My earliest memory of football came in 2001 when I was lying next to my Dad on the settee in the living room. It was the evening that England thrashed Germany 5-1. I didn’t know who or what Germany was, but I concluded that they weren’t very good at football. Since then, I had witnessed the mighty Bolton Wanderers travel to Bayern Munich to draw 2-2 in the UEFA Cup and had shared a Metrolink tram with Schalke fans en route to Old Trafford. That is as close to German football I had got, and the idea of going over there had never really interested me.
With the February half term coming up, Matt and I decided that we should try and go somewhere on the continent to drink lots of beer and to catch a football match. Belgium was the first country that intrigued us before Spain, Portugal and Ireland were thrown into the equation. A day later, I was on the train to college with Elliot when he suggested that we should all go to Berlin. I live my life on impulse decisions, and within 24 hours it had been booked.
Privately educated (sorry) Elliot had gone to Berlin with his high school a couple of years beforehand and soon took control of where we would be staying, what we would be eating and at what times we would be allowed to visit the toilet. It soon became evident that our Celtic supporting friend was a man of habit, and wanted to revisit the places he had gone to last time he was there. That didn’t bother us, as we hadn’t visited the place before and we’d probably need all the help and advice we could when we touched down.
A quick look around the German fixtures showed very little in the way of football in Berlin that weekend. Union Berlin were away from home, as were the other lower league sides. This left us with Hertha v Wolfsburg; not that we were complaining. We announced that we’d be going to this fixture and soon received negative feedback off a whole host of know it alls via social media. We were told to visit other cities, to scrap Hertha etc etc. This really irritated me, as the people who instantaneously slagged off our decision must have at one point in their lives gone to Hertha Berlin to conclude that there are better alternatives. Unfased by this we went forward with our plan and stuck two fingers up to the rest of the European Hipster community.
It was Friday 14th February, Valentines Day was spreading love and joy across the nation. The three of us opted to stay in Salford for the evening, visiting Elliot’s local pubs before heading to Manchester Airport in the early hours. We visited The Woodside which can be found next to the East Lancs, and a very nice pub it was. It was bursting with well dressed couples, whilst us three slunk in with football shirts and flatcaps on.
Some last minute packing, and travel insurance booking followed when we got back, and it was soon time to press on to the airport. Matt had checked us in wrongly on the internet in the days leading up to the flight, mixing mine and Elliot’s passport details up, but fortunately he had rectified the situation by the time we got to Ringway.
I was kitted out in my England shirt and TeamGB gear, despite my Dad telling me not to wear anything English in a country that I know nothing about. He was right, I knew absolutely nothing about the country. It only struck me when in Dunkin’ Donuts near Berlin Zoo that I didn’t even know a word of German. I didn’t know how to say thank-you, or even hello. Then again, when I went to Naples a couple of years ago, the only Italian I knew was “quanta costa” which means “how much will this cost” when picking a beer out of a fridge in a corner shop.
Our hotel was on the same street as the Hard Rock Cafe, next to what appeared to be the business district of West Berlin. It was quite a good location, and the hotel was nice, even if our booking had been messed up. The room was only booked for two people, so we had to cough up another €30 each before we had even started. Apparently, my travel companions were aware of this cock up and had hidden it from me since the time of booking, in the hope that they could act dumb and get away with it.
There wasn’t much in the way of amenities for tourists in the business district, surprisingly enough. However, before we had time to scour the area for entertainment, Elliot had nipped downstairs to LIDL to find us some beer. He came back with his wooly hat on, looking really pleased with himself. He had bought some form of beer for the equivalent of €0.30 a bottle or something ridiculous. The price of course was for a reason and it tasted horrific. Despite this, we stuck with the two crates that he had purchased and they formed the staple to our diets for the next four days.
Having dumped our bags at the hotel, we set out to see the sights before it went dark. The obvious landmarks to visit were the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate which were both within walking distance from each other. We encountered Venezuelan protesters, Iranian protesters, a teddy bear and a Darth Vader on our walk, and we hadn’t even started drinking Elliot’s beer yet. With the tourist bit done for the day, we carried on walking in search of a local bar.
