It was a bright but bitter Saturday morning in Prague as the wind whipped down the banks of the Vitava river. Cold weather brought with it the second match of an action packed trip as we headed north, over to the border and into eastern Germany. We made an early start from Prague’s Hlavni station, still fresh from the previous night’s exploits at Dukla Prague v Sigma Olomouc.
Ollie and I had fallen lucky with the location of our hotel, staying on Sokolovská just around the corner from the station. The 24 hour McDonald’s, that lurked underneath the dark and grimy Wilsonova flyover had received a hammering the night before. Used wrappers flew across Prague’s wide streets. The lack of alleyways and shortcuts made the walk an awful lot longer than it looked on the map.
Matt had traipsed across from the other side of the city and we found him – rather predictably – grabbing a coffee to start his day. He certainly appeared to be more lively than the handful of people who were stumbling through the park outside the station. I waited for a drink, gambling that the 08:21 train to Dresden would have an onboard bar.
It was never in doubt, of course the train would have a bar. Our base for the trip was complete with the fine print on the menu, stating when the sporadically timed ‘Happy Hour’ slots were, with the next one starting at 08:21 and lasting until 09:46. We positioned ourselves on the right hand side of the train, taking in the scenic views of the River Elbe.
Pulling into Dresden, the masses of football fans congregating in the station could be heard before they were seen, despite all of them proudly wearing the bright yellow and black of both the city and the team. It was clear that the luggage lockers, which were dotted throughout the station, were only being used to store large crates of beer. I don’t think I’d ever seen so much beer.
We had three hours to waste before kick off at the DDV Stadion, as it was then known. Rather than standing in the station, drinking with everybody else, we pressed onward to the stadium where we hoped there would be a fan park or at least a few bars to try out.
Abandoned blocks of houses littered the route as we made our way along the ten minute walk. Dresden was of course part of Eastern Germany through it’s communist period and the architecture and sparseness of the area felt rather morbid. It was a ghost town, with the only sign of life – or colour – being the plethora of Dynamo graffiti and artwork that plastered everything. Football was all that mattered in this neighbourhood.
Almost as boring looking and depressing as it’s surroundings, the exterior of the stadium was completely black. Grey concrete poles held the roof up, high above the fan park that was already rammed with supporters. Tucked away, amongst bare trees that had suffered a cruel winter, supporters were continuing to throw beer around like it was of no monetary value.
We were more than aware that the locals may not be the most welcoming to British tourists. We did our best Basil Fawlty impressions, “Remember! Don’t mention the war!” and managed to blend in. For a city that was completely decimated by allied forces, we were treated quite normally I think. One exception though was a woman in the fan park, who I managed to really wind up when ordering three pints. There was a long inquest between our biased jury and we couldn’t work out what had happened.
We had a couple more hours of drinking in the park and continued to keep our heads down, knocking back the Feldschlösschen which proved to be extremely popular. Despite being a Swiss beer, there was also a brewery in Dresden and they were the football club’s main sponsors.
With kick-off approaching – and now in possession of a glamorous looking Dynamo bobble hat – we scaled around the never-ending perimeter of the ground to reach our entrance. Tickets for the match appeared to be like gold-dust, with fans hanging around trying to snap up any spares. With 30,765 in attendance, the crowd would actually be the second highest the stadium had seen in a league game since it was rebuilt. With such demand, we naturally found ourselves on the back row by the away supporters, as far away from the Ultras as possible.
I don’t often write about the history of a club in my posts because it is always documented in far more detail elsewhere but I find Dynamo Dresden’s past really interesting. Sport on the site of the new stadium – that was opened in 2009 – goes back a long time and has roots far closer to home. The Dresden English Football Club was founded in 1874 and was the first football club in Germany and possibly the first in continental Europe. The team that the English workers created was that good (albeit at their own sport) that they didn’t lose a match for 20 years.
Dresdner Sports Club replaced it’s English predecessor in 1898 but would itself be forced to cease playing in 1946, when allied occupation attempted to ban organisations who had previous connections to the regime that had ruled during World War II.
With no football team to support, the city needed an ‘ideologically safe’ representative and the East German police helped to set up a team. They took players from a collection of other police-affiliated clubs and established itself as a force in East German football. SG Dynamo Dresden were given their name and they went on to claim their first East German title.
Their early success though, also proved to be the club’s undoing. The deputy leader of the Stasi was unhappy that the people of Dresden were enjoying footballing success, while the capital East Berlin lacked a decent team. All of the Dresden players were moved to the capital to play for newly formed Dynamo Berlin in an attempt to challenge the likes of Hertha who were playing in the West and attracting supporters over from the East.
Dresden were left with youth and reserve players and ended up plummeting down into the forth tier of East German football. By 1962 they were back and went on to establish themselves as one of the best teams in the country, reaching European football on a number of occasions.
