A Homecoming of Sorts: My trip to watch Werder Bremen vs Hertha BSC

16 years is a long time to wait.

I have been a Werder Bremen fan since the age of four. Wynton Rufer, Karl Heinz Riedle, Marco Bode and Mario Basler, they just bewitched me, and turned me into a football fanatic. Werder took a little boy’s heart, and it has never been returned. The devil, he might want to take my soul, but he won’t get it…

The green and whites have been a big part of my life for the last 21 years of my life. I live and breathe Werder. When the team is doing badly I can’t sleep, and my mood is very much dependent on how the team is doing. Some people who met me last year found me to be a rather unpleasant person, and much of that can be explained by Werder Bremen’s performance last season, which was truly dreadful. (Don’t ask me how I do on Saturday after Werder has lost a match…) When Saturday comes all that matters is Werder Bremen. I might look pretty in pink, but I only feel comfortable in green and white.

The first time I was at the Weserstadion I found Werder's fans to be a rather beer thirsty bunch. Some things don't change.

Coming home

Even though my father has been a Hannover 96 fan all his life, I somehow managed to fall in love with Werder. Being born in Hannover, growing up there for 7 years, all of it didn’t matter, I have always been mad about the green and whites. The last time I went to a Bremen game was back in the time when I was living in Germany. I was nine years old, and players like Marco Bode, Dieter Eilts, Frank Neubarth, Rodolfo Esteban Cardoso and Mirko Votava were still part of the Werder line up, being trained by Dixie Dörner. Sadly Werder lost 2-1 against a Schalke side that still had legendary German defender Olaf Thon in it. Back then the Weserstadion had a healthy distance between the fans and the pitch, and there was a fence that should keep fans from entering the pitch. Not being very tall back then, I could barely manage to see the pitch. I hoped for better luck with my seating and hoped for a Bremen win this time around. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend Friday and Saturday in Bremen, getting to sightsee the city for the first time. Before my train left the station for Bremen, I had the strange feeling that I was going home, after having been in the desert for far too long.

On the train journey to Bremen

The train journey that took me from Hannover to Bremen gave me time to reflect upon Werder Bremen, their recent form in the Bundesliga, and most importantly, the team’s history. Kicker magazine featured a recent article stating that the combination between Schaaf and Allofs is based on an absolute trust, an understanding of what the other one needs. These two men had developed a friendship over the course of 12 years that has seen them take a club that almost got relegated in 1999 and turned them into the most serious challenger Bayern Munich had to face over the last decade. Under their leadership Werder took the double in the 2003/04 season.  Champions League football has come to the Weserstadion many times, and being in Europe’s finest competition has turned into a habit for Werder, not something that comes only now and then.

By that standard one has to say that Werder’s start to the season isn’t that surprising, in that they are, after all, the second biggest club of the last decade in Germany.  However, Werder’s last season has left serious doubts in people’s mind when it comes to that status they have had for the last few years. Schaaf seemed out of ideas, Allofs had lost his magic touch when it came to signings, and the early exit from this year’s DFB cup against the SC Heidenheim was seen as an early indication of the troubles Werder would face this season.

"Suck it! Said new boy Torsten Frings to playmaker Andy Herzog", it says on one of the walls in the Weserstadion. Frings is a legend at Werder these days, and ended his playing career for them after last season.

Furthermore, before Bremen met Hertha last Sunday, the side had only played one team amongst the top 8 of the Bundesliga. An easy schedule could just as much be the explanation for Bremen’s good form as the fact that Alexander Wolf had given stability to the Werder defense. Or that key players like Claudio Pizarro have been available at the start of the season, while Werder last season had to face a unprecedented injury crisis. Whatever the reasons for Werder’s turn of fortune, their place in the table hadn’t been undeserved before the match against Hertha, and as the train came to a halt at Bremen Hauptbahnhof (main station), I concluded that the future for Werder might be brighter than many had predicted at the start of the season.

Bremen, a hanseatic pearl

Leaving the hotel for the first time I simply decided to walk in the direction of the sign that said ”Weser 5km” and see where this sign would take me. As it turned out, it took me straight into the historic town centre of Bremen. In front of me was the market place(square?) of Bremen, a giant square with about the prettiest buildings I have ever seen. I am no expert when it comes to architecture, but the Bremen city hall and the St. Petri zu Bremen (Bremen cathedral) were truly amazingly pretty, layered with loads of details, seemingly modernized several times, but restored with the original intent of the buildings kept in mind. Well, or so the tourist brochures told me.

