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In the lions den: Musings from my roadtrip to watch HSV vs. Gladbach

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Germany has changed a lot since I moved to Norway more than a decade ago. But, the one thing that hasn’t changed for me and all Werder fans in the time that has passed is our relationship to the Hamburger SV.

Give me any German pop culture reference of the recent past, and I won’t get it. Long gone are the days of me watching German television, and me trying to keep up with what ”the kids call music”. Even tiny things surprise me these days when visiting Germany. On my first day here in Germany I found myself marveling over a new drink, an unholy alliance of coke and red wine. But, it wasn’t the fact that German youth have started to drink crap instead of the lovely German local beer, but the fact that the drink was called ”Kalte Muschi”, which can be translated into English as ”Cold Pussy”. (Not having tasted the stuff, I honestly cannot say if the name of the product actually is a taste note.)

Kalte Muschi is actually a drink associated with the FC St. Pauli.

The cultural phenomena of stand up comedy has reached Germany, and stand ups like Mario Barth have successfully used shock value as a way of selling themselves and the German public has finally taken to it. Now it seems that pushing the envelope in the distasteful direction is a marketing strategy, selling soft drinks, tickets to stand up shows, books etc., and Germans seem more accepting of that strategy than they did a decade ago. A more consumer driven, cut throat country has emerged, hardened by the recent economic instability, and somewhat less kind than it was 10 years ago.(Or, the last 12 years in Norway have simply made me more sensible, or turned me into a ”Muschi”, if you want to keep it dirty and German.)

On the way to Hamburg

Still befuddled at how the country I left so many years ago had changed, I set out to find out if anything had changed for football fans in Germany. It had been seven years since I last saw  a Bundesliga match. Back in 2004 I was in the AWD-Arena in Hannover and saw the 96’ers turn a 0-1 deficit into a 2-1 victory. I still remember the great shot by Fredi Bobic that clinched the game in Hannover’s favor.

After four days of trying to get tickets for Hannover matches, I took a long shot and went on the home page of the Hamburger SV to find out if they had any tickets available for their match against Borussia Mönchengladbach the next day. Turned out, they had a few tickets still available. Hamburg might not be paying their players wages like they were playing in the Champions League, all right, but the red shorts still charge ticket prices like they were playing for a top finish in the Bundesliga. (Hannover 96 and Werder Bremen have much cheaper ticket prices by comparison.)

Trotting along at a rather pedestrian pace. Well, for the ICE this is pedestrian.

Since I already was splashing out on one of the more expensive tickets of the Bundesliga, I found out that I wasn’t going stop their, and bought myself the most expensive train tickets I could find. And on september the 17th, I took one of the quickest train in the world. The ICE can reach speeds beyond 300 km/h, and it does so while riding through the German country side quietly. (My personal favorite fun fact about the ICE is that it doesn’t stop in Wolfsburg., cars and trains don’t seem to mix well it seems.)

Musings on the train

Putting aside the elderly woman sitting four rows away from me, who was going on and on about how her generation was poorly treated by society, and how young people all are imbeciles, my day couldn’t have started out better. It is always astonishing how both the young and the elderly often feel entitled to a whole lot of things, never keeping in mind that others need to be taken care of as well, I was thinking. And how ironic, that the young and the old couldn’t spot that they had a similar way of thinking about themselves. Putting on some loud music on my iPod, and blocking out the old lady’s mindless drivel, my mind soon returned to more familiar thoughts. Musings about football, and the HSV in particular.

Given Hamburg’s recent form, and their ambition to be amongst the best clubs in Germany, there was certainly a lot of excitement leading up to this game. Coach Michael Oenning had so far only won 4 of his 34 Bundesliga matches as a coach, and was still looking for his first victory in 12 matches before the match against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Even though the HSV wanted to be a club that thinks long-term now, according to their board, I was wondering if Michael Oenning could survive another defeat.

Oenning had taken all the right steps to look like an idiot in the German media by talking about Miroslav Klose when his team met Bayern, by failing to answer the question of a reporter who had asked him to explain how Oenning would describe his style of football and so on. The HSV coach had also become more and more thin-skinned in recent weeks it seems. A Twitter account in his name had been opened up, making fun of him and the team, Oenning didn’t see the fun in that and asked his lawyer to take the case to the German authorities in order to get that Twitter account removed. Punters gambling on Oenning being fired after the Gladbach game weren’t going to make a fortune.

And while my favorite line from Tom Waits’s ”Cementary Polka” would describe the way Hamburg’s players act on the pitch these days, ”independent as a hawk on ice”, going to Hamburg to see them play still inspires awe in me to be honest. Their success during the Happel years was immense, three Bundesliga championships, two European trophies and one win of the DFB cup. Hamburg were the club to beat in Northern Germany before the Bundesliga was founded, and the likes of Werder Bremen, my favorite team, were just an after thought in German football fans minds back then.

