Read about the other match we went to during our weekend in Berlin HERE
Our day had started long before kick-off, taking in some of the sites of Berlin, before we made our way to the Olympiastadion for kick off at 15:30. Schalke fans also seemed to be making the most of an away day in the nation’s capital, because from about 10:00 in the morning they were doing the same as us, but with a beer in hand and their teams colours proudly on display, most coming in the form of their team scarf tucked into their belt.
That mornings sight-seeing was a visit it to the Germany government building the Reichstag, and after perusing a bit of Norman Foster architecture, adjacent to the Reichstag is the iconic Brandenburg gate, a symbol of Berlins segregated past and a rallying point for a lot of the away fans in town before they made their way to the South West of the city for the game. Groups of them spoke in the shadow of the great monument, beer bottles littered the floor, and tourists looked on slightly baffled at the scene playing out in front of them.
As with getting anywhere in Berlin, public transport the U-Bahn and S trains more than adequately stretch out across the city, making anywhere easy and simple to get to, and the home of Hertha Berlin was no different, the stadium has two of its own dedicated stations, only about a 20 min trip from the city centre.
The U2 zips underground on the route to the ground, picking up Berlin and Schalke fans as we go, it’s still about 2 hours or so until kick off, but there are already large groups of fans from each side making their way. At one station, a group of British guys get on board, one in full lederhosen. A Hertha and Shackle fan opposite me look amused exchange a glance and a comment. I’m not sure what they said, but the glance looked to me like the universal look for “twat”.
On arrival at the Olympiastadion station, the train now really bustling and that electric atmosphere of people on the way to a game was starting to build. Chants broke out in the station, reverberating in the enclosed conditions, and seemed very loud.
You exit the station, make your way under a small bridge, up a short hill surrounded by trees and at the top are presented with today’s venue. Although I must admit our attention was somewhat on the man whose nose seemed to have been punched flat on his face, with blood pissing out of it. His “friends” seeming to want to help him, but he seemed I think more interested in getting away. This was in no way a reflection on the atmosphere of the game, or the fans which as you will see from reading on was a totally thrilling, and safe experience.
So after refocussing on the venue and not the blood fountain that had first greeted us, it was a fantastic sight, and the first thing that really grabs your attention, are the Olympic rings suspended between two large stone pillars. The stadium itself has a rich history, originally built for the 1936 Summer Olympics, and witnessed Jessie Owens heroics on the track. Since then it has hosted games in the 1974 and 2006 World Cups, getting a major overhaul for the latter competition. Home to Hertha since 1963, and will also host the 2015 Champions League final.
The walk to the stadium is lined with small huts selling merchandise and more importantly beer and sausages. Still with nearly two hours yet to kick off, the stalls are doing considerable business, crowds gather drinking and eating and trying to keep warm in the bitter Berlin chill.
On the other side of the road is a flag lined carpark, where a sight perhaps more familiar to those going to an American Football game, than a football game in Europe, where what looked like “tailgate parties”. Fans gathered around the boot of their cars drinking, eating and playing music, in most cases it sounded like German metal.
Before we could enjoy the food and drink ourselves, there was matter of picking up the tickets. I had booked them a month or so before the game online, and it was a simple case of presenting my passport, which was quickly returned with an envelope and two tickets for the game.
There was still plenty of time before the game started, so that meant plenty of time to drink the local Berlin beer, and enjoy sausages, heavy with mustard. We spent most of the time marvelling in the effort the home fans go to, to display their support for their team. Scarves hanging from belts were the most common, but there were also untold amounts of flags and shirts, the more die hard seemed to sport a denim waistcoat with patches sewn on. I think my favourite though without a doubt was the poncho made up in the colours of the team. It was not only surprisingly very appealing, but also
seemed a good way to keep cold on this chilly Saturday afternoon.
Sadly I think most people would hesitate to wear this in the UK, for fear of ridicule, and shouts of “full kit wanker”. It seems almost uncool, or not the done thing, to wear your teams colours in any way you choose, but I think you stood out more here for not wearing anything, than for wearing too much.
At this point I was cheerily informed by a Hertha fan that the tree stump I was sitting on was the table for their beer crate, and that was our queue to make our way in to the ground. Through a row of stone turnstiles, past the bag search where the miniature beer mug for the mantelpiece at home, was deemed not to be a missile by the smirking security guard, we entered a slightly more expensive version of outside, beer, food and merchandise stalls, and made our way to our seats.
Up close the stadium is deceptively small, looking from the outside to be only one story high. Its original 1930’s architecture, built in a pale stone and fittings have been preserved, in all their glory. We are sitting in the first tier of the “Ostkurve” above the all standing section of the ground, where the bulk of the most fanatical home support, are based.
Up some stone steps to the first level, we find our block easily, and there in front of you is a bright blue running track, green pitch and a 75,000 seater stadium and the earlier deception of the Tardis esq stadium is complete.
It had been explained to me that this game was fuelled by more than just a football rivalry, but by a real dislike, going back to a scandal involving both teams in the 1970’s which resulted in Berlin being relegated, and Schalke somehow surviving, in the eyes of Berlin fans, and staying up. At the moment both the teams could not be further apart in their seasons so far. Berlin had only the week before got out of the relegation zone and, and are now in a full blown fight for survival. Schalke on the other hand come in to this game off the back of an amazing 4–3 win away at Real Madrid in the Champions League, and narrowly going out on aggregate. It is deemed by most, as going to be a very tough game for the home side.
A huge chorus of boos and whistles greet the away team, as they come out to warm up, before getting on with their pre match drills, they approach their fans to applaud the away support at the opposite end of the stadium, they start to all move as one, wave flags above their heads, and the nose they make is quiet fantastic.
