A Teutonic Treble – As told by Kevin….

A guest report this week as I have been effectively been serving a week football ban from CMF. Just because I cannot have fun abroad doesn’t mean the rest of you have to suffer….so its over to Kevin for his trip to Germany…

“For the European football traveller who doesn’t want to miss too many of his own teams domestic games, the Champions League and UEFA Cup scheduling is an ideal opportunity for an overseas trip or two during the season. It is announced far in advance and it doesn’t tend to move at short notice on a TV company’s demand. This time last week, I was off to Germany again for three new grounds for me.

Stuttgart 1Tuesday started with a trip to Stuttgart. Armed with the best of European stadium literature (European Football – A Fans Guide by an chance – ED), we boarded an early morning flight from Stansted with the stereotypically efficient Germanwings. They are fast becoming my favourite airline, they never seem to be too busy, they are incredibly reliable, pleasant and comfortable and they are always reasonably priced (£35 single). With time on our side, we took the easy to navigate local rail service from the Airport to the central station and then a local tram to our hotel near the Gottlieb Daimler Stadion. The stadium is undergoing renovations which will see the end of the running track so it is only 3 sided at present. This made tickets difficult to get hold of, but not impossible. What was more troublesome was that Stuttgart had Glasgow Rangers in their group so the club would not sell tickets to UK residents until after the Rangers game had passed. We also experienced something similar to this at Wolfsburg. It was inconvenient for a traveller trying to arrange flights etc in advance but tickets eventually became available on the official website, as well as on eBay.de and Seatwave. When we arrived at the ground, they were also available on the night.

After a few beers in the City, we made our way closer to the stadium and there were a couple of reasonable sized bars, well populated, near the club shop and Porsche Arena.  The match programme was free and piled up on the floor inside the stadium. Our seats cost 35 Euro and were in the back row of the upper tier, about level with the goal line. As one side of the stadium was completely open, it was about now that we first spotted the temperature difference between Germany and UK, it was a touch chilly.  As for the game, Seville ran out easy 3-1 winners and it featured some comedy goal keeping from Jens Lehman.

Wolfsburg 1A reasonably early start was needed on Wed am as we had a train to catch to Wolfsburg for our 2nd game, VFL Wolfsburg v Besiktas. German trains are superb but they are not cheap, this journey took 3 ½ hours (1 change) and cost £60 single. On arriving in Wolfsburg, there appeared to be a vast number of Besiktas fans displaying their colours proudly. A quiet afternoon in the bars kept us out of the dropping temperatures. In one bar, we got talking with a couple of locals who couldn’t quite believe what we were doing there and were even more surprised when I told them that European football travelling is popular in the UK and people go to more obscure games than I had chosen. These gents showed us where to get the bus to the ground from, although the ground was only a 20 min walk from the train station.

As mentioned earlier, tickets for this game were not easy to get hold of, it was Wolfsburg’s first ever season in the Champions League, the stadium only held 30,000 and they had a well supported Turkish team and Manchester United in their group. This meant Wolfsburg were only selling tickets in packages for all three games and initially, they would not issue tickets to a UK address or someone without a booking history. Again, they eventually relented on this, once tickets went on sale for individual matches and they realised that we didn’t want tickets for the United game.

The game itself was pretty terrible. I had been looking forward to this one as I’d seen a fair bit of Wolfsburg on TV last season and they had a great centre forward pairing (Dzeko and Grafite) but Grafite is currently off form and got himself sent off. The game finished 0-0. Much more entertaining were the Besiktas supporters, I had been fortunate to visit their stadium with Tottenham in the UEFA Cup and it was a superb experience. You end up watching them as much as you do the action on the pitch, (this wasn’t so much of a problem today!), they had travelled in good numbers and were prominent in 3 of the stands with no hint of trouble. Their vocal backing is excellent.The match programme cost 1 Euro and was available from vendors outside of the stadium.

Berlin 1Thursday, it was back on the train to Berlin for a couple of days. Hertha Berlin were at home to Heerenveen in the Europa League. Berlin was an excellent venue, easy to get around and obviously plenty of history to keep you busy, the Olympic site itself was enough to take up the best part of a day, I’d recommend a visit up the Bell Tower. Berlin has a vibrant nightlife in the East and you are never going to be short of a midnight kebab. It was really, really cold though. Tickets for this game were easy to come by on Hertha’s official website although they would not send tickets to the UK so we had to collect them on the match day.

