On an even Kiel

In the grand scheme of things it had been a pretty good weekend. Whilst the rain was lashing it down outside, we were happily snuggled up in , just round the corner from Hamburg’s Altona station.  Whilst thrill seekers had headed for the seedy delights on offer on Reeperbahn for centuries, or the lurid window displays of Herbertstrasse where literally anything can be bought, we had chosen to mingle with the locals.  Bar Botega, obviously a parody name as it couldn’t be any further away from being Spain both geographically or culturally, at 10pm on a Sunday night wasn’t exactly rocking when we arrived but by the time we left at midnight the locals were linking arms, swaying from side to side as Danny led them in a chorus of “No ney never”.  These were our new best friends.

14954398355_d46c482456_zWhy, I hear you think.  Why indeed.  Two words my learned friend. DFB Pokal. The magic of the German Cup. It does funny things in all parts of Germany as our last 36 hours would  attest to.  Life is all about experiencing something new and that was what this weekend was all about. So whilst we flew into Hamburg, the more refined European Capital of Sin, our destination was 100km north, close to the Danish border in Schlosweig-Holstein. The newest, trendiest, fashionable name on the European Football Weekends map, ladies and gentlemen, is Kiel.

Kiel doesn’t rate highly in many of the guide books about Europe, let alone one for the Danish borders region. Comments like “a gritty urban sprawl”, “when brochures flag up the first pedestrian street in Germany, you know tourist authorities are struggling” , “The city centre is unlovable but unavoidable” and finally, “It’s OK” you know the weekend isn’t going to be high on culture.  But who needs museums, architecture and theme parks when you have football, great company and a couple of beers? Kiel would be our new best friend.

Home to the German navy, it can boast a population of around 240,000, a Subway and two breweries.  That’ll do us.  Panama? Suez? Venice? Call those canals? Kiel, my friend is the standard-bearer in this area, boasting the world’s busiest man-made canal in the form of the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal.  Still not enough to convince you?  Then how about this. The German Cup had thrown up a tasty tie, pairing Regionalliga Nord Holstein Kiel against struggling Bundesliga 2 side 1860 Munich.  That was enough to have Stoffers leap into organisation mode and before you could say Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (a genuine word which would score you over 1.2 million points in Scrabble)  we had booked flights and hotels.  I have no idea how it happens; no sooner have I tentatively agreed to going on one of these trips than the confirmation emails start to appear in my inbox.  With my previous jaunt to Germany two weeks previous still fresh in the memory (and the liver) I had to stretch to a box of Milk Tray as well as the regular Petrol Station Flowers to appease the Current Mrs Fuller.  She knows the bond I have with the German Cup though so she did what every good wife does – made me a packed lunch for the train to the airport, told me to give her three rings when I landed and not to return with:-

a) a crap tattoo with another girl’s name on it
b) a communicable disease other than one that was related to beer; or
c) someone else’s pants (again)

She’s funny about those things.  She was of course heartened to learn that Danny and Kenny would also be coming but was suspicious when I threw in a fourth name alongside Stoffers.  We would be joined by Facebook’s own Ofer Prossner, making his debut on the annual German Cup EFW.  Ofer, Malta’s most famous Larry David look-a-like had been living close to Stoffers and Kenny in Berlin for the last few months and had grown so attached to Kenny’s free Wi-Fi that he couldn’t bear to part with it for the weekend.

The good news, Stoffers triumphed when the draw was made,  was because the game between Holstein Kiel and 1860 was being played on the Sunday, we would have time to grab a game as well on the Saturday.  Really? Do we have to? Sigh..ok then. This was supposed to be a weekend of long meetings, discussing the annual issues of the European Football Weekends company and high on the agenda were items such as “Is it really difficult to get tickets for the Sud Tribune at Dortmund?”, “How do I get to the Bernabau?” and “Where is the best place to sit in the Nou Camp?” Matters like these don’t just answer themