November 18, 2017

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

For the penultimate leg of our trip, my brother and I would be travelling into vaguely familiar territory as we made our way to match 7 out of 8.

We’d visited the Black Forest twice before during family holidays in the mid 1980s, when we’d stayed in the small village of Schönwald that’s located just over 30 miles to the northeast of Freiburg.

My memories are admittedly rather grainy, although I remember cuckoo clocks, a ski jump, spectacular thunderstorms and being slightly disturbed by the concept of seeing black bread and white sausages on the breakfast buffet table.

Sunday – SC Freiburg v VfL Wolfsburg

We departed from Stuttgart before changing at Karlsruhe, after which it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by an undulating landscape of dense woodland. Our hotel was located directly opposite the train station, so after a quick wash and brush up we set off in search of the MAGE SOLAR Stadion. We clambered onto a packed tram and despite the uncomfortable crush we survived the half-hour journey that stuttered through the city centre before meandering off into the suburbs.

freiburg
Up at the top but down in the dumps – another disappointing performance by Freiburg

I’d only left myself two opportunities to buy a replica shirt so after arriving at the stadium I immediately made a beeline towards the club shop. There appeared to be a festive sale going on as the racks outside featured row upon row of first, second and possibly even third choice kits from recent seasons, many of which were emblazoned with player names that I struggled to recognise. I decided to take the safe option of the current home strip so as to follow previous purchases from Mainz, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Hannover in keeping up my all-red collection.

Having picked up our 30€ tickets, we headed for our seats in the top tier behind the goal. On the way we stopped off for a snack and I randomly selected a bratwurst of the cheesy variety, which thankfully defied culinary logic by tasting rather pleasantly. The stadium was small and compact so we felt like we were right above the pitch and the mass of fir trees in the background made for a splendidly claustrophobic environment.

The scene was set but Freiburg started the match in a disastrous fashion and contrived to fall two goals behind inside barely ten minutes. Such had been their horrendous form of late that the majority of home fans seemed neither surprised nor unduly disappointed as the game then petered out into a routine 3-0 win for Wolfsburg. It hadn’t quite been the tight affair that we’d expected, but it had been fun to experience one of the top flight’s more intimate venues.

We spent the rest of the evening at Brauhaus Feierling where we ate a hearty meal and knocked back several glasses of the local ale.

Monday – 1. FC Kaiserslautern v Fortuna Düsseldorf

It was the last full day of the trip and there was a tinge of sadness as we reached our grand finale in Kaiserslautern. As soon as we arrived at the station we could see the Fritz-Walter Stadion perched imposingly on the top of a hill. I knew that the hotel was located just behind it so it was inevitable that a steep incline would need negotiating in order to get there. Judging by the unmentionable language that he muttered throughout the walk, my brother wasn’t too happy that I’d insisted on dragging our cases on foot rather than taking a taxi.

We had plenty of time to kill so once we’d checked in we drifted into town to look for refreshments. It’s fair to say that Kaiserslautern didn’t appear to be the most stimulating of places and the blandness of the shopping precinct reminded me of being back home in Lewisham. We eventually managed to find a welcoming restaurant with an inoffensive menu so our immediate needs were met.

Having returned to the hotel we wouldn’t need to leave for the game until reasonably late, as we were so close to the stadium that we could literally see the crowds gathering simply by gazing out of our fourth floor window. With the noise outside increasing, we took a leisurely stroll down the road and were soon in position halfway up the main stand. To our left was the enormous Westkurve, which was easily the biggest terrace I’d ever seen live. Considering it was a 2nd division fixture with an evening kick-off it was admirable to see an attendance of nearly 30,000 of which a sizeable contingent had arrived from Düsseldorf.

The game itself was a minor disappointment as the home team largely dominated but their cumbersome forward line were frustratingly ineffectual. Fortuna had started slowly but grew in confidence as their opponent’s profligacy continued. Their reward came shortly before half-time when a breakaway goal gave then a cushion that they managed to maintain with very few scares. It hadn’t been the barnstorming climax that we’d hoped for, but the silver lining was that I was lying prostrate on my bed within roughly fifteen minutes of the final whistle.

We would be rising early in the morning and, alas, our destination was Frankfurt Airport. This had been our third pre-Christmas visit to Germany in successive years. We’ve now covered the west, the north and the southwest, during which time we’ve travelled to 20 memorable stadia. Friends and work colleagues regularly ask me why I don’t go to another country, but having experienced German football the thought of trying somewhere else rarely enters my head.

I’m sure that other European leagues have their merits from an aesthetic perspective and they each have their own traditions that others may prefer. However, the priority for me has always been to broaden my horizons without sacrificing the atmosphere, intensity and passion that I’d grown up with. I’ve found exactly what I wanted with the Bundesliga, so if anyone is looking for a culture that’s similar to England but even more supporter oriented then I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The next excursion is already planned for “English Week” in March, when we’ll sample the delights of Bavaria while taking in five more games at Regensburg, Nürnberg, Fürth, Augsburg and Munich. After that it’s anyone’s guess, but such is the urge to keep going back that with Berlin and the east still to be explored then I don’t think we’ll be stopping any time soon.

 

You can read the other three parts 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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