Category Archives: RB Leipzig

RB Leipzig and AK Berliner 07

Leipzig and Berlin Weekend: 3-5th November 2017

RB Leipzig v Hannover 96 and Berliner AK 07 v Chemie Leipzig 

It had been, without doubt, our best laid plan.  Unlike previous excursions, dreamt up between copy-paste “report writing” and semi-lucid lesson planning, this idea was conceived in the height of summer: long days, long sleeps and longing for some football.  Since swapping the cultural void of the West Midlands for the empathy void of Budapest, Szug Tszemples was ready for another kaleidoscope of kultur in Eastern Germany, a central destination for both of us, with a strong gravitational pull enhanced by very cheap air fares.

We had identified Union Berlin v St Pauli as our focal point for the weekend and would base any other matches around this. However, with 2. Bundesliga, the match could have been any time between the Friday at 1800 or late on the Monday, so we had to be flexible.  With the Union match selling out during the members pre-sale, we had to choose between risking getting a ticket at the last minute, possibly seeing nothing or paying exorbitant prices, or taking in another game in Leipzig. We examined our priorities, which were taking in a game or two and having a good scoop, meaning we bit the bullet and ordered the RB Leipzig v Hannover tickets.  I had visited the Zentralstadion once before (on a press pass) and was keen to sample what was on offer as a fan.

I can feel the cloud of disappointment of the beer-bellied, double-denimed “Scheisse-clan”, sweating out their Krombacher saying “you should go to Lok or Chemie Leipzig and avoid this Scheisse.” Yes. OK. That argument has been done. You go and see who you like and I’ll do the same. I respect your stance, but I don’t have to adopt it.

So, with Leipzig sorted for the Saturday and Berliner AK 07 on the Sunday (thanks Groundhopper app), we would meet for a few beers on the Friday night in Berlin. Or so we thought.  Air Berlin’s demise only a couple of weeks beforehand meant that my trusted sidekick would need to find an alternative means of transport, and the most affordable was a sleeper train from Budapest to Dresden.  This meant that, while I was having pork done twelve ways and Weissbier denser than osmium in the Alt Berliner Bier Salon on the Friday, intrepid Szug was bunking up with some deaf pensioners and a few crusty travellers for the night.

Expecting to be regaled with romanticised tales of the discovering the iron tracks behind the Iron Curtain, my weary accomplice sought only to anaesthetise his sleep-deprivation and aftertaste of pish, Twiglets and body odour with some cool Pils.  It may only have been 0850, but we had both been awake for hours, so it felt like going for a lunchtime beer.  We found a little bar, seven minutes walk from Leipzig Hbf called Kneipencafe Optiker, open from 6am.  This place was a find: 1.30€ for a half litre of unidentified but very decent Pilsner, comfy chairs and a convivial, if smoky, atmosphere.  A couple here and we were in severe need of food.  My bladder had decided that it was full for the rest of the day, and our planned bar route became more of a “this place’ll do, it must have a toilet” navigation system.

Our next stop was Dhillon’s Irish Bar – surely it would be serving breakfast – where we were served the most repugnant Staropramen.  Whether it was poorly rinsed cleaner or simply stagnant beer, the barman’s explanation that Staropramen has herby notes wasn’t swallowed, and neither was the corrosive liquid in my glass.  To be fair to him, he replaced it with some generic Pils which was less contaminated before we moved on to Prime Burger, which was a very good feed for a reasonable price.

We checked into our B+B Hotel at this point.  It was very centrally located and cheap enough (33 euros each) and Szug had to wash off the smell that had diffused from his bunk buddies in the communist-chic compartment from the night before.  Armed with our tickets, we strolled the fifteen minutes or so out to the ground, stopping off for a quick beer en route at a street-corner pop-up bar, before making our way towards the perimeter of the stadium.

Having both been raised in a country with puritanical views towards alcohol, the openness with which people were drinking, around children, and not becoming the abusive bigoted misogynists that we are told alcohol brings out, was reassuring.  A bigoted misogynist forms his views in sobriety and that is where and when the re-education must take place. That they are more likely to share these views after drinking is not the root of the problem, and is analogous to building bricks over weeds, without uprooting the weeds, and expecting the weeds not to come through. This is the same country that tolerates mass expressions of bigotry (Orange Walks) under the guise of free speech, allows (and almost promotes)  segregation of kids on the basis of their parents’ religion for their schooling, yet prohibits alcohol being sold at football (but not rugby) matches. I wonder which is more regressive?

