Karlsruhe SC v MSV Duisburg
Wildparkstadion / 2. Bundesliga / 22nd August 2015
When this whole German trip was dreamed up back in June, pre-fixtures being released, there was one club in the Baden-Württemberg area that I’d be visiting that I really, really wanted to get along too. I hoped that the fixture lottery would be kind to me and allow me to visit. So I suppose I should thank the fixture computer right here and now for making a visit possible. The club and ground in question? Karlsruher SC and the Wildparkstadion.
A few months before, I had come across photos of their Wildparkstadion and I’d instantly fallen in love with the place. This looked like my sort of place. A typical, old European ground. One huge stadium, vast open terraces and a running track (admittedly, not everyone’s cup of tea) – retro written all over this place. I didn’t envision I’d roll up there any time soon though. Thankfully, the fixture list offered me the chance to sample the delights of Wildparkstadion on an early Saturday afternoon.
Knowing that today was a 1pm kick-off, I was up and about and out of the hostel around 9am, as I wanted to explore Karlsruhe a bit before heading to the ground. The day before, I had spent a brief time wandering the south of the city and the very pleasant park there, before I headed to Sandhausen. What I didn’t expect to bump into whilst roaming the park was three elephants. Actual elephants! I was confused, but later learned that I was actually walking by the zoo and the park I was walking through was actually called Zoologischer Garten. It all made a bit more sense now.
Today, I had more of a chance to explore the city properly and after a 20-25 minute walk (through mostly streets torn up for construction work of some sort) I found myself on the main high street, although it seemed not much was open before 10am despite the streets seeming quite busy. Once again though, I found people, mainly in Karlsruhe football shirts, drinking casually in the street, so I figured I’d join them whilst I headed over to the city’s centrepiece.
Karlsruhe has to be one of the strangest shaped cities I’ve ever visited. The main landmark, Karlsruhe Palace, was built in the middle of the city and the rest of Karlsruhe spawns from the centre like spokes on a wheel. I’d imagine flying over it, that it must look incredibly cool. Karlsruhe itself actually translates as ‘Charles’ Repose’ and legend has it that the name and city derived from Charles waking up from a dream having dreamt of founding a new city – which he subsequently did.
The palace, and the park (Schlossgarten) surrounding it, is truly a wonderful sight with the palace glowing beautifully on this very hot day in Karlsruhe. I had to run for cover though when a whole host of Chinese tourists came sprinting towards me. For a second, I thought I had a huge Chinese fanbase who had followed me out to Germany, but it turned out they were just having some sort of mad dash across the palace grounds. I did almost go a similar way to Mustafa in the Lion King until I scampered out-of-the-way.
As it was approaching 11am, I began to navigate my way through the park as located on the other side of the grounds is Karlsruhe SC’s home. There was a small group of Karlsruhe fans walking through the park very hastily, so I attempted to keep up with them assuming they’d lead me to the ground. The pathways were now getting more and more leafy with trees totalling enveloping them and I began to wonder whether I was heading into a nature reserve and not towards a football stadium. And then it appeared and it was love at first sight…
I remember reading a bizarre news story a few year ago about a woman actually marrying Eiffel Tower; well, this was probably the closest I would get to objectphilia as I probably would have married that football stadium right there and then; even though it was still slightly hidden by the trees. What grabbed me was how Wildparkstadion seemed to loom over the forests below it and, of course, those beautiful, beautiful floodlights. It was built in 1955 and the name ‘Wildpark’ comes from the fact that the ground was built behind a former deer park. I prayed that the 29,000 capacity (only 14,000-seater) ground was as good close up and inside as it looked from here.
I found a non-English speaking German and once again my German A-Level came up trumps again, as soon I had directions to the ticket office. I almost got distracted though, as going on opposite one of the entrances I actually found another ground and a game literally just kicking-off. Assuming from the shirt colours, it was a game between the two youth teams of today’s clashing opponents, Karlsruhe and Duisburg (well, it was definitely a Karlsruhe team at least). I resisted the urge to go in, as I figured I’d not have a proper chance to get to know Karlsruhe SC and Wildparkstadion otherwise.
I found the ticket office outside the gates to the area surrounding Wildparkstadion and for 12 Euros I had myself a perch on the standing terrace curving behind one of the goals. Now into the grounds of Wildparkstadion itself.
You can already see the ground’s lopsided-ness on walking through the turnstiles, as one of the entrances to one stand is found at the top of a rather steep grass banking, whilst the opposite, more modern stand has a far more orthodox entrance. But I was in no rush to enter the ground properly yet with there still being just under 2 hours until kick-off, so it was time to find a scarf.
