainment and recreation’. It definitely remains a much-used, high-quality facility, and has provided a beautiful park, tourist attraction and source of pride for the city.

Regeneration, community and the legacy product are very much at the heart of London’s Olympic plans. Forty years on the games are again to be held in a specially created park, and just like in Munich much of the landscaping will be on top of previously contaminated wasteland. The terrorist threat aside then, Munich is an encouraging example of what this sort of Olympics could achieve for London (as well as, let’s not forget, Weymouth). Perhaps the London games will be to Beijing what Munich was to Berlin: a lasting product for the city not a monumental showpiece to the world. Here’s hoping.

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