Sunday 10 June 2018

There's always a match in Berlin

Berlin has a rich football history. Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin are well known throughout the world, and Union Berlin in the second division seem to be rather popular amongst visitors from the UK, whilst fourth tier BFC Dynamo are well remembered for their East German past. What people don't always realise though is that the German capital also hosts several other clubs in the fourth tier Regionalliga, as well as an extensive list of clubs in both the fifth tier Oberliga and the large Berlin league system that sits below it. Such an array of leagues and teams gives an expansive list of options for the football traveller looking to find a match when visiting the city. Even an end of season trip to Berlin during the week which saw me arrive at the wrong ground for a game, still saw me able to catch one and a half local matches in the city. Also, with a truly excellent public transport system, getting to the football once you've found the right venue is not a problem in the slightest.

I enjoyed a delightful stay in this bustling German metropolis when originally I was supposed to be in London. A planned overnight trip with friends to watch our beloved Newcastle United away at Tottenham however had to shelved because a) we couldn't get tickets, and b) some of our contingent couldn't get time off work either. I however had my leave all booked but nowhere to go. So with the money I'd saved for London whispering 'spend me, spend me', I indulged in one of my favourite pastimes of searching for cheap last minute flights online. I usually in the end decide not to go anywhere but this time I actually decided to take the plunge. 

Having always wanted to visit Berlin, when I came across £60 return flights from Newcastle I jumped at the chance, especially when a quick fixture check showed that I might be able to catch some local fussball whilst there. Confirmation that none of my friends would be coming didn't deter me, and I booked up for this fascinating solo trip which included two great games that are detailed below.

Match 1 - Berliner AK 07 v Berliner FC Dynamo

The first of my two matches in Berlin came after a long Wednesday sightseeing in which I saw many of the usual sights, including the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie, as well as the slightly more unusual but rather interesting Currywurst museum. Currywurst is my favourite German cuisine along with the McRib burger. Although not strictly German, Germany is the only country where McDonald's permanently serves this famously elusive burger all year round. I am also partial to a bit of Sauerkraut, whilst the Turkish 'Kebap' shops common in many German cities serve Doner Kebabs that are far superior to anything available in the UK.

As you can see I had plenty of food options for my post match supper, but before my meal it was time for the big game. That night's match was a Berlin derby in the Regionalliga Nordost between Berliner Athletik Klub 07, often referred to as Berliner AK 07 or simply just BAK, and Berliner FC Dynamo, or BFC Dynamo for short. 

Previously as the all conquering East German side Dynamo Berlin, BFC Dynamo won ten top flight GDR Oberliga titles in a row between 1979 and 1988. Being the favoured club of the Stasi (secret police) many alleged that their dominance came with help of obedient referees and because of this the club was despised by many throughout the East German republic. With the clubs past so heavily associated with the communist East German regime its rather surprising that nowadays Dynamo - currently an insignificant semi professional side in the lower leagues - has a fanbase consisting of predominantly far right neo nazi skinheads. This I'd read about previously and I had it confirmed by a German I met at my second game who said Dynamo's support was notorious for its what many people consider extremist views. As for the home side BAK, Wikipedia told me they had a bit of a following amongst the local Turkish community, but aside from a few Turkish sounding names on the pitch this wasn't something I found particularly noticeable whilst attending the match.

After walking through a charming park full of families with picnic baskets and children kicking balls around I found myself at the Poststadion, home of BAK. There were various stalls outside the main stand serving food and drink, as well as a couple of tables serving as a mini club shop and selling replica shirts and other memorabilia.

I purchased a €10 match ticket from a small ticket hut outside and as I entered the stadium was thoroughly patted down by a member of what was a heavy security presence, and also had my bag thoroughly searched. In the ground I was sat in the all seater main stand along with the home support. The pitch had an athletics track around it with the away support stood on the terracing at the other side of the ground. I Had to temporarily leave the stadium when I was told that the only toilets were outside, and had to deal with the same over the top security rigmarole before I could re enter.

