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'The fact we're playing as equals to our hosts means we won'

Maccabi Haifa to be 1st Israeli team to play in Berlin stadium built by Nazis

Europa Conference League match against Union Berlin will be about much more than soccer, at venue where Adolf Hitler launched notorious 1936 Olympics

Joseph Goebbels, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Reichs Sports Leader Hans von Tschammer und Osten and Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg observe the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany in August 1936. (AP Photo)
Joseph Goebbels, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Reichs Sports Leader Hans von Tschammer und Osten and Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg observe the Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany in August 1936. (AP Photo)

The Union Berlin soccer team will host Maccabi Haifa on Thursday evening in the Europa Conference League, for a game that will be the first played by an Israeli club at Berlin’s Olympiastadion.

The stadium was built for the 1936 Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany and was where Adolf Hitler launched one of the most controversial sports events in history, 85 years ago.

“We know that this game is of very special importance beyond the sporting side for our guests from Haifa and for the Jewish community in Berlin,” Union president Dirk Zingler said.

“This isn’t just another game for us. Atrocities happened here,” said Maccabi Haifa coach Barak Bakhar in a press conference on Wednesday, saying the team had paid an “emotional” visit to Berlin’s famous Holocaust Memorial.

In rainy weather, the players and staff heard an explanation about the memorial and laid a wreath, an Israeli flag and a Maccabi Haifa flag on one of its many concrete slabs.

The team’s president Ya’akov Shahar said it was Maccabi’s second time playing against a club from Germany’s top league, and that the previous time was combined with a visit to the Dachau concentration camp.

“The very fact that we are playing as equals to our hosts says everything. It means we won,” Shahar said. “We will also host them and if possible, we will host them at Yad Vashem [Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem], so that they can see and learn about their past.”

The stadium is usually used by Union’s city rival Hertha Berlin, but it has been taken over by Union for European competition this season as the team’s own stadium in the eastern borough of Köpenick doesn’t have enough seating capacity to meet UEFA demands.

General view of the Olympiastadion Berlin stadium in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2021. (Maja Hitij/Pool via AP)

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