At long last, Hamburg again

Train station in Hamburg.

Even though I dislike the HSV, I have always loved the city of Hamburg. It has a dash of Parisian elegance, a bit of Berlin’s cheekiness, wrapped up in some of the most awe-inspiring architecture to be found in Germany. Hamburg is the media capital of Germany, the journalists of the Bild Zeitung have their offices in Hamburg, and so does Spiegel, and a whole host of other German publications. Hamburg has always been a bit more cultured than for instance Berlin in my mind, and combined with some of the most open-minded and friendly inhabitants you’ll find in Germany, you are almost guaranteed to have a great time in Germany’s second largest city.

But, there was only time for a quick coffee break in a swanky cafe in the Mönkeberg Strasse, before I had to take the next train taking me to the Imtech Arena. Sitting in the cafe, glancing into the local tabloids and the Bild my thoughts on Oenning were somewhat mirrored by those publications. If the HSV lost this match, Oenning would probably be the first coach to lose his job in the 11/12 Bundesliga season.

Just outside the gate, waiting to get into the Imtech Arena.

Arriving at the Imtech Arena

After another short train ride I had arrived at Stellingen, the train station that is closest to the Imtech Arena. Right next to the train station some HSV and Gladbach fans were getting ready for the match, by starting this Saturday’s beer drinking experience. Both sets of fans mingled, and shared jokes in a peaceful and calm enviroment. ”Well, if we lose against you lot we might get rid of our idiot coach!”, one Hamburg fan shouted to a Gladbach fan who was getting himself another beer.

One lady held up a ”Such Ticket”(looking for a ticket) sign, while the local police officers patrolled the area on their horses. Even the police officers were in a good mood it seemed. After a ten minute walk I had finally arrived at the Imtech Arena. I had seen this place so many times when driving on the Autobahn, and I have seen it on the Television so many times. But, for somebody who is used to Norwegian football, which means roughly 8.000 people suffering in silence while a game of questionable quality progresses in front of them, I was taken by the sheer size of the stadium.

The outside of the Imtech Arena.

Just standing in front of the arena brings to mind the great footballers of the HSV who made their name in the now renamed Volksparkstadion. Charly Dörfel, Uwe Seeler, both of them amongst the best footballers Germany ever got to see, both of them HSV through and through. Some of the games my father has told me about, like the 1961 2-1 win against Barcalona that saw Hamburg eliminated from the Champions League after Kocsis got a goal in the 90th minute for Barca(Hamburg had lost the first match in Barcelona 1-0). Even in the recent past this arena has been a place where historic events have taken place. Who’ll forget Bayern Munich’s last minute championship back in 2001 on the last match day of Bundesliga football? So, putting in it in simpler terms: Getting to enter such a place feels like a privilege, and it is, as Joe Biden would put it, ”A big fucking deal”.

The match

Before the match I took a stroll, trying to look at as many places as possible before kick off. After I had found out that the stadium is just as massive on the inside, as it looks from the outside I found my seat with a good German ”Bretzel” and a beer firmly in my hands. Kudos to the HSV for the Bretzel, firm, crunchy and really tasty, but Holsten just tastes awful. (well, I knew that before the match)

My view of the pitch.

While sitting in a stadium with a beer in my hand is something that isn’t usual for somebody who mostly attends the matches of Viking Stavanger, what was to follow on the pitch was business as usual. The HSV lacked again all sort of vision going forward, and winning most of the duels and having most of the possession didn’t help matters it seemed. Two half chances, one for the HSV and one for Gladbach were all the first half had to offer. But, instead of booing at the half time break for what truly was an underwhelming performance by both teams, the Hamburg fans applauded their team into the half time break. Defensive stability is rated amongst Hamburg fans these days it seems.

The second half was better, and with a new beer in hand I was finally starting to feel comfortable with my surroundings, be sure that nobody had found out that I am a Werder Bremen fan. The 59th minute brought the first chance worthy of a mention: A cross by Gökhan Töre found Robert Tesche, who headed the ball towards the goal. From my position it was clearly visible that Borussia’s Filip Daems had stopped the cross with his arm, a clear penalty. However, the otherwise excellent referee Peter Sippel failed to see the infringement and Gladbach and Daems got away with what was a clear-cut penalty.

To make matters worse, a poorly defended free kick from Juan Arango found the head of Igor de Carmargo who made it 1-0 for ”The Foals” only seven minutes after Hamburg should have been given a penalty.

