WE hear a lot about the democracy of German football and its user-friendly ticket policies, but not everywhere is it cheap to watch the game in the home of the world champions. I paid no less than EUR 18 to watch a game in Regionalliga Nordost, which is below the three division main structure of Bundesliga, Bundesliga 2 and Liga 3 – effectively non-league football in Germany.
Admittedly, the game was between Berliner FC Dynamo and Wacker Nordhausen. You’ll recognise the first name listed there as Dynamo Berlin were the dominant force in East Germany before Die Mauer came down in 1989. Unfortunately, the club in its past guise was very unpopular during the old DDR years, playing in front of 8,000 people even though they were a constantly-winning team. This was largely because Dynamo had become the plaything of the Stasi (secret police) and its chief, the notorious Erich Mielke.
Mielke and his colleagues made sure that Dynamo were perennial champions of the Oberliga and between 1979 and 1988, they won the title every year. They reached the last four of the European Cup-Winners Cup in 1981-72 and the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1979-80 and 1983-84.
It was no coincidence that just as the DDR collapsed, Dynamo’s stranglehold – allegedly boosted by sympathetic referees and favourable player transfers, ended and in 1990-91, their average gate was barely 1,000. As Germany become one, the club changed its name to try and distance itself from the past and it ended up as Berliner FC Dynamo.
Like all of East Germany’s leading clubs – students of the game will remember “crack” clubs like Carl Zeiss Jena, Lokomotive Leipzig, Magdeburg and Dynamo Dresden – Dynamo Berlin suffered after reunification. Eastern German sides have been rare in the Bundesliga and most of these old names from the DDR are now playing at a low level. Regionalliga Nordost includes the second strings of Hertha Berlin and RB Leipzig as well as the first XIs of Lokomotive, Carl Zeiss and Energie Cottbus, who spent a brief period in the Bundesliga.
Dynamo’s home, the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark, can be found close to the Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn (U2 line) station in trendy Prenzlauer Berg. You take a stroll up the strasse and then they hit you – the communist-era floodlights – like many Eastern Bloc stadiums, the sportpark has huge tripod-like structures that resemble something from a sci-fi film. Floodlight porn at its best.
Dynamo do not have the home of a non-league club – far from it. The stadium was opened in 1952 as East Berlin’s sporting showpiece. Friedrich-Ludwig Jahn, incidentally, was considered to the “father of German gymnastics”.
When those giant lights were switched on, nesting birds, which had buzzed and chirped their way around the lamps, were seeking refuge in the Berlin dusk. In the near distance, you could see the famous Fernsehturm, the DDR attempt at showing the west that it was a technological hub.
In contrast to the DDR days, Dynamo have something of a reputation for hooliganism – skinheads with far-right political views – and even for the game against Nordhausen, there were vans of police outside the ground. I asked if they expected any trouble, and I was told, “a bit…maybe.” I didn’t see any hint of problem at all – the Dynamo fans were in fine voice all evening, sitting along the opposite side to the main stand where, before reunification, backed onto the wall and the so-called “death strip”.
Perhaps it is the police bill (apparently, when Hamburg played there in the cup recently, the place was packed with law enforcement officers) or the rent on the stadium that drives the price of football at Dynamo up. They may be a cult club, but attendances are not especially good – I was told by a steward that the Nordhausen game might attract 2,000 – 2,500 people, but actually it was just over 600 (last season, they averaged about 1,100). In a 24,000 capacity stadium, that doesn’t go a long way, although there was plenty of room to spread out!
The game, which for some reason kicked off 20 minutes late, was entertaining on a balmy September evening. Nordhausen included in their line-up one Marco Sailer, a heavily bearded character who featured in Darmstadt’s rise to the Bundesliga. Sailer’s presence was noted by the crowd and his scurrying figure and mass of facial hair, making him even more hipster than the characters sitting in the ground, was greeted with comments whenever he touched the ball. Unfortunately for Sailer, he was injured and stretchered off after half an hour, but the home crowd gave him a good send-off.
Dynamo went ahead after 15 minutes, Kai Pröger cutting inside and drilling the ball home. In the 32nd minute, it was 2-0, as Serbian midfielder Zlatko Muhovic followed up to score after the Nordhausen defence failed to clear a low ball into the area. The best was yet to come, for in the 45th minute, Dennis Srbeny, a local lad, netted with a superb strike into the top corner of the net.
Both teams earned red cards – Tino Semmer of Nordhausen leaving the field on 66 minutes, with some Scottish fans (yes, Scots from Aberdeen, who have formed an alliance with Dynamo) giving the departing striker a chorus of “who are you…who are you”. This was soon followed by a red card for Dynamo substitute Tim Siegmeyer. Dynamo wasted countless chances in the second half and there was no more scoring. They had done all the hard work in the first 45 minutes.
So it’s not all packed stadiums and tickets that are cheap as Currywurst in Germany. That said, a visit to an iconic club in an iconic stadium, alongside some eccentric supporters, in one of Europe’s most vibrant and exciting cities is worth 18 euros of anyone’s money. Just make sure you get out of the stadium quickly, though, for as soon as the game’s over, those huge floodlights are turned off, leaving you to grope your way out of the ground.