One of the most iconic stadiums in eastern Germany, the Ernst Abbe Sportfeld, home to Carl Zeiss Jena since 1924, has been due for redevelopment work for months. By 2023 the club should have a modern stadium, which can hold 15,100 fans, but the ongoing corona crisis has meant that work has been delayed. It had been due to start in the summer, but the club wanted to play a final game with fans, which were not permitted at that time.
Although games in the Regionalliga Nordost have been cancelled indefinitely, pending a return to amateur team sport in Germany once the public health situation improves, matches took place earlier in the season with fans in attendance. Jena played six games at their home stadium, with an average of 1,170 turning up to watch their team make a decent start following their relegation from the 3. Liga last season. In fourth place when the season was halted in late October, they will struggle to regain their place in the professional ranks, given that Viktoria Berlin lead the division, having won all 11 matches played so far.
The work on the Ernst Abbe Sportfeld began last week, with the initial demolition of the Nordkurve. All sections of the stadium will be rebuilt over the next three years, at a total cost of almost £50m. The funding is coming from a mix of private finance (70%), the Thuringian state government (22%) and the city of Jena itself (8%). The redevelopment of the stadium has been planned since 2009, but kept being put off or delayed for political and/or financial reasons.
Now, however, it is definitely going ahead. Of the planned total capacity, 4,800 and 1,500 standing places will be available for home and away fans respectively. All the stands will be covered and, with the removal of the running track (which once featured East German Olympic gold medalists plying their trade), will be closer to the pitch. The main stand will also include the training facilities for the junior sections of the club. In addition the pitch will be over a metre higher than it is currently because of the proximity of the Saale river and the consequent risk of flooding. With an eye on the future, the stadium would be suitable for the Bundesliga.2.
Whilst undoubtedly a sad day for purists, the new stadium sounds an ideal development which is long overdue for a club which still has ambitions to play at a higher level.
PHOTO © Bietergemeinschaft Elex und jenArena