MUNICH — For three weeks every four years, the site of the Summer Olympics is the center of the universe. And then everyone gets the hell out of town, leaving the host city millions of dollars in debt with facilities no one knows what to do with.
It took Canadian officials 30 years to pay off the cost of the 1976 Montreal Olympics and they're still stuck with a stadium that's rarely used. In Atlanta, the scene of the 1996 Olympics, the stadium, which was reduced in size for the Braves baseball team, is being demolished as the team move to the suburbs.
Inventive park officials now offer popular adventure tours that include a climb on the stadium roof with an astounding finish by rappelling off the side or ziplining across the field. (Hey, maybe that's what they can do with the Astrodome.)
In Athens, where the Olympics returned in 2004, a beach volleyball court, baseball stadium, an 8,000-seat tennis table venue and other buildings are unused and crumbling, sparking public outrage as the Greek economy stagnates. In Beijing, the famed Bird's Nest stadium that was the central venue for the 2008 Olympics has no consistent tenants, and costs $11 million in yearly upkeep.
But in Munich, things are different. Even though the the Bavarian capital was the scene of one of the darkest days in Olympic history, when terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage and 16 people were killed in 1972, the Olympic Park now teems with vitality as one of the city's prime sports for relaxation, sports, dining and entertainment.
Think of it as New York's Central Park — with better buildings.
While in Munich as a guest of United Airlines on the inaugural launch of daily nonstop service between the German city and Houston, our group headed almost immediately to the OlympiaPark, which was teeming with crowds on a sunny day. Kids encased inside big see-through plastic balls were frolicking on a lake while couples stopped by a Currywurst food truck for a quiet bite.
The best views are atop the Olympic Tower, where can see all the way to the Alps on a clear day. Or look just across the street and see the BMW headquarters, with a distinctive tower that, from this vantage point, looks like four cylinders in a car engine. A revolving restaurant and rock music museum — billed as the world's highest — atop the tower are prime stopping points.
The distinctive plexiglass roof of the Olympic Stadium and other buildings still look quite futuristic although the complex was built more than 40 years ago. Even though the stadium isn't used as much since the FC Bayern München soccer team moved to Allianz Arena in 2005, inventive park officials now offer popular adventure tours that include a climb on the roof with an astounding finish that includes rappelling off the side or ziplining across the stadium field.
Other guided tours focus on architecture, with a walk through important sites, or an overall tour of the park grounds on a small train. You can even stop for a dip in the pool where Mark Spitz won a then-record seven medals or jump off the high dive.
Boat rentals, mini-golf and good people watching make this a great place to spend a few hours and catch the laid-back Bavarian vibe. The park is easily accessible by the efficient U-Bahn subway system.
But don't expect much of a mention of the massacre. For those who trek to the former Olympic Village, which was converted into apartments, the scene of is low-key, with only a small memorial near the entrance.