The ground itself is one of my favourites, with the exterior walls, main gate, obelisk and embankments from the old ground still very present.  The walk across the bridge from top of the old terracing to the new stand inside the bowl is pretty cool.  Our seats were right up the back of the upper tier, which was excellent as we had a fantastic view of both the pitch and the city of Leipzig, as well as being able to stand up and not obstruct anybody’s view.

The beer in the ground isn’t too expensive, with 0.5litres being 4€, +1€ deposit for the handled drinking vessel.  At half-time we indulged in some of the Glühwein, which was surprisingly wonderful and was like a big fermented cuddle in the cold.

The atmosphere in the stadium ranged from okay to decent, but certainly didn’t hit the levels of my previous visit here against Schalke.  That said, Hannover didn’t bring a huge support in spite of their relative proximity, and the “Kind must go” banner away from home shows that things are going better on the pitch than off it for Hannover just now.

The match itself was interesting, although was defence-dominated until Hannover made the breakthrough through Jonathas after 56 minutes.  Leipzig, having played away in Porto during the week, brought on Forsberg and Keita around this point, and their attack started to look far more multi-faceted.  Goals from Poulsen and Werner ensured that the hosts squeezed out a deserved victory. Discovery of the game for me was Ilhas Bebou, Hannover’s number 13, who threatened the Leipzig match throughout the match and was unlucky not to score himself.

A strategic decision to eat soon after the match may have been ill-conceived, as our very nice but very heavy dinner from Auerbach’s Keller expanded into every available space in our stomachs, meaning the beer wasn’t going down quite so easily.  After a stroll out of the centre towards KillyWilly’s to watch the rest of the BVB v Bayern game, the refreshing abrasion of the cool air was having a diminishing affect on Szug, who started doing the head-nodding one and a half pints in.  Well, he had barely slept the night before and we’d been drinking since 9am.

Like two old men that couldn’t hack it, we jumped on a tram back to the Hauptbahnhof and were in bed before 10 o’clock.  I have, however, discovered that the “start early, finish early” strategy tends to work best for me and brings forth all kinds of benefits: easy getting ‘home’, most acute arseholery takes place after midnight and, in terms of hangovers, late drinking always makes me feel worse the next day than heavy drinking.

Feeling quite refreshed the next morning, we had booked two tickets on the early train to Berlin as tickets were cheaper and had a similar, although less intense day ahead.  Szug’s scepticism about not booking a seat and sitting in the restaurant carriage was quickly alleviated when he saw that, for the price of a seat reservation and a Starbucks, he could have a cooked breakfast and beverage on the train.  It is a pleasant way to spend 75 minutes on a train, coupled with searching for “bars open near Berlin Hbf”.

This search proved none too fruitful, and after dumping our bags in a locker at the train station (where we would return for our train to the airport), we found a nice bar near the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linten serving a Berliner Kindl at around 10am.  From here, we saw a bizarre commemoration of the Russian Revolution en route to the Augustiner Keller, where we blindly ordered some sausage and cabbage with a decidedly average beer before heading off to the Poststadion.

This stadium is located around ten minutes walk from the Hauptbahnhof, although you really need to know where it is or you’d never find it.  The ground is in the middle of a residential area, next to some trees and astroturf pitches (used by the public). The ‘main’ stand has some wonderful Art Deco features and the tiny hut selling the tickets, adjacent to the ground, made me inexplicably happy.

All amenities, such as food, drinks and toilets, are located outside the stadium, so if you need once you’re in, keep hold of your ticket if you’re planning a pit stop.  There seemed  more toilets at the end of this stand, incidentally, than in the whole stadium at Anderlecht.  Ten euros seemed a reasonable price to watch some Regionalliga football.  I was told, by Wikipedia, that Berliner AK 07 have attracted a large Turkish following and, while I don’t know what constitutes large, the ‘young team’ certainly matched that description.

In opposition were Chemie Leipzig, and I was curious to see what their following would be like and how the event would unfold.  The atmosphere had the kind of community feel that I associate with Junior Football (semi-pro) and it was rather warming.  We took our seats so as to minimise pillar obstruction at the goals, as it was free seating, and sat down with our beers, like pigs in poo.  The match featured some moments of skill and crudity in equal measure – just what you’re looking for from a match at this level.  Berliner AK 07 were, however, well worth their win and cruised to a three goal victory without much reply from the Sachsen visitors.

