Lost in…Dresden

SG Dynamo Dresden v FC Nürnberg

DDV Stadion / 2. Bundesliga / 31st March 2018

There was no grand aim this season, but by the end of the summer months I felt I had no choice. Without really planning to, between the start of this season (1st July) and the end of August, I had somehow watched football in 7 different countries. England, Wales, France, Slovakia, Serbia, Czech Republic and Austria all had football grounds ‘graced’ by my presence during the summer time. It became very clear to me that it would be rude not to then get to double figures for the season; I had to watch football in ten countries this season. It wouldn’t be a particular daunting undertaking having done 7 in the first few months of the season, but I did take my time about it.

November saw me head to the Slovenian Derby in Maribor for country no.8 of the season and then February would see me return to Budapest to watch Ferencváros for country no.9. It was time to plan where to head for my own ‘decima’ of the season. I wanted to go to a football heartland for no.10 and when Gibbo informed me that he’d be in Prague for Easter Weekend, a plan immediately formulated in my head as to how I could spend time with my pal in Prague, as well as getting to country no.10. The destination for my 10th football country of the season sat just two hours away from Prague. If you cross the northern Czech border, you’ll find yourself in Germany and more than likely you’ll find yourself in Dresden.

Dresden has been on my hit list for a while having heard nothing but positive things about the city. I’d been told by many that it was ‘my sort of city’ with its own distinct vibe. Ultimately though, it was the city’s 2nd tier football club that I really wanted to visit: Dynamo Dresden – a club I’d wanted to visit since an encounter in Vienna’s main train station. Way back in August 2016, I found myself waiting for a train in Vienna and so opted to frequent the Admiral sports bar with its multi-sports screen setup. One game on the TV was a German cup game between Dynamo Dresden and the much-maligned RB Leipzig. Sat at the table next to me watching the game was a gentleman in his train conductor uniform, but with a yellow and black Dynamo scarf tied around his wrist. He turned out to be a nutcase and displayed insane levels of vitriol towards the TV screens as Leipzig took the lead. It seemed Dynamo have fanatical fans, which was also showcased by the scenes of the home crowd on the TV. Dynamo became a club I wanted to check out from there on in and even more so as I began to hear stories from others about their wild fans.

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Where me, Gibbo and Ollie would be spending our Saturday.

My Easter weekend had begun with a two game day of football in the Czech capital as I paid a morning visit to Meteor Prague and an evening visit to Dukla Prague on Good Friday. We had wisely refrained from a wild night in Prague after the Dukla game, so that we were fresh enough for the 2.5 hour train journey from Prague to Dresden the next morning.

The train journey up through the northernest parts of the Czech Republic was a pleasant one, as the train meandered through a valley alongside the River Elbe, right up into East Germany. Of course, the morning journey was enjoyed from the comfort of the train bar. Suddenly, the landscape morphed into an industrial setting, confirming that we were entering Dresden.

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A busy matchday train station two hours before kick-off.

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Ultras Dynamo graffiti everywhere.

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…and more.

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The walk to the stadium. Not the prettiest part of Dresden.

Kick-off was at 1pm and we found ourselves in Dresden not long before 11am. We knew the stadium was fairly near the station so we knew we had plenty of time, especially as we had opted to visit the city properly postmatch. It seemed the real party though was at the train station, as there was a yellow and black army overwhelming the station with almost every yellow clad fan clasping a can of beer in hand, I decided to leave my bag in a locker in the station. Amusingly, it seem e everyone else was using the lockers to store whole crates of beer ready to drink after the game.

The walk to the ground probably showed us the less glamorous side of Dresden as we walked past abandoned tower blocks and graffiti covered walls. Dresden was a part of East Germany’s communist regime for 30 odd years and the streets and tower block estates near the stadium certainly showcase the more brutalist elements of this time. One thing was clear though: Dynamo are king in the city. Everything seemed to be covered in Dynamo graffiti and even some of the trams were decked out in Dynamo’s colours and badge.

