Berlin Diary

By Kenny Legg

Note: OK, it's not exactly William Shirer's classic. Kenny Legg is an Englishman and Weymouth fan who decided to take a trip to Berlin to check out some iof the action. Here are his impressions of lower league Berlin football...Many thanks!

My geeky trip began with an excursion to the far south western reaches of the S-Bahn map into the suburbs of Berlin to watch the Oberliga Nord game between Tennis Borrusia (TeBe) Berlin and SV Babelsberg 03. TeBe were a team I had seen during the golden days of 2.Liga on DSF satellite television but who had since fallen on hard times financially. SV Babelsberg were new to me, but a look at Kicker showed them to be in line for promotion to the Regionalliga. I followed a group of Babelsberg fans, wearing the obligatory denim jacket and multiple scarf combo that any self respecting German football fan wears, via a well trodden pathway through a wooded area towards the distant floodlights of the Mommsenstadion.

I am one of the first to arrive at the stadium, which is a large athletics stadium with one covered stand and more police officers on patrol than people at this stage, I pay my 6 Euros entrance fee and I make my way straight to the clubhouse. Refreshingly the bar was populated by the usual assortment of oddballs that populate football club bars in the hours before kick, a mixture of eccentric old people and younger people who are just killing time before they turn into eccentric elderly people. My favorites are the old couple who are dressed head to toe in the latest TeBe sportswear, despite being around 70 years old and having little chance of playing in tonight’s match, no matter how financially threatened TeBe are. It is at this point that a certain realization hits home that even though these people are maybe a little eccentric they haven’t traveled half way across Europe to watch this match and won’t be writing some poorly written article documenting their night out.

The programme reveals, surprisingly, 1 player that I am aware of and seen in the flesh before. Rene Tretschok, who scored against Man Utd in Dortmund's way to the victory in the 1997 Champions League, was in the Babelsberg squad and also scored twice for Cologne in the first German football match I ever saw; a 5-3 win against Wolfsburg in 1997.

A few hundred people are now in the ground, with around half from Babelsberg, with the hilariously self titled ‘TeBe Party Army’ now in attendance and setting up their banners and flags and singing chants led by a man in his early 20’s sporting a purple string vest. As the teams file out from under the main stand the Babelsberg fans reveal a banner celebrating their teams’ imminent escape from the Oberliga and wave a series of giant hands. The Party Army respond by waving some flags around for a while, sadly the match then gets underway and it soon appears that it is up to the Party Army to entertain us.

The Party Army have an array of chants “du kannst zu Hertha gehen” (after a wayward shot from a Babelsberg attacker) and then a series in English, “1 team in Berlin…”, “walking in a TeBe wonderland”, “Come on TeBe”, culminating in a version of God Save The Queen that became “God Save TeBe” that in times gone by would have led to a mass beheading of the Party Army. After 28 minutes TeBe take the lead, flags are furiously waved and then vanish as the Party Army see this as the ideal moment to make the long walk to the toilets.

A rather dull 2nd half is played out, the score remains the same, the Party Army throw a load of toilet roll, wave the flags some more, sing a TeBe-ised version of ‘Caravan of Love’, a flag emblazoned with the slogan “TeBe - Ulster loyal” appears, the match finishes, both teams do that linky arms “Ola” thing in front of their fans that all German teams are required to do not - matter the result and how badly they have played - and then everyone slowly drifts away.

On Saturday I turn up in the town of Köpenick to watch 1. FC Union Berlin play Fortuna Düsseldorf. Köpenick is known for an incident in 1906 when a member of the public, wearing a captains uniform, commandered some army troops, occupied the town hall and then vanished with the money in the building. (Der Hauptmann von Köpenick, theme of a famous play by Carl Zuckmayer and at least 7 film versions, the first in 1906, soon after Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt - the real Hauptmann - pulled off his caper in the first place. - ed.) The town was picturesque and baking in the spring sunshine, but despite this everyone seemed to be sporting scarves with the red and white stripes of Union Berlin, making my printed directions to the ground completely irrelevant.

