SIGNAL IDUNA PARK celebrates its 50th birthday on 2 April 2024. If you had told the people of Dortmund 50 years ago about a football temple with over 80,000 seats in the city centre, a stadium with a glass façade and the largest standing-only tribune in Europe, they would have all smiled indulgently at such fantasies. But today, SIGNAL IDUNA PARK on Strobelallee is indeed Germany's largest football stadium, with a capacity of exactly 81,365 places.

The venue on Strobelallee – known to fans simply as "the temple" and often labelled "Germany's most atmospheric stadium" by media, players and celebrities – became one of Europe's largest arenas following the third expansion phase. A long process of construction and redesigning culminated in the renovation works for the 2006 World Cup. That said, there is no summer break where there is no work going on in the stadium. Since 2011 – after fully overcoming the financial crisis – BVB have invested many millions of euros into the renovation of the ageing stadium.  

Not only is the pitch completely re-laid almost every year, but the drainage system is also replaced and the South Stand is reinforced with support measures, while the concrete on all the lower tiers of the stands and, most recently, the roof girders are cleaned. Video cameras with impressive digital technology increase safety. In addition, new scoreboards and a new sound system have been installed, the stadium control room has been equipped with state-of-the-art technology and workmen have also worked on the dressing rooms. The team of officials and doping control officers now enjoy spacious facilities.

The dilapidated Rote Erde, with the new stadium under construction in the background.

The stadium's story dates back to 1961, when the sports committee first discussed the expansion of the "Kampfbahn Rote Erde". With structural change looming in the Ruhr region and the onset of the coal and steel crisis at the time, the money had dried up. After four years of discussions, on 5 April 1965, the city's main and finance committee "took note of the suggestion not to expand Stadion Rote Erde, but to build a new football stadium by incorporating the two western practice pitches and a small area of the Luftbad". The first hurdle on the path to constructing a new arena, officially known as the "Twin Stadium" (as it was built parallel to the Rote Erde), had been overcome.

However, the project only received a decisive boost when the city of Cologne decided not to build a new stadium in the early 1970s, paving the way for a bid by Dortmund for the 1974 World Cup – and thus for the construction of a new stadium. Without the federal and state funds made available for this reason, the Westfalenstadion could not have been financed. 

Pre-fabricated parts were used to build one of the most modern stadiums in Germany at the time.

Over 80% of the costs – around €17 million – were covered by the federal government, the state, the German Lottery's "Lucky Spiral" and donations. The city contributed only €1.5 million to this sum, realising just in time that the 1974 World Cup tournament offered a unique opportunity to build a suitable stadium for the future. Because there would have been no funding without World Cup hosting rights. Especially as the temporary stand in the south section of the "Rote Erde" was already showing signs of damage and an internal paper from the planning committee stated: "After dismantling this stand, the capacity will be reduced to 25,000 places." 

Although the German Football Association had already been awarded hosting rights for the 1974 World Cup in 1966, Dortmund's plans for a stadium to be built using conventional construction methods and thus costing around €30 million were almost shelved shortly afterwards. Despite the clear decisions by the Council, the administration repeatedly investigated the possibility of expanding the existing facility in the hope of saving money.

In May 1970, head of the sports department Erich Rüttel achieved the decisive breakthrough by proposing to build the stadium as a prefabricated system using pallets. The costs were halved; originally, 27 million Deutschmarks (just under €14 million) had been planned; after completion of the construction work, it is said to have been just above €3 million more. If you consider the way prices soar these days and larger constructions cost twice or three times the initial calculation, this was another stroke of genius.

On 19 October 1970, the Council issued the green light to the plans. Politically, both parties had been divided until that point. There were enthusiastic supporters and fierce opponents among both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats. However, the decisive Council meeting on 4 October 1971 resulted in a clear majority of 40 votes in favour and only 13 against. Things moved quickly from that point onwards. The ground-breaking ceremony took place to the west of Rote Erde 14 days later.

By the time of the topping out ceremony on 29 March 1973, 50,000 cubic metres of soil had been moved, 34 World War Two bombs had been removed, 1,500 tons of reinforcing steel and 7,500 cubic metres of prefabricated concrete parts had been deployed, while 750 tons of steel had been used for the roof to make Dortmund's dream of a new stadium come true. The four striking stands with seats on the west and east sides and standing terraces on the north and south sides were built using the prefabricated construction method. The total capacity was 54,000 spectators – of whom only 17,000 were seated. The fact the majority (47,000) of the seats were covered was particularly appreciated by Heinz Günther, the BVB president at the time. It offered "the average man a roof over his head". That was not a matter of course at the time. On 2 April 1974, the moment had finally arrived. The stadium was inaugurated with a friendly against Schalke 04. 