The St. Petri to the left and the City to the right in this picture. The market place in Bremen is truly beautifil.

Truly a perfect place for a pint of Beck’s. Enjoying myself in the sun, with a nice cold beer in front of me I took a first glance at the papers that cover the Bremen region, namely the ”Syker Kreiszeitung” and the ”Weser Kurier”. Not surprisingly both of them had a rather positive take on Werder Bremen these days, but there was also some bad news. A left leaning fan group of Werder Bremen, called Racaille Verte, were severely beaten by a group of right-wing extremist four years ago. Dressed in “Thor Steinar” sweat shirts, a brand commonly used by neo-nazis in Germany, these rather unpleasant fellows had asked to get access to Racaille Verte’s private party. They went bonkers when they were denied at the door.

The authorities had a clear-cut case on their hand if the reporting of the Weser Kurier and Syker Kreiszeitung is to be believed, but failed to act quickly. And now the lawyers of the offenders who had bruised some Bremen fans, and even severely injured some of them, were in a good position to get their clients a mild sentence according to the papers. If the reporting is accurate, the only words that could describe the authorities careless approach are horrid, excruciatingly tardy and morally objectionable. Why on earth should anybody get off lightly for the use of extreme violence?  (On Thursday the judge in the case let all of the accused get off with a mild judgement, ordering  the offenders to pay a few euros fine. Truly disgraceful in my opinion.)

The Böttcherstrasse, drop dead gorgeous At least in my opinion.

Continuing my walk into I found myself soon in the Böttcherstrasse. ”Build between 1922 and 1931, this street is one of the few sights in the world that display clear signs of being a build in the expressionist style!”, a guide passing me by told a group of foreign tourists. This street is truly one of the most amazing places I have been. Contemporary, yet retro, pretty, yet rough around the edges. It is cool, the building have a certain style about them that is imitable, but yet it feels like a warm and welcoming place. Nothing that would intimidate you. Basicly, me and the street are polar opposites.

One person has written down his memory of his or hers for visit to the Weserstadion on the wall of this corner shop: "I remember my first time very well. 2 beers, 1 bratwurst, 2 goals by Pizarro and 1 goal by Frings."

Take a five-minute walk from the Böttcherstrasse, and you’ll find yourself right next to the Weser. On this sunny afternoon Bremen’s youth were out, lazily sitting in the sun, or playing around with a football. As I went past a group of three girls sharing an oversized cigarette I wondered if their names were Mary, Jue and Ana. All around the Weser, I found little touches that remind the visitor that Werder is the only team in town, graffiti, a store owner who had used his wall to write about his first trip to the Weserstadion it seemed, and Werder flags hanging in some of the windows of the houses nearby.  And suddenly, there it was, majestically placed, a striking presence and prettier than Scarlett Johansson at this very moment: The Weserstadion.

The Weserstadion

Werder’s stadium has had more work done on itself than many Hollywood socialites. Build in 1926, the stadium came into life and was at first used by the ” Allgemeinen Bremer Turn- und Sportverein”. At first the stadium’s name was ABTS-Kampfbahn, but it was renamed in 1930 to Weserstadion. Werder Bremen began playing their matches in the Weserstadion the same year. Nowadays the Weserstadion has room for 42.500 people.

Well, I could bore you with all sorts of details that I read about in the book ”Mythos Weser-Stadion; 80 Jahre Fussball, Kultur and Politik” by Harald Klingbiel in the fan shop next to the stadium, but that is not the point of this post (maybe another post in the near future… It is a great book). For Werder fans like me the Weserstadion has been the place of some of our team’s greatest victories. There is something magical about those nights when Werder walk on the pitch, and they seem likely to go off the pitch as losers. There is that Weserstadion magic it seems, that turns a switch in the players, and turn them into superhumans that nobody can defeat. In the Weserstadion Werder managed to turn a 4-1 deficit into 5-5 draw(on aggregate) after 90 minutes had been played against Spartak Moscow in 1988. Werder went on to win the match 6-2 after extra time and 7-6 on aggregate score. A seemingless hopeless 3-0 away loss against BFC Dynamo Berlin turned out to be a minor annoyance when Werder swept the East-German record champions out of the Weserstadion with a comprehensive 5-0 victory in 1988. Over the years such feats by Werder have become so common that the Germans have developed a name for them: Wunder von der Weser.(The miracles from the Weser).

