Hamburg is one of my favourate “European Football Weekend” destinations and am never disappointed when exploring Germany’s second city and it’s fussball scene. My last visit was back in November 2010, when as part of a mate’s stag party, we explored St Pauli’s Reeperbahn by night and shook off the Astra hangovers with glühwein and fun fair rides at the Hamburger Dom, each following day. I was designated “Football Entertainments Officer” for that weekend and the fixture gods answered our prayers with a memorable football double header of an ‘away day’ with HSV Hamburg to Hannover and watching FC St Pauli from the Sud Tribune of the Millerntor.
We returned to Hamburg this Summer, again timing our visit to coincide with the Hamburger Dom and discovering more about the St Pauli neighbourhood history and bar scene, courtesy of a guided tour with a local ‘Paulista’ from the St Pauli Tourist Office (Wohlwillstrasse 1 ). Our “Must Drink/Eat There” directory of St Pauli establishments now included the ‘Komet Musik Bar’ (Erichstrasse 11 ), ‘Backbord’ ( Clemens-Schultz-Strasse 41 ) and the city beach bars like ‘StrandPauli’ (St Pauli- Hafenstrasse 84 ), where we sipped beers against a backdrop huge container ships and cranes of Hamburg dock, opposite. We had had also been tipped off by the invaluable ‘European Football Weekend’ forum to check out the Hamburg district of Altona and their football club, Altonaer FC von 1893 (Altona 93).
Altona was formerly an independent municipality under Danish control and it’s difficult to believe that although just two S-Bahn station stops west of the Reeperbahn, this ‘enclave’ was once the second largest city in Denmark after Copenhagen. My guidebook confirmed Altona was eventually absorbed by its neighbour Hamburg in 1938 and also described the district today as a “sort of Hamburg-style Notting Hill”. Although we did not bump into any Herr Grants, the spruced up former working class flats, fisherman houses and off-beat shops give Altona a more gentrified feel than its St Pauli neighbour.
When you leave the Altona S-Bahnhof, you will find plenty of restaurants to choose from, especially around the Spritzenplatz and Alma-Wartenberg-Platz. Locals also suggested the ‘Eulenklause’ (Eulenstrasse 57), ‘Marktschanke’ (Bahrenfelder Strasse 77) and ‘Blaues Barhaus’ (Grosse Brunnenstrasse 55) for post match beers. To get to Altona 93, simply get back on the S-Bahn (S1/S11, direction Wedel) for Bahrenfeld stop. When you come out of the station you will find the ground located about a five minute walk down Friesenweg/Griegstrasse.
Altona 93’s ground is the Adolf-Jager-Kampfbahn (AJK) . From the impressive entrance, you enter one corner of the football ground that has an old fashioned look to it . Built in 1908, AJK is essentially one covered stand (1,500 seating) and two sides of open terracing (6,500 standing). The far terracing is now overgrown with trees, that hide a set of 1950s style turnstiles hidden amongst the undergrowth.
These ‘turnstiles that time forgot’ were apparently last used in the 1950/60s during Altona 93’s second golden era, when the club was one of the most famous clubs in Hamburg and graced the top division. Wikipedia (and the stadium name) told me their most famous player was Adolf Jäger who was capped 18 times for Germany between 1908-24. Altona 93 never quite won the league, notching up a couple of third place finishes in the top division in the 1950s. After the formation of Bundesliga in 1963, the rise of both HSV and St Pauli clubs gradually drew crowds away from AJK and Altona 93 has spent the last forty years playing third (Liga), fourth (Regionalliga) and finally fifth (Oberliga) division football.
The last time Altona 93 played Regionalliga football was in the 2008/09 season, but the joy of ‘awaydays’ to the likes of Magdeburg, Chemnitz and Leipzig was tempered by having to play home fixtures at SC Victoria Hamburg’s Stadion Hoheluft. This was due to AJK failing to obtain the stadium safety licence that Altona 93 needed before even kicking a ball in a Regionalliga fixture. Looking at the financial investment needed to pay for installing fences around the pitch, concreting entrances/exits etc. Altona 93 would need to increase crowds from the current 5-600 per fixture and perhaps charge considerably more than €4-9 per person.
Bigger crowds do pass through AJK’s turnstiles, but only to cheer on the Hamburg Blue Devils, the city’s American football team. The unsightly American football posts behind each goal, provided one of the most bizarre goals ever seen in football, during Altona 93’s Oberliga fixture with Vier- und Marschlande. A misplaced shot from one of the Vier- und Marschlande players went out of play, hit the American football frame behind the Altona goal post, rebounded into play. The referee waved play on and Vier- und Marschlande striker Beytullah Atug scored, much to the bewilderment of Altona 93 players and supporters. Fortunately, justice prevailed and Altona 93 won 3-1.
From my somewhat selfish “football tourist seeking an alternative to the sterile modern football experience” perspective, perhaps the introduction of fences and policing, leading to inevitable supporter restrictions may be to the the detriment of the fun one can have watching an Altona 93 Oberliga fixture?. What is more certain is that where Altona 93 supporters lack in numbers to their neighbours FC St Pauli, they more than make up for in creating a genuinely enjoyable football spectating experience, mercifully free of any gumpf associated with modern football.
Ten reasons to watch Altona 93.