The bar we found was everything we needed. Currywurst, Berliner Beer and every live Bundesliga match shown on a big screen. The bar man even told us of a decent nightclub to visit in East Berlin at some stage. He said, and I quote: “Yeah man. Go down to East Berlin with a towel on the Friday night and stay there until Monday morning!”. It sounded good, and we did go eventually, but I’ll get to that escapade later on.
Waving goodbye to the lunatic in the bar we headed back to the hotel. A quick sit down and Matt and I headed out to look for a bar in the business district whilst Elliot stayed in the hotel for a bit to catch up on some sleep. I’ll never know how we found an Irish Bar in the basement of a shopping centre, but it was incredible. I can only describe it as walking around Manchester, and hearing a faint noise leaking from a door of the Arndale.We decided to follow the noise, and two minutes later we were in a huge basement party with a band who were singing a collection of Dire Straits, The Beatles and AC/DC. They even put in a boyband medley for good measure, which went down well with the locals. Matt wandered off and tried impressing a group of pensioners with his limited German, while I attempted to guide Elliot to the venue. Eventually he turned up and the three of us were reunited just in time to sing the night out with ‘Hey Jude’.
Sunday morning arrived, and our breakfast consisted of LIDL croissants and LIDL beer. Matt however had disappeared and left us two to sleep. We assumed he’d headed to the Amateurstadion to watch Hertha’s U19’s but he had headed back to the Irish Bar from the night before to have another pint to start the day. Us two headed to Potsdamer Platz, which Elliot assured me would be a fantastic location for me to take some photographs for my imminent A-Level photography unit deadline. He wasn’t wrong. By the time we had arrived there, Matt had arrived at the ground, around four hours too early and had already started mingling with the home supporters.
The Olympiastadion could be reached via both the U-Bahn system and S-Bahn system, it didn’t make much difference. We opted for the U-Bahn as it was the easiest way from where we were, and we were at the stadium within no time at all. The area around the station appeared to have been untouched from the 1930’s and it all seemed rather odd. We followed the sparse crowd up a path underneath a small bridge and the stadium presented itself. It looked spectacular.
A large row of stalls and shops were on the right hand side leading up to the stadium, and the away shirts were on offer at just €30 euros each. I’d have preferred to purchase a home one, but at double the price I simply couldn’t afford to after the hotel room booking drama. Now that we had shirts, we felt the part and soon enough we were soon being filmed singing Hertha songs like we had supported them all of our lives. The deal was, that if we sang the Hertha song “Nur nach hause” that we would get a free scarf, and we may even end up on the big screen.
Considering I still knew absolutely no German I managed to sing along to the Hertha take on Rod Stewart’s hit classic ‘Sailing’ like a natural. We highly doubted that two English tourists singing would appear on the big screen at the Olympic Stadium, but stranger things have happened…
Matt met us underneath the Olympic Rings, showing off his brand new home shirt. With the trio back together we could go and pick up our tickets from the booth which was found close to the ground. There was a sizeable queue, but it didn’t take long and we were soon entering the gates of the Olympic Park complex.
The set up at Hertha means that all fans enter a number of gates at one side of the stadium, which allow access to the entire Olympic Park. You are then free to roam around the park, experiencing culinary delights from a wide range of food stalls. There was also a plethora of beer stands, selling pints at a relentless pace. Elliot and I had been rewarded for our singing with a Warsteiner beer token, meaning we could pick up a free pint once inside the Olympic Park. Each pint came with a collectable Hertha Berlin cup which featured a portrait of a player. It was a bit like getting a toy in a Happy Meal, with fans swapping cups frequently to complete their collections.
Our circuit of the stadium was beautiful. The sun was setting as we enjoyed a pint next to the swimming pool which was used in the 1936 Olympic Games, and we saw the cauldron from where the Olympic flame once flickered. The walk around the circular stadium seemed to take forever, a lot longer than a stroll around Wembley or The Etihad.
