In a Different Country No.5 Germany. Part 1 - Dortmund/Cologne.

Discussion in 'The Beautiful Game' started by RichardL, Apr 6, 2007.

  1. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

    May 2, 2001
    Reading FC
    Nat'l Team:
    Cologne’s cathedral is magnificent. Over 500 knee-grinding steps to the top high, dominating the skyline from ground level or if flying in at night like I did. It draws your eyes towards it like a beacon, which is just as well as virtually all of the surrounding area was hideously rebuilt after being flattened by the allies in the 1940s, and given how the centre was replaced, the locals must secretly fancy the RAF to come back and have another go. The only consolation is that if it had been done in England it would have been even worse, and they’d have probably knocked the cathedral down as well to make way for a Tesco.

    It was but 100 metres from here that I checked, very late, into my hotel. It was the kind of get-what-you-pay-for 2/3 star city centre small hotel, the kind the gets good reviews on Tripadvisor from everyone except American women complaining that it doesn’t have the kind of facilities they’d come to expect at the Sheraton. At this particular hotel, one woman had complained that the hotel was opposite a shop selling “adult products”, and I can only assume one of the window dummies must have been wearing a night-dress, as it was an ordinary women’s clothes shop when I visited about 2 months later. My reason for choosing was a combination of price and it’s location near where the bars seemed to be. Within minutes of checking in, my sixth sense had already directed me to the door of a very decent Irish pub, right next door to that incredible rarity of a Welsh Pub, and arriving no too long before midnight, I had no time to lose.

    Many in the pub were locals, and as such many were drinking the local type of beer, Kölsch. It is a fine beer, no doubt about it, but it’s served in such a tiny glass that you might as well be wearing a pink frilly shirt, wearing a cravat and calling yourself Tarquin, such is the impression it gives off. I stuck to Guinness and rapidly find myself in conversation with a group of British nurses who were out celebrating someone’s birthday, even though their birthday had passed several months since. Naturally, they were much more drunk than I was, and had trouble contemplating that I’d only been in the city 30 minutes. I don’t think there was a great deal they weren’t having trouble contemplating – judging by their departure, walking upright was enough of a mental challenge – but I was again proud of the kind of dignified conduct British people are famed for across Europe, as they sang and weaved down the streets.

    My first proper game in Germany was not to be in Cologne, but in Dortmund instead. My first match in Germany of any kind was a pre-season friendly for Reading v Reutlingen. Played in a small village outside Ulm – which has a cathedral which laughs at Cologne’s Dom and calls it a midget, being 530’ high, with 768 steps to the top which turn your legs to quivering jelly – the game was a 0-0 draw of such awfulness that people’s hearts were stopping through boredom.

    This proper game was to be rather different. There’d be about 80,000 more people there for a start. While other clubs might like to claim to be the biggest in the world, the fact that a club in Germany usually gets more fans in week-in week-out tends to be brushed under the carpet. While yet another sub-mediocre season may have seen Dortmund’s crowds dip down to a mere 71,000 this year with them in the relegation zone, they were comfortably ahead of all others averaging 77,000 when I was there, in a year when an outside chance of an UEFA Cup place was the best they could hope for.

    Borussia Dortmund’s ground is almost the perfect football stadium. It’s completely enclosed and rectangular, with every seat as near to the pitch as probably possible in such a large stadium. Totally simple and unfussy, without ever looking boring, and free of flamboyances of an architect showing just how wonderful he is because he got a new French Curve for his birthday. And best of all, the entire of one end is a terrace. Not a little piddly one either, a giant one where those at the top are given oxygen and leaflets warning about altitude sickness. It makes the Kop look like a fourth division cowshed. So what if the inclined glass wall at the back makes the roof look, from the back at least, like the lid of a cheap 1980s record player – a bit of retro Grundig kitsch never hurt anyone.

    Certainly the people of Dortmund are very proud of the place. The Dortmund tourism site, admittedly not blessed with an overflowing variety of options, names the stadium as its top tourist attraction, while the “things to do” page suggests going to a match there. The best park in the town is, surprisingly enough, the Westfalia Park that surrounds the stadium. Parks are something of a feature of German stadiums. Often planned as part of sports parks in the hyperinflation days of the 1920s, when it was thought that Germans needed alternate ways of keeping fit other than pushing their daily earnings around in a wheelbarrow, a stadium was usually the centrepiece. Naturally the designers, who would probably never go there themselves and always live in worlds where it never rains, considered a 15 minute walk through the park from the station as perfect.

