When I heard I’d be studying abroad in Germany, my mind instantly went to an idyllic place. I’d be going to Bundesliga games matchday, I’d be talking about the league non-stop with my friends, every game would be on TV all the time, post World Cup victory parties, just writing all of this down makes me feel so stupid. Being an American Bundesliga fan, the realities of soccer culture in Germany were a bit harsh for someone who was so excited to see it live and in person.
Harsh Reality 1: Germans Are Reserved
My first match day in Germany was spent at a pub, after I learned the horrible reality of trying to buy tickets without a club membership. Now imagine a happy-go-lucky American college student, bright-eyed and fully-clad in FC Köln attire, walking into a pub full of excitement to see the FC Köln vs Borussia Mönchengladbach game. I completely understood the rivalry, but I didn’t understand how serious it was. I knew soccer was a sport of passion, but I guess the longing to finally be around fellow fans overcame that.
There were two rooms: one for Gladbach fans, one for Köln fans. You would never know though because to my shock, nobody was wearing any attire. You know how when there’s an NFL game, everyone’s covered with apparel from their favorite team starting from their feet to the tallest hair on their head? It is not at all the same in Germany. I think there was one guy with a Gladbach scarf and he was hiding it under his jacket, only wearing it when the game was over. I soon learned that because most Germans are rabid about soccer, they would rather avoid any clash of passions, even on a match day at a bar.
Your favorite team is part of your identity, and to show that part of you to someone is letting someone in, which you would only do in the company of other people who share that identity. The only people who would do what I did would be people actually going to the game; everywhere else, people wore normal clothes without a trace of fandom. So you can imagine the kinds of looks I got with my jersey, scarf and jacket. I also tripped over a chair trying to get to an open table, so that didn’t help.
I should have seen this coming considering the famously reserved nature of the German people. Considering the awkwardness most Germans still have about being loud and proud about their national heritage, this awkwardness goes down to the club level too. Now that I’m back in America, I wear my jersey every matchday, but not because I feel like I’m supporting the team, it’s because I’m looking for someone else in Chicago who supports them too.
Harsh Reality 2: Everyone Likes the Big Teams
I have a tradition where I buy a scarf from the local club of whatever city I visit. So when I went to Berlin, I bought a Union Berlin and Hertha Berlin scarf. It’s really fun in big cities, but when you are trying to get a scarf in a town that doesn’t have a Bundesliga team like Trier, it’s impossible. I thought that because clubs are kind of a representation of the city, they would have merchandise that’s easily accessible.
Now also, I learned from Germans that everyone hates Bayern Munich and judging from American fans here, Dortmund is a small club. So you can imagine my shock when every town I went to had mainly Bayern and Dortmund gear. Even Hamburg stores had sections of Dortmund and Bayern appear that was just as big as the home squad. There were plenty of clubs scarves I had to buy on line instead of in the store, which I resorted too after feverishly running across town and asking store manager after store manager where I could find the local teams scarves.
I can’t live your interactions with Europeans for you, but I imagine if you are a fan of a big club like Bayern, you have be teased for being a glory hunter. I can tell you that that person is being awfully picky because there are lots of glory hunters in Germany as well. People naturally like winning, and Bayern and Dortmund right now are seen as the winners. We like to associate this idea of having an “undying love for your club” to fans. At the end of the day, there’s nothing exciting about being a mid-table or lower team that doesn’t see European competition and people are going to naturally want to identify with winning, even if that team is from Bavaria.
Harsh Reality 3: Not Every Place Has a TV, Not Every Place Has the Game On
In America, every place that has doors and windows also has a TV. You don’t even think about it when you are going out to watch a game. In Germany, this is not the case. There are lots of bars that don’t have a TV or if they do have a TV, they don’t have Sky Sports which shows the games. When you are searching for a place to look, you look for the sign that opens up your eyes. You look for this.
Any bar with this outside of it, you run towards. It is your beacon to salvation, it is the sign that means “this bar is going to be crowded right now”. I hardly even looked at the name or atmosphere of whatever establishment I walked into, which actually got me in situations a few times, but the holy beacon of the Sky logo called me. If they don’t have the logo, they don’t have the game.
Ok maybe I should clarify, they will have the game, but maybe not the game you want. If your favorite team plays at a time where there are other games going on, you most likely will be looking at the Konferenz, which is the NFL Redzone of the Bundesliga. Instead of just showing one game, it shows all the goals in other games and switches between games in moments of excitements. This eliminates the awkwardness of someone from Berlin being in town and getting outraged at not being able to watch his team. I would have thought that being so close to Cologne would mean every full game would be on, but unless they were the Friday or one of the Sunday games, the TV would certainly be on the Konferenz.
Great Reality: Germany Loves Its Soccer
They may not show it often, but Germans are absolutely obsessed with their soccer. Nothing was more apparent than when I went to a VfB Stuttgart game. Unlike with Cologne, my girlfriend lives in Bad Canstatt and about 5 train stops away from the Mercedes Benz Arena. Walking to the stadium before the game and hearing all the chants and seeing a Bundesliga supporters section in person is pretty life changing and will ruin your definition of “devoted fans” for other sports.
Tickets are expensive if you aren’t a member, but if you have the chance, you should do yourself a favor and go. Watching the world’s game in a country that is married to the game like Germans are makes for an incredible experience. There are its differences you’ll have to work through with how the way you support your team in America, but none of that takes away from the experience of being in such an amazing atmosphere.
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