A leisurely beer at an anodyne motel opposite the Hauptbahnhof was had, before a mad dash to print off tickets and get our ridiculously busy train out to Schoenefeld Airport, for our journeys home.  This weekend was more of a triumph of adaptability than excellent planning, and demonstrated Germany’s general hospitality towards the football fan as opposed to the increasingly frequent presumption of criminality and suspicion today’s fan endures elsewhere.

 

 

RB Leipzig v Schalke 04

RasenBallsport Leipzig v FC Schalke 04: Bundesliga 1

Red Bull Arena, Leipzig, 3rd December 2016

“going to watch RB Leipzig was a little like watching someone try haggis for the first time: you’re not sure you like the idea but the product is far better than you expect”

It seems that everybody has an opinion on RB (that’s ‘RasenBallsport’; or ‘Lawn ball sports’ – nothing to do with an Austrian beverage company associated with aviation) Leipzig: many complain about how the club is run, its absence of heritage and ‘soul’ and its franchise-like nature whereas others sprinkle terms like ‘a breath of fresh air’ or ‘refreshing’ – an accusation that certainly couldn’t be levelled at the sponsor’s signature beverage.

First view of Red Bull Arena
First view of Red Bull Arena

It really depends what you look for in a football club.  For every person that is wowed by West-End Musical ‘Wicked’, there is somebody who disdainfully comments on how far from Frank L. Baum’s vision this aberration is.  Either way, you can’t argue about the entertainment provided.  Same goes with RB Leipzig.

Beautiful Riverside View
Beautiful Riverside View

Let me oversimplify the RB Leipzig history and you can make up your  own mind about them, if you’re one of the few who hasn’t already.  Think of the Oberliga (Fifth Tier of German Football) and RB Leipzig’s “origins” as a baked potato contest.  RB Leipzig bought over a baked potato, scooped out the filling and kept the skin, filling it with lardons, spices, steroids, some of the original potato and expensive ingredients and competed against some humble potatoes.  Their potatoes were unsurprisingly superior and then the process was repeated in each subsequent league.

However, when you steal the ingredients from a fellow competitor – let’s say, your sister (RB Salzburg) – then resentment can breed and other competitors may complain that the competition is not fair.  RB Leipzig’s rise to the Bundesliga has been expected, even if this season’s early form has caught many off guard.  I remember as ( newly promoted to Bundesliga 2.) Leipzig threw money, 8 million euros, at Anderlecht for Massimo Bruno, who went from playing Champions League football to being a loanee to Salzburg and a bench-warmer at Leipzig last season.  None of their rivals could take such an expensive punt in this way at the time.

RB Leipzig Sektor B Fankurve filling up
RB Leipzig Sektor B Fankurve filling up
RBL fans arriving
RBL fans arriving
Lothar and chums about to melt beside those heaters
Lothar and chums about to melt beside those heaters
Geis and Balls
Geis and Balls
RB Leipzig warming up
RB Leipzig warming up
Schal shakers
Schal shakers

However, perhaps the best people to ask about RB Leipzig would be the inhabitants of this beautiful city, starved of success for so long until recently.  They didn’t seem overly concerned by the big teams coming to their city, bringing armies of fans and trade.  I cannot speak for the people of Leipzig, but it doesn’t look like they are being taken for walking wallets to me (although they can buy their tickets from http://www.dierotenbullen.com/eintrittskarten.html.)

Getting There

While I could have taken a train to Leipzig, taking seven hours and one change from Brussels, flying to Berlin proved to be the cheapest option by some distance.  Due to the early take-off, I had to take a taxi to the airport (through Uber). When my driver appeared, the taxi registration plate, Audi badge and thick glasses suggested I was in for a quick, aggressively-piloted passage.  I’m not convinced his glasses didn’t have filters in them to block out ‘Give Way’ signs and solid white lines.  As predicted, I arrived at the airport before you could say ‘get out of my way’ and in plenty of time for the flight.

However, the tardiness of my outbound flight meant that my well-laid plans were ruined.  The lateness seemed to be caused by the washing and oiling of the wings, which I presume was to prevent the accumulation of ice.  However, the extent of the lateness and the lack of communication was wholly unacceptable and the cheap Irish flight provider disappointed here.  Add to that the pointless standing outside, in sub-zero temperatures, before the aircraft is even there and you have a disgruntled passenger.  No-frills is one thing but no-sense is another.

