The Colossal Olympic Stadium That Hitler Never Built

The cornerstone of the world's largest stadium was laid in Nuremberg 75 years ago. Hitler envisioned the project as a symbol of the Reich that would stand for centuries, but due to WWII it was never completed.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

It was designed to be the biggest stadium in the world, one that would seat no fewer than 400,000 spectators.

Some 75 years ago, on September 9, 1937, the Nazis laid the cornerstone of the huge structure that was meant to be built in the city of Nuremberg by 1945. It was inspired by the Greek Olympic stadium, where Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, had paid a visit.

The length of the stadium was meant to be 800 meters, its width 450 meters, and its height 90 meters. High-speed elevators were meant to carry spectators through the structure's five floors. Two huge towers were to be built next to the stadium, with a sculpture of a giant eagle with a 15-meter wing-span.

No one spoke about the cost, but Hitler told Speer that the price would not exceed that of two war ships in any case. "Look at how quickly an armed ship is destroyed... and if it survives, it turned into scrap within 10 years in any case. This structure, in contrast, will remain standing for centuries."

Speer tried to explain to the Fuhrer that the dimensions of the stadium he was asking for did not comply with the standards of the Olympic committee. But Hitler had entirely different plans.

"This is totally unimportant. The 1940 Olympic Games will be in Tokyo. After that, they take place forever in Germany – in this stadium," he said. "We will be the ones that will decide what will be the dimensions of the sports stadium," he added.

The giant stadium was supposed to be part of a line of huge structures planned for constrction in Nuremberg. It was due to be built in a huge convention complex in the south-west of the city, alongside another stadium, plazas for marches and parades, a memorial for fallen German soldiers, and the Hall of Congress. Visitors to the city today can admire the remains of some of these buildings.

Hitler declared the start of works on the project at a ceremony that took place at the same time as the Nazi convention, an annual Nuremberg event that occurred on the anniversary of the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. In front of the astonished eyes of 24,000 spectators, Hitler unveiled a two-meter high model of the stadium.

Meanwhile, at another site some 40 kilometers away from Nuremberg, German workers were toiling to build a smaller version of the stadium. The aim was to build a mock-up of the structure, at a ratio of 1:1, that would enable Hitler to see the miracle of the architectural restoration in Nuremberg with his own eyes, as well as to carry out different measurements of the acoustics and field of vision at the stadium.

The chosen destination for the mock-up was a small village called Achtel. The "model structure," meant to illustrate how it would look in the real site, was also a fairly large structure: It was planned to seat 40,000 spectators – a tenth of the number of seats in the real stadium. The 400 workers recruited to carry out the mission worked on the task for 18 months straight.

On March 21, 1938, Hitler, Speer and Nazi officials came to see the building site up close. This was a great honor for the residents of the small village. All the efforts that had gone into constructing the model stadium over a year and a half had built up to this visit. Everything so that the dictator could get a first impression of what the larger stadium would be like once constructed. At a distance of 80 meters from the spectators' benches, Hitler and his associates watched a drill performed by Nazi soldiers. Speer was satisfied, and said the outlook was "more positive" than he had expected.

However, with the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, construction was stopped. Only the SS guards stationed at the site remained there. During the last days of the war, the village of Achtel was almost completely destroyed, as its residents showed resistance to the American forces.

Years after the war, the hill on which the stadium was built was still called "Mount Stadium," but nature, time and human beings did not preserve the remains of this historical site. Ten years ago, the site was granted protected status by the German authorities as a conservation site – as a living remain of Hitler's megalomania.

Hitler, Speer and Nazi officials at the site of the model stadium near Nuremberg. Courtesy of German National Archives.
The plans for Hitler's stadium. Credit: Lencer

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