We had booked the cheapest seats, and found ourselves towards the back of the top tier in the “Oberring Kurve Osttor”. The vocal home fans all stood in the lower tier of the Ostkurve and it was as close as we could get for this fixture. There were plenty of seats in our area, and the lads who sat next to us on the plane from Manchester were on the row behind us. Once we were settled I had a chance to turn around and have a look at the spectacular arena which Hertha call their home.
The sun was peeping through into the arena through the opening at the far end, making for one of the nicest sights I’ve seen on my travels so far. All seemed calm, but the venue has had a much more unsettled past. The Olympiastadion is the second stadium to have been built on this site, with the Deutsches Stadion being built in 1914 in preparation for the 1916 Olympic Games, which didn’t occur due to the outbreak of the First World war.
In 1931, the Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 games to Berlin. When the Nazi’s came to power in 1933, Adolf Hitler set about creating the games to support Nazi propaganda. He oversaw the demolition of the Deutsches Stadion and built the Olympiastadion in it’s place, with construction taking just two years.
Aside from the Olympics, the stadium held six matches at the 1974 World Cup along with a further seven in 2006, including the World Cup Final. This of course was the final where Zinedine Zidane bowed out from football after being sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi.
Hertha Berlin were founded in 1892, and moved to the Olympiastadion upon invitation in 1963; the year that the Bundesliga was formed. Hertha were demoted after the first season of Bundesliga amidst bribery allegations and trouble after the erection of the Berlin Wall. Bundesliga wanted a team to represent the city, and so SC Tasmania Berlin were promoted. Tasmania’s stay wasn’t long and they went on to record the worst ever season in Bundesliga history, before Hertha were re-instated with their large fan base.
More trouble lay ahead, and Hertha found themselves in the German third tier in 1986. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 helped the club significantly as fans from East Berlin were now able to travel to the Olympiastadion to cheer on the team. It is said that the first home match after the fall of the wall saw 11,000 fans from East Berlin travel over to the West.
Recently, Hertha gained promotion to Bundesliga for the 2013/14 season and found themselves in 7th place after twenty matches. Their visitors for the evening, Wolfsburg, were two points better off in 6th place. It promised to be a good match, and it was that eye catching it was even being televised back home on BT Sport.
As Nur Nach Hause echoed around the stadium, the two teams walked on to the field of play. Hertha were in their traditional blue and white stripes, whilst Wolfsburg were in their normal green kit, which had been seen frequently in the Champions League in recent years.
Hertha started off the better of the two sides, but quite a few players seemed incapable of being able to pass the ball to feet. It was only right that when the home side did take the lead on 21 minutes that it was quite scrappy. Adrian Ramos chipped the ball into the box where Sami Allagui controlled and set himself to strike towards goal. His fellow striker Per Skjelbred was on hand to tackle him and toe-bung the ball into the bottom right hand corner. We didn’t really know what to do. Did we stand still and applaud, as the neutrals that we ought to be? Or did we jump up and down with beer in our hands, covering everybody around us? We opted for the latter and got soaked.
The only other chance of the half fell to Hertha, who were unlucky not to double their lead. Adrian Ramos broke through and saw Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio coming off his line. Some quick thinking saw Ramos chip the ball over Benaglio, but his effort fell just wide.
At half time, we waited to see whether we had made it on to the big screen. For some unknown reason we had done, and it was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was slightly surreal hearing myself sing over the tannoy system, and seeing myself on two gigantic screens, but it was well worth the original embarrassment. Unfortunately nobody asked me for an autograph.
Matt had gone outside to buy another pint, and came back singing songs about the new Swansea City manager Garry Monk. Behind him, almost instantaneously came a group of Wolves fans singing about Gary Breen. The locals thought we were all a bit strange, so in an attempt to regain their respect I started singing about Bolton Wanderers legend Nicky Hunt.
