Herman the German Munster

I love Germany. After all I am of that age where good value football, good value beer and accessibility to good value hardcor…ah ok, sorry Mum….good value nocturnal entertainment is more important that DJ Jazzy J and a foam-filled dance floor of scantily clad girls off their ti….sorry again Mum…nightclubs, are more important to me. And Germany ticks all of those boxes thrice-times over. But even so there are parts of the country that I have always wanted to visit and never had an opportunity. The former East Germany tech-hub of Jena (obviously home to Carl-Zeiss), the Black Mountains and Wuppertal.

What do you mean, where? Come on! Wuppertal, sitting on the River Wupper slap-bang in the middle of the Bergisches Land to the east of Düsseldorf. Home to the Von der Heydt Museum, the Arboretum Burgholz, which even Wikipedia enthused as an EXTENSIVE arboretum and of course the 18th century Engels house. But put all that excitement to one side when I tell you it is the spiritual home of the Schewbebahn, the home of the Monorail. Not just your run of the mill monorail either. This is the oldest electric elevated railway in the world, having opened in 1901. And catch this. It’s only bloody suspended (not in a close way but in a hanging down, swinging way).

Those clever Germans eh? Well no, let me stop you there. This was invented by the British actually. A man called Henry Robinson Palmer (of course, Henry Robinson Palmer) first suggested the idea of a suspended rail network, pulled along by horses back in 1824. Alas his original route had one flaw that saw him dismissed as a country bumpkin. His proposed network didn’t go as far as reaching the Stadion am Zoo to the west of the city centre. What was the point of that, said the town council, with amazing forethought as football was still nearly 50 years away from becoming a regulated game in Germany. But Palmer was out and so was his horse-drawn plan.

TuffiInstead in 1901 the current line was opened to global acclaim, linking Oberbarmen in the east, to Vohwinkel in the west and having a stop at the stadium of Wuppertaler SV Borussia, the Stadium am Zoo. Around 25 million passengers today travel on the railway which travels about 10 metres above the River Wupper in swinging comfort. Back in 1950 so popular was the railway as a way to get from the centre of the city to the Zoo that a passenger decided to bring his baby elephant on board. As any schoolboy knows, baby elephants and suspended monorails do not mix and poor Tufti got a bit concerned on the route, pressed the emergency door release button and promptly fell into the river below. She was fine but hasn’t been back on any railways since.

I could kid you to say that riding on the monorail was the only reason that I, along with Danny Last, Spencer Webb, Kenny Legg, Big Deaksy and Andy Hudson had arrived in Germany some hours before.   Football was in the air ladies and gentlemen. Regionalliga West may not have the glamour and glory of the Bundesliga, but it was good enough for us as a warm up act to Borussia Dortmund’s game. What’s not to like about coming to see Jorg Jung’s side anyway?

But the weather had been proving to be as much a pain in the arse in these parts as across the Channel. However, in the knowledge that six Englishmen would be arriving, SV Wuppertaler would surely be up all night with hairdryers to get the pitch playable for the game versus VfB Hüls, right?

But it was not to be. Thursday. 48 hours before kick off. Thursday. Really? Heck, the weather must be really bad out in Germany for our “Big Match” to have already been postponed. Who wasn’t looking forward to the joys of Wuppertaler SV, and of course the trip on the monorail. We still had Dortmund, with the biggest terrace in the world and a guaranteed 80,500 sell out, but this weekend was all about riding that suspended single rail automated railway to the ground, wasn’t it? Oh, and maybe a beer or two.

The scene certainly wasn’t encouraging as we touched down early doors on Friday at Cologne-Bonn, or CGN for those who live their lives in transport codes (for the record the trip from NEH to LGW had been textbook around the M25 and down the M23). Snow lay all around and the mercury was struggling to break the zero barrier. Bugger.

8482890336_338f8b7264_bWe’d arranged a little private tour around the Bayer Arena, where just 14 hours previously the home side had lost to Benfica in the Europa League, and just 26 hours later they would be taking on Greuther Fürth. Our host, Nick, got very excited as he took us around the stadium, saying it was the first time he’d done it with 5 English boys. He couldn’t understand our excitement at being let into the away end where all the “ultras” stand. “Such bad boys” he said…the worst ones? “Those naughty men from Frankfurt. They fired flares into the home fans.” Something to look forward to at Dortmund then! For some more sneak peaks into the inner workings of the stadium, head over here.