But, if you think that turning the flood lights on is enough for Werder Bremen players to perform miracles, you’d be mistaken. And I soon enough found out when I watched them play against Hertha Berlin.

Hertha's fans arrive in huge numbers at the game. They were maybe disappointed by the result, but their team put up a hell of a fight.

The match

I didn’t recognize the Weserstadion after entering it for the first time in over 16 years. Everything that was there on my last visit had somehow been modernized, or been torn away, if memory serves correctly. In its place are now pleasant seats, with fans closer to the pitch. All of the improvements seemed to have moved the stadium into the direction of more warm and welcoming place. My seat was in the Südkurve, in row 2. I was shocked and simultaneously delighted to find out that I was sitting only 7 or 8 meters away from the pitch. Almost close enough to smell the sweat of the players in front of me.

The players passing by the Südkurve, 10 meters from where I was sitting.

However, after I had bought a myself a beer and Bretzel, my enjoyment of my favorite German snack and the Haake-Beck was short-lived as Ramos managed to finish off a great counter attack by the guests in the third minute, putting Hertha 1-0. Quickly I took comfort in rather large sip of my Haake Beck, a beer which far is superior to the Holsten that was served to me at the Imtech Arena the previous week, in my humble opinion.  (Last shot at the HSV and Hamburg, I promise!)

However, driven forward by the loud fans of the Ostkurve Werder took charge of the game after Hertha had scored, and both Arnautovic and Ekici wasted valuable chances to get the equalizer for Werder. Hertha seemed to be content with the score, trying to get counter attacks going every now and then, and were nearly rewarded in the 17th minute, but Ramos’s pass to Raffael was too poorly placed to give the Brazilian the clear-cut scoring opportunity he should have had. Six minutes later a cross from Clemens Fritz found Peruvian Claudio Pizarro, who headed the ball past Thomas Kraft, who responded poorly to the attempt. The man next to me gave me a pat on my shoulder and screamed into my face ”Son, we do also take the shitty goals, goals are all that matter.”  In the meantime the entire Weserstadion roared at the top of their voices, giving me a taste of what tinnitus would feel like.

The teams went into the dressing rooms with the score being tied, giving me the chance to take a quick break and get another beer (kudos for the clean facilities to the cleaning staff at the Weserstadion). The second half saw 9 brave Herthans defend for their lives, while both Ramos and Christian Lell saw their second yellow cards for stupid acts that could have been avoided. Bremen played after the 63th minute with two men more on the pitch, but somehow Babbel had drilled his defense to perfection it seemed and Werder simply couldn’t find the space it took to create another goal. In the 81st minute Claudio Pizarro headed the ball into the goal, but referee Dr. Felix Brych didn’t give the goal, and rightly so it seemed from my position. Pizarro had fouled Hubnik. Thomas Schaaf saw matters differently and protested the referee’s call, which resulted in Schaaf being shown the pleasure of watching the rest of the match from the stands. Three minutes into overtime, Werder earned another corner, and I turned to my neighbor in the stands who had gone rather quiet in the last 15 minutes. I said: ”It is now or never mate, believe me, they’ll score.”

Marin’s corner came in, the entire Weserstadion was already standing on their feet, Rosenberg got his head to the ball, and Pizarro somehow managed to escape his defender and got headed netwards for the game winner. The screams, roars and joyous celebrations around me really were fantastic but left me with a lovely beeping sound in my ears for the rest of the evening.  My stadion neighbor hugged me as I screamed ”I told you so”, and ref Brych blew the whistle just in time for everybody to stay standing, giving the green and whites a well-earned ovation. Reflecting on the game a few days after it actually happened, maybe not the best of games I’ll ever see happening before me, but by god, a win is a win. I’m that easily catered to.

Werder's players thanking the crowd after their close 2-1 victory.

