Lüneburg is a small town just half an hour outside of Hamburg in northern Germany. Many of the buildings are from the Middle Ages with modern amenities to blend the brick and mortar of its time as a salt empire, with the handys and currywurst under Angela Merkel. There’s also a small university and plenty of breathtaking churches of different faiths in the town. But no German city is complete without its watering holes, and Lüneburg had its fair share. The town of 72,000 has the most amount of bars per capita in all of Germany.
That was my home for a few months when I studied abroad in college. Those months were simply the best of my life.
When I wasn’t studying for class, I was studying the German game. When I landed in Frankfurt, all I knew was that Bayern Munich were the Super Yankees. In less than three months, I managed to cram Hannover, Hamburg (twice), Dortmund, Die Mannschaft, Frankfurt, and a spring break trip that included Ajax and a team in the slums of Prague (not the best of ideas, but football was calling).
It was getting towards the end of my stay in Lüneburg when I realized I hadn’t seen a match in Lüneburg yet! The locaI side, founded in 1901 as Lüneburger Sport-Klub and reformed in 2008 following financial difficulties and a merger with Lüneburger SV., is known now as Lüneburger SK Hansa and plays in Germany’s fifth division. I originally planned to go to the Millentor for the St. Pauli-Hansa Rostock match, but couldn’t get tickets (probably for the best) and trekked back to the small town with all of the bars.
I made it back before the water hoses came out in front of the Millentor and headed to the town square. Instead of the lights and wailing riot police trucks and hustle and flow of the ladies in certain jackets, the birds chirped and the bridge carried me over the sloshing Loesebarben and Ilmenau rivers before dropping me off at the Johanniskirche in front of the town square. Despite the fact that it was a Sunday, there were plenty of bustling around the warm late April day as I recall. Something about warm spring days makes Germans sprint for ice cream.
One of the greatest parts about this city was the fact that even though it’s a half hour away from the city that seems to burn to the ground and rebuild itself every 70-80 years, this town was virtually untouched by elements of destruction. Much of the buildings were from the days of its salt induced glory days of the 16th century, with the insides updated for the modern age.
I hitched a cab to the grounds, and the driver had the St. Pauli match on his radio. We chatted first with my broken German, then his broken English. St. Pauli was crushing Rostock. “Jetzt drei null!” he shouted as we pulled past Das Buch, the bookstore. I took the bus this way each and every morning to Leuphana University, and the trip was just the same until a jolt to the left yanked me out of my usual surroundings. When we finished zig-zagging through the trees on the edge of town, we reached another row of trees across from a couple of small houses.
I was about to ask if this was a trick, until I heard a spattering of cheers just beyond the trees. I could barely make out figures clapping through the branches, some with scarves draped on their necks.
Yep, this was the place.
I hopped out, paid the cabbie and walked up a dirt path. There was a man with as many wrinkles as the bark on the trees sitting on a small chair, who asked for 5 Euros. I paid for my ticket and program and in I went.
It turns out I just missed a goal by Lüneburger SK. It was mid-way through the first half by the time I made it and I knew there was no excuse for my un-German behavior. I made up for it by going to the small house on the other end of the grounds where the team’s headquarters were, and got fries topped with curry ketchup and a team scarf and shirt. That should make up for it, right?
The Luneburgers did not mind, or notice, rather. The ground had just four, maybe five rows dug out of the ground surrounding the pitch. Who knew the grass could be more comfortable than the seat cushions at the big grounds?
There were a handful of fans sprinkled in bunches around the ground, except for the opposing fans. In that area, it was just a couple of lost souls stuck behind an unnecessary fence. Rather anticlimactic compared to the water cannons and riot police in full gusto at the Millentor that day.
That said, there were water cannons of a sort at Lüneburger SK that afternoon….from the clouds above. During the halftime break, a drenching rain took over the pitch, and ended the halftime show with a twinkle around the ground and a rainbow as a signal to resume the match.
The supporters group came back out from behind the trees and onto the second row behind the opposing goaltender. The group of 20 men looking for something to cheer for came out of the rain beating the drum and chanting “LSK! LSK! LSK!” It didn’t matter the end result of the match to them. They were simply happy for the opportunity to get out of the house and make Sunday a little less quiet.
It got a bit louder midway through the half. An error from the opposing defense gave an LSK striker an opportunity that he couldn’t refuse, and gently tapped in the game winner in front of the supporters. There wasn’t a unanimous roar as one would hear at the bigger stadiums, it was more of a “hooray!” than a “JAAAAAA!” Either way, all in white were pleased with the end result.
Afterwards, the team went over to hang with the fans by their dressing room. Plenty of hugs and high fives from the townfolk was their reward, not some ridiculous paycheck or five star cuisine that can spoil the innocence of football at the top. They really did it for the love of the game.
As I walked back to my apartment, I thought of the song “Lüneburg ist die schönste Stadt der Welt” by Top for Tea. My eyes started misting because I would be a Luneburger for just one more week after that match, but I will always be a Luneburger in my mind.
LSK Hansa currently occupy first place in the Oberliga Niedersachsen, with 53 points after 25 matches.
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