Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg
Olympiastadion / Bundesliga / 16th February 2014
As much as I’ve loved Swansea’s Europa League campaign, it has also been quite frustrating for myself as work commitments and away legs falling outside my holidays have meant that I’ve not been able to go gallivanting around Europe with the Jack Army, apart from my awesome trip to Malmö in August. After being frustrated further by the fact that I could not make Swans’ away trip to Napoli (although that may prove to be a good thing), I decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own European football adventure. These days, Germany has seemed to have become the fashionable place to go to experience European football, so we set our sights on Berlin to watch Hertha Berlin v Wolfsburg, after the fixture schedule had denied me my Naples trip.
Along with my fellow travellers Gibbo and Elliot, we arrived into Berlin on the Saturday morning and headed straight into the city from our hotel to see all the usual sights such as the Reichtag and the Brandenburg Gate. Eventually, we went out scouting for bars and like all proper British travellers we ended up in an Irish bar in the middle of a shopping centre near our hotel. However, this was one pretty awesome Irish bar and the night was spent dancing with others to three bearded German men playing hits from bands such as The Beatles, Dire Straits and AC/DC, before ending with a bizarre boyband medley. The band were genuinely brilliant and great fun. The night of dancing to the ‘Walk of Life’, drinking jugs of German beer and me trying to impress young German women with my B grade in A-Level German was to have an adverse effect on my day of German football the next day.
I had originally planned to attend the 10am kick-off between Hertha Berlin u19s and FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt U19s at the Amateurstadion, near the Olympiastadion, on the Sunday, before the main event of visiting the Hertha’s home for the 5pm kick-off between Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg. Predictably, the night before had caught up with me and I awoke at 9.30am and immediately wrote off any plan of making the U19s game with the comfort of my bed being more appealing at that moment.
With my other two pals passed out in bed still, I decided to head out into Berlin to get some breakfast. However, almost inevitably I ended up back at the Irish bar from the night before for a bit of ‘hair of the dog’, which certainly sorted me out. Gibbo and Elliot were now awake but had decided to go for a bit more of a wander of central Berlin. I was now fired up to go to the ground itself in hunt of Hertha fans, so we parted ways and I headed to Zoologischer Garten station and boarded the train to Olympiastadion station (hoping that this was the right stop, as there was confusingly also a hyphenated Olympia-Stadion stop as well).
The huge grey structure of the Olympiastadion coming into view on my right as I approached my stop confirmed I had made the right choice. Despite the stadium being devoid of any colour, the ground was still hugely impressive and without looking the tallest ground, it still looked formidable large – as you would imagine from a ground that has hosted the Olympics and a World Cup Final.
I had noticed that there wasn’t too much in terms of pubs near the ground, apart from a couple of those outside bar stalls, which seemed to be very popular in Berlin. I decided that there was still plenty of time to go bar hunting, so instead I went in search of a club shop. We had visited a sports shop the day before, where I had picked up a Hertha scarf for €12 amongst a highly impressive range of shirts and merchandise for a whole host of German clubs, but I decided I wanted to add a Hertha home shirt to my ensemble.
After walking through a small park area with trees either side, I came out under the two imposing concrete towers that support the five instantly recognisable Olympic rings. There was still no sign of a club shop, so I asked the stewards for assistance. Unlike grounds on these shores, the Olympiastadion has an outer ring and the turnstiles are actually located a small distance away from the ground under the Olympic rings; it turned out the club shop was located in the ground on the other side of the turnstiles. I wasn’t really in the mood for spending 4-5 hours inside the ground yet, but one very friendly steward, recognising the fact that I merely wanted a shirt, let me through as long as I promised not to run into the stadium itself; it was tempting but I fought the urge.
Moments later, I emerged from the Hertha club shop, much to the relief of the steward, now adorned properly in the blue and white of Hertha. Now to find a pub. My steward friend had informed me of a bar near the station I had exited earlier, but en route I got distracted by an abandoned petrol station which had bars and stalls selling scarves around it. That would do for me for now: “Ein Berliner Kind bitte!”
The issue was, despite me very much enjoying my bottle of Berliner Kind, that there were still very few Hertha fans around. So after my beer I continued my search for more of my fellow Hertha fans. That was when I stumbled upon a sort of cafe/bar combo and decided to pop in there. Once again, although there were a few fans in there, the small place was still relatively empty. However, the Berliner Kind behind the bar, the blue and white flags and memorabilia gracing the walls and the handy plug socket to give my phone a much-needed charge, made me more than happy to stay there. After 2-3 beers I was invited to join some Hertha fans on another table, perhaps clearly recognising my ‘football tourist-ness’, who told me a bit about them club and what to expect from the atmosphere inside the ground.