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It’s maybe not the prettiest stadiums from outside really.

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Where is the beer?

10 minutes after leaving the station, we came face-to-face with Dynamo’s DDV Stadion. “This must be the back of it,” I speculated as it didn’t look much to look at from the side we were arriving from. Well, it seemed I was wrong, as the stadium looked the same from the other side. The DDV Stadion looks fairly imperious, but I have to say it is pretty ugly from the outside. At the same time, I did sort of admire its unpretentious, concrete exterior. We’d certainly find joy within it anyway.

In the rather chaotic, formative years of German football, Dresden proved an important football city, although it was not Dynamo, but Dresdener SC influencing the German game as one of the founder clubs of the German Football Association (DFB). After some success pre-World War II, the new communist regime in post-war East Germany would spell the end for Dresdener SC, as they were considered ‘too bourgeoisie’ by the Soviets and so they were disbanded (although, since then, the club did start again after reunification). A more regime friendly team was needed in Dresden and here was where Dynamo came to the fore.

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Club shop.

It was the team of the East German police force that would eventually link up with the newly formed Dynamo sports club and eventually becoming SG Dynamo Dresden in 1953 – the club that we would be watching today. The club’s glory years would come in the 70s where Dynamo became the most popular club in the east as they won several titles and took to Europe on several occasions. It was also during this decade that the football club moved into Stadion Dresden, alongside the other sports clubs (SV Dynamo) who had moved into the stadium back in the 50s.

Leading up to reunification, Dresden continued to do well and won the league in 1990 meaning they’d play in the European Cup in 1991; they would lose to Red Star Belgrade – the eventual winners of the cup. Following that, and with a united Germany, Dresden headed into the new Bundesliga, but then began to find times a bit tougher, as players, such as the prolific Ulf Kirsten and future Euro 96 Player of the Tournament winner, Matthias Sammer, left Dynamo and headed for the more prosperous western clubs. This has been a bit of a running theme for the club ever since and Dynamo have not played in the top flight since relegation in 1995. Today, we’d be watching them play in 2. Bundesliga against another one of  Germany’s most historic clubs, 1. FC Nürnberg.

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Fanzone area in the park opposite the ground.

Our first port of call was the very busy club shop, where Gibbo left with a new bobble hat (once again) and I with a new scarf (once again). Next to the stadium is a large park and as, I predicted beforehand, in the park we found a beer and currywurst area where a lot of the Dynamo support had gathered. It was Gibbo’s round, so I headed to the bar to help him with our beers. I’d heard from a few that Dresden can be an unwelcoming city for Brits, but from my 24 hours there I didn’t encounter anything like this – apart from buying a beer here. I’m still not sure what Gibbo did to upset the barmaid, but after asking for beer, she looked at him as if she wanted to spit in our drinks and then knock his teeth out. Anyway, that was the most animosity I’d experience in my time in Dresden.

With just under an hour until kick-off, we headed back across the road and attempted to enter the stadium – something that we’d initially cock-up. Firstly, we got to the front of the queue at the turnstiles only to realise we were at the wrong gate for our tickets. D’oh! To get to the other side of the ground, we had to take a long walk around an indoor swimming centre,  until we eventually found ourselves outside our gate. What followed was the most thorough of searches. The steward had a right all arse grab (he could have at least bought me a beer and currywurst first) and certainly took his time with the three of us. After getting past the touchy steward, I was told my Adidas rucksack wouldn’t be going any further either and so that had to be taken to a little shed by the gate to be kept until after the game. Anyway, we were into Dynamo and having got a beer each, we headed straight up to our seats.

 

We found ourselves right next to the travelling Nürnberg fans, who were in excellent voice in the buildup to kick-off and throughout the whole time we were there really. However, the real noise would come in the ten minutes before kick-off. I’d heard much of the ferocity and the noise of the Dynamo fans and with the stadium virtually full at 30,000+, the noise prematch from the home fans was incredible. Behind the far goal from us stood the magnificent standing terrace housing the Ultras and this became a booming wall of yellow as the teams walked out. When the club anthem boomed out and the fans began to bounce with their scarves aloft, I could feel the concrete beneath my feet moving – which was slightly disconcerting. I may have said the stadium looked dull from the outside but with a virtual sellout inside it was a great sight, especially when the fans were rocking in unison.