Immediately, I found a small shack selling a modest supply of club merchandise, but I was content to get my scarf early from here and explore elsewhere. Then, I came across the official club shop and, despite having purchased my scarf, I had to go have a nose inside to see if there was any wacky merchandise. Easily, my two favourite oddball items on sale were the Karlsruhe SC toastie maker and the Karlsruhe Skybox (obviously, I opted not to buy either).
In the shadow of the large Haupttribüne (main stand) is the club bar – and a big two-floored one at that. Once again, similar to the day before at Sandhausen, the bar resembled more of a restaurant than the well-beaten clubhouses we find on our shores. However, the staff were very kind and when I asked could I charge my phone somewhere, they kindly placed it behind the bar for me. The issue was I had asked to charge the phone in German and I clearly nailed it, as for the rest of the hour the barmaids seemed to think I was actually German; or they were just mocking me by repeatedly making jokes to me in German, which I tried to play along with by just laughing when they did. I personally think I blagged it quite well without ever revealing I was indeed not German.
After another two größe Bier, I decided to go for a bit more of a wander of the fanzone around the ground. With it now past midday, the place was searingly hot with some folk seeming to just sunbathe on the floor outside the various bars sporadically scattered around. I also decided to join in with the fashion of taking my scarf from around my neck and tying it around my wrist.
Now, I felt it was time to get myself a beer and head up the steps into the part of the ground I’d be frequenting on the standing terrace.
Thankfully, I was equally impressed with the innards of Wildparkstadion. It ticks pretty much every box for me when it comes to big stadiums (maybe apart from one, which I’ll get onto shortly): the huge, curving stepped terraces; the two large stands with the rather antiquated-looking one to my left housing the ultras; the epic floodlights; and the words KARLSRUHER beautifully spelt out on the seats opposite, in the stand next to the travelling Duisburg fans.
Like many clubs in Germany, the current Karlsruhe club came into existence after the repeated mergers of ancestral clubs. Karlsruher SC did not truly form in its current format until 1954, although the oldest of the merged clubs, Karlsruher Fussball Club Phönix, date back to 1894. The club would go onto be founder members of the Bundesliga in 1963, where they had repeated modest finishes. They would be relegated a couple of times over the next couple of decades before getting back to the big time in 1987 and undergoing a sort of modest golden era in their history.
I imagine most people (at least people old enough to) will best remember Karlsruhe for their UEFA Cup exploits in the 1990s, where they reached the semi-final back in 1994 with a team which included future Bayern Munich stars Oliver Kahn and Mehmet Scholl.
Since their relegation in 1997, the club have spent the majority of their time in 2. Bundesliga, aside from the occasionally dip down into the 3rd tier and a brief two season stint back in the Bundesliga in the late-2000s. Today, they stood midtable in the 2. Bundesliga, whilst their opponents today, Duisburg, lurked at the bottom of the league.
Scarves were raised in the air as the fans began to sing-a-long to Badnerlied, as the teams walked out onto the pitch. I found myself positioned halfway down the terrace and it was fair to say that this section of the ground was absolutely rammed. I suppose here I should mention where the ground slightly lets you down. I mentioned earlier that the ground has a running track – well there was no sign of that today, but it still meant that the stands are a little too far away from the action. To be honest, I wasn’t too dismayed though.
After yesterday’s game between Sandhausen and Heidenheim cocking up my run of no 0-0s in 2015 (I was still gutted), I was just preying that today would not continue the theme. I was obviously cheering on Karlsruhe for the afternoon, but I would have happily welcomed any goal.
Fair to say, Karlsruhe looked the better team from the off and Duisburg didn’t really offer much at all. However, Karlsruhe were still rather lackadaisical and I was sure if they upped the tempo a bit they could steal a goal.
Once again, the ultras were in good voice – or so I thought at least, as I was told in the bar later that night that the atmosphere was a relatively subdued one for the Wildparkstadion; I speculated that the early kick-off didn’t give people enough time to get beer down their throats (not that I could use that as an excuse).
By now, I had got chatting to the father and son next to me; I only remember the young boy’s name as Yannick as I instantly declared, “Like Yannick Bolasie for Palace,” but it seemed that German second division fans have no idea who Yannick Bolasie is. Still, the two proved great company for my afternoon on the terrace.
It became evident that Karlsruhe were getting a lot of joy down the right wing and soon they almost scored from a cut back from that area, only for the shot from the striker to hit the side netting. However, the goal was coming…
Another break down the right wing by the Spaniard Manuel Torres saw him then place a floated ball to the edge of the six yard and Erwin Hoffer could not miss his free header. 1-0 to Karlsruhe. TOR! A goal! I was happy that my German trip would not finish goalless at least. And what a time to score too, as shortly after the half-time whistle blew.
