A return to Berlin for a long weekend to participate in one of the marathon majors presented an excellent opportunity to take in some 2. Bundasliga action between Union Berlin and MSV Duisburg. In the last couple of years I have enjoyed attending junior and lower league games in Scotland so I was keen to sample the German lower league experience.
My initial impressions of Union were good ones. I was quickly and easily able to navigate their vivid red and white website (which was easily switched between German and English) in the week before travelling to purchase tickets. The tickets themselves cost the princely sum of €16.00 a piece which for a Hibs fan with the Championship in recent memory seems like excellent value. Tickets were also handily printed out rather than the worry of trying to track down where to collect them once we had arrived in Berlin. Ideal.
Further browsing on the Union Berlin website also showed what a community club they appear to be with youth teams and a woman’s team all playing on the various pitches around the senior teams stadium, Stadion An Der Alten Försterei.
The English section of their website showed pictures of a vibrant atmosphere at games and mentions of an ultras section which got me excited (and was an excellent way to terrify my girlfriend). My impression was that its pitched at the lads holiday/stag do crowd, which with Berlin being a popular stag do location would be be an excellent source of revenue for Union.
Armed with our printed tickets and directions to the stadium, my anticipation grew ahead of our trip.
After a day of traveling to Berlin with a 3am start followed by a trip to the old Templehof airport to visit the marathon expo, it was game time. The game was a 6.30pm kick off on a Friday night at the Stadion An Der Alten Försterei so I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of attendance or away fans, especially with Duisburg being 550 kilometres away(more on that strangely exact figure later!)
Our hotel was located beside the Hauptbahnhof central train station making travel to the game straight forward. A ten minute S-Bahn train journey to Ostkreuz station. A switch of train there and a further 20 minute journey to Köpenick station. The train system in Berlin always impresses me. The trains actually arrive when they are meant to and it’s easy to navigate the tube. Take note Scotrail!
What stood out to me was how civilised pre match seemed. For a start, the fan base seems very mixed with a vast range of ages. Union fans (old enough!) stood quite openly drinking from glass bottles of beer on the platforms and trains. No rowdy singing or intimidating behaviour as tourists, locals and commuters went about their business. A refreshing change to what’s often seen before and after Scottish matches! I should probably add it has since been pointed out to me that Union Berlin were fined recently for crowd trouble but on this occasion their fans behaviour was exemplary.
From Köpenick station it was a quick 15 minute walk to the stadium. On the way there was plenty pop up bars and food stalls. We sampled some of the local delicacy currywurst which for €2.50 proved to be a bargain!
As we followed the stream of fans, we ended up veering off the main road which had been taking us past allotments and quaint gardens, to walking along a forest trail. It was quite surreal with the low evening sun peeking through the trees, a stream of fans walking in relative quiet on a wooded footpath but with the distant singing of the fans in the stadium getting ever closer.
On arrival at the stadium we discovered one thing that the Germans aren’t very good at – queuing! It was a stramash of people trying to get through two turnstiles, with both seemingly being operated by the one poor bewildered girl. It took a lot longer than it should to get in, but the Union website does advise to arrive early to avoid this situation. A quick queue for a €4.00 pint and we took up our positions in the standing section of the main stand.
The atmosphere was absolutely incredible. The teams were welcomed to the pitch by the dulcet tones of Nina Hagen with her rendition of Eisern Union. Fan participation required! From the start of the game to the end the fans were in full voice being cheerlead by a drummer and a fan with a megaphone and it definitely added to the game. By far my favourite aspect of crowd involvement came whenever the home team got a free kick in a dangerous position or a corner. The fans would jangle their keys menacingly which created quite the atmosphere.
I couldn’t believe how packed the place was for a second tier game on a Friday night with the attendance later being confirmed as 20,239 – not far off being a sell out. However, within twenty minutes of kick off a banner was unfurled by the home fans protesting the 550km trip made by Duisburg fans on a Friday night. It’s good to see timetabling and scheduling issues aren’t just a problem in the U.K.
The game itself was closely fought with plenty of technical ability and skill on display. With Duisburg having made a poor start to the season and languishing bottom of the 2.Bundasliga, they started with a more defensive mindset and a few early strong challenges riled the home supporters.
The first real chance fell to the Union number 11 Gogia who went passed the left-back with ease and hit a left footed shot that took a wicked deflection and struck the crossbar.
On the stroke of half time that man again Gogia got passed Duisburg captain, before cutting inside on to his left foot and firing past the Duisburgs hapless goalkeeper to give Union Berlin a deserved half-time lead.
The second half was much more open with Duisburg throwing men forward in search of an equaliser and Union looking to counterattack with pace often finding themselves with a player advantage but failing to capitalise through poor decision making or individual errors. Unions number 28 Christopher Trimmel was most guilty of this as just on the hour he found himself in a great position but slipped.
With Union being unable to capitalise disaster then struck not once but twice in the final fifteen minutes. Duisburg scored a header past Union goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz following a defensive mix up between goalkeeper and defender. Gikiewicz didn’t look too clever again when he was beaten five minutes later and will no doubt believe he should be doing better from the angle the shot was hit.
However, despite the set back and dealing with strong defensive Duisburg, Union showed great character. A long hopeful ball from Gikiewicz had number 19 Hübner rising highest to head in to snatch a later equaliser in injury time. The stadium erupted and Union maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
I throughly enjoyed my lower league experience in Germany and would recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity to do so. In comparison to the U.K. its cheap and you seem to get great value for your money whilst also enjoying a great atmosphere.
1. FC Union Berlin: Gikiewicz; Trimmel, Hübner, Friedrich, Reichel; Kroos (Redondo 65), Schmiedebach (Hedlund 84), Prömel; Hartel (Zulj 80), Gogia, Andersson
MSV Duisburg: Mesenhöler; Wiegel, Wolze, Neumann, Bomheuer (Nauber 60); Schnellhardt, Fröde; Oliveira Souza, Stoppelkamp (Engin 90), Iljutchenko, Tashchy (Sukuta Pasu 76)