Berlin. The very name conjures images from history. It’s also home to a number of football clubs, including Hertha BSC at the historic Olympiastadion, the eclectic 1.FC Union Berlin, former Stasi club BFC Dynamo and even Germany’s oldest club, BFC Germania. Here’s our football city guide to the lively German capital.
Germany’s football power lies in the west and the south. The Rhineland clubs, such as the Borussias – Dortmund and Mönchenladbach – Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen, feature in a gaggle of clubs from the west while Bavarian giants Bayern Munich from the south mop up most of the domestic silverware.
Berlin’s clubs have suffered from historical arrested development. Hertha Berlin (BSC) was the symbolic West Berlin side to feature in the West German Bundesliga when it was formed in 1963. Its home, the Olympiastadion – infamous as the host ground for the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games – was, interestingly, British Army sector headquarters during the segmentation of Berlin into four zones after World War II.
The former GDR (East Germany) also had its own league during the Cold War era and it’s history is fascinating. Club by club, here’s your guide to Berlin’s main football clubs:
Hertha Berliner Sport-Club (BSC)
Hertha, pronounced “Hear-teh”, is Berlin’s premier club. Hertha was a founding member of the German Football Association in 1900 and the Olympiastadion itself has to be one of the most historic venues in the world. Built for the 1936 Summer Games, this is where Jesse Owens won four gold medals and where – 70 years later – Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final.
The 74,500-capacity Olympiastadion has also been Hertha Berlin’s home since the inauguration of the Bundesliga in 1963. The Olympiastadion has its own S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations and is around 30 minutes’ travel from the city centre. Approaching from the U-Bahn you are greeted by the five iconic Olympic rings that you truly feel you’ve arrived at one of the world’s most significant sporting venues.
As the pre-match anticipation builds, Hertha’s ultras in the Ostkurve (East Curve) find their voice. There’s a rendition of a club song set to the tune of Rod Stewart’s “Sailing”, flags flutter before kick-off.
Match day tickets can be booked online and you should expect to pay €30-40 for a seat in the top lateral tiers and – unless it’s Bayern Munich or Dortmund – you shouldn’t struggle to find a ticket. This is, after all, the second largest football ground in Germany after Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.
1.FC Union Berlin
Like something out of a Brothers Grimm novel, 1.FC Union Berlin lives deep in a forest in the eastern suburb of Köpernick. In the GDR days the “Iron Union” had a major rivalry with Dynamo Berlin, but enjoyed limited success and experienced hard times financially in the 1990s. Things are good now at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei (Stadium at the Old Forester’s House), with the club a top half 2.Bundesliga (second division) outfit.
The club ‘1. FC Union Berlin’ came into existence in 1966 while under the former Soviet-backed GDR, but can trace its roots back further to 1906 when it was founded as FC Olympia Oberschöneweide. The Alten Försterei holds 22,000 spectators, and includes standing on three sides. I sat in the main stand for a princely €39, but would definitely stand next time for a lesser sum.
It’s a compact ground, but all the better for it. The atmosphere is pumping.
As well as the electronic scoreboard at one end, the Stadion An der Alten Försterei – which dates from 1920 – also has a manual scoreboard, like in cricket you can see someone lean out of the window and swap numbers. Fantastic!
And the crowd are great, too, with their non-stop singing and regular scarf waving around all four sides, no antagonism at all.
Berliner Fussball Club (BFC) Dynamo
Nearly five decades of Soviet influence in East Berlin led to a shake up in the way football in the city was structured. While West Berlin’s Hertha BSC played in the West German Bundesliga, East Berlin sides played in East German leagues, the pinnacle of which was the Oberliga.
One of those prominent Oberliga teams was Dynamo Berlin, who won ten successive titles between 1979 and 1988. Much of this is attributed to the club’s close ties with the former East German secret police department, the Stasi. Since reunification, many former East German teams have sought to ditch their former names, so Dynamo also rebranded and fell swiftly from grace, playing now in the fourth tier of Germany’s national league structure in the Regionalliga Nordost (North East Regional League).
BFC Dynamo now plays at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark next to the famous Mauerpark, an open space that ran alongside the Berlin Wall. The stadium is a wonderful multi-purpose oval with views across to the distinctive silver orb of the Funkturm (TV tower) at Alexanderplatz.
I paid just €12 at a booth at the park entry. The crowd will be modest and I found it fairly unwelcoming compared to the other, friendlier Berlin clubs.
Tennis Borussia Berlin
“TeBe” are based in the upmarket western suburb of Charlottenburg. Despite plenty of local success before World War II, when a keen rivalry with Hertha BSC developed, success has been in short supply for TeBe. Hertha secured Berlin’s place in the new Bundesliga in 1963 and TeBe has spent just two seasons in the top flight in the 1970s. The club now plays in Germany’s fifth division, the Oberliga.
Anti-discrimination is built into the fan culture at the 15,000-capacity Mommsenstadion. I’ve not been personally but look forward to making it on a future outing.
FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin
FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin are based in the leafy western suburb of Lichterfelde. The Stadion Lichterfelde is another multi-purpose arena surrounded by an athletics track. There’s a real family-friendly, non-league feel to matches here.
When I went last season it was just €10 entry to stand, €2.50 for a decent Pilsner, there were homemade cakes on sale and just over 1,800 in attendance.
Unlike at larger clubs with their ultra groups, there wasn’t a group of fans conducting the singing and flag waving, but it had a nice feel to it.
Berlin is a fascinating city and to fully understand it you need to understand the politics of the 20th century.
A great book to read is Rory Maclean’s Berlin: Imagine a City, which provides an almost biographical narrative to Berlin’s nearly 1,000 years of history.
Many of us studied World War II at school and many will remember the Cold War. Nowhere are the implications of both more visible than in Berlin. Reminders of the past are everywhere. There are monuments across the city to the millions of victims of Nazi atrocities. And on many pre-war buildings, you will see bullet and shrapnel holes left after Allied bombing raids and the brutal final Battle of Berlin in 1945, when the Russian Red Army conquered the city, forcing the Nazi surrender.
The Russian occupation of East Germany and East Berlin gave rise to the Berlin Wall (1961-89), some of which is left as a reminder, but the whole original route of “Der Mauer” is marked by a paved line two stones wide.
You can drive Trabants, see the city from the Norman Foster-designed Bundestag dome, visit the brilliantly retro GDR Museum, party in Kreuzberg, it’s all there. Berlin is awesome. If you’ve not been, go!