There is a U-Bahn and a S-Bahn station at the Olympic Stadium. If you use the S-Bahn as you leave the station, on your left, there is a programme vendor selling a vast array of programmes from many clubs and dates, this is something you very rarely see in the UK nowadays. There is also a huge bar in front of you and you have to cross Jesse Owens Strasse. If you use the U-Bahn, the route to the stadium is more photographic as it brings you up on an approach where the Olympic rings are displayed.

The ground obviously has a running track and due to the low attendance, the upper tiers were not open. The game finished 1-0 to the visitors, Hertha are not having a good season with just 2 points and being bottom of the table at present. The stadium does present some excellent photo opportunities. There was a programme available but it was in the form of a free 8 page miniature card, it was disappointing.

I very much enjoy my visits to Germany, I find the people hospitable and the diet of sausages and lager is much to my liking. The atmosphere the supporters generate is better than anything you will experience in the Premier League. I’ll be back over in November for Fortuna Dusseldorf v Energie Cottbus and Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Monchengladbach.”


Deutschland, Deutschland wo für heraus Deutschland…part 1

Well what can you say about an away trip to your greatest rivals in one of the best cities in the world, where you come away with a win after fielding your almost second string team?  Quite alot actually, so here goes, without the need to rely on cheap Top Gun (or The Mobiles for those who remember their one hit wonder in 1982) song titles.  This was always going to be the pinnacle of England’s away trips for the past few years – well certainly since Amsterdam in 2006.  I am not going to dwell on the history of games between these two great foes, but I think there was enough in the payback bank from Wordl Cup 1990, Euro Championship 1996 and of course Munich in Septmber 2001 to ensure that this was more than just a friendly.

As soon as the game was announced, and the venue confirmed as Berlin the anticipation from the fans was immense.  The German FA allocated nearly 8,000 tickets for England Fans and most were snapped up well in advance, ensuring that the atmosphere was going to be tip top.  But it wasn’t all about the mouthwatering game.  Berlin itself was a great result as a venue.  The new capital of Germany is one of the youngest in the World (prior to the wall coming down in 1989 the capital of West Germany was Bonn), as well as one of the most hedonistic.  Meaning that whatever the visitor is looking forward, he (or she) will find it somewhere in the city.  One only has to mention the words Kit Kat Club to many visitors to draw a knowing smile (go on you know you want to Google it now – just wait until the children and your boss is out of the room though). 

There are a number of great things about Berlin including:-

  • There is no real centre to the city which means that crowds are dispursed and never too busy
  • There is history galore, and most of it is free to see
  • There is of course German beer and sausages
  • It’s full of German women who are not backward at coming forward

But there are a number of bad things too:-

  • There is no real centre to the city which means that attractions are in places quite afar apart
  • There is a lot of “sensitive” history that does attract the wrong type of visitors
  • Too much beer and sausage makes you very poorly
  • It’s full of German women who are sometimes too forward

So a bit of a balanced scorecard really, although most people who visit the city vow to come back time and time again.  I had been on three occasions before and captured its forever changing face.  In 2000 I surprised CMF with a birthday day trip to the city and we wandered around Europe’s largest every building site that today is the impressive Potsdamer Platz development. Three years later I was back to see a game at the Olympiastadium which at the time was in the midst of its huge upgrade in time for the World Cup finals in 2006, and finally I was here on a day trip with Football Jo so that she could stock up on some dody DVD’s.  I had a good idea of the bits to see and the bits to avoid and this would come in useful later in the day.

As the days counted down before the game, more and more of the first choice players pulled out.  The Manchester United trio of Ferdinand, Rooney and Wes Brown were already declared injured before the squad was announced but it came as no shock when firstly Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard pulled out of the squad after playing a full match for their clubs a few hours before.  Unsurprisingly there was no place for Robert Green, despite him putting in a fantastic performance at home to Portsmouth in front of Capello.  Instead he went with the 38 year old David James, Scott Carson who hadn’t played since the Croatia home game twelve months previously where he had a nightmare, and finally Manchester City’s Joe Hart, who had been between the sticks for the previous few games in which Man City had performed so badly.  Hart was ruled out after City’s game at Hull on the Sunday, but instead of Green he called up Paul Robinson who must have thought, along with 99% of Blackburn Rovers fans that his international career was over.  With no place still for Michael Owen there was alot of specutation as who would start up front from the quartet of Defoe, Crouch, Bent and Agbonlahor, whilst the central midfield pairing of Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick would start for the first time together.

I had managed to snare my flights on a rumour, twenty four hours before the fixture was officially announced.  So I wsa flying on at 7am on the day of the game direct to Berlin Tegel, returning twenty four hours later.  Dagenham Dan and Shents Bull were flying out with me and I managed to arrange a lift to Heathrow with Dan, although the pick up from Embankment at 4.30am did mean another night where I got to say hello to the milkman as I left the house.  This was going to be my first visit to Terminal 5, and first impressions were very positive and you can see how it took so long to build, although they could have improved the painfully slow security process surely.

