From Autobahn Anomaly to Motorway Marvel: Berlin's Roadside Grandstands

An ambitious and unusual renovation project plans to transform former racetrack grandstands overlooking a motorway by 2021

Hamid Djadda is leaning out over the handrail on the stepped concrete grandstands of what was once one of the most famous raceways in Germany.

Opened in 1921, it was a marvel of the burgeoning automotive age: two long straights, capped by a hairpin turn and a wide arc just before the finish line. On race days, up to 4,000 people watched daring racing car drivers pilot the latest advancements in auto engineering, breaking land speed records – or crashing to their deaths trying.

After nearly a century hosting sporting events including motorcycle races and Formula One, the Automobil-Verkehrs und Übungsstraße (Automobile Traffic and Practice Road, or Avus) held its last race in 1998, and the concrete grandstands were left to slowly disintegrate.

But 20 years later, the cars still zoom by: the racetrack is now part of the 115 autobahn in west Berlin, and for passing motorists the grandstands are a roadside head-turning oddity, fenced off, crumbling and covered in graffiti.

“It’s a unique building worldwide,” Djadda says over the roaring traffic, “because you’re so close. Look!” He jabs his arm at a huge truck passing in the near lane. It’s almost near enough to touch. “You cannot just tear it down.”

Nearly three years ago, Djadda bought this roadside anomaly – which is now a listed historical building – and with Hamburg architect Christoph Janiesch has devised an ambitious plan to revive the grandstands. Djadda wants to turn the decrepit hall and announcer’s box into a glass-walled event venue and bar overlooking the autobahn. Offices are to be built into the voids beneath, lit by a dozen skylights in the stands. These will double as large vitrines lining the structure’s 240-metre length, and will display vintage automobiles where the crowds once sat, like a high-speed drive-by museum of the history of the car. ...