For our third annual trip to Germany, my brother and I would be zigzagging across the Southwest for a whistle stop schedule of eight games in ten days.
We’d left no margin for error so had booked everything as far in advance as possible. My ticket procurement strategy involved trying to resolve everything by e-mail and avoiding the pitfalls of club websites, so I contacted all the necessary ticket offices and hoped for the best. Thankfully, the responses were all incredibly helpful and some voiced genuine excitement at having visitors from the UK.
In order to minimise the packing and unpacking of suitcases, we decided to base ourselves in the idyllic city of Heidelberg for the majority of the first week. Not only was it sufficiently picturesque and touristy to fulfill our basic needs but it was also perfectly located with easy access to all of our other destinations.
We arrived on Friday and spent the evening acclimatising by watching a couple of 2. Bundesliga games in the local Irish pub before the real action began the following afternoon.
Saturday – Hoffenheim v Werder Bremen
The journey from Heidelberg to Sinsheim was a simple 40-minute ride on the regional train. On the way we passed through the village of Hoffenheim from which the team takes its name. The tiny Dietmar-Hopp Stadion was easily visible on a nearby hilltop and acted as a stark reminder of how far the club has come in the last five years.
The Rhein-Neckar-Arena is a 15 minute walk from Sinsheim station that takes you on a slightly surreal path adjacent to the hugely impressive aeroplane exhibits at the Auto & Technik Museum, which includes a genuine Air France Concorde that’s been jacked up into the air at its take-off angle. We arrived early and refreshments were obtained by purchasing a “Just Pay” card from one of the sellers and topping it up with enough money to cover the obligatory beers and bratwursts. The tickets were 41€ each as I’d chosen a higher end option for the first game so as to secure front row seats in the main stand.
My brother texted his friend with the bold prediction that “there will be goals”, which proved amazingly accurate as a stream of comedy defending contributed to a glorious 4-4 draw. The raucous Bremen fans who were penned in close to us couldn’t believe their luck after a largely dire performance, while the home supporters seemed to collectively shrug their shoulders as if they’d fully expected their heroes to entertain but ultimately disappoint.
Our Saturday evening was spent back in the Altstadt of Heidelberg where we finished off the night with a glass of the legendary Vetter 33 (11% abv) followed by a sobering walk home down the mile-long Hauptstrasse.
Monday – FSV Frankfurt v Arminia Bielefeld
Having spent the previous day exploring the castle and ambling back and forth along the famous Philosophers’ Walk, we were relaxed and ready for the next game. We hadn’t needed to buy tickets in advance so in view of the dreadful weather forecast I momentarily questioned the sanity of leaving our cosy hotel room to make a four-hour round trip to see a game that would barely attract 5,000 people. However, I was quickly reminded that our commitment required us to take the rough with the smooth, so I donned my three layers of clothing and we set off into the freezing evening.
The journey to Frankfurt was straightforward and a couple of additional stops on the U-Bahn took us to the doorstep of the Frankfurter Volksbank Stadion. Upon arrival I purchased 2 tickets for 27€ each which turned out to be front row seats for the second game in succession. The ground was modest and sparsely populated but the supporters were in high spirits and the away turnout was surprisingly healthy. The pre-match entertainment was provided by “Franky”, the FSV mascot, who danced around while “Monday, Monday”, “Manic Monday”, “Blue Monday” and “I Don’t Like Mondays” were imaginatively played through the PA system.
The game proved to be good fun even though the standard was noticeably lower than the comparative second tier in England. FSV rattled the woodwork three times early on but ultimately ran out of steam; hence Bielefeld seized the initiative and ended their run of 8 straight defeats with a deserved 2-1 win.
We arrived back in Heidelberg just before 1am and looked forward to the next game which we hoped would be the highlight of the holiday.
Tuesday – Saarbrücken v Borussia Dortmund
Having spent four nights in Heidelberg we set off early for an overnight stay in the Saarland and our first experience of German Cup football. The game had sold out in half an hour so I’d had to pay way over the odds to secure standing tickets from the Viagogo website. I figured it would be worth it for the pure theatre of seeing a struggling 3. Liga side play the Champions League runners-up in front of 30,000 people.
We left the hotel eagerly and it soon became evident that the whole city was buzzing as the streets were filled with vast swathes of fans heading en masse towards the nearby Ludwigsparkstadion. The queues to get into the stadium were long as entry would be gained via narrow gaps in the fence that were policed by just a handful of attendants. After a short wait we took up our position at the back of the horseshoe shaped open terrace that formed part of a wonderfully dilapidated stadium that looked like a throwback to the 1980s.
By the time the match began we were packed in tightly and judging by the looks of horror on some of their faces it seemed that many of the home fans were not prepared for such a squeeze. Getting a decent view proved difficult so some people took to climbing trees and even sitting on portaloos to gain any sort of vantage point.
Dortmund had brought a largely second string squad but despite a couple of scares they eased into a 2-0 lead. The Saarbrücken faithful set off flares and smoke bombs as the game drifted to its inevitable conclusion but the mood was celebratory and it had been a memorable night for all that were there.
Stay tuned for Part Three coming soon!
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