December 14, 2017

Bundesliga Starts at 40: An Englishman’s Journey through German Football. Part Three

Having breathlessly navigated a run of three games in four days, my brother and I were firmly settled into our German adventure that hadn’t even reached the halfway point.  After the previous night’s winner-takes-all excitement, our appetite for knockout football had been further fueled, so after returning to our Heidelberg base we made a quick turnaround before making our second trip of the week to Frankfurt.

Wednesday – Eintracht Frankfurt v SV Sandhausen

We were becoming increasingly familiar with the top-left corner of the Baden-Württemberg railway network and our journey involved yet another change at Mannheim – a city we felt we’d bonded with despite never having ventured beyond the station. After reaching Frankfurt, we continued a handful of stops on the S-Bahn and made our way to the Commerzbank-Arena via a narrow road that cut through the woods.

Our 37-Euro seats were primely located at the front of the main stand, but to our surprise the fixture hadn’t captured much public imagination, since the opposite side of the stadium was literally empty.  Fortunately, the lopsided positioning of the crowd didn’t seem to affect the overall volume as the noise from the hardcore locals was as vibrant as ever. I was aware that Frankfurt was only an hour drive from Sandhausen, but my prediction that the away turnout could top 10,000 was naively wide of the mark.  Little did I know that the entire population of SV Sandhausen is hardly more than this number, so the fact that they brought an army of around 1,000 supporters was arguably a feat in itself.

The game began in a low-key fashion as Eintracht built up a two goal cushion without over-exerting themselves.  However, it was to develop into a minor classic after Sandhausen benefited from a hilarious own goal, then completed their epic fightback by equalising soon after.  The fans around us were stunned into an embarrassed silence, but the home side regrouped and class told in the end as they wrapped it up a 4-2 at the death.

We’d booked the midnight train to Heidelberg in case of any extra time, but our cautious approach paid dividends as we could throw down a couple of leisurely city centre pints before we departed.

 

Friday – Karlsruher SC v VfL Bochum

Our final day in Heidelberg saw us embark on a hugely enjoyable visit to the deserted Auto & Technik museum in Sinnsheim, before returning back to the Altstadt for a late-night sausage supper in the Kulturbrauerei. The next stopover was Stuttgart, where we stayed for two nights, and, after dropping our bags at the hotel, we headed off to Karlsruhe for the evening’s entertainment.

The journey required a change at Vaihingen an der Enz, which my brother had dopily confused with its namesake Vaihingen, hence we jumped on the U-Bahn and traveled 7 miles into the southwest suburbs instead of taking the regional service 20 miles to the northwest. His mistake was confirmed only after he’d sought advice from some commuters in the station café and been forced to confess that “there’s been a grave error.”

Luckily time wasn’t against us, so the damage was limited and having eventually reached Karlsruhe, we dashed for the tram that was waiting outside the station. We got off at Marktplatz and followed the crowd into the palace gardens and through the treacherously dark pathways towards the aptly named Wildparkstadion. We paid at the gate tonight and were looking forward to standing up with the masses for the princely sum of 12 Euros.  The stadium was almost identical to Saarbrücken’s from three nights earlier, in that it was charmingly retro and the view from the curved terracing provided a stern challenge for sight lines.

Our pre-match thoughts turned to the World Cup draw that was simultaneously taking place in Brazil.  The news was soon beamed up onto the scoreboard and judging by the groans the consensus seemed to be that the outcome for Germany hadn’t been kind. As kick-off approached, we were tightly packed into our small section and the group behind us bellowed out various chants that we sensed were amusingly crude even though we didn’t understand a word.  It made for a buoyant atmosphere that the proceeding events would struggle to live up to, as a disjointed start turned into an ugly mess with neither team showing any sort of fluency.  The goalless draw was perfectly appropriate for a game that was generally forgettable.

The late train back to Stuttgart was full of pleasantly inebriated teenagers, so by the time we retired to bed we were all but exhausted.

 

Saturday – VfB Stuttgart v Hannover 96

The morning began with a slightly unwelcome glimpse of home, as we shared our breakfast buffet with a boisterous posse of East London boxing fans who were over to watch Darren Barker take on Felix Sturm for the IBF World Middleweight boxing title.  Judging from the racket they’d made when they got back to the hotel at 3am the night before, it’s fair to say that they were reveling in the local hospitality.

Sizzling - Stuttgart Christmas market
Sizzling – Stuttgart Christmas market

We decided to go for an early afternoon stroll to check out our culinary options for later, before hopping onto the S-Bahn for the short trip to the Mercedes-Benz Arena. The stadium was impressive and our 42-Euro tickets gave us an excellent view from the lower tier. Our seats were near the isle and during the build-up our attention was regularly drawn to the flailing limbs of unsuspecting supporters as they skidded on an enormous heap of chips and ketchup that had been carelessly scattered across the stairway.

I’d developed an abiding affection for Hannover as they have the endearing ability to induce smiles and tears in equal measure. Today was to be no exception, as they took a 2-1 lead before falling apart in a typically demoralising manner to lose 4-2.  Having yet to take a point from any away game this season, I was perhaps foolish to have hoped for more.

We rushed back into town to have a wander round the vast Christmas market, caught Dortmund v Leverkusen on TV in a small backstreet bar, where the residents seemed shocked that two Englishmen would be interested. Our evening concluded with a slap-up meal in the lively Brauhaus Schönbuch. When we returned to the hotel, we found out that Barker had been battered, so our countrymen were in sombre mood. There’d be no high jinks tonight, so we could look forward to a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s trek to the Black Forest.

You can read Part One and Two of Jon’s story here

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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.

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