1 -The manual scoreboard operated by the punks that congregate on the Zeckenhugel terrace. I was told some of these punks were St Pauli supporters who had moved from the Millerntor as protest to the club commercially selling out. The scourge of ‘Modern Football’ had even changed their beloved St Pauli with sponsorship advertisements, stadium modernisation, VIP boxes and most controversially in 2000 when the club sold 90% of the merchandising rights of their iconic skull and cross bones logo, to a marketing company for the next 30 years. The logo is on everything from underwear to dog bowls and even a couple of smart t-shirts currently hanging in my wardrobe. But such is the friendship between Altona 93 and St Pauli, that as well as the punk old timers you will also probably see a few younger St Pauli supporters sporting St Pauli colours when attending Altona 93 fixtures. The Altona 93 merchandising ‘industry’ is on a somewhat smaller scale. On matchdays the club shop van is located next to the club house (between the Zeckenhugel and Meckerecke terraces) selling club shirts, t-shirts, hoodies and scarves in red white and black club colours.
2-On the Gegengerade terrace, you can watch the Altona 93 from the comfort of couches that have been plonked on the terrace under Jever beer garden brollies. Yes Jever Beer can be consumed (in plastic glasses) on the terraces. Here you will find the bulk of the Altona 93 support standing in front of a range of Altona flags. Some anti-fascist, some in Danish national colours and a huge ‘Black Boc’ anarchist flag. On the Meckerecke terrace opposite, you may see younger elements of Altona support waving ultra-style giant flags.
3- Back on the Gegengerade terrace, you may bump into “All-To-Nah” Jan, editor/seller of the Altona 93 supporter fanzine “All-To-Nah” . I had not been sold a traditional fanzine since the early 1990s in England and it was great to see fanzine culture thriving in Germany. “All-To-Nah” is published around three or four issues per season and at bargain price of €1 each, it’s not difficult to see 400-500 copies being sold per issue. I understand a match programme is planned to compliment the A4 teamsheet currently available on matchdays. There is also a special Hamburg football paper called “Sport Mikrophon”.
4 – Inside the clubhouse or Vereinsheim ( www.achtzehn93.de ), the walls around the bar bear testimony to friendships forged between Altona 93 and visiting supporters groups. These include Arminia Hannover , Vfb Oldenburg , Tennis Borussia Berlin (TeBe), Blau Weib Linz, Dulwich Hamlet and now the Northern Oldtras. The Vereinsheim is normally open two hours before kick off and on the terrace outside two DJs play Punk, Northern Soul and Ska music before and after each home match.
5 – The walls of the Vereinsheim toilets bear testimony to Sticker Art that is a very important part of football culture in Hamburg and Germany. The latest issue of “All-To-Nah” also had complimentary stickers for me to plaster a Hamburg bar toilet, lamppost or road sign of my choosing. Any budding Banksys and Citizen Smiths (Google him!) can easily get their own funny/topical/political message across for between €1-2 per 50 stickers.
6 – You will also see a few of the younger Altona 93 supporters sporting german football denim or “kutte” – arguably Germany’s unique contributon to football culture. This fashion denim plastered in Altona 93, anti-fascist and music band patches began, partly as a response to right wing german supporters wearing Stone Island clobber and partly tongue-in-cheek take on the older supporters you see wearing Kuttes at German matches. Who says the Germans do not have a sense of humour!.
7- A great example of community and football supporter engagement at Altona 93 can be seen with the ‘AFC Soli-kasse’. This is a scheme where Altona 93 supporters donate money to a social fund, to help pay for supporters who cannot pay the full price for a ticket. The Soli-kasse idea came from a comparable scheme run by their supporter friends at TeBe , where supporters can give their season tickets for a particular match (when they are unable to go) for other supporters who cannot afford to attend. If you wish to donate a few euros to the ‘AFC Soli-kasse’, chat to the supporters near this flag at AJK on matchdays.
8 – Football clubs in the Oberliga division are located in or around Hamburg (http://www.europlan-online.de/index.php?s=liga&id=26 ). Getting to AJK and many away fixtures from central Hamburg is cheap and I would advise buying the ‘9-Uhr-Gruppenkarte’ (9 am Group Ticket). The ticket is valid on the date of issue for unlimited travel around Hamburg efficient public transport network. You can obtain these tickets from HVV ticket vending machines in the S-Bahn/train stations. Also keep an eye on www.afc-fanforum.de where Altona 93 supporters arrange meeting times on S Bahn trains when travelling to way fixtures.
9 – Altona 93’s current squad consist of amateur players who include students, pupils , an Italian restaurant owner, a business man, a management assistant in sports and fitness and even an Afghan national team player. As well as Mustafa Hadid, players like Gian-Pierre Carallo and Dennis Thiessen have impressed the Altona 93 supporters.
10- Oberliga fixtures (www.fussball.de ) are not moved due to television, so ‘football tourists’ can book flights around a particular fixture not moving. The fixtures that provide the best atmospheres are Barmbek-Uhlenhorst, Victoria Hamburg (when they are in Oberliga), Bergedorf 85 (again, when they are in Oberliga) and the Northern Oldtras can vouch for a memorable Hamburg summer evening watching Altona 93 at SV Blankenese.
So, you fancy watching Altona 93 at the Adolf-Jager-Kampfbahn?. Then check out the club basics below for more details and if you bump into “All-to-nah” Jan, please say hello and buy a fanzine.
Club Name: Altonaer FC von 1893 (Altona 93).
Address: Griegstrasse 62 , 22763 Hamburg, Germany
Thanks to: “All-to-nah” Jan, Dulwich Hamlet Mishi and Neil Hollis for use of photos.