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Scarf-lifting on the terrace for the club anthem.

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Scarves up…

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…and me too.

The game was not exactly a barnstormer, although it was on a technical level a lot better than all the Czech/Slovak football I’ve watched over the past 18 months (most football is really – I get excited by any game these days where there is a series of successful forward passes!) In regards of league standings, Dresden found themselves in the lower part of mid-table whilst Nürnberg were battling towards the top for promotion.

The opening exchanges were mainly dominated by Dynamo, as Nürnberg looked to counterattack. However, our favourite moments of the half came when Nürnberg did attack, especially when they earned themselves a corner. Every corner win was greeted by two stewards running over to the corner taker and opening up umbrellas above them. I didn’t see anyone initially throwing missiles at the players, but I felt that this umbrella act just encouraged target practice for some (Lost Boyos does not condone the throwing of missiles at football matches for the record).

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Match action.

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Out come the umbrellas.

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The away fans.

The game chugged along nicely with a few half chances, still soundtracked by the roar of the Dynamo fans and the rather noisy Nürnberg lot to our right. I knew there would be a magnificent noise if Dynamo took the lead, so I resisted the urge to go to the toilet…that was until the 46th minute.

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Match action.

My bladder had defeated me and so I ran down to the toilet as the half-time whistle approached, as always naively predicting I wouldn’t miss anything. On leaving the toilet, I still shunned the chance to go back to my seat straightaway, as Ollie was already at the bar queuing for beer so I waited around to help him carry the beers. A noise from the stand hinted at some action, so I ran back pitchside just in time to see Dynamo come close with a freekick. Close one…

But, as always on my travels this season, moments later, I would miss the opening goal of the game. With our beers bought and just as we began to walk back into the stand, Dynamo were scoring. If you ever do come to a football match with me and I go to the toilet or bar, just wait around and prepare yourself to see a goal – it has been a crazy curse this season. I walked up to our seats at the top of the stand as Dynamo jubilantly celebrated scoring with the last kick of the half. A ball to the back post was nodded home from close range Benatelli, right in front of that huge terrace.

Half-time: SG Dynamo Dresden 1 – 0  FC Nürnberg.

With beers in hand, the second half began and although Dynamo had shown the more attacking vim in the first half, it was Nürnberg who would grab the next goal.

In the 53rd minute, Nürnberg got their equaliser after a ball from out wide fell to Hanno Behrens to bury. The corner to our right was a parade of flailing limbs.

 

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Match action.

The rest of the game was a hard-fought contest and either team could have stole a win, but ultimately a 1-1 was probably the fair result. The real winners on the day for me were the fans, who were superb throughout.

Full-time: SG Dynamo Dresden 1 – 1 1. FC Nürnberg.

The crowd seeped away from the stadium and we followed the flow of yellow and black heading towards the city. There wasn’t a lot to see for ten minutes, so Gibbo kept us entertained en route by trying to run up a half-pipe (his little legs only got him halfway up it bless him). After some failed Gibbo-led parkour, we soon found ourselves in heart of the Dresden Altstadt.

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Gibbo and Ollie photoing a half-pipe…

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..before Gibbo made a futile attempt to run up it.

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Heading into the Altstadt.

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The main square of the Altstadt.