BAK, pronounced 'Bee-ah-kah' very quickly found themselves 2 -0 up thanks to a thunderbolt long range shot and another effort also from distance that came shortly afterwards, both of which saw the home fans rather excited. A small group of children at one end of the stand were brought to life by the excellent start and ended up making a lot of noise chanting 'BAK! BAK!' whilst accompanying said chant with loud drumming. BAK totally dominated that first half and found themselves 3-0 up at half-time. In the second period BAK relaxed a little but still ran out 4-1 winners and the home fans in the crowd of 416 trudged off into the night rather happy, whilst I went off to a bar near my hostel for a beer and some German sausage and mash with sauerkraut. Yum.

Match 2 - Füchse Berlin v Tasmania

Before this second game I spent two days doing more sightseeing. This further sightseeing included trips to the Ramones Museum where you can walk round with a beer (apparently the punk rock band were very popular in Germany and the place was recommended to me by a friend), a walk down Karl-Marx-Allee which was built as the showpiece boulevard of the GDR, and a brilliant tour of the Olympiastadion (with thankfully no intense security searches). The city having now been extensively covered, I was definitely ready for some more onfield action. 

With a Saturday afternoon flight home stopping me from catching any of the numerous weekend fixtures, the only other game I could find after studying the various fixture lists was a lone Friday night sixth tier Berlin-Liga match between Füchse Berlin and a team called Tasmania (Who just to point out are also based in Berlin themselves and do not hail from that island by the same name near Australia. Now that would have been a long away trip!!!).

Pronounced 'Fookser' which translates as 'foxes', very little information on the home side was forthcoming online other than that they are a sports club more famous for their handball team, whilst their website even when translated into English was almost useless.  A quick search on Google Maps however did lead me to what I believed was the home ground of their football side and I arrived there half an hour before kick-off. 

I had turned up in the middle of what was a quaint residential area known as Reinickendorf and I found several football pitches and some tennis courts, but whilst there seemed to be players warming up next to the main pitch, there was a distinct lack of supporters about. Despite posters up advertising the match I knew something was amiss when as kick-off approached the players were still training/warming up and there were still no spectators around. The specified kick-off time came and went with still no match taking place so I checked my phone and a German site listing the league fixtures claimed the match had already kicked off and also had live updates from the said game! The match may well have kicked off somewhere, but not where I was!

I frantically searched online using my phone to try and find out where the actual stadium was and whilst doing so was accosted by two lads who when they realised I was English introduced themselves as a German groundhopper and a Finnish guy studying in Berlin. The two men had just met minutes earlier after making the same mistake as me and turning up at the wrong venue. At least I wasn't alone in doing so! One of my two new friends was thankfully able to find directions to the correct ground and I followed the pair of them to a nearby station where I was promised it was only two stops to the right stadium.

After some great banter on the station platform we were eventually able to board a delayed train and finally get to our destination. Unfortunately the aforementioned delay saw us enter the ground just after the second-half had kicked off, but arriving so late no one seemed to charge us an entrance fee so it wasn't all bad.

After buying cheap drinks in the club house we headed out onto the terracing in front of it. These several rows of terracing ran along the length of one side of the pitch and many people stood there enjoying the action, whilst behind one goal a grassy bank was also populated by supporters.The rest of the ground seemed to be surrounded by trees. In all there were probably a couple of hundred of people in attendance and although I remember the fantastic football conversation with my two new pals more than the actual match itself, the home side scored late on what judging by the euphoria around us seemed to be a winning goal (a check online later showed that yes it was in fact the winning goal with a final score of 3-2 and the other four goals evidently coming in the first half before we arrived).

Game over and we headed back for the train. After the local amongst us departed a few stops down the line, me and my new Finnish friend ended up having a lovely Schnitzel takeaway before exchanging social media details and then heading our separate ways. It was a brilliant evening with two top lads, Kim from Finland who it turned out had also been at the BAK game earlier in the week, and a German who's name shamefully escapes me. A perfect end to my terrific stay in this fascinating European city. Berlin - Once divided by a wall, but always United by football.

As featured in September 2018 issue of Football Weekends magazine

No comments:

Post a Comment