After two and a half weeks in Germany and the occasional distraction I have now managed to make it as far as Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. But before my blog moves on to the Balkan part of my adventure I thought I’d put up a few more posts about Germany.
English football fans are hooligans, rugby fans wear club ties and regale each other with tales from communal shower rooms, Italian fans spend all their spare time making racist banners, American fans just eat hotdogs and require wider than normal seats and Turkish fans are just nuts and would make a fight between fans of Millwall FC and the Vancouver Canucks look like a Women’s Institute bake sale.
For almost every sport and every country there exists stereotypes and strong ideas as to what the respective fans are actually like and what effect they have on the experience of watching the game. And the Germans are no exception. British football fans especially look fondly upon reports of great atmospheres fueled by cheap beer, cheap tickets, fan ownership and safe standing. So does Germany really represent football utopia? And whats it like for other sports? So below, in a completely non-indepth way, I seek to answer these two key questions you probably don’t actually consider key.
When originally looking at my route through Germany I had planned a stop of at Cologne, (or Koln as the Germans seem to like to call it) in theory to look at the cathedral and other sites of interest, but in reality because it made a convenient jumping off place to go to a Borrussia Dortmund game in the nearby industrial city Dortmund. The football team here, runners-up in the 2013 Champions League final, are famous for their huge crowds and enormous standing terraces. Unfortunately despite playing in a 80,500 capacity stadium, Dortmund average an attendance of 80,500 a game, which makes getting hold of tickets difficult. It’s do-able, handfuls of tickets for many games (although not normally in the standing sections) do go on sale to the general public about 2-3 weeks before each game after having first being offered to members. For the big games however, Dortmund’s popularity is such that tickets won’t even be offered on general sale. This leaves two options for getting tickets, either acquiring them online before the game from Viagogo or German eBay or just turning up on the day and seeking out a ticket tout. Viagogo is the way to go if you are looking for sets of tickets, but be warned that going this will way quickly demolishes any thought that German football is a “cheap day out” as tickets are sold on at extortionate mark ups. You might get lucky on German eBay but generally they don’t seem keen on posting outside of Germany. As I was planning on being in Cologne around the time of a “big game” against Borussia Mönchengladbach I didn’t have the chance of getting tickets through the club. The prices offered online were also ridiculous. I considered turning up anyway and seeking out a tout but again the price was likely to make this a very expensive day which wouldn’t represent a good start to my attempts to properly stick to my travel budget. As a result, I skipped on Cologne but was still keen to take in a game elsewhere. Fixtures did not seem to fall kindly and match where I was staying, but I did get a chance to attend an TSV 1860 Munchen in Munich.
1860 Munchen are older than their more famous city rivals Bayern Munchen and whilst they might share a stadium, they are also a lot more rubbish. Whilst Bayern Munich have just recently tied up the Bundesliga title with a ridiculous number of games still to play, 1860 Munich are struggling around the bottom half of the German second league.
Crowds are also much less. Whilst the Allianz Arena, built for the 2006 World Cup is probably too small for Bayern Munich its 60,000 odd seats is twice as many as 1860 probably need. This meant there was plenty of space and once inside the ground and once inside I found a group of Sheffield Wednesday fans who were taking advantage of the situation to erect a large Sheffield Wednesday flag. Considering that 9 years of living in Sheffield must mean I’m getting close to being considered a local I decided to join them. There are few more depressing things in the world of sport in my opinion than seeing a game in a stadium that looks half empty, especially as the 24,000 people actually in there was actually a very reasonable attendance given where 1860 are in the league and the season. Despite this though it was still possible to see why German football enjoys some of the mythical status it does in the UK. Behind the goal in the north stand, massed ranks of 1860 fans chanted and waved flags constantly. Closer to us stood the ranks of Kaiserslautern away fans who responded by likewise doing the same all game. The Wednesday fans were in agreement that despite the empty seats this was the best atmosphere they had seen at any football ground in the UK, (apart of course from Hillsborough!) Equally though we agreed that as great as it is to look at, you would be royally peed off if you wanted to see the game in anyway only to find enthusiastic Germans waving an enormous flag in front of your face all game.
Unfortunately as I previously mentioned, 1860 are rubbish, and have Gabor Kiraly (ex Crystal Palace) in goal. Gabor wears joggers whilst playing in goal. I’m fairly certain its a universal truth that if you play in goal in glorified pyjamas you are liable to be rubbish. 1860 Munich lost 1 nil. (to be fair to Gabor he did go up to attack a corner at the death and almost equalised.)