Wolfsburg equalised after a quiet opening 15 minutes to the second half. Ricardo Rodriguez swung the ball in from the right and Robin Knoche headed in past Thomas Kraft. The goal woke Hertha up, who immediately set about trying to reinstate their one goal advantage. From the restart, Ramos broke through on goal but he was again denied by the Wolfsburg goalkeeper.
The visitors changed their formation and on 78 minutes they deservedly went in front. Kevin De Bruyne – who had just arrived at the club from Chelsea – fed the ball to substitute Daniel Caligiuri. The midfielder cut inside, and unleashed a ferocious effort into the top left hand corner to win the match.
Wolfsburg held out for the three points and the Hertha fans tramped off into the night. The Olympic rings which form part of the entrance to the park were now lit up, as was the stadium, which made for quite a breathtaking landscape. Unfortunately, it was time for us to head back to the hotel. We took the U-Bahn, which is where the majority of fans seemed to be heading for. Matt was still singing about Garry Monk and was only silenced when a Hertha fan said that he goes to Swansea University.
A very tired Matt hit the bed as soon as we arrived back at the hotel, too much beer and a kebab had done it’s trick. Elliot and I decided that we’d head out for a quiet drink and ended up in a bar at Friedrichstrasse. We had just 50 minutes until the transport system shut down for the evening, so we created a quick schedule. A pint every fifteen minutes, and then run for the final train.
This plan was good in practice, in fact too good. We dusted off two pints each too quickly, and ended back at Zoologischer Garten with fifteen minutes remaining. By this stage, Elliot really wanted to find a nightclub and I really could not be bothered. The glint in his eye showed that he was totally up for a night out in East Berlin and after bumping into two American lads who also wanted to do the same we were soon on the final train of the evening to the other side of the city. And wow, what a shit hole that half of the city is.
We ended up in a nightclub called Matrix which was found down a back alley underneath the railway arches. It was rough and ready, but we gave it a go. It was incredible inside, full of locals who were already halfway through enjoying their night out. All was going well until around 03:00 when we were turfed out by the bouncers for being English. We were now stuck in East Berlin until the transport system resumed in around an hours time. I suggested that we should walk up the road to see if we could find infrastructure of some sort, but the place scared us. It appeared the area was still under Russian rule and that the Berlin Wall was still in place. It was the furthest from home I’d ever felt in my life, but I liked the craziness of it at the same time.
Fortunately, an Austrian woman who once lived in Cheadle Hulme was on hand to help us get back to civilisation and we found a 24hour bar just yards from the hotel. I sent Elliot to the bar, and he came back with two jugs of beer which must have contained at least three pints each. I knew it was a mistake letting him go to the bar and the amount of alcohol looked to have defeated us. That was until we decided to run out of the establishment- shouting Nur Nach Hause – with two full jugs, sneaking them back into the hotel to finish off.
Somehow, we woke up the following morning without a hangover and set about seeing the rest of the city on our final day in the city. We went to see the famous Berlin TV Tower before Elliot took me to see some of the more historic sights of the city which included Checkpoint Charlie and the Topography of Terror which is a museum built on the site of the former Gestapo buildings.
Overall, I really enjoyed our trip to Hertha Berlin but I won’t be in a rush to return to Berlin. I’ve ticked the city off and there wasn’t much there that would draw me back. The Berlin Wall fragmented the city, and as a result there isn’t a city centre as such which really did annoy me.
Hertha Berlin: Kraft, Pekarik, S. Langkamp, Kobiashvili, J. Van den Bergh, Hosogai, Skjelbred (Ronny), Cigerci (Mukhtar), M. Ndjeng, Allagui (Ben-Hatira), Ramos – Subs – Gersbeck, Brooks, Niemeyer, Wagner
Wolfsburg: Benaglio, Ochs, Klose, Knoche, Rodriguez, Luis Gustavo, Medojevic, Arnold, de Bruyne (M. Schafer), Perisic (D. Caliguiri), Dost (Kutschke) – Subs – Grun, Felipe, Junior Malanda, Trasch
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 670 miles
- ADMISSION: €18
- PROGRAMME PRICE: €2
… and finally, here we are on the big screen!