Kenny Legg, of Award nominated AITinpot fame and now working for Her Majesty in Germany, rang as we headed back to Düsseldorf. “Don’t worry lads, I have a plan B, C, D and Z for tomorrow. Meet me in the Legg arms at 5.04pm.”

We’d been in Kenny’s local for a few Alt’s before he arrived with the fruits of a hard day at work. It seemed he printed off every railway timetable in Germany and proceeded to talk us through potential plans for the morning. Plan C was Prueßen Münster v Hallescher in the Bundesliga 3 and that was the vote of the team although after a tour of Düsseldorf’s indie pubs Andy and Spencer decided that bed (not together I hasten to add) was a better option in the morning.

At 10am on Saturday we did what every good German would do. We bought a six-pack of beer, some Fisherman’s Friends (I still think they’ve missed a trick by not using the marketing slogan ‘Sucking on a Fisherman’s Friend is more rewarding than you may think’), a bag of German Frazzles and jumped on the train to Münster. A couple of hours flew by as we laughed at our own jokes and before we know it we eased into Münster station. The place was busy with football fans already tucking into the 75cents beers, although they were in pre-match training for the Dortmund game rather than Prueßen.

One bus ride later and we pulled up at the Preußen Stadion. They cater for all needs in these parts with a casino and an Erotik superstore across the road from the ground if the football didn’t float your boat.  €10 for a place on the terrace at a third tier match demonstrates the difference between English and German football. You have to drop down into the 7th tier of England to find a comparable price. Oh, and the ticket of course then allowed free train travel after the game. Once inside the stadium we almost cried with joy. Two words – Old School.

8481824743_030af2efb0_bNow here’s a story from the lips of Andy Hudson. Apparently relations had been strained for some time between the Ultras factions at Münster, so much so that three groups now existed, and really didn’t like each other. Our tickets were for Sektor M, where you could find one group, unsurprisingly called “Sektor M”. This group included a drummer who was no more than 8 and a few young girls patiently taping banners up. To our left the more threatening looking group were readying themselves. And then in the middle were the undecided ones, not sure if they should go left or right. With a beer in hand this was the perfect place to watch events on and off the pitch unfold.

Want some more German 3rd tier footballing trivia?  Of course you do!  Die Adler (the eagles) as they are still known, were one of the founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963.  In fact their opening game in August 1963 against Hamburg was the ONLY sell out on that day.  They can also lay claim to be the only side included in the original sixteen team league that has never played back at this level, after relegation in that first season.

The teams took to the field with a flourish of activity from the Ultras, with the 500 or so away fans at the far end suddenly pulling their hoods up and deciding to try to leave en-mass. The police were having none of it. “If we have to stay and watch, then so do you” was the message relayed back to the Hallescher fans.  So they did what any other respecting fan would do on such a chilly day.  They whipped their tops off and starting dancing around like loons.

Preußen Münster 2 Hallescher 0 – PreußenStadion – Saturday 16th February 2013
Despite the brave attempts by the away fans to inspire the former East Germans, it was an easy run out for the promotion-chasing home side.  A goal in each half from the Turk Mehmet Kara, his first since returning to Germany from his home country saw the Eagles consolidate third place in the league, and close the gap on the leaders Karlsruher and Osnabrück to just three points.

8481839785_77500a2d91_bIt was gloves all around, apart from Big Deaksy who wanted to whip his top off in support of the away fans such is his tough guy approach as the game kicked off and our beers were a little too chilled.  Despite some early incursions into the home side’s penalty area, Hallescher didn’t look to convinced that they could win the game.  With most of the home crowd lost in debate about the quality of the Currywürst, Deaksy spotted an offence in the Hallescher penalty area, told the assistant referee and he flagged for the penalty.  Eagle-eyed like an Action Man is Big Deaksy.  Kara stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way.

With so many games off in the area the bumper crowd of over 7,000 who braved the chilly conditions were rewarded with a decent game of football and thus takings across the road at the superstore were down for the afternoon.  After the break the away side briefly threatened to equalise but any threat was soon extinguished as Kara scored a well taken second goal.  Last season’s Regionaliga Nord champions simply had no answer. It was left to their fans to liven up the afternoon with a brief scuffle with the police before some Poznaning across the terrace.

With a date with 80,496 others in Dortmund we made a swift exit with a few minutes to go, stocking up with our 75cent beers for the hour-long journey, covered by our match tickets of course.  An afternoon that had started with such disappointment had ended with a warm glow.  As D’ream once sang, things could only get better (well, except for a tense change).

More pictures from a grand afternoon out can be found here.

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