The airport had a heavy police presence since this was a game that was going to be too tempting for a number of the “old faces”.  In general the police that you find at the airports are very personable and will try and have a joke with you – especially in Dan’s case when he was recognised straight away for his heinous crime of being a Dagenham and Redbridge fan.  We passed through the terminal after security very quickly, including a full english pit stop.  We had turned down a Wagamama’s Full English early on, not exactly relishing the tought of sausage, bacon and wasabi, as well as Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food offering that at £20 was a tad overpriced, and settled for the Express Full with a guarentee of fifteen minutes.

Fast forward ninety minutes and we were exiting the tiny terminal at Berlin’s Tegel airport and boarding a bus that would take us down to the city centre.  Tegel is so small that you can walk from curbside when you exit your taxi to jetty which connects the plane in less than thirty steps.  This means that the airport can get incredibly congested and it still retains the Eastern European feel today, although there are now firm plans to demolish the airport in 2012 when the new Berlin Brandenburg airport opens in the south east corner of the city.  The bus deposited us outside Zoo Station (made famous by U2 in 1991 as the title of their opening track of the Achtung Baby album) and we headed around the corner so the boys could drop their bags off, and we then started on some sightseeing.  I took them on a circular route from Potsdamer Platz along the wall route to the Brandenburg Gate and down to Checkpoint Charlie.  We had also picked up a few more visitors on the way including Young Joe, who when he discovered I wrote a blog insisted that I refer to him as Gypsy Joe.  I cannot possibly comment on why he liked to be called this, although we did lose him a couple of times as we passed building sites that needed a driveway completed.

After a brief souvenir stall stop at Checkpoint Charlie (where we filled up our passports with genuine East German and Soviet border stamps) we went for lunch at one of my favourate spots in the city – the Play Off Bar and Diner which is located in the Arkadan shopping centre at Potsdamer Platz.  Now what is so special about an American diner in a shopping centre you may ask?  Well I have been a regular visitor over the years for four main factors.  Firstly they are one of the only bars in the city that served Schwarzbier, or “black beer” which is addictive once you have tried it once; secondly they serve huge portions of bascially every type of meat known to man; thirdly it has TV’s dotted around the location showing sport from all over the world, and finally because of the waitresses.  We are not talking in the Hooters league here, but they are above average for German women.  OUr particular waitress, Steffi, took a shine to Dan and myself straight away and flirted like mad, and kept “squeezing” past us to get to other tables, taking the opportunity for a quick feel as she passed.  She was certainly not backward in coming forward and I think things could have got a bit messy if we had stayed for a few more Schwarzbiers in more ways than one.

Berlin was gearing up for its annual Christmas market, with many of the stalls being set up around Potsdamer Platz.  Most were not yet open but some of the sweet stalls were, including the infamous “let’s dip all of the fruit we can find in chocolate and put it on a stick” stall.  One of the stands was a Milka stand, selling a variety of purple cow products.  Being brave after my Black Beers I went up to the pretty maidens behind the desk with Shents and asked “Do you know where anywhere sells chocolate”.  In a response that brought me straight down to earth I had one of those moments where you wish you were somewhere else.

“Are you English people so stupid you cannot see?  We sell chocolate here – now do you want some or are you going to sod off?”  In one of the biggest climb downs known to man, and with my support crew now in hiding around the corner I handed over my €2 for a bar of Milka with chilli beans in.  I could have at least got something I liked!  In preparation for the change in temperature that was due to kick in at the weekend, the local authorities had installed a real snow slope where for €1.50 you could speed down in a tyre.  Only Gypsy Joe and Shents were brave enough to venture down the slope, and their girly screams were enough to have the rest of us heading into the U-Bahn in fits of laughter.

We headed off back to Zoo after the alpine experience as the boys were fascinated by the Erotik superstore and museum that is located across the road from the station.  It was here in April 2006 that I nearly walked into a scene from a porno – although not the kind that either CMF or myself would want to watch.  I was there with Football Jo as I have already mentioned and she wanted to try and “out porn” her brother so she wanted to look in the “special” section of DVD’s.  Now coming from the most liberal country in Europe where hardcore porn is shown regularly on state TV before the watershed and they have monthly magazines such as Golden Shower Monthly and Bukkake Bonanza, the special section really caters for a minority of the market, and Jo was in her element.  I was desperate for the bathroom and noticed a Gents in the corner so I headed in that direction.  As I was about to push the door open, three young men with leather pants and very tight t-shirts emerged, swiftly followed by a middle age suited man who looked a little bit flustered. On seeing the potential for a new “trick” they smiled at me and I headed back to the same arms of of Stacheldrat und Vanillepudding section (use Babel fish if you want to know!) where Jo was, much to her amusement.

