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

The towers at Berlin’s 1936 Olympic stadium. Image: Getty.

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.


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.