On 15:00, thirty minuets before kick-off, a claxon sounds and it’s time for the home team to warm up. It’s the Berlin fans turn to welcome their team, wave their flags and whirl there scarfs above their head. If this is the welcome for the players warming up, what will it be like when the team come out for the game, or if they score a goal?!?!
Fifteen minutes to kick-off, and although the rest of the ground seems to be slow to fill up, the Ostkurve below us is heaving and bouncing. The stadium announcer reads out the team, only reading the first name out, and waiting for the crowd to roar the reply, “Solomon……..KALOUOOOOOOOO!!!!””
Five minutes to go and the crowd are in full swing, the guy standing to my left, a Dane called Hannibal, who comes every year, for the last 6 years, puts his arm over my shoulder, and I in turn, put mine over his, and encourages me to join him and the rest of the fans in a low rumbling “ohhhhhhhhhh”, in preparation of the team coming out.
The players appear on the big screen, somewhere in the bowls of the stadium, on an escalator, with the Berlin team mascot a large brown bear. The atmosphere and noise is building steadily, all under the watchful eye who Hannibal calls the “Capo”. He stands microphone in hand, next to a single drum, his back to the match for the majority of the 90 minutes conducting the standing section, and like a pace setter from a Roman ship in Ben Hur, controls and conducts the standing section, and in turn the whole ground flawlessly.
The entire ground, break out in to a rendition of the Hertha Hymn, "Nur Nach Hause" sung to the tune of the Rod Stewart song, “I am sailing”, which instantly puts the hair up on the back of your neck, and sets the scene for game, but more importantly an atmosphere that will be hard to better.
From the first half performance its clear why Hertha are struggling at the bottom of the table, they are their own worst enemy, and put themselves in dangerous situations time after time, batting away wave after wave of Schalke attacks.
Somewhat against the run of play, they take the lead due to a goal keeper error, who will be guilty of one more before the day is out. A simple shot from outside the box, seems to catch him out, bounces off his knee, and is presented to the on rushing Hertha attacker, who has a simple job. TOR (Goal)!!!! flashes up on the screen, and is bellowed out over the PA and its 1 – 0.
The Ostkurve below us erupts, and I don’t think I can put it in any other way than the place goes NUTS!! Without even thinking about it, I’m quickly jumping up and cheering with Hannibal and others around us. There are two other English guys sitting in front of us, Luke & Scott, they look at us, as if to say “fucking hell”, they like us are blown away by the reaction of the crowd.
After the goal, Hertha are forced back and the pressure pays off for Schalke, as just before half time, they equalize. A direct run in from the left of the box the Schalke player gets to within about a foot of the goal, and from what seems a very, very, tight angle, dinks the ball over the keeper and both teams go in one a piece at half time.
There is only one thing on our minds at half time, and that is to get our hands on one of the measuring jugs we have seen people drinking from around the stadium, which contain a litre of beer.
The second half is a slightly different story, but with more goal keeper mistakes and Hertha punishing themselves more than anyone else. They have the first real chance of the half, and are applying good pressure to the away team, much more than the first. Schalke are lacking any real threat, but Hertha are infuriating their fans. Any opportunity to threaten the opposition, and they are having the lion’s share of possession is wasted with appalling decision making and out right slack play.
It’s only thanks to the 2nd mistake of the game by the Schalke keeper that allows Hertha to go 2-1 ahead, with less than 10mins of the game left. A shot that seemed simpler to hold on to is spilled, and the rebound is put away, by one of the substitutes, TORRRR!!
The crowd have now hit an all-time high, and after 4 days of heavy duty sight-seeing we are pretty worn out but the fantastic noise, is keeping us going, “Hertha, BSC, Hertha, BSC” and a song to the tune of Yellow Submarine fill the Olympiastadion. Only ten minutes or so left, and those all important 3 points, to help in the relegation battle are theirs, and made even sweeter of a team they particularly dislike, the flag waving in the away end, has all but stopped, with their teams
performance perhaps a bit of a hang over after their exploits in Madrid.
Unfortunately the fairly-tale ending for Hertha is not going to happen today, as only a few minutes after going behind Schalke nearly score, and the home defence scramble it away, but on 89mins the unthinkable happens, and they score, 2–2! The away fans erupt, and the flags are flying just as ferociously as before, the home crowd have gone from unbridled joy, scarf waving, which I could not help myself from partaking in, to absolute depression in a mere few minutes. The two minutes of extra time are played out, and both teams will have to settle for a point.
The home team approach and applaud the Ostkurve they have been amazing all game, a real sight to behold, something you can only appreciate in the flesh.
We leave the stadium in to a grey drizzly evening the sounds of a live bag piper wearing a Hertha scarf accompany our cold pickled fish sandwich, and warm salty pretzel, that’s as big as a bin lid. The only real police presence is now visible, Robocop look a likes in black riot gear, but are not threatening at all, and there is no sense of grief ahead or tension in the air. We make our way to the station past the stands once again doing good business, and tail gate parties still playing music.
Today has raised a few questions and emotions. Firstly we want to go back and see more football in Germany, and we are clearly not alone. We were surrounded by Brits, Danes and Italians, it made me wonder has everyone become so disenfranchised with football in their own country, or is it simply not offering them what they want, that they have to go to Germany to get it. Ticket prices starting from something like 15 Euros, being treated like a grown up and being allowed to have a drink in your seat if you want.
Most importantly through the atmosphere, I came out of the game with a smile on my face after being surrounded by something very comforting in a strange way. I could have spent the whole game watching the Capo, like a preacher in front of his congregation. We all have a lot to learn from the Germans, not copying them, but learning from them, adopting some of the practices and culture, which can only improve your match day experience.