Having just returned from our third successive pre-Christmas trip to Germany, my brother and I had no desire to wait another year for our next dose of live Bundesliga action. The upcoming “English Week” in March was too big an opportunity to miss and when the fixtures were finalised our preferred Bavarian excursion fell perfectly into place.
We were fortunate to find a direct flight to Nürnberg and having arrived on Friday afternoon we set about familiarising ourselves with the city that would provide a base for the opening five days of our stay.
As has become customary, our attention primarily focussed on the local Brauhäuser so our first port of call was the nearby Hausbrauerei Altstadthof, where the traditional red beer proved a treat. We then moved on to the large cellar location of Barfusser to sample some more Franconian specialities that went down equally well.
Saturday had initially looked underwhelming in terms of finding something constructive to do, but having cast our net beyond the top two divisions we were relieved to discover that Jahn Regensburg were due to play Preußen Münster in the 3. Liga. The journey to the Jahnstadion was just over an hour door-to-door and having purchased standing tickets for 11 Euros each we took our place behind the goal. The stadium was charmingly primitive and there was the unusual presence of an imposing brewery in one corner.
The match itself was not of the highest standard and the home side profited from an early sending off to run out comfortable 2-0 winners. The attendance barely topped 3,000 but the supporters around us seemed as loyal and fervent as those you’d find anywhere else. We were particularly captivated by a couple of elder statesmen who chewed on fat cigars throughout. At the final whistle we wandered into town and squeezed onto some spare seats at Brauerei Kneitlinger that was packed with Bayern fans catching the end of their game on TV. We stayed to watch the Topspiel before taking a late train back to Nürnberg.
On Sunday we toured the grounds of the imperial castle before leisurely strolling the 5km to the Grundig Stadion for our next match. I’m not usually a fan of running tracks around football pitches but it didn’t detract from the atmosphere which was as intense as you’d expect given the on-going threat of relegation that enveloped the occasion. Alas, it was to prove another disastrous day for Nürnberg, as cheered on by a huge away following Eintracht Frankfurt weathered a brief fightback before accelerating to a 5-2 victory.
Monday was a blank canvas so we took the opportunity to visit the medieval city of Bamberg that’s famous for being a World Heritage Site and for producing delectable smoked Rauchbier. It’s fair to say that we indulged ourselves more in the latter than the former, as we dropped in at three of the nine local breweries.
We ended the night back in Nürnberg where we propped up the bar with a couple of Fortuna Düsseldorf fans who were going to the following day’s game at Greuther Fürth that we also had pencilled in. One of them told us that he’d followed his team to an extraordinary 75 different stadia as they’d yo-yoed up and down the leagues.
We spent Tuesday morning at the Documentation Centre where a 2-hour audio guide provided a fascinating yet disturbing glimpse of Hitler’s rise and fall as well as an insight into Nürnberg’s significance in all that occurred.
By mid-afternoon we’d taken the short ride to Fürth and made our way to the small but splendidly-proportioned Trolli Arena. We were sat in the main stand amongst an enthusiastic family-friendly crowd who were once again seeing their modest sized club punching well above its weight. This fixture had taken place in the Bundesliga last season and the diverse fortunes that each team have suffered since was best summed up by Greuther Fürth enjoying a 4-1 romp as dusk descended.
On Wednesday we bid farewell to Nürnberg and ventured south to Augsburg. We had a few hours to kill before the evening game so had lunch at the ornate Ratskeller dining hall then stopped at the Brauhaus Riegele for a couple of swift pints. The tram to the SGL Arena whizzed through to the out of town site via the university campus, after which we bought a few trinkets from the gift shop and loitered around the concourse devouring assorted unhealthy snacks.
This would be a pivotal contest for the hosts as victory over Leverkusen could see them narrow the gap on their opponents and propel them towards the giddy heights of a Champions League spot, but despite a spirited performance they were repeatedly hit on the counter-attack and fell to a rather unjust 3-1 defeat.
Come Thursday and it was time to move onwards to Munich, which was a city that we’d both visited before but never in a sporting context. Our hotel was close to the station so we decided to while away the afternoon in the neighbouring Hacker-Pschorr Brauhaus before transferring to the bustling Augustiner Braustuben. It was here that we realised that Germans can legally drink alcohol from the age of 16 as we befriended a Regensburgian teenager who brewed beer in his spare time and knocked back the Steins with a devil-may-care panache. He was quite happy to shun his friends in favour of chatting with us as he said he wanted to improve his English and hopefully show us that “Bavarians are not all Nazis” (?!?).
Friday morning was a non-event as our sore heads meant that a listless start was assured. We decided to keep things relaxed so spent the afternoon slumped on top of various sightseeing buses that trekked to all four corners of the city. I couldn’t face another heavy session and as I idly flicked through the fixture list on my phone I stumbled across an intriguing alternative as Bayern Munich II were playing Eintracht Bamberg in the Regionalliga Bayern. Further investigation led me to discover that the venue was the Stadion an der Grünwalder Straße, also known as Grünwalder Stadion, which was easy to get to and was steeped in history as the Bayern first team played there until 1972. I turned to my brother and announced that I’d found us another game.
The stadium was only five stops on the U-Bahn and after a bit of confusion at the ticket booth I paid 15 Euros each for seats. There were only about 700 spectators present but it was a worthwhile exercise as we saw some first team fringe players in action, caught a glimpse of the legendary Gerd Müller who was sat nearby and marvelled at another 5-2 goal-fest.
The post-match analysis took place in the Weisses Brauhaus where we shared our table with a group of amiable Americans who were generous in imparting their wisdom with regard to the highs and lows of the bar menu.
Saturday was to be our grand finale with a trip to the prestigious Allianz Arena. I’d paid a king’s ransom to secure my tickets online and with Bayern having clinched the title a few days earlier I’d insisted that we bought some commemorative “Deutscher Meister 2014” t-shirts so as to join the celebrations. It was only when I handed my brother his ticket that he replied “are you sure we’re in the home end ?” and I belatedly realised we were actually due to be sitting with the Hoffenheim fans.
We decided to dress neutrally so as not to cause offence and in gorgeous sunshine we set off ridiculously early so as to maximise our time at the stadium. The vast fan facilities outside helped create a wonderfully vibrant mood and after sampling various refreshments we climbed the long staircase to our seats. The view from our seats was spectacular and it quickly became apparent that both sets of supporters were present in our block so we could have worn our first choice attire anyway.
We’d expected the result to be a formality but Bayern had clearly been partying a little too excessively as they were run ragged by Hoffenheim’s exuberant forward line. The 3-3 scoreline reflected what had been another end-to-end thriller.
Our final night was spent at a pub near Sendlinger Tor where we reflected on our fantastic week during which we’d witnessed 31 goals in 6 games and encountered all manner of cultural delights.
We’ve covered 26 stadia since our infatuation with German football engulfed us just over 2 years ago. Should we decide to go back later this year then we may well mix the old with the new, as we haven’t yet travelled east and there are several places we’re keen to revisit.
We had a great time in Bavaria and our tour across the country will inevitably continue.
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