Half-time: Karlsruhe 1 – 0 Duisburg.
I headed down to the bar at half-time and it had occurred to me all of a sudden that neither at Sandhausen the day before, nor at Karlsruhe today had they used those irritating club cards you have to top up with money to buy drinks, a system we had encountered at Hertha Berlin and out in Belgium at Brugge and Gent last summer. Well played both Sandhausen and Karlsruhe. I find the whole system very frustrating and time-consuming.
With beers in hand, I headed back up the steps (they seemed steeper now) and stood at the top of the terrace for a short while away from the packed middle of the stand. On spotting the teams walking back out on the pitch, I headed back down to my perch next to young Yannick and father.
Once again it was largely Karlsruhe doing all the running at a very groggy-looking Duisburg. Admittedly, no real chances were being made though and the only real moment of half-excitement in the opening exchanges of the second half was the brilliantly-named Boubacar Barry cutting in from the left and firing over the bar.
It was soon 2 – 0 to the home team from an excellently-worked free kick. A ball played into the box from 30 yards out was headed back to the right of goal, then back across the six yard box for Manuel Guide to…guide home side-footed from close range (sorry for that awful joke). Cue chants of ‘KSC! KSC!’ from around the ground; apart from the Duisburg end obviously.
The final 30 minutes was a rather dull affair, although Duisburg did improve a little bit and maybe should have had a penalty for a handball in the box. It just wasn’t going to be their day though.
Instead, with the game dying out, I began chatting with my two Karlsruhe companions more about the club itself and my travels. Young Yannick didn’t speak hardly any English, so once again I had fun putting my German to good use again and we did have a fairly coherent conversation. They said they’d read the blog, so it was nice to meet you both if you do read this.
The whistle blew and Karlsruhe had earned their 3 points.
Full-time: Karlsruhe 2 – 0 MSV Duisburg.
It was time to wave goodbye to the Wildparkstadion and as I hung about to get my final views of the ground, I tweeted to my Twitter public that I’d probably place the ground high up on my list of all-time favourite grounds – possibly in my top 5. I loved the place.
I headed back through the park accompanied by some friendly Duisburg fans, who were disappointed in the Duisburg showing but seemed in good spirits nonetheless. I did try to cheer them up by giving them some Lost Boyos #NoFlatCapNoParty stickers.
After a fairly long walk through the park and through the town, I made it back to my hostel for a few hours respite from German beer (that shit is strong) and to follow the Swans score on TV. Predictably though, after the Swans game had finished, I found myself bored and so I got changed and hit the town.
No bars had really grabbed my attention earlier in the day, but I did find a great place on my walk as I approached the centre. It was a small, compact place but the large open doors and windows at the front were most welcome on this very hot evening.
One of my most repeated and favourite lessons to people who join me on my trips is ‘Always sit at the bar – things happen at the bar.’ Today my message was supported by the fact that everyone was incredibly friendly at the bar and wanted to talk to me about what the hell was I doing in Karlsruhe. Soon, I was regaling the bar with my stories of my past couple of days in Germany. Big shout out too to Reiner and big Karlsruhe fan Julia, who were particularly good to me; Julia was determined that I should adopt Karlsruhe as my German club and come back again soon. I had only planned on having one drink in the bar, but I ended up staying in the bar, watching Hamburg v Stuttgart, for a good couple of hours, before I decided I wanted to see a little bit more of the city before I left for Stuttgart early the next morning.
I did visit a couple of other quite anonymous bars (and one particularly dingy one in a backstreet of Karlsruhe), but after having one more late night German sausage, I figured I should navigate my way back through the streets of Karlsruhe to the hostel.
I’d earlier in the day dubbed the city of Karlsruhe on Twitter as ‘a bit of a shithole’, but I evidently jumped the gun. Admittedly, the town isn’t that exciting, but the whole area around the around the palace is ‘wunderschön’. However, it’s what lurks behind the palace gardens that is undoubtedly my favourite feature of Karlsruhe: Wildparkstadion. I really did find it brilliant (as you’ve probably worked out by now). Interestingly, my German groundhopping pal Floyd stated to me later on Twitter that it probably wouldn’t enter his Top 50; this just goes to show that you can’t help who (or what in this case) you fall in love with.
Highlights: lovely walk to the ground through the palace gardens, cheap tickets, good fanzone and club bar, beautiful, old stadium, awesome floodlights, good atmosphere, cool curving standing terrace, the cool bar I visited in Karlsruhe in the evening.
Low Points: not that much to Karlsruhe as a city, not the greatest game really.
See all my photos from my day in Karlsruhe and my visit to Wildparkstadion here.