S for Stadium Lights

Photo taken on 20 July 2013

Produced for Preservation in Pink

From the Sports Arena:

Many of us have our preferences when artefacts come to mind. Some like old buildings, like cathedrals, skyscrapers and even old apartment complexes. Some are partial to bridges built of stone and/or metal and prior to 1900. And some even love the nostalgia of historic highways, long since bypassed by expressways but still exist as a reminder of how highways were built in the bygone era.  But what about stadiums and in particular, stadium lights?

Many people, like Kaitlin O’shea (of Preservation in Pink) are probably scratching their heads wondering why this author is mentioning this topic. After all, when looking at the artefacts mentioned in the online column, such as historic houses, historic bridges, and historic buildings, stadium lights would be the last artefact to ever be mentioned. But here in Germany, it is the hottest topic at the moment, as a set of stadium lights that had been providing the stage for soccer games in a small eastern German town in the state of Thuringia is about to become history.

Located along the Saale River in eastern Thuringia, Jena has a population of 120,000, two universities and two central locations for science and technology. It prides itself on the biotechnological, optical and electronic industries, and of course, the seven wonders of the city, which includes the St. Michael’s Cathedral, the Camsdorf Arch Bridge, Fox Tower and Lobdeburg Castle. The Ernst-Abbe-Soccer Stadium and its four nostalgic flood lights are considered for many the eighth wonder of the city. While the stadium, which houses a professional men’s soccer team (FC Carl Zeiss Jena), a professional women’s soccer team (USV Jena) and a regional men’s soccer team (SV Schott Jena), dates back to 1924, the “giraffe lights”, as many locals tout them to be, were built in 1974 to provide night-time games for tens of thousands of fans. They can be seen from several kilometers away from all directions, even clearly at night when the soccer games are taking place.

Photo of the Giraffe Lights at Ernst-Abbe-Stadium in Jena. Taken from the author’s home in the southern suburb of Winzerla in January 2012

Yet the days of the 70 meter tall light posts, which had been characteristic for the stadium and a favorite for many people attending soccer games in Jena are numbered. Flooding this past June, the worst since 1994, put the entire stadium and sports  complex, along with 60% of the city of Jena, underwater. Floodwaters ate away at the foundation, and up to 40% the four-legged tower supports corroded away to a point where the towers were in danger of collapse. In other words, the stadium lights needed to be removed before anyone can step back onto the soccer field, for safety reasons.

Since these towers were condemned to scrap metal two weeks ago, an outcry from tens of thousands of Jena soccer fans poured into the halls of the City Hall, where many people wanted at least one of the Giraffes to be replaced. Apart from that, the decision to take them down could not have come at an even more perfect time, as the stadium itself was scheduled to be reconstructed into a multi-sport complex. With flood damages being in the millions of Euros, with the stadium and adjacent sports complex needing over a million for repairs, questions are being posed as to how to proceed further with the reconstruction efforts, and who should pay for at least part of the financing. Already FC Carl Zeiss Jena is threatening with bankruptcy protection if they need to assist more in the project because of the team being cash-strapped, despite its strive to enter the third flight of the German Premier League. It currently is in the Regional League Northeast. And it is understandable, for stadium lights are required in order to play ball in the Regional and Premier League. While makeshift lighting will definitely be needed before the season begins in August, calls for Carl Zeiss to provide more money for the project, even if it means cooperating or consolidating with another Jena soccer team like SV Schott, will eventually reach city hall and beyond. But that’s a different story.

Eventually the city council’s decision to keep and restore one of the Giraffe Lights last week was a blessing in disguise, for many people seem to like its nostalgia and its historic value. While the majority of the buildings built during the Communist era were plain bland multiple-story building complexes, the Giraffe Lights at the Stadium belong to the few bright spots that one can take with, when remembering the days of soccer during the Cold War. It’s rather unusual and sleek design makes the stadium lights built today look like the aforementioned East German buildings. And it is understandable that a football tradition like the one seen in Jena would not like to part ways with a relict that has become typical of soccer for the region. Even reading lights resembling the Giraffes are selling like hot cakes.  But one would not think about being emotional about stadium lights like the ones in Jena, right?

Looking at the American stadiums built in the past and present, as well as the baseball and softball complexes, one would not even think about the stadium lights much as they’re either hung on rafters, or supported by a series of steel poles. In many cases, if you look at the old small township softball fields, the lights are supported by wooden telephone poles connected with wires. But if one is attached to a certain relict of history and connects it with memories that they have with certain events, like soccer or any other sport, it is especially difficult to part ways with them if the time to dismantle and scrap them is needed. For the people in Jena, a piece of history is about to become scrap for all but one of the Giraffe Lights and while new lighting will be installed once the stadium is renovated, they will still remember the days when the Giraffe Lights lit up the city at night, helping the soccer teams win at home.

This leads to the Flensburg Files’ Frage für den Forum:

1. When looking at architecture and archaeology, which relict do you like the most and would do anything to save them? Example: People love historic bridges and would fight to save them.


2. How important are stadium lights in terms of their historic value? Do you know of stadiums and sporting complexes that have as fancy and historic lighting as the one in Jena?


3. A debate on how to reconstruct the Ernst Abbe Stadium has flared up where people are debating on whether to convert the soccer field into a sporting complex (like Heinz Field in Pittsburgh) or simply remodel the sporting complex, especially in light of the flooding (please see link).  If you were a Jena resident, would you favor renovation or reconstruction and why?


4. (In connection with number 3), when the new lights are installed in the project, should they resemble the Giraffe Lights, conforming to the one that is being saved and will be integrated into the project?


5. How much money should the sporting teams in Jena contribute and should FC Carl Zeiss Jena consider consolidating with other Jena soccer teams to contribute to the cost of rebuilding the stadium and adding the lighting?


Photos of the dismantling of the Giraffe Lights can be seen here:

The Giraffe Lights and the western side of the Ernst Abbe Stadium during the Great Flood of 2013


The dismantling of the first of four Giraffe Lights commencing.
Close-up of the missing top half of the Giraffe Lights coming apart.