Main Entrance to the Stadium
Main Entrance to the Stadium
Love an evening kick off
Love an evening kick off

Arriving at Berlin Schoenfeld airport belatedly meant that my ticket to see Hallescher FC v Werder Bremen II would go unused as I would never get there on time.  So, in the meantime, I checked the Deutsche Bahn website to find alternative connections and decided to head to Leipzig around 1430 and spend some time in Berlin.  During this deviation, I took in 45 minutes of action at SV Lichtenburg, in East Berlin, at the Hans Zoschke Stadion.  With a capacity of 10000, the 142 fans in the stadium enjoyed some agricultural football with a community ambience.  This was, however, a little too Hipster for me if I’m honest and I took the S-Bahn to Berlin Sudkreuz for the ICE train to Leipzig.

My old trick of not booking a seat and having a beer in the buffet car for less money worked again and the journey was painless and smooth.

Leipzig

Whilst almost all of my preparation had focused on the stadia, the football and sorting out transport, it had slipped my mind that German cities undergo a transformation in December thanks to the Christmas Market.  Disembarking in Leipzig is a fairly grand experience: the station (apparently the world’s largest by floor area) is elegantly maintained while maintaining the multi-storey functionality one finds in many a Hauptbahnhof.  After crossing the road and the tram lines, you enter a city that is a stylish delight and perhaps hasn’t exploited tourism as much as it could.

The architecture reminded me of Hanover in many ways although I would say Leipzig is a prettier city.  There are several references to Leipzig’s pride of place in Saxony, which always reminds me of being called ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in France, ignoring the inconvenient truth that most Scots do not have these origins.  The city is one I would revisit for a city break with my wife, even in the absence of a football match, and is characterful and generally intriguing.

Schalke always take a sizeable and vocal support and they were both visible and audible throughout the city centre.  However, the biggest assault on the senses was surely perpetrated by the cloud of aromas produced by glühwein and pork.  For anyone looking for indoor festivities, the Auerbachs Keller is a delight and serves pork and potato 27 different ways.  While vegetarians may end up disappointed, this place is where Faust, by Goethe, is set and there is a certain grandeur about it and the food and drink were of excellent quality whilst remaining moderately priced.

My hotel for the night was located west of both the city centre and the stadium.  It was the kind of area that had ‘slum’ bars, and graffiti, tattoos and piercings were the accessories du jour.  I moseyed on in my Parka jacket, Soviet-style winter hat, looking like a fish on a bike, until I found the Hotel Merseburger (merseburger hof leipzig). My single room was perfectly adequate, if unspectacular, and was a little pricey at 57€, but I think Schalke fans had booked all the best affordable spots beforehand.

The Red Bull Arena

This stadium in many ways was characteristic of the whole visit in that I was surprised by just how much I liked it.  The setting beside the river and set back a little behind the indoor arena is inviting and once lit up, the stadium looks spectacular in the distance.  Formerly known as the Zentralstadion (until 2010), it has a capacity of 44959 although it feels much bigger than this.

Upon arriving at the stadium, the number of people hanging around outside, drinking beer on the steps was notable. I slalomed between them and the strategically placed Kaufmann bags that were receptacles for empty beer bottles towards the main gates and the media entrance.  Bizarrely, upon going through this gate, there is a road with a large queue of traffic (turns out they park under the ground) and a big wall to enter the stadium grounds that screams communist architecture.

Upon being given my pass, the lift  to the left ascends to level 5, the upper-tier path that is set back a little from the perimeter of the stadium itself and is a thoroughfare for the upper-tier fans.  Crossing a bridge takes you into the stadium concourse where the food and drink is sold.  Walking through to section 19, you do get a genuine wow moment at the view.  Being in the back row was perfect and, while some will be reaching for the oxygen masks, the elevation offers a fabulous perspective of the whole stadium.

The snacks and drinks range was fairly good and a beer and currywurst would set you back 7 euros.  The arching long side stands  offer a pillar-free view while the behind-the-goal stands only have a single tier: expect expansion in this regard in the not too distant future.  The Leipzig fankurve is being the goal in Sektor B. For all the talk of a plastic club, these fans made a decent racket all game.  No, they didn’t throw pyro, their flags were a little ambiguous and they didn’t intimidate.  The stadium, like the town (as mentioned earlier), reminded me of Hannover’s HDI Arena in some ways.