Leaving the Weserstadion, taking a stroll alongside the Weser for the last time, breathing in the fresh Bremen air, with a lovely little wind just gently stroking through my hair, I thought of all the things I didn’t manage to do while I was in Bremen. I didn’t go to the Wuseum (The Werder museum), or see the ”Schlachte”, one of the prettiest places in Bremen according to locals, and I didn’t get to sit down near the Weser and just experience some peace and quiet for myself there. Oh well, I guess I have to come back and watch another Werder match in the near future. Anything else would just be plain wrong.

Here is the music I listened to during my road trip to Bremen.

Playlist:

Kent – Palace & Main
Kent – Kärleken Venter
Manic Street Preachers – Ocean Spray
Manic Street Preachers – If you tolerate this your children will be next
Morrissey – Irish heart, English blood
Morrissey – You have killed me
The Cure – A Forest
The Cure – Fire in Cairo
The Clash – Police and Thieves
The Clash – Lost in the supermarket
The Clash – I’m so bored with the U.S.A.
The Clash – (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
Honeyheads – Saturday
Honeyheads – Listen, it’s gone
Jimi Hendrix – All along the watchtower
Bob Dylan – Like a rolling stone
The Beatles – Back in the USSR
Tom Waits – Road to peace
Tom Waits – The piano has been drinking
Die Ärzte – Schrei nach Liebe
Die Ärzte – Nicht Allein
Johnny Cash – A boy named Sue
Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
Elvis Costello – Allison
The Police – So Lonely
The Police – Message in a bottle
The Tams – Be Young, Be Mad, Be Foolish
Neil Young – Hey Hey, My My
Neil Young – Rockin in the free world
Mötorhead – Ace of Spades
Mötorhead – Overkill
Iggy Pop – The Passenger
The Doors – Alabama Song
The Doors – Light my fire
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Mos Def – Ms. Fat Booty
Mos Def – The Rape Over
The Beatsteaks – Milk & Honey
The Beatsteaks – Automatic
Lykke Li – Dance Dance Dance

Feel free to leave a comment.

The following two tabs change content below.

Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

8 Comments

  1. As a 100% Werder fan, I really enjoyed reading your poetic article. I still remember my first trip two years ago, it was really really amazing. Although almost all my favorite Werder players were gone, the city, the stadium, everything of Werder made me believe, once Werder, always Werder. It’s worth all the efforts that I made for coming to Germany.:)
    I watched this match in Ostkurve, technically speaking, they didn’t played so good as I expected, but I saw them fighting as a team until the last second, that’s the most important!

  2. What a marvelous post, Niklas! Bremen seems like a gorgeous town, I’m very sad I bypassed it on my Germany adventure. Oh well, a reason to go back! 🙂 I’m so glad you got to go back and see your beloved Werder in action and that they dug out a dramatic win for your enjoyment. Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  3. Cheers Adrian. Frings told us that he really enjoys himself in Toronto. I hope he takes your team to new heights!

  4. Very cool account of your trip! You’ll be pleased to know that over here in Toronto we’re taking great care of Torsten Frings. He’s quickly becoming a legend at TFC and we couldn’t have a more fitting captain!

  5. Great! Thank you very much. As I live in the Werder diaspora as well (in the middle of Monchengladbach county) I can feel with you. Great to read the article – you’ve won a new reader and follower…

  6. Thanks mate. I really hope for you that you’ll make it to Bremen in the near future. It is such a fantastic place, lovely people, some have even got a lovely sense of humor. When I asked a gentlemen in a bar if Heinrich Heine’s quote about the Netherlands, “When something bad happens in the world, it’ll only happen 20 years later on in Holland”(I’m paraphrasing here, only now the direct quote in German) also applies to Bremen he answered:”Certainly not, because bad thing only happen in Hamburg.”

    And the Weserstadion was magical. They have turned it into one of the most fantastic stadiums I have ever been to.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed both your tweets and this terrific recount of your trip to Bremen. Am glad you had such a great time Niklas, and it has me aching to get there myself. Sadly I don’t think I will have the funds until next season, but hopefully that may work out for the better if things go well this season and we qualify for the CL. Regardless, I just want to be there, whether it is a friendly against lower league opposition or a welcoming of one of Europe’s top sides.

    Am Trying not to get ahead of myself. As you said, most of our opponents this season are ones who have not begun the season very well.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.