After enjoying the company of the Hertha fans, I headed back towards the ground to meet up with Elliot and Gibbo who told me to meet them underneath the Olympic rings. En route to meeting them I bought myself another beer at a hot dog stand (which I immediately spilled so replaced with another) and had a little boogey with the band playing nearby, before I found Gibbo and Elliot clad in red and black Hertha away shirts. We headed to the small booth to the right of the rings to pick up our tickets, before heading through the turnstiles.
Unlike earlier in the day, the area in front of the stadium was now busy with fans mingling and with several food and drink stalls scattered across the area. One thing that did bother me a bit was the fact that Hertha operate a card system, where to purchase anything in the ground and its perimeter you have to put money on a card. Obviously, within minutes of entering the arena, I was in possession of a card and another beer, but it was an irritating setup by the club (although I am told that this system is rife in German football).
There was still a bit of time to go before kick-off, so we decided to complete a lap of the ground to have a nose around. The first thing we found on our wander was the outdoor pool and diving boards on the north side of the stadium, a small arena which, I’m assuming, was used for diving events in the 1936 Olympics. We then came across the ‘Marathon Gate’, a large opening at the one end of the stadium and one of the unique features of stadium. This then led around to the old Olympic bell, which apparently fell from the Bell Tower near the entrance to the ground many years ago and now sits outside the ground, cracked and battered as a memorial.
Our lap of the ground was complete and so we opted to go into the ground proper and see once and for all what all the fuss is with this German football malarkey. Our seats were in ‘Oberring Kurve Osttor’ as our ticket explained, meaning we had to go upstairs to get to our area in the upper tier. The stadium has a brilliant balcony style concourse, so we decided to get our beer and stand on the balcony area and watch the crowd flock into the ground. On finishing our beer (in Hertha Berlin plastic cups) we opted to buy one more to take up into the stands with us just because you can on the continent unlike our native Football League.
On walking up towards our seat, the stadium looked superb. There have actually been two grounds built on the site with the original Deutsches Stadion built for the 1916 Olympics, which was eventually cancelled because of the outbreak of war. There was talk of renovating the ground, but when the Nazis came into power in 1933 they decided that the upcoming 1936 Olympics in Berlin would be perfect to show off the power of the Nazi party and Hitler ordered that a new stadium be built. The stadium’s huge size was supposedly to represent the power of Nazi Germany. Just like the first stadium, the new Olympiastadion would have the unique feature of being built 12 metres into the ground.
The Olympiastadion would see a whole host of historical moments, especially during the 1936 Olympics, the first aired on television. Most famous of all would be African-American track and field athlete Jesse Owens winning his four gold medals (100m, 200m, 4×100 relay and long jump) in the stadium in front of an onlooking Hitler. Gibbo had commented before the game how amazing it would be to enter a ground with so much history and he was spot on. However, whilst other tourists around me probably picked up on all the amazing social and cultural history surrounding the stadium, all that was going through my head was “this was the stadium that Zinedine Zidane, possibly the greatest player of my time, floored Marco Materazzi with a headbutt and ended his illustrious career”. Sod the Nazi history – that’s what really made me think ‘wow’. I kept looking at the pitch thinking ‘Zizou did it there’. There is possibly more history ready to be made at the ground soon with the stadium also hosting the 2015 Champions League Final.
Back to the past, the stadium would exit the Second World War practically unscathed and the ground would not see renovation until the early 70s, ready for West Germany to host the 1974 World Cup. The renovation was very little though with the main change being the building of cover over the upper tiers.
Finally, the ground would go under one further phase of renovation ready for the 2006 World Cup. The roof was extended to cover more of the ground (the roof is also transparent so that more light shines on the field), the pitch was lowered further, the inclination was steepened in the lower tier stands and finally the running track around the outside of the pitch was changed from red to blue to make the ground more homely for its Hertha Berlin inhabitants.
Hertha have played in the stadium since 1963, the year the Bundesliga was formed, having previously played for the majority of their pre-Bundesliga years in the ‘Plumpe’. It was evidently clear that the Hertha fans had made this place their home judging from the noise coming from the stands as we took our seats (which I don’t think we sat on once). The majority of the noise was coming from the stand just below us, ‘die Ostkurze’, where the Hertha ultras reside. Soon enough we were joining in with the prematch exploits with the most impressive moment being the scarf raising rendition of the club anthem “Nur Nach Hause” to greet the teams onto the pitch followed by bouncing along to the various other German chants we didn’t understand (apart from replacing the words to ‘Go West’ with ‘Her-tha’). Or you could just watch the video below to get an idea of the “Nur nach Hause”proceedings (we were just to the right of the big screen).