Now that it was up to Hamburg to take the game to the visitors ”The Red Shorts” showed again their lack of creativity, not producing any single chance that troubled Gladbach’s goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen.

Only after the game the HSV fans around in block 26c started to voice their discontent. Booing, and shouting around me I tried to hear as much as I possibly could. One man four rows in front of me shouted about a conspiracy from German referees robbing the HSV of the three points, while a group of four or five vocal fans behind me started to shout ”Oenning raus”(Oenning has to go).

Leaving the arena I heard HSV fans around me bad mouthing Michael Oenning all around, but one sentiment many brough forward was:”We have had so many coaches in a short period of time, would changing the coach really make a difference now?”

On the train back to the city centre I had the pleasure of meeting a Swedish HSV fan, and the two of us exchanged a few pleasantries. Both of us agreed that the HSV fans were loud as hell during the match, something that can’t be said about fans from where we are from. At this point I should acknowledge that the Gladbach support at times made themselves heard at the other side of the stadium.

The end of an epic journey

After the train had taken me back to down town Hamburg I wound down the evening in Bucks Sportsbar, drinking a couple of Astra’s, the better of the two Hamburg lagers, and watched Kaiserslautern vs Mainz with a lovely group of Kaiserslautern fans who had made the trip to, as they put it, have a lot of fun(they weren’t there to have fun on the Reeperbahn, if that is what you were thinking). All in all, I got to four conclusions based on my day in Hamburg:

1. German football fans are nice, decent human beings who’ll share a laugh with you, and being on the opposite side isn’t an obstacle.
2. The police and German rail workers made the whole experience more pleasant by being helpful and friendly, making my life finding the stadium and getting around in Hamburg a lot easier.
3. I am really looking forward to my next Bundesliga match as a spectator.
4. ”Astra Rotlicht” is the best lager made in Hamburg.

All of this was written during my train journeys on the match day and the day afterwards, here is the music I listened to during those journeys:

Big Bang –  Where the World Comes To An End
Big Bang – Earphones
The Rolling Stones – Satisfaction
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black
The Clash –  Lost in the Supermarket
The Clash – Guns of Brixton
The Clash – Death or Glory
Tom Waits – Jockey Full Of Bourbon
Tom Waits – Cementary Polka
The Soundtrack Of Our Lifes – Heading For a Breakdown
Ralph Myerz and The Jack Herren Band – Think Twice
Kaizers Orchestra – Di Grind
120 Days – Come Out(Come Down, Fade Out, Be Gone)
The National Bank – A recorder in red plastic
Neil Young – Walk On
Neil Young – Revolution Blues
The Beatsteaks – Cut of the top
The Beatsteaks – I don’t care as long as you sing
The Beatsteaks – Hello Joe
Wir Sind Helden – Die Konkurrenz
Tim Fischer – Bidla Blu
Tim Fischer – Geben Sie acht
Them Crooked Vultures – Elephants
U2 – New Year’s Day
Radiohead – We Suck Young Blood
Radiohead – Just
Kråkesølv – Skredder
Joy Division – Warsaw
Joy Division – Leaders of Men
Joy Division – Digital
Madrugada – I don’t fit
Madrugada – Majesty
Fettes Brot – Jein
Rio Reiser – Ich bin müde
Weezer – Hash Pipe
System of a down – Aerials
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication
Tocotronic – Let there be rock
Tocotronic – Morgen Wird Wie Heute Sein
Nirvana – Rape Me
Nirvana – Dumb

One last site note: My mobile phone hasn’t got a state of the art camera as you can see, but next week I’ll have a proper camera with me so the pics from the Bremen match will hopefully be a bit better.

Feel free to leave a comment below.


About Niklas

Niklas Wildhagen has been following the Bundesliga for over 20 years and he is the editor in chief of the Bundesliga fanatic.

4 responses »

  1. Cool article, Niklas. But where is the jazz on your playlist???? lol

  2. I gotta say, Nik, red wine and coke isn’t a new invention. I drank it when I was in the Rheinland in 1992. Selling it in bottles probably is, I’ll give you that.

    Otherwise, interesting article, and I’m jealous of so many of my internet-friends seeing all this wonderful football live.

  3. Cheap Red Wine with Coke is very common in Spain, I think they invented it. It’s called Calimocho and very common at university’s days. You have also Tinto de Verano which is with Sprite (Casera – spanish version)

    Well hope you get to taste better beers like Bitburger, Veltins, Krombacher, Franziskaner or Loewenbrau. Fully agree that Holsten is not that great. Astral I havent tried.

    Try to go for Bremen’s training session, it should very easy to get the players upclose.

  4. Loved it, yeah next time a little Thelonius Monk or Miles Davis to the play list, but you get 5 stars for having Joy Division


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