March 22, 2017

An Englishman’s Pre-Christmas Bundesliga Break

With the 2015 calendar having flipped over to November there was one pressing question on my mind as the festive season fast approached; could my brother and I sneak in a fifth and final Bundesliga weekend before the end of the year?

As per usual we dissected the fixture list with a sharp scalpel in search of suitable destinations that would ideally take us beyond the well-trodden path of the North-Rhine Westphalia region.

We were naturally delighted to unearth an eclectic 3-game combo in Baden-Württemberg, after which the necessary ticketing and travel arrangements were hastily pieced together.

We flew direct to Stuttgart and having arrived on Friday afternoon we immediately went for some lunch at Sophie’s Brauhaus. Our consumption began in time-honoured tradition as we gorged lustily on escallops of indeterminate meat and washed them down with a couple of pitchers of Helles beer. The stage had been set and we were ready for the action to begin.

Our opening game saw us heading into what seemed like the middle of nowhere for the top of the 3. Liga clash between Sonnenhoff Großaspach and runaway leaders Dynamo Dresden. I’d not even heard of the home side until a couple of years ago never mind known where they were from, but my brother had done his homework and the relatively remote location appealed to our sense of adventure.

The first step saw us take the S3 to Backnang; a town we were surprised to find was twinned with Chelmsford where my twin brother and I were born. We then hopped onto the shuttle bus for the onward journey to the Mechatronik Arena. Well at least we thought we’d hopped onto the shuttle bus, but as the engine started to rev we realised we were surrounded by elderly shoppers rather than football fans. We pleaded with the driver to let us jump off and fortunately he released the doors so we were spared an evening getting lost in the wilderness.

Having found the correct transportation we reached the stadium in plenty of time for the 7pm kick-off. It’s fair to say that the entry points were somewhat limited and couldn’t cope with the massive away support, so having queued for over half an hour we decided to go straight to our seats.

The ground was getting increasingly packed and we were sat in what seemed like a mixed area, although yellow shirted visitors were easily in the ascendency. The pre-match pyrotechnics from the Dresden ultras bordered on insane and the proceedings that followed were suitably sizzling but somehow finished scoreless due largely to some outstanding goalkeeping. It was easy to see why both sides were flying so high in the table and the atmosphere had been incredible in front of a record 9,700 crowd.

Having returned to Backnang we considered going immediately onwards to Stuttgart, but instead walked into town for couple of jars at the An Sibh Irish pub. We’d deliberately targeted the last train home at 11.40pm and after a mild panic when it was evacuated for reasons we couldn’t comprehend a replacement service soon whisked us back to the city.

On Saturday morning we upped sticks and took the train to Ulm which was just over an hour away. We’d always been intrigued by the story SSV Ulm 1846 as they’d played in the Bundesliga in the late 1990s only to then spectacularly fall from grace. After checking into our hotel we wandered the short distance into the centre to take a look at the majestic Ulm Münster which is amazingly the tallest church in the world.

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As the name would suggest, the Donaustadion was located a short walk along the river and made for a charming venue for the Oberliga encounter against SV Oberachern. I purchased Stehplatz tickets for €8 each and with time to kill we had a couple of pints and investigated the available cuisine. I ordered what I expected to be two generic bratwursts but was met with a reply of “would you like white, red or fire?” Call me risk-averse, but when faced with those choices in relation to a foodstuff I can’t think of a situation when I wouldn’t pragmatically choose the first one.

The match itself was competitive yet amusingly erratic and was played in front of around 800 diehard fans of varying ages, with the home side running out 2-0 winners to keep up their promotion push. It had all made for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in the bracing sunshine.

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After the game we returned to our base to watch the Wolfsburg vs Dortmund Topspiel on TV before checking out the Christmas market. Our snack options were plentiful and we plumped for the seasonal sounding “Bratwurstglühweinspezial” which comprised of a long thin black sausage in a bun that was coated with a disturbing syrupy goo. Thankfully it tasted better than it looked.

The evening eventually finished at 2am in the basement bar called Murphy’s law, where the relaxed ambience and nostalgic indie-rock playlist just about made amends for the frustratingly lousy service.

We went back to Stuttgart on Sunday for what on paper was the weekend’s main attraction as Werder Bremen were guests at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. It was our second visit to the stadium and on this occasion both sides were desperate for a win after some woeful recent form. The attendance was sizeable but it was evident from the relentless groans around us that expectations were realistically low. It’s doubtful that the uninspiring 1-1 draw that ensued would have satisfied anyone that was present, although the result was arguably a fair one.

Our final port of call would be Carl’s Brauhaus opposite the vibrant Schlossplatz. In view of the previous night’s anxiety we decided to keep our replenishment needs to a minimum by polishing off multiple 1 litre Steins of Dinkelacker until midnight. We received some dubious looks from the bar staff but we didn’t care.

It had been another entertaining weekend in which we’d chalked up our 50th match in Germany since we first started our trips 4 years ago. Our next stop will be Hamburg in February 2016, so we’ll be hoping that Santa brings us some thermal undergarments as it could get a bit chilly.

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Jon Godfrey

Jon lives in London and has supported Nottingham Forest since his childhood. He only started following the Bundesliga in 2011 so is busy making up for lost time with regular annual visits. His favourite German team is Hannover 96 who he admires for their ability to be constantly unpredictable.