After a thirty minute giggle we felt the need for some more culture and so we headed east to Alexanderplatz, which was the centre of the East German universe.  Slap bang in the middle of the square is the Fernsehturm, built in the late 1960’s and one of the tallest freestanding structures in Europe at 368metres.  The viewing platform at 204metre is a great place to get a view of the whole city and Shents and I were the only two brave enough the 30metres a second lift and the magnificent panoramic views.  So we did what all English football fans would do in this situation – we headed for the bar and had a beer.  Time was getting on, and we headed off down Under den Linden for a final bit of culture before heading off to the stadium.

Oh what it’s like to follow England abroad.  The train was packed with fans from both countries.  The Germans being quite drinking their litre bottles of beer, and the English full of toneless songs which started off fine such as “God save our Queen”, “Rule Britannia” and then progressed onto “Ten German Bombers” and other great songs taken from the Xenophobics greatest hits cd.  We pulled into the station next to the stadium and within a few minutes we had passed through the various security cordons, been given our free programmes and stocked up on warming food and drink as the temperature started to fall.

So what more can I say about the stadium?  It is truly magificent and history seems to seep from every brick.  During the 1990’s the stadium was taken apart block by block, completely cleaned and replaced.  A huge roof was put in place as well and the stadium was ready to host the World Cup Final in 2006.  England had been given the upper and lower tiers either side of the Olympic torch platform, and the view of the action from my seat in the upper tier was very impressive.  The teams emerged to a “raise the flag” that Mr Perryman would have been proud of, although we couldn’t actually see what the message was.  Christians entering the Coliseum perhaps?  Well ninety minutes would decide whether we would exit battered and bruised or carried on the shields of the vanished.

Deutschland, Deutschland wo für heraus Deutschland


Germany 1 England 2 – The Olympiastadion Berlin – Wednesday 19th November 2008

Time for the anthems

Time for the anthems

The major surprise in the team was the inclusion of Agbonlahor up front and in the early exchanges it was England who played the ball around with confidence.  Whilst Germany made some interesting selections, including Rene Adler in goal for just the 2nd occasion and Hoffenheim full back Compper making his debut.  However, they started with Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez up front who had scored fifty goals at this level between them. 

The first chance fell to Defoe in the second minute when he blasted wide, setting the tone for the half as England expolited the wide pitch.  The opening goal came after twenty four minutes when Adler dropped a corner and Upson prodded the ball home for his first International goal.  Everything seemed to be going England’s way as Carrick and Barry stopped any threat from the young German team, although it is impossible to know what would happen if Michael Ballack was in the middle of the park.

Towards the end of the first half there was a flair up in the German flags section closest to the England fans where it appeared a group of away fans had bought tickets on the black market, and the locals objected to them joining in with the theme to the Dambusters.  A stand off occured for a few minutes before some beer was thrown and all hell broke lose for twenty seconds before the English bid a hasty retreat into the amrs of the German riot police and a nice banning order.

Capello brought on Scott Carson at half time, his first cap since his disasterous appearance at Wembley in the win or bust game versus Croatia almost a year to the day.  He had little to do until the sixty third minute when a huge punt upfield by the substitute German keeper Wiese cleared Upson and John Terry appeared to have the ball under control and awaited Carson’s advance to collect.  Both of them took their eye of the ball in all senses and allowed Helmes to nip in and push the ball past the goalkeeper and giving the Germans an undeserved equaliser.  In the past the England fans would have reacted by booing Carson, but this is not Wembley with its plastic fans.  Sure there was some ironic cheers the next time he handled the ball, but that was it.  Terry must also take some of the blame as he had taken his eye off the German player but he responded with the type of performance a captain should put in, and with just seven minutes left he rose to head in a Downing free kick to win the game for the English.

So full marks again to Capello who had won the tactical battle against Low, and was earning more respect by the day for his team selection and tactics.  We headed off out of the stadium towards the station and were impressed by the way the Germans had segregated the fans, pushing the Germans to the far end of the station platforms and boarding them alternatively, so that there was no trains full of mixed fans.  Good idea in theory but in practice it failed.  The stream of trains soon slowed to a trickle and we were sent from platform to platform and no one seemed aware what was going on.  A train had been sitting on the platform for ten minutes when all of a sudden the doors on one carriage were pushed open and a fight broke out on the platform.  Riot police arrived within seconds although they were took slow to work out who were the perpertraitors as they merged back into the crowd, setting all of us on edge as they could come and simply take us as token arrests.