It has lost none of its fascination to this day. On the contrary, radio reporters rave about the "Scala of German football" when they speak about its unique atmosphere: the closeness to the pitch and the acoustics due to the complete roofing, combined with the unique enthusiasm of football fans in the region. All this creates a sizzling atmosphere that captivates visitors and is feared by opponents.  

The expansion of the corners started in 2002.

Zaire, Scotland, Sweden, reigning world champions Brazil and eventual runners-up Holland played their World Cup group games at the Westfalenstadion in 1974. Dortmund was suddenly in a state of football fever again. The enthusiasm that had prevailed in the glorious 1950s and 60s returned throughout the World Cup period and carried over into the matches in the 2. Bundesliga. It was not uncommon for more than 45,000 fans – around three times as many as just a short time beforehand at the "Rote Erde" – to go and see BVB, who benefited greatly from their new stadium. Borussia returned to the top flight of German football two years later in June 1976, celebrated their comeback at European level in 1983 following a 15-year absence, won the DFB-Pokal in 1989, 2012, 2017 and 2021, lifted the Bundesliga title in 1995, 1996, 2002, 2011 and 2012, and reached four European finals – thanks in part to the stadium and their fans.

For the 18 years until 1992, visitors largely experienced the Westfalenstadion in its original state. In the following 10 years in particular, several drastic changes were made. In 1992, the capacity was reduced to 42,800 spectators by converting standing spaces into seats in the North Stand. And then just three years later, as part of "expansion phase one", first the West Stand and then the East Stand were each increased to include an upper tier containing 6,000 seats. In the second expansion phase in 1999, the capacity was increased to 68,600. The South Stand, the epicentre of Dortmund's enthusiasm for football, was expanded to 24,454 seats, making it Europe's largest standing-only tribune. For international matches, the standing areas can be converted into seats (fortunately, this is currently not necessary due to a UEFA pilot project in its second season).

On 6 May 2002, work finally began on the closure and expansion of the corner areas. First of all, 15-metre-long bored piles were driven into the ground in the north and south areas and placed in the corners of the soon-to-be stairwell. They transfer the incredible weight of 3,000 tons per grandstand roof onto load-bearing soil. The foundations for the columns and staircases rest on these piles. Another highly demanding engineering task involved the construction of the stadium roof. The corner pylons inside the stadium, which had previously supported the roof and would have obstructed the view of the new seats in the expanded corner area, were replaced by eight yellow steel pylons installed on the exterior.   

The striking pylons bear the enormous weight of the roof.

The third expansion phase, which was completed on 13 September 2003, not only increased the stadium capacity by approximately 14,000 people. BVB also set new standards in terms of catered hospitality. With a total of 4,700 hospitality seats, SIGNAL IDUNA PARK also has the largest capacity in the league in this regard. Nonetheless, the ratios in Dortmund are just right: in relation to the total capacity, the catering seats only account for a modest percentage of visitors.

The eight 62-metre-high yellow pylons have been the defining feature of the Dortmund skyline for two decades now. Since December 2005, they have been joined by the 3.50-metre-high letters bearing the new sponsor name, which are visible from afar from the Bundesstraße 54 and Bundesstraße 1 roads – in black during the daytime and shining in white at night: SIGNAL IDUNA PARK. Without the support of the insurance company and financial services provider, Borussia Dortmund might no longer exist and the stadium would probably be a white elephant. 

Once all four stands had been expanded, the stadium boasted a capacity of 68,000 spectators.

The BVB supporters immediately and proudly embraced their temple following the expansion. The fabulous attendance records of recent years speak volumes. A breathtaking construction and phenomenal fans – these are the ideal prerequisites for many exciting festivals of football in the Bundesliga's greatest (and biggest) stadium, which has had space for exactly 81,365 spectators since the 2012/2013 season following World Cup-related renovations (including the removal of the last seats from 1974 and the dismantling of the "front stands") and modernisations.

Only one footballer has had a really bad experience at the "Scala" on the Strobelallee in the last 50 years: Braunschweig's Danilo Popivoda. On 23 April 1977, with worms having infested the turf, the unmarked Popivoda was less than six metres away from the Borussia goal, having rounded goalkeeper Horst Bertram, and took a shot at goal – only to slip over together with the turf, which could no longer stay in place due its the eroded roots. Popivoda landed on his nose and the ball came to standstill in front of the line. Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Braunschweig drew the game 0-0.
Author: Boris Rupert 

This article was taken from the members' magazine BORUSSIA. BVB members receive BORUSSIA every month free of charge. Click here to apply for membership.