    The terracing had long since sold out by the time I came to buy a ticket – an internet purchase via a German speaking friend, but my ticket was opposite, one seat from an aisle, or so I thought. Certainly I was one seat from the edge of the fairly wide block, but rather than an aisle, there was just another block of seats to my left, with a handrail separating the two blocks. Not only did this handrail serve absolutely no purpose, it was just the perfect height for being directly between my eye-line and the near goal. Short of putting a spike in the middle of each seat as a tribute to Kaiser Wilhelm, it’s hard to think of a more useless and annoying fitting to add to a stadium. It’s only possibly function was to pacify the fears of some anally retentive stadium manager who fears their orderly blocks of seats might be ruined if someone was to move from their designated block into another. They demand a barrier to prevent such movement, thus allowing them to get on with ironing their socks and sharpening their pencils to exactly the same length. Naturally, the best way round the problem of having it block my view was to move to a vacant seat in the next block, so it didn’t work for that reason either. Even getting to the row was bad enough as a man and his son were in my seat due to some ambiguous row numbering. It took about 20 minutes, the help of two stewards and about 100 people around them telling them that it really was those two that were wrong, and not all of them, and that their two places were the two achingly vacant seats directly in front of them.

    Exposure to German football had always been limited for me, but I first saw some when one cable channel in England covered it for a short while. I hardly knew any of the players, but I liked it a fair bit. The players just seemed much more ambitious and would routinely shoot from distances that would have fans here groaning in frustration. The obvious difference is that fans in Germany don’t mind because the shots are often on target, whereas in England a shot from 35 yards usually has more chance of finding the elixir of eternal life than finding the top corner. It must be something either taught very early of just in the genes, as a young Dortmund player, just 17 years old with a handful of games under his belt, scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen from just about that distance. I could help but think that young Marc-Andre Kruska, if he can do that at 17, must have a bright future ahead of him, although with my eye for talent he’s probably now playing for Augsburg Reserves in the regional leagues.

    Kruska’s was the equalising goal early in the second half. The already relegated Hansa Rostock had surprised everyone, including probably themselves, by taking an early lead in front of the packed south terrace. It was not what the yellow-clad hordes had wanted. It had been some kind of flag day beforehand, with nearly everyone there holding up a banner flag on two poles, as if they’d set out originally to go on a trade union march, and decided to go to the football instead. Naturally, their own strike made the brothers happy.

    It was a very open game, with Hansa Rostock and their fans determined to enjoy their last afternoon of Bundesliga 1 football for at least a year, but with the probing of Rosicky pulling the strings in midfield, and Koller blundering about and looking as dangerous as an elephant in a kindergarten up front, Dortmund were always the most likely to leave happy. And that was how it turned out, with Koller thudding the ball in from close range to give Dortmund the points, and the majority of the 80,500 fans, including myself, enjoyed the glow of victory. I’d enjoyed the day. A good match. I’d got myself a good scarf as a souvenir – albeit acquired with some difficulty as despite asking for the alt-Deutsch scarf in my very best German pronunciation, the woman in the kiosk still looked at me with a look of incomprehension as if I’d asked her if her feet were made from Sauerkraut. Even the less than inspiring train journey through the limited greenery of Westphalia viewed from the train’s top deck (you just have to go on the top deck, you just do) didn’t bring me down. I pulled into Cologne station is good spirits, only to find the city swarming with Borussia Meonchengladbach fans celebrating staying up, and went off to find some good spirits of my own.

    Outside the city of Dortmund's premiere tourist attraction.


    The south terrace goes up and up, as do the flags.

