The stadium also has a quality, built-to-last feel about it: this is no corrugated iron shoebox and, despite its flaws, you can’t help loving its majesty!
Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg: Bundesliga 1
20th February 2016
Imagine the Colosseum was converted into a fully functional and modern football stadium. Hertha Berlin’s Olympiastadion feels like a useful monument, like you have modern comforts in a classic historical environment. A lively home support camped out into the East end of the stadium and cheered on their team creating a lively yet relaxed atmosphere. It was very different from a typical Bundesliga experience.
Some people place self-imposed, imaginary limits on themselves. ‘All the way to Berlin for a game of football between two teams you don’t support,’ and similar comments echoed around my listening chamber. You can do it folks, and it is much simpler than you might imagine. Although Berlin is further from Brussels than most German destinations, three cheap flights a day to Schoenfeld Airport meant that you can have return flights from Brussels for 24 euros. Upon arriving at Schoenfeld Airport after an easy 80 minute flight, a 20 minute train ride takes you to Alexanderplatz in Central Berlin for 3.30€. The stadium can be reached via the S-Bahn trains or the Underground, line 2, and is about 20 minutes by underground from Central Berlin.
Tickets and Accommodation
Hertha Berlin seldom sell out their home matches and, except for the games against Bayern or Dortmund, you can generally pick up tickets at the stadium on the day, provided you bring ID. Alternatively, print-at-home tickets can be bought from https://www.eventimsports.de/ols/hbsctk/en. This process is very easy and is simpler than most clubs’ ticketing portal. Tickets are available from 15 euros and I paid a whopping 17 euros for mine. All in all, I got flights, transfers and a ticket for less than 50 euros. I hear that gets you a pie and a scarf in the Premier League these days. I also got an amazing deal at the Ramada Hotel (http://www.ramada.com/hotels/germany/berlin/ramada-plaza-berlin-city-centre-hotel-and-suites/hotel-overview) for just under 50 euros, which was uncharacteristically decadent but worth the splurge.
This was my first trip to Berlin and I found it quite a moving and soulful city. While Munich is very victorious, grandiose, elegant and triumphant, Berlin is characterful, melancholy and apologetic. Perhaps the freezing rain accentuated these feelings but it’s a wonderfully interesting and energised city I would like to visit for longer. Everything seems very much laid bare and there is a certain honesty and openness that, given its turbulent 20th Century history, I perhaps wasn’t expecting.
The stadium itself is so simplistic and iconic but is very well laid out. The large tiled area in front of the turnstiles, which also doubles up as a car park of sorts, is lined with stalls with food, drink and Hertha accessories like you’d expect. There’s also the often forgotten bonus of clean toilets next to this facility. Everybody seems to enter via the turnstiles at the front of the stadium which were well staffed. I had problems getting the scanner to read my ticket and the steward was about to send me to a special entrance when a lady, who looked like a mature club-mascot, showed me some folding trick with the ticket that the scanner liked and granted me access.
The area just inside has all kinds of food available, beer can be bought in 300ml, 500ml or 1 litre jugs and there is even some karaoke or cabaret taking place. Half a litre is 4.20€ and a litre is 7.50€. There was a very relaxed feeling to it all and the tension that often accompanies these kind of games seemed absent. A word of warning though: while a one litre serving of beer means less trips to the bar, it doesn’t do anything to decrease the frequency of ‘comfort breaks’. I hadn’t factored this into my ‘time-saving’ purchase. The stadium also has a quality, built-to-last feel about it: this is no corrugated iron shoebox and, despite its flaws, you can’t help loving its majesty!
I was in section 41.1 and had decided, as usual, to get a seat near the back. I could have had my pick to be honest. Like in any stadium that has a running track, if you are behind the goals then you are pretty distant from the pitch. However, from such an elevation, most views are unobscured. That said, the pillars do spoil the vista somewhat (although I’d rather have a roof than no pillar on a day like this).
There are some helpful beer and ‘stadium punch’ minions who come to magically fill up any empty glasses although the kiosks selling beer and sausage are frequent and efficient. Hertha, to their credit, have not abandoned paying for food and drink in cash and have both a club card and cash system, which means infrequent fans don’t have to spend 10 euros to get a drink. The toilets are large and well-maintained as well although I felt like I had done a lap of the track by the time I found them.
A special word of praise has to go to the Hertha fans, who were unflappably supportive and generated an excellent atmosphere despite the stadium only being 60% full and the rather staid match on offer. They made the match for me.
Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg
The match itself was a fairly forgettable encounter with a draw probably being the correct result. The absence of shots on target was a disappointment although I have to admit to having never watched Hertha play attractively. That said, despite Hertha’s 3rd position in the table, Wolfsburg looked the stronger team throughout and both teams will probably accept the outcome as a decent point. Dardai’s achievements at Hertha this season can be mirrored by Hecking’s underachievement at Wolfsburg. While Hertha have been frugally built and, being honest, looked like possible relegation candidates on paper, Wolfsburg are still trying to fill a Kevin de Bruyne shaped void. Julian Draxler is a very talented player but hasn’t performed as consistently as de Bruyne did and was peripheral throughout this match.
Both Ibisevic for Hertha and Kruse for Wolfsburg looked a little isolated and, while Schafer and Kalou both took their goals well enough, the lack of creativity was frustrating to the fans braving the miserable weather.
At the end of the match, there was no ‘subway scramble’ of fans leaving after 83 minutes to get a quieter train. The normal end-of- match stampede or cramped stairwells are not to be found here. Some people milled around, getting more food and drinks, whereas others headed back for the train or underground. It all had a fluency and ease to it that was added to the laid-back feel of the event.
The underground back to Berlin was busy but not cramped. Upon leaving Alexanderplatz, I stumbled across the Hofbrauhaus. This seemed like the perfect place for a final beer accompanied by a large piece of animal. The beer and food were brought out suspiciously quickly but I was too hungry to care and the fatty Schwein was being devoured. I should’ve gone back to the hotel at this point, but some friendly Arsenal fans visiting friends came and sat at my bench and, all of a sudden, that extra beer or three seems like a good idea. They playfully mocked their own support but assured me that if you like quiet and comfortable football then the Emirates is the place to be.
For my flight, accommodation and match ticket, I could barely have got into the cheap seats in the Emirates. From opening my eyes and ears at the game, it seems like a lot of fans were over from the UK for the match. Makes you wonder, if the Premier League is ‘the best league in the world’ why were so many English fans in Berlin? Hertha Berlin could be the ideal destination to go to for a weekend away: great city, fantastic stadium, an excellent atmosphere and fans are treated like they matter.
- Quality of match: ***
- Stadium character: *****
- Stadium atmosphere: ****
- Hospitality: *****
- Ease of access: *****
- Things to do around the stadium: ****
- Overall: ****.5