In terms of price, the cheapest tickets available were just over 15 Euro, with prices then going up to around 35 Euro for a good seat in the stands by the touchlines. If you get your ticket in advance this includes a local transport ticket for the day, which is around 6 Euro in Munich making it 9 Euro to watch a game of football which is very good value indeed and would put it on a par with going to watch, say Sutton United in the Conference South, 5 divisions below the Premier League.
Food and drink inside the ground is not exactly cheap, but didn’t feel like the complete rip off it often does in England. More on the slightly expensive pub side of things. Irritatingly though, you were unable to pay in cash for any food or drink, instead you had to charge up a card at a separate kiosk with credit you could then spend in the ground.
Overall I was impressed, the atmosphere was good, but the empty spaces also made it feel slightly underwhelming. It also probably didn’t help that I had seen what probably ranks as about the best sporting atmosphere I’ve experienced only 2 days before….
I am a minor ice hockey fan. Or for the Canadians amongst you – I am a minor hockey fan. In Sheffield I was a fairly frequent (but by no means regular) visitor to the Sheffield Arena to support the UK’s most successful ice hockey club, the Sheffield Steelers. The standard of ice hockey in the UK is nowhere near what can be watched on TV from the NHL but seeing sport live is always best. I enjoy the game although the atmosphere in Sheffield is normally rather too subdued for my liking, with the quiet only broken by the loud music played over the PA during breaks and THE WORST ATTEMPTS AT DRUMMING EVER. (OK that might be an exaggeration but you frequently wonder if they might get more rhythm going if they just gave a 4 year old a spoon and access to a lot of pots and pans.) Ice Hockey is only a very minor sport in the UK, especially in the South, with the UK’s Elite League’s most southern teams being Cardiff and Coventry, but in Germany its a bigger deal with much more media coverage and interest. I was going to stay with a friend from university near Munich for a weekend and hoped to take in a hockey game as the German season moved into the play-offs. At first it looked as if the hockey gods were against me, with my friends favourite team, Straubing Tigers failing to make the playoffs in Germany’s top league, the DEL, as did Red Bull Munchen. Meanwhile my friends local team, Landshut, looked like they might crash out of the DEL2 playoffs before I would have a chance to watch them. I was therefore enormously grateful when my friend offered to drive us 2 hours north from Landshut to Nuremberg (Nurnberg in German) to watch the Nurnberg Ice Tigers. Or to be precise, due to some financial difficulties, the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers, Thomas Sabo being a jewellery brand. Adverts for “manly” looking jewellery in the run up to face-off was not what I was expecting, although given their opponents, Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg had decided to name themselves after a fictional American who’s best friend was a bear, rather than doing something even vaguely related to wolves or a wolf, I decided Nurnberg didn’t actually have the silliest name.
The other thing I wasn’t expecting, especially for what was essentially a very new and very smart 8,000 capacity arena was the provision of standing terraces behind both goals. The back and forth chanting between the these sets of fans seriously lasted for the entire game, frequently with the rest of the arena joining in. Flags and scarves were waved, there was no need for music in breaks in play because of the constant fan noise. The first period ended 0-0 and it already felt like the best game of hockey I have seen. I belittled the atmosphere at Sheffield earlier, but it isn’t always bad. I saw a sell out 8,000 crowd see Sheffield win the league title in 2011 and but this was far in excess of that or any other sporting occasion I have had the pleasure of seeing. In the second period, Nurnberg finally made their pressure pay and took a 1 nil lead heading into the final period. The reaction to the goal was fantastic. Almost every fan in the building seemed to be jumping up and down waving scarfs and shouting out the names of the goal scorer and the assists. A goal fest of a final period saw the Ice Tigers wind up 5-2 winners and left me on a high that lasted for the 2 hour journey back to Landshut. An awesome experience and I would highly recommend checking to see if there are any hockey fixtures in town should you visit Germany, especially if its during the playoffs. The tickets we got were 25 Euro which is a fair bit more expensive that hockey in the UK which tends to be around £16 for the top Elite League. Like the football though, bear and snacks all seemed more reasonably priced so as a night out the cost would probably work out about the same if you were to have a beer or two.
So what have I learnt? Fan culture in Germany for both football and hockey makes for a much better atmosphere and the prices are on a par with or much cheaper than most UK equivalents. If I return to Germany and get the chance to take in another game, be it football or Ice Hockey then I would jump at the chance and should you find yourself there you should do the same. Just be sure not to stand behind someone waving a flag. Atmosphere is great, but at the end of the day you want to actually see the game!