  2. Anthony

    Anthony Member+

    United States
    Aug 20, 1999
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Did Cologne smell nice?
  3. green94

    green94 Member

    Jan 1, 2007
    Hamburger SV
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Greatly written article as usual. I particurarly enjoyed the comment about English long shots. I'll be looking forward to your next one!
  4. ericb7694

    ericb7694 New Member

    Mar 20, 2005
    Osnabrueck, Germany
    VfL Osnabrück
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I went to Dortmund last year for the US-Germany friendly. You're right about the stadium...big, no frills, but just right for football. Greatly written article.
  5. willykirk

    willykirk Member

    Jan 6, 2004
    San Jose, Ca
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    well it didnt smell badly. i was there for three days at the world cup--a beautiful city and i would certainly go back given the chance. we stayed just a short walk from the Dom right on the river and there was so much going on in front of our hotel we didnt even bother going to the official fan zone. a friend of mine also lives there and the carnaval season is among his favorite events of course.
  6. Footer Phooter

    Jul 23, 2000
    Falls Church, VA
    These articles are great, how many more do we get?
  7. DSM1

    DSM1 New Member

    Apr 9, 2005
    Hillsboro, Oregon
    Your articles are very interesting. You set the scene so well, sometimes I can almost taste the Guinness. In fact, I think I will have one now...
  8. TCompton

    TCompton Member

    Oct 21, 2002
    Oh Koln, how I miss thee! Colonge was my "home base" for the first two weeks of the World Cup. Left with great memories and photos. This post only helps to remind me of the fun I had. :)
  9. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

    May 2, 2001
    Reading FC
    Nat'l Team:
    I don't know. I probably keep doing them until I get bored or Harper Collins offer me a £1 million advance to do them properly. Actually there is hope. They have branched into the football sector with the "long awaited" autobiography of Coleen...umm...thingammy..oh you know, the one going with Wayne Rooney, with details of her hugely succesful shopping career. Based on that I would say I have more chance than say, a housebrick, or perhaps the colour orange, or getting that advance.

    Until I get bored remains the favourite though. This German one could have a number of parts, as I've been to a total of 13 games there in 5 trips.

    I'm pretty sure I'll do a Hong Kong one as well. I haven't even been to a match in Hong Kong yet, but I'll need something to keep me occupied on the 9 hour flight from there to Melbourne in almost exactly a month's time.
  10. kanonier

    kanonier Member+

    Nov 7, 2005
    Bloomington, Ind.
    Arsenal FC
    Hey Richard, could you do us a favor and put a date on when you visited these places? I'm just curious about some of them/comparing the experience towhen I was there.

    And Köln... is sehr schön!
  11. ToMhIlL

    ToMhIlL Member+

    Feb 18, 1999
    Boxborough, MA
    New England Revolution
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    As always, yet another fantastic story from Richard.

    I was in Germany in early March 2006 and took in the Eintracht Frankfurt - Wolfsburg match. From a neutral perspective, it was a pretty entertaining match, which is all you can ask for. It was right around 0 degrees (celsius) so I had a couple of Glauweins to keep me heated up. This is a popular German winter drink, a red wine, somewhat like a sangria, but flavored with cloves, served heated. They had vendors with these back-pack dispensers walking around in the stadium.

    On think I like about German fan culture is that when they introduce the players, the announcer says the player's first name, and then the crowd chants his last name. I wonder what they do with one-named Brazilians?

    One of my more unusual adventures was on my way out of the stadium. I was driving back to my hotel about 10 km from the stadium. I got pulled over by a leather-clad German policeman. I was in a "right lane must turn right" lane and I didn't want to get on the Autobahn...

    He pulls me over and starts yelling at me in German. Time for me to play the "dumb foreigner" card, so I ask, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" He snaps back, "Nein!" and then he proceeds to harrangue me some more in German. I figured that somewhere in that tirade, he probably would be asking for my license and registration, so I give him my rental car papers and my US driver's license.

    He looks at the papers and then has this "Whut th' hail is this thang?" look on his face as he examines my Mass. license. Driving licenses in Europe are folded up papers with notary-like stamps and seals that basically say that you are authorized to operate a car. Unlike our plastic cards with a photo on them, which are used primarily as an ID card for drinking purposes.

    He was having a little trouble with the word "Massachusetts" and I was tempted to say "yeah,it's right next door to Conn-n-n-n-ec-c-c-c-c-c-tic-c-c-cut," and ask him if he'd ever been to Cochicuhate Park, Misquamicut Beach, or Lake Winnipisaukee but I thought better of it.

    Finally, he said in heavily accented English, "This is one of the states, ja?" I confirmed that he was indeed correct. "OK, you drive careful now, ja?" and he let me go. :)

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