Eventually we got back into the city centre and headed to the boys hotel for a couple of beers.  I was screwed either way as I had to be up at 4am for my flight back, so 3 hours sleep is just as good as 2 so why not enjoy a drink. 

So wind forward five hours and I am sitting in the departure lounge of Tegel airport.  To my left is Alan Smith, the ex Arsenal and now well known TV pundit, and to my right is Teddy Sheringham with his latest companion.  And straight ahead sat the wettest, whingiest pathetic England fan I had ever seen.  He had decided not to go to the game after seeing a fight in a bar in the city centre, and watched it in his hotel room.  He tried to argue his case as to why his moisturiser should not be confiscated because “it was expensive” and “it was unfair on him”.  People like that make me so mad, so what odds that on a plane seating 150 guess who I am sat next to???  Fortunately God shined his light on me as he was actually due to sit in 18B and not 14F as he was next to me. 

So a crazy 24 hours in Berlin was just what the doctor ordered as a break from work.  We had certainly seen the best of Germany, and some of the worst although the fans were notably absent from most of the bars after the game – “Germans, Germans where for out thou’ Germans”

The Stadium – Olympiastadion (Olympischer Platz 3, Berlin 14053) – 74,550 All Seater
The stadium itself appears almost monumental from the outside – a perfect elliptical structure of finest German limestone. In fact some of the original inspiration of the design was taken from Rome’s Coliseum. The original architect, Werner March designed the stadium, with clear input from both Adolf Hitler, and his chief architect Albert Speer. It was meant to be a showpiece arena, where Hitler could show the world the power of the German state, both in terms of athletics and in edifices during the 1936 games.

After the Berlin wall fell in 1989, and unification gathered pace, the stadium was granted funds to begin to update its facilities. The host club, Hertha Berlin, were invited to join the inaugural German Bundesliga, and redevelopment was necessary to bring the standard of the ground up to those in the west. However, funds were not available to add probably the most important thing for a spectator – a roof. Berlin is not known for its warm barmy winter’s evenings, and so their loyal fans had to endure the elements whilst watching their team. In 1998 a decision was taken to begin the complete modernisation of the stadium by the local state government. The work, which took over four years to complete, saw the whole of the inside of the stadium demolished and replaced, piece by piece as well as the much needed roof being added. All of this construction took place with events continuing to take place in the stadium, albeit with a reduced capacity. The redevelopment work included the removal of every limestone block to be cleaned, and then replaced – a job akin to completing a huge jigsaw puzzle.

The reconstructed stadium was finally finished in time for Hertha’s first game of the 2004/05 season with VfL Bochum and underlined the venue as one of the most modern stadiums in the world, and a venue fit for the World Cup Final in 2006. The stadium also hosted matches five other matches, including the quarter final penalties victory for Germany over Argentina

How to get a ticket for the Olympiastadion
Tickets for any event that is being played at the stadium can be booked in advanced via the website http://www.olympiastadion-berlin.de. This includes concerts, American Football as well as Hertha matches. Hertha also have their own ticket website at http://www.hertha.de. Last season the average attendance at the stadium was only 47,000, meaning that for the majority of matches tickets were available on the day of the game. Tickets range in price from €13 Euros behind the goal to €45 for one of the best seats in the house in the Sud Tribune. The hardcore Hertha fans are found in the East Curve.

How to get to the Olympiastadion
The easiest way to reach the stadium is by either U-Bahn on line U2, or by S-Bahn on lines S5/S75. Both of these stations are called Olympiastadion, although they are geographically separate. The U-Bahn station is located to the east of the stadium on Rominter Allee – which will bring fans out onto the huge Olympischer Platz and the view of the famous Olympic towers. A journey from Zoo Station in the west of Berlin is 8 stops and will take around 15 minutes. From the east of the city, you can jump on the U-Bahn line at either Alexanderplatz or Potsdamer Platz – allow 35 from the former and 25 from the latter.

The S-Bahn station is located to the south of the stadium, and is around 200 yards from the Sudtor entrance. Trains run from Zoo Station, Alexanderplatz and the newly constructed Hauptbahnhof. The journey time from Zoo should be around 10 minutes.

Finally, you can get a taxi to the stadium. Normally they will drop you off at the end of the Olympischer Platz close to the Osttor. A journey from Potsdamer Platz will take around 20 minutes and cost €20, from Zoo around 15 minutes and €17. Taxi’s can be hailed in the street, found around most big hotels or by ringing   0800 2222255  .