ASTOUNDING is one way to describe Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena. The sheer size and audacity of the building is like something from another universe. You can quite easily compare it to a recently-landed space ship, one that is sitting on the outskirts of one of Europe’s most appealing and civilised cities, observing life forms found in the cheerful beer halls.
The stadium was designed by the architecture industry’s über-aesthetes, Herzog & De Meuron. The Swiss company, based in Basel, has presided over some outstanding projects, making genuinely beautiful stadiums that break all the rules of conventionality.
The Allianz cost € 340 million to build but the local state incurred more than € 200 million more to develop the neighbourhood and improve infrastructure.
FC Bayern, as they are known locally, moved into the Allianz Arena in 2005 ahead of the 2006 World Cup. The club now benefits from a regular 75,000 crowd, some 20,000 more than they were accustomed to at their old home.
That was the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1972 Olympics and the 1974 World Cup. Although that site now looks very much of its time, it pushed the boundaries as much as the Allianz Arena does today. The Olympic Stadium resembled an aviary or a giant insect’s boudoir. It wasn’t the perfect football site, but it created Olympic and football legends.
The Allianz Arena, from the outside, is unique and eye-catching. The façade comprises almost 3,000 ETFE-foil air panels (fluorine-based plastic) that are inflated with dry air. Each panel can be independently-lit with different colours, hence the Allianz is red when Bayern are at home and when TSV Munich 1860 shared the stadium, the tiles went blue. The German national team, when in residence, brings a red, black and yellow colour scheme. This spectacular tool makes the Allianz a glowing, surreal vision that can be seen from the Austrian mountains, a distance of 80 kilometres.
Traditionalists may complain that modern stadiums are detached from city centres, but the fact is, the full impact of the Allianz can only be achieved by allowing the stadium to breath rather as opposed to being surpressed by urban development. The stadium is not exactly in the wilderness, but it is set among roads, train lines and car parks. The spectators have a long, ill-lit walk from the U-Bahn station, but there is the distraction of the football ground in all its peacock glory that shortens the trudge across what is a barren, relatively inhospitable route.
The stadium will forever be known as the Allianz, at least for 30 years, after the German insurance company bought the naming rights. When the time comes to negotiate a new deal, Bayern will probably claim that Allianz have derived good value out of the arrangement.
But while the Allianz is massively impressive from the exterior, there appears to be few redeeming features inside – it could do with some escalators to make the climb to the summit a little easier. What makes a visit to FC Bayern special is the people – the Germans at play. It feels like a frenetic watering hole with the added bonus of a football match. Mass consumption of beer (decent beer), sausages (decent sausages) and brezel (giant, cartwheel- sized brezel). An evening at the Allianz seems like a social occasion as much as a football match. The crowd is so busy eating and drinking that apart from the standing ultras – the Südkurve – it seems remarkable quiet given 75,000 people are inside the arena. The ultras are well choreographed, drummers marking time for the constantly-singing crowd, with the megaphone-wielding leader of the pack barking instructions.
All around the stadium, there’s a remarkable air of self-assurance, something which characterises the city itself. FC Bayern dominates Munich, you cannot go more than a few steps in the city centre without bumping into the familiar logo, and not just because there seems to be a Fan Shop around every corner.
The Allianz, then, is the undisputed palace of the kings of German football, a standard-bearer for Bavaria and one of the most visually-appealing venues in the global game. It may have been overtaken by more recently-built arenas, but there is little to match it in Europe. And in 2019-20, it will probably welcome the Bundesliga crown back to Munich, as it has done every year since 2013.