Hertha started the better team, although there were a couple of half chances for both teams. The singing had been relentless since the start of the game with the drummer leading the procession of Hertha chants. However, the place would be at its loudest in the 21st minute as Hertha took the lead. As Hertha surged into the box, Per Skjelbred took the ball away from Sami Allagui only for his first effort to be blocked by Diego Benaglio in the Wolfsburg goal, but for Skjelbred to toe in the rebound. Cue the Hertha fans erupting and me bouncing around like a lunatic as if I had supported Hertha all my life.
There were a few other half chances for Hertha, before Adrian Ramos had a great chance to make it 2-0 when he picked up a loose pass from a Wolfsburg player, but he sadly put his chip just over the bar with Benaglio stranded off his line.
Half-time: Hertha Berlin 1 – 0 Wolfsburg.
Of course, at half-time I headed down to the bar and went to purchase some more German beer, but it seemed I had already spent all the money on my card. So ensued me finding a way to get some more money on my card – this really is an inconvenient system. Eventually I found a lady who happily topped up my card and I was finally ready for my half-time beer. Although as I was queuing I noticed that the lads in front of me were chanting about former Republic of Ireland international Gary Breen. I soon sussed out that the lads were Wolves fans and were actually same group that had been standing behind us all game.
With the Gary Breen chants stuck in my head, I returned to my seat (of course with beer in hand) and had my own ideas about who the greatest Gary is – or should that be Garry. On arriving at my seat, I began bursting out into choruses of “Super Garry Monk! Garry Monk! Super Garry Monk!” much to the bemusement of those around us and Gibbo and Elliot. On another note, it had transpired that Gibbo and Elliot had actually made the big screens in the stadium during half-time with them singing with Hertha fans outside the ground, something which was apparently recorded whilst I was still in the bar prematch. Well played lads!
The second half kicked off and I persisted in my ‘Super Garry Monk’ shouts as I tried to educate the Hertha fans about the great Swansea legend and new manager. The half was much slower to get going and it would take 15 minutes for anything to really happen; unfortunately, the thing that happened was a Wolfsburg equaliser. The goal was remarkably simple as an inswinging Wolfsburg corner headed straight to an unmarked Robin Knoche, who comfortably headed home past Thomas Kraft.
The goal woke up Hertha, who went in search of a second goal with Ramos going close again. However, it was to be Wolfsburg who would go on to take the lead in superb fashion. Substitute Daniel Caligiuri received the ball out wide from former Chelsea player Kevin De Bruyne and cut inside, before releasing a venomous shot past Kraft at his near post. 2-1 to Wolfsburg with just over ten minutes to go.The goal was even celebrated with Caligiuri rudely karate kicking the Hertha corner flag.
Once again, Hertha tried to break through and they looked to have missed an unbelievable chance when Änis Ben-Hatira hit the bar with a header from 6 yards out with virtually an open goal in front of him; his blushes were slightly saved by the fact that the ref had blown for the ball going out for a goal kick just as Ramos crossed the ball to Ben-Hatira. And that was to be it for Hertha as the ref blew up for full-time.
Full-time: Hertha Berlin 1 -2 Wolfsburg.
By the time the final whistle had gone I had sung, waved my scarf around, swayed back and forth and bounced with the Hertha fans and drank beer to my heart’s content. I can safely say that the Bundesliga fan experience lived up to the hype. It was just a shame that Hertha lost.
Eventually we navigated our way back to the train station and headed back to our hotel. It’s a bit of a Saturday tradition for me to buy a kebab from the Spices of Kashmir (immense kebab!) around the corner from my house in Salford on my way home from football, so I decided a kebab was needed to finish off the day. By golly can they do kebabs in Berlin! When I say kebabs, I should actually say ‘kebaps’ as the donner in chilli sauce I ordered came in a bap instead of the usual pitta or naan – and what an idea! It was perfect!
The football, beer and food all caught up with me back at the hotel, as I was out for the count for a few hours before waking up at 1am. The other two had headed out to East Berlin whilst I slumbered, but with this being Berlin I knew I’d find something if I walked out in the street at 1am. By 1.15am I found myself in a 24 hour bar around the corner from our hotel drinking with a couple of friendly Germans, an American businessman and an ex-convict who had recently completed 11 years in prison after shooting someone – I sure do know how to befriend the crazies! More impressively the American went on to tell me that he worked for the Chicago Bulls and that his Dad was Steve Kerr; this meant nothing to me, but the Germans with us went absolutely mad with cries of “THE Steve Kerr?” It turns out Steve Kerr played for the Chicago Bulls in the Michael Jordan era much to the amazement of our basketball loving German friends. It was quite an end to the day as the ex-convict got thrown out for something he said (in German) to the barman, whilst I departed the bar at around the 4.30am mark. Quite a day all round
Maybe see you again next season Germany – I’m certainly up for giving another German city and club a go.
Highlights: brilliant stadium (and easy to get to), brilliant fans and atmosphere, German beer (which you are allowed to take into stands), decent game, great city, ‘kebaps’.