Stadiums are the beating heart of German football. Bundesliga or local league, it’s a love that goes deeper than just goals and points.
Gordon Gerriets is on edge
It’s the last game day of the season, and the fate of his favourite team hangs in the balance. Hertha BSC, Berlin’s largest and most illustrious football club, might just be able to salvage a disastrous season to stave off relegation from the Bundesliga. Along with thousands of fellow supporters, the young student from Berlin has travelled some 500 kilometres to Dortmund to cheer his team on – hopefully to victory. Although only 26, Gordon has been a fan of the ‘Old Lady’ – as Hertha BSC is affectionately known – since forever, having gone to his first home game at Berlin’s Olympiastadion with his father when he was just four. Father and son are both at today’s game, too. They are there for the stadium atmosphere as much as the game – the intoxication of sharing the moment with thousands of other football devotees.
The Yellow Wall
Gordon and his father are at Signal Iduna Park, aka Westfalenstadion, the home ground of Borussia Dortmund. It’s the biggest stadium in the whole of Germany, with home games regularly drawing crowds in excess of 80,000. The south terrace alone, referred to in reverent tones by football fans the world over as the ‘Yellow Wall’, can pack in nearly 25,000 fans, outstripping the entire stadium capacity of rival Bundesliga clubs like Greuther Fürth and Union Berlin.
On this, the last game day of the season, there’s nothing at stake for Borussia Dortmund. As in the last few years, the men in black and yellow are near the top of the table and assured of a spot in the Champions League. But you wouldn’t know it from the atmosphere, and with kick-off approaching, the Yellow Wall is on fire.
Gordon Gerriets, meanwhile, is feverishly running through the scenarios for about the millionth time. If Hertha can hold Borussia to a draw, their spot in the Bundesliga is safe. But if they lose, they need their rival for the spot, VfB Stuttgart, to lose as well. At their home ground. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Germany’s No. 1 sporting obsession
It’s no exaggeration to say Germans are football mad. They do a pretty good job on the pitch, obviously – four World Cup titles won by the men’s and two titles won by the women’s national team is certainly impressive – but they really come into their own in the stands. Even second division clubs pull in supporters by the tens of thousands every weekend. Perhaps the best-known of these is Hamburg’s FC St. Pauli. Its home ground, Millerntor-Stadion, can hold 30,000 people, and it’s always packed. Even the third division, with its time-honoured clubs, is regularly home to high-octane matches that attract spectators by the trainload. These local rivalries also play out in the regional leagues, where they draw equally passionate crowds.
Everyone should experience a game at a German stadium at least once in their life.
the 50+1 ownership rule
Under this rule, football clubs, and hence the fans, hold a majority of their own voting rights and are able to prevent private investors from taking over and pricing fans out of the stadium.
For all this passion and rivalry, the behaviour in the stands and around the stadiums is generally very good. Gordon can vouch for this. Although every bit the Hertha supporter in his blue-and-white strip and matching scarf, he encounters no aggro from rival fans on the way to the stadium. There’s the occasional less-than-poetic chant or oath, obviously, but that goes with the territory. ‘I’d say 99 per cent of the people at football matches aren’t there to cause trouble’, Gordon says. ‘Everyone should experience a game at a German stadium at least once in their life.’ And if they do, they’ll find it surprisingly affordable: even in the Bundesliga, tickets start at just 15 euros. One reason for this is something unique in the world of football: the 50+1 ownership rule.
Bundesliga tickets start at just 15 euros.
Beyond the stadiums and stands
Germans also practise their football religion at home, alternately cheering and cursing at the TV as the fortunes of their teams wax and wane. Not that they are sitting on the sofa by themselves. Like most of their compatriots, German football fans love company. For the same reason, every city has its fair share of football pubs. Decked out in scarves, flags and all manner of club memorabilia, these sacred establishments are always packed to the rafters on game days. There, you’ll find supporters in full club colours, tightly huddled in groups, singing, cheering and running the gamut of emotions, just like they do in the stadiums. Most of the people there will be regulars, sitting at their usual tables, trading banter and taunts with their mates. But have no fear: visitors and newcomers are readily welcomed into the fold – they just have to be careful not to cheer too loudly for the opposing team.
The German Football Association (DFB)
The German Football Association (DFB) is the biggest sporting association in the world, with no fewer than 24,000 affiliated clubs, the vast bulk of them amateur.
And like the stadiums of the big professional clubs, the sports grounds of these amateur clubs are places of community and friendship. At local level, sport is an important part of the social fabric, and for many, game day is about going to the local sportsground and catching up with friends over a tasty bratwurst. If you’re new in town, a good way to connect with the locals is to show up on game day as they go about their national pastime. Show an open mind and a genuine love of the game, and you’ll generally be made to feel welcome.
No bratwurst, no football
Hot, greasy goodness: it’s not football without a bratwurst fresh off the barbeque.
Hope springs eternal
At Westfalenstadion, things initially go unexpectedly well for Gordon Gerriets and his beloved Hertha. By half time, the team is up one-nil, and a guarded optimism can be felt at the blue-and-white end of the stadium. But Gordon’s father knows to be more guarded than optimistic. “This will probably be the longest half time of our lives,” he mutters through gritted teeth.
And sure enough, Borussia draws renewed strength from the Yellow Wall and equalises, then follows up with a winning goal just before the final whistle. Hertha’s hopes now hang on the outcome of the match in Stuttgart. But that is not to be either. With 1. FC Köln conceding a winning goal in injury time, Stuttgart is now assured of another season in the Bundesliga, and Hertha has slipped down into the relegation play-off spot.
Gordon is devastated and emotionally drained as he heads for the concourse. But two hours later, he has recovered his usual optimism: ‘We’ll just have to win the play-offs.’ Or, in the words of legendary former Eintracht Frankfurt coach Dragoslav (‘Stepi’) Stefanović: ‘Lebbe geht weiter’ (life goes on). There is always hope.
Do you rather do sports or watch sports?
Anna belongs to the second group. In the video below, she gives you insights into the many courses offered by university sport. After that, she takes you to a football match – just as Gordon did – in Leipzig.