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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.

 

 

Hertha Berlin

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.

Getting There 

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.

Berlin

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 Olympiastadion  

Zum Olympia Stadion
Zum Olympia Stadion
Die Alte Dame
Die Alte Dame
Die Twin Tauers
Die Twin Tauers

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!

A capacious oval
A capacious oval

DSCN0878 DSCN0880 DSCN0881 DSCN0882 DSCN0887 DSCN0892 DSCN0893 DSCN0894 DSCN0895

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.

Food and toilet area
Food and toilet area

 

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.

Stadium Ratings

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