In the early 90’s, when German reunification occurred, the creation of a ‘new look’ Bundesliga loomed. Finishing in second place in the East German league allowed Dynamo Dresden to joined the Bundesliga but they struggled financially throughout their short stay, with teams from the old West Germany being the dominant forces; as they still are to this day. Since the formation of a unified league, there have been just five teams from Eastern Germany who have played in the top tier with RB Leipzig the most recent addition.
There was an awful lot riding on this game. The 2. Bundesliga table was definitely the tightest one I had ever seen, with four points separating Ingolstadt in fourth down to Erzgebirge Aue in fifteenth! Dresden found themselves down at the bottom, hoping that three points would pull them away from the drop zone. Nürnberg meanwhile were in second place, hoping to keep up with leaders Fortuna Düsseldorf.
The Dynamo Ultras in the stand behind the net were in good voice, bouncing up and down in unison. Despite the wall of noise, it still felt a little subdued. A few months before this match, key members of the fans organisation had been arrested after they launched a “War on the FA” during an away fixture at Karlsruhe. It was a dispute that was ongoing and showed no sign of stopping anytime soon. At the gates, fans were being subjected to more thorough searches than they normally would.
It eventually led to the scenes that were picked up by media outlets world wide when 30,000 Dynamo fans travelled to Berlin for a second round midweek cup match. While the Dynamo fans are well-known for travelling to matches in large numbers, this caught lots of attention as it formed part of the mass demonstration against the ongoing criminal charges.
Even though we were on the back row, we still felt part of the Dresden’s famous matchday atmosphere. It was boosted more with a packed away following, with the Nürnberg supporters below us managing to make quite a bit of noise too. The home club had gone to the lengths of employing two stewards whose job it was to protect Dresden players taking corners. By holding umbrellas over the players, it prevented them being hit by missiles from the Nürnberg section.
The stadium was bouncing as Dresden took a 1-0 lead into half-time, having broken the deadlock a minute before the interval. Philip Heise landed his cross at the backpost where Rico Benatelli nodded in from close range.
As I munched on the latest variation of a chicken schnitzel both teams came out for the second half, without any changes. It was the guests who got off to a better start, equalising on 53 minutes when Enrico Valentini’s cross from the right side was headed in by Hanno Behrens.
Despite the efforts of both sides, the contest ended a draw, with a point being more beneficial for Dresden than it was for Nürnberg. The boisterous sea of yellow and black trickled away, with most supporters opting not to head into the city centre after the match. We had four hours to spend in the local bars before we had to catch the last train back to Prague, which we would end up catching by the slimmest of margins.
As with any city, we decided it was a good idea to start in it’s historic heart and then see where the night takes us. Our attentions were diverted for a few minutes when we walked through a large skateboarding half-pipe; my legs were too small to carry me up to the top of it and Matt labelled it a really poor attempt at parkour.
In the Aldstadt area, tourists were busy studying the strange mismatch of architecture that was available. Most eye-catching was the Frauenkirche, a large Lutheran church which towers over the city. It was a victim of the 1945 bombing of the city when 75% of the buildings were reduced to rubble, killing 25,000 people in the process. After lying as a war memorial for over 50 years, charred and burnt bricks were reclaimed and brought back together to reconstruct the church with it being reopened in 2005.
Next to the church was the Augustiner an der Frauenkirche bar. It was a place that possessed a peculiar vibe, with it’s reconstructed Baroque style decor complete with staff who were dressed up – rather ridiculously – in full German dress. Still, things would get stranger as we headed over the bridge and ventured around the other side of the river.
Little did we know as we walked through the doors of Am Thor that we would be following in the steps of Russian President, Vladimir Putin. It was only after we had ordered our pints and sat down at the bar that we noticed something slightly different about the place. Normally, in pubs at home you may find a ‘gin palace’ or a ‘rum shack behind the bar. Here, they had a ‘Putin shrine’ with various images of one of the most powerful men in the world.
During Putin’s spell in the city as an undercover KGB agent, he would often be found in Am Thor, propping up the bar… or perhaps hiding away in the corner behind a newspaper. Apparently his favourite beer was Radeberger, so that is exactly what we had too.
Our stint of drinking in the Neustadt area was over almost as quickly as it started, with Ollie and I needing to catch the train back to Prague. Matt would be ploughing on, looking forward to a night out in Dresden, which is what we nearly ended up doing. We completely misjudged how long it would take us to walk the 3km route back over the Augustusbrücke. A couple of wrong turns didn’t help and things looked rather precarious as we found ourselves running over numerous sets of train lines at the back of the station with two minutes to go until departure.
I had given up. I was prepared for yet another entry in the extensive book of travel mishaps. Gearing up for a night out in the city, I was already researching hotel prices. Ollie had different ideas and as we raced up the steps, we could hear the doors beeping. We threw ourselves on to the train and hoped it wouldn’t be too long until happy hour in the buffet bar.
Dynamo Dresden would win only one more of their matches but managed to finish the season in 14th place, one point clear of the relegation places. At the other end of the table, FC Nürnberg finished in second place, three points behind champions Fortuna Düsseldorf. Both were promoted into the Bundesliga.
19:24 train 21:35