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Hamburg and Berlin have released their proposals for the 2024 Olympics – and they're thinking small

The Olympics have long been a chance for cities to show off. Traditionally, they’ve done so by installing brand-new stadiums, purpose-built Olympics villages and even new transport networks. In the run up to Sochi 2012, the Russian government built 11 new venues, revamped the city’s airport and spent a total of $50bn.

It’s a little surprising, then, that Hamburg and Berlin, the two cities competing to be Germany’s candidate to host the 2024 Olympics, are proposing Games that would cost only $2.4bn apiece at current prices.

And the way they think they can achieve this low, low price is to make heavy use of existing inner-city venues. In questionnaires submitted to the German Olympic Association on 1 September, Hamburg revealed plans to host the Olympic village, stadium and swimming pool on Kleiner Grasbrook, an island in the Elbe river. Berlin would reuse the stadium from its 1936 Games and 15 other existing sports venues;  everything else would be built on the site of the soon-to-close Tegel airport.  

It all sounds suspiciously small scale. Surely the Olympics just wouldn’t be the Olympics without massive overspending, soon-to-be-abandoned stadiums and facilities built so far away they’ll never be useful once the games are done?

In fact, these cut-price proposals are an attempt to appease naysayers, who argue that the money could be better spent on new schools or other public services. Huge amounts of spending and construction wouldn’t go down too well in either city. This week, the tripling of the cost of the new Berlin Brandenberg International airport was a major factor in forcing the city’s mayor Klaus Wowereit to announce plans to step down in December. In Hamburg, meanwhile, the Elbephilharmonie concert hall has been under construction since 2007, during which time its expected costs and completion date have morphed from “€241m by 2010” to “€789m by October 2016”.

The final decision between the two cities will be made at a German Olympic Sports Federation meeting on 6 December in Dresden. Here’s a comparison of their size, economies and access to sports venues:

Data sources: Eurostat; The Local.

So, to sum up, Berlin is larger, and has better sports facilities, but Hamburg has the edge financially.  May the best city win.

The successful German bid is likely to be up against a US city (either San Francisco, Washington D.C. Boston or Los Angeles), as well Melbourne, Doha, Nairobi, Durban, Saint Petersburg, Budapest and Kiev, all of whom have announced plans to bid.

Frank Jensen, the mayor of Copenhagen, has also suggested that his city could bid with Hamburg to co-host the Games in 2028. This would require a change to the Olympic charter, to allow the games to span two countries; but considering the costs and infrastructure required to host the event it may well be that two cities are better than one.

That said, Copenhagen is around 280km from Hamburg: that’s one hell of an Olympic shuttle network they’d need to factor in.
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