The players coming out to music from the Rocky films is rather twee, but each to their own – it isn’t 2 Unlimited or Die Elf vom Niederrhein though.  The RB Leipzig fans produced a glittering tifo, which looked a little ‘Eurovision’, and probably emptied the local stationary store’s stock of shiny paper.  It did seem a little like it was devised by somebody ‘corporate’, whereas Schalke’s fans bounced and sung ‘Schalke null vier’ to most recognisable melodies.  Although my favourite of the day was ‘auf geht’s Leipzig gies a goal, gies a goal, gies a go-oh-oal’; well, that’s what it sounded like to my Scottish ear.

Looking back towards the stadium
Looking back towards the stadium
Stadium at night
Stadium at night

RB Leipzig v Schalke ’04

You can say what you like about the administration of the club, but Leipzig’s fans come to see football; and it’s excellent, entertaining football.  After the abbreviated minute of silence (although the Gelsenkirchen word for silence must be ‘applause’), the match got under way and within twenty seconds, Leipzig had a penalty.  It looked like a foul in real time from up in the gods but the TV replay beside me showed that Werner tumbled into Fahrmann in the Schalke goal and the keeper was furious.

RBL XI
RBL XI
Schalke XI
Schalke XI

Werner recovered from his momentary loss of balance to coolly slot the penalty in the corner.  Leipzig could then have had a couple more before five minutes had been played.  Schalke were all over the place and the pace, power and directness of Leipzig was too much for Naldo and Howedes in particular.  The brought a few chants of ‘Lawn  ball olé’ and the stadium was noisy and charged with excitement.  The atmosphere would be lauded elsewhere, and it’s certainly no worse than the likes of Frankfurt, Munich or Bremen.

Make no mistake: Leipzig are not going away.  They may not maintain their current form all season but they have some real gems in their squad in players like Keita, Werner, Poulsen, Forsberg and Burke.  For all of the ‘buy young players to sell them on’ articles I’ve read, I have yet to see any acknowledge that maybe Leipzig are buying young players to develop and keep so that they can challenge for the league.  Even the most cynical fan has to admit the advertising provided by Leipzig reaching the Champions League is more lucrative in the long term than cashing in on players.

Thereafter, the game evened out and Schalke probably deserved their equaliser when it came, with Kolasinac tapping home a rebound after Gulacsi spilled the ball.  The sprinklings of Schalke fans outwith the ‘away section’ was very noticeable at this point.  The Schalke fans contributed massively to the occasion and ensured that the atmosphere remained lively, even during lulls in the match.

A talking point during the match had to be the conduct of Timo Werner.  He caused the Schalke defence all kinds of problems with his pace and power but has a cynical and cheating edge to his game.  It’s not OK and his manager needs to sort him out.  The second half kicked off in much the same way as the first and RB Leipzig were ahead within a couple of minutes.  Forsberg’s inswinging free kick was met by Schalke’s goalscorer, Kolasinac, who had now scored past both ‘keepers.

After retaking the lead, Leipzig continued to make most of the play and looked more likely to score – Schalke’s impotence up front (Max Meyer is never a striker) meant attacks seldom had a focal point.

The 42558 (ausverkauft!) capacity crowd was announced but some seats were empty between the Schalke fans and the home support, presumably some kind of fresh-air force field.  Those aquamarine seats look like leftovers from a communist swimming pool and the stadium would be given a lift if they were replaced.  However, one wonders what kind of advert would replace them?  I’d expect it would be a load of bull.

Leipzig continued to create most of the chances and the game opened up in the latter stages as Schalke chased for an equaliser. However, the Royal Blues remained second best for most of the encounter and when the whistle was blown, few would argue that it was not deserved.  Not even the most ardent anti-RB Leipziger.  For all the accusations of being an advertising construct, the team are hungry, well-drilled and able and the fans are far livelier and more engaged than they are given credit for.

To summarise, going to watch RB Leipzig was a little like watching someone try haggis for the first time: you’re not sure you like the idea but the product is far better than you expect and, even though you know what’s in it, you can’t help enjoying it.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ****.5
  • Stadium character: ****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ****
  • Hospitality: *****
  • Ease of access: *****
  • Things to do around the stadium: ****
  • Overall: ****.5

Verdict: Fabulous stadium, great team, underrated fans and beautiful city.