The boys in the bubble

May 18, 2005
By Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger
(Archive)

When they built the mother of all futuristic arenas in 1964, the Houston Astrodome, a writer, I think it was Roger Angell, called the building an 'improbable cool bubble'.

He used the term 'cool' to describe the inside, of course, because in contrast to many other domed stadia that would follow, the Astrodome was built because the weather in Texas was too sunny to allow outdoors sports - it was too hot and too mosquito-friendly.

Yet I had to think of Angell's words when I was standing in front of the new Allianz-Arena on Sunday morning, soon to be the home of Bayern and 1860 Munich.

First, it looks like a bubble. (Though, unlike a bubble, it's not closed, but you can only see that from the adjacent hill that used to be a rubbish heap.)

Second, it is improbable in any sense of the word - architecturally, financially and not least of all positionally. The arena is so far away from Franz Beckenbauer's original hunting ground you hesitate to say it's still in Munich.

I once walked all the way from a dingy downtown record store to the Olympic Stadium to see a game, which was arduous but possible, even for a smoker short of breath like me.

Yet you can forget about that from next season on (or during the World Cup). It's the motorway or the subway, and that's it.

If it's the motorway, that means it's also the parking levels.

No handy parking lot in front of a distressed resident's manicured garden, no secret alleys that will swiftly lead you to the ground while those not in the know are stuck in a traffic jam.

And if it's the subway, that means it's also a solid half-hour or so cheek to cheek, hip to hip with people who could use a shower (and think the same of you).

Seen this way, the Allianz-Arena is a great democratic tool and a social leveller.

But at the same time, the thing is cool. And I mean that in both senses of the word. The translucent padding, or whatever you want to call the beast's skin, is both: more lively, humane than your average concrete walls - and very artificial. They can illuminate this cover in two colours: red for Bayern's games, blue for 1860's matches.

Yet almost every newspaper, whose photographers had a chance to shoot a picture of this lightshow, finally printed a snapshot of the blue version. It just fits the stadium more, I guess, because red evokes a pumping heart - while the cool blue makes you think of a fish, or a giant, sleeping reptile. A cold-blooded animal, so to speak.

And yet...And yet the arena is also cool in the other sense.

Many people shed tears on Saturday afternoon, when Bayern waved a nine-goal bye-bye to the Olympic Stadium, beating old rivals Nuremberg 6-3. But these are the same people who once answered my question about the best seats at this ground with a curt and honest: 'There are no good seats. You can't see anything from anywhere.'

GettyImages / PicBirth of cool? Houston's Astrodome.

The Olympic Stadium, as beautiful as it is, never was a football ground. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn't even a track-and-field stadium but simply a design masterpiece not meant to be really used.

The new arena, however, may be a commercial colossus named after an insurance company that could cripple especially 1860, but at the very least it is a pure football building.

There will be no Robbie Williams shows or biathlon competitions, like they have at Schalke, or Jehovah's Witnesses conventions, which used to regularly ruin the grass at Dortmund.

Yes, die-hard 1860 fans rue the fact they will have to leave their cozy Gruenwalder Strasse ground yet again to share a place with their rivals, and they fear the day when only a couple of thousand will venture out to the very, very north of the city to see a second-division game between their team and a non-descript club with no travelling support.

But until and unless experience proves me wrong I dare to guess that even a small crowd could make something happen at the arena, which was unthinkable at the Olympic Stadium. Even Bayern played games there in front of what you could call a good crowd - 25,000 or 30,000 - and have the atmosphere you normally associate with jazz concerts.

And 1860, a proud team and still very much the city's true club, castrated themselves during the years they played here, as the most lasting impressions the rest of the country won were those of two or three fans forlornly staring at the pitch amid a sea of empty seats.

That was simply because the tv cameras were stationed on the main stand, the roofed one, and could only show you those parts of the ground where no one wanted to go as long as he could choose his seat. But it was the image sent out to the nation.

So the sudden surges of nostalgia should have ended when the final whistle rang on Saturday afternoon.

And yet a Munich paper even ran a piece about how a fairly unknown player like Nuremberg's Samuel Slovak will go down in history as the man who scored the last goal at the Olympic Stadium, when it should have been a Makaay or Ballack. Give me a break. A Dortmund player scored the first goal at Schalke's arena, and nobody gives a damn.

GettyImages / PhotographyWhat it was meant for? The Olympic Stadium hosts the 1972 Olympics.

And for well over three decades of its existence as a football ground, people were only complaining about the Olympic Stadium - so let it be a heart-felt yet very brief good-bye, and then move on.

The Allianz-Arena will officially open on the last two days in May, with games between 1860 and Nuremberg and Bayern versus the national team.

But there will be a test run. On May 19, 1860 Old Boys will play Bayern Old Boys. (We call such sides 'tradition teams'.) Rudi Voeller, Klaus Fischer and Thomas Haessler will line up for 1860. Football's coming home.


  • Uli's seminal history of German football, Tor!, is available online.

    Also available: Uli's new book Flutlicht und Schatten for all you German scholars to gen up on the history of the European Cup.

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