After another meal of beer and bratwurst I make my way, again, through some woodland to the Alte Försterei, home of Union Berlin and built in 1923. This giant steep sided stadium is flanked by numerous beer and sausage stands, a token fish baguette stand and a German football programme seller with whom I had a rather excited conversation the previous day. I avoided contact in order to try and suppress my nagging suspicion that that man may be a glimpse at my future self.

Once inside and in place on the dilapidated stone stepped, cigarette butt covered terraces of the Stadium it became apparent of a clear sense of community amongst the Union supporters. Handshakes are numerous and everyone seems to know everyone else, this sense of community was no doubt strengthened in the GDR era when a fierce rivalry with the Stasi sponsored BFC-Dynamo developed and being seen as a Union fan could be seen as a small act of defiance. The Union fans are vociferous in their support of their team with almost constant chants of Eiserne, Eisern Union (Iron, Iron Union) and I enjoy the friendly nature of the terraces here.

The match itself was very similar to the previous night’s efforts, with the heat playing a mean defence which suppressed any goal mouth action, or indeed anything more than a gentle jog from both teams. Again there was only one player I was previously aware of with Jörg Albertz, formerly of Glasgow Rangers coming on as a sub for Fortuna and in yet another synergy there is only one goal, which arrives straight from a free kick that deceives the Fortuna keeper. The attendance was a respectable 6,516 which puts Union near the top of the average attendance table, although this is a league in which the amateurs of the top 2 Leagues play in front of tiny crowds.

The inclusion of amateur sides from the top clubs was one that was floated earlier in the season, in a rare moment of consensus between Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho, as a way of letting squad players gain experience of competitive matches, with Germany cited as an example of where this system works well. The reality is very different as many German clubs aren’t happy with the system. Games are played in largely empty stadiums, with the home games of the amateur teams frequently getting less than a thousand spectators, resulting in stadiums with little atmosphere which make it difficult to broker TV deals for lower league coverage. This resentment is highlighted by the banner displayed by Rot Weiss Erfurt fans at my 3rd match of the weekend, hosted by Hertha Berlin II, which called for a separate league for amateur sides.

The match is played at the Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sportpark and not at the usual ground for Hertha II games near the Olympic Stadium. The 30,000 all seater stadium , in Prenzlauer Berg, was used by the DDR to host 10 international games, and as with all the grounds I'd been to there was little escape from the sun - which was a major dissapointment to me as I was still a shade of red that only an ill prepared Brit who has spent too long in the sun can morph into.

The crowd itself is very sparse, Kicker tells me there was 733 people there, which is frankly rubbish for a 4th division match. The crowd is probably split 60:40 in Hertha’s favour and, as usual, there are the array of flags and over excited kids supporting the team. They even had their own songs for the amateur side, although a lot of the match is spent protesting against the management of Hertha Belin by Dieter Hoeness, who must be quacking in his boots at the disapprovement of around 20 teenagers. Fair play to them though, they’ve made some flags, they’ve turned up to support their team and continue to offer encouragement even though the game is dire. The match finishes 1-1, I rejoice at seeing a whole 2 goals in 1 game.

All in all I saw three particularly dull games, which is a little dissapointing, but the fan culture I experienced more than made up for it. I enjoyed watching the TeBe Party Army, the camaredarie on the terraces at Union and even the commitement of the Hertha II fans. I paid roughly the same to watch the 3 matches in total than I would have done to watch my beloved Weymouth FC (5th level), where I would have been charged ridiculous prices for food, been deemed to irresponsible to be allowed a beer in the stadium and forced to sit down and only being allowed to stand up to leave the ground. German fans are treated with a lot more respect than English fans, there isn't an overbearing sense of commercialism at the games I saw, maybe this exists in the Bundesliga but I don't get that feeling. I'm off to Germany again soon and have re-arranged my flights so that I should be able to take in the Regionalliga Nord game between 1.FC Magdeburg and FC. St Pauli. Auf gehts Magdeburg schiess ein Tor…..

(c) Abseits Guide to Germany