I found Dresden to be a weird, rather unorthodox city, but the more I delved into it, the more I found myself loving it for those reasons. I’m sure people will disagree, but Dresden, for me, is not your typical enchanting, beautiful city, although it was and still is sometimes dubbed ‘The German Florence’ – a phrase coined by German poet Johann Gottfried Herder. Undoubtedly, the disjointed feel of Dresden is down to the utter devastation the city sustained during World War II. Allied forces bombed the city relentlessly during wartime killing 25,000 people and wiping large parts of Dresden completely off the map (incidentally, Dresden is now twinned with one of Britian’s most bombarded wartime cities, Coventry). Some older buildings somehow partly survived the blitz, but much of the rebuilding of the city would come under the rule of the more pragmatically inclined socialist architects of the GDR.

The Old Town is certainly the prettier part of Dresden with its many Baroque and renaissance buildings (again, some of which partly survived that 1944 blitz amazingly). We decided to stop for beer here and ended up in a beautiful, large pub called Augustiner an der Frauenkirche. All the staff were kitted out in traditional Bavarian costumes (even though we were in Saxony) but more importantly the Augustine’s beer was excellent and good enough to make us stay for too.

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More Altstadt.

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I tried to include photos that don’t include any scaffolding or construction work.

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The famous Dresden river banks.

We then headed across the Elbe to the other side of Dresden and past the famous riverscape of the city. No doubt this part would look stunning in certain circumstances, but the various scaffolding and construction sites, coupled with the grey skies above, took away some of that allure. The north side of the river seemed much quieter than the south, but I’d learn how wrong this perception was later in the evening. We stopped off in a bar called Am Thor – a quite inconspicuous looking bar we chose randomly, but which it seemed had a very famous regular in the 1980s.

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The Vladmir Putin shrine with his favourite Radeberger beer.

We entered the bar and immediately spotted the small photographic shrine to Vladimir Putin in the corner. It seemed that during the late 80s, when Putin worked as a KGB agent in Dresden for a few years, this pub would be a regular haunt of the Russian agent. It was here he’d enjoy his favourite beer, Radeberger, a beer which he still apparently enjoys to this day. We thought it rude not to sample Vlad’s favourite, which was decent enough although I’d think Putin could get something a bit tastier now. I’d actually pay two visit to this pub, as after heading back to the train station with Gibbo and Ollie to see them to their train (which they only just about made) and collecting my bag, I headed back to Am Thor for one more beer. This time I got chatting to a Croatian Putin-enthusiast who wanted her photo with the Putin shrine and her friend whose accent I recognised immediately: “I’m from Pontypridd I am!” I grew up just a few miles away from Pontypridd and I still always find it weird meeting random South Wales valleys folk in random parts of Europe.

It was 9pm by the time I checked into my hostel and I’d even had an email of concern from the hostel manager asking was I alright or was I lost. But once checked in and having had  the briefest of naps, I headed out for what was most definitely my favourite part of Dresden: the Neustadt.

The Neustadt is Dresden’s ‘hip and happening’ part of town and I had an awesome few hours exploring its bars until the early hours. Think a less pretentious and more downtrodden looking version of the Northern Quarter in Manchester. I soon found a dimly lit bar selling cocktails and bottles of craft ale, which was very much to my liking. It was then onwards to an old cinema converted into a large bar before heading across the street to the smokiest of old, retro bars. It seemed every bar in the area had a quite noir, cool vibe. I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my phone and found that the time was 3am. That was enough, but not for many others, as it seemed the bars were still packed as I made my way back to my hostel.

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Enjoying Vier Vogel beer in one of the Neustadt’s finest.

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Everywhere was rammed even into the early hours.

Dresden had proved to be a fun day visit. If you want something a bit more ‘real’ and slightly off the usually well-trodden tourist cities of Germany, I can’t see you going far wrong with Dresden. It’s a cool mix of old and new. And if you want to see the passion within the city, then you must go to a Dynamo game. The club seems to dominate the streets, so much so I almost expected to find the River Elbe flowing yellow and black through the city.

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No idea what I’m doing here.

Highlights: Dresden is unorthodox but cool, great stadium (inside), great atmosphere and great home fans, Neustadt, a good place if you are a Putin fan.

Low Points: I’m not really a Putin fan, stadium not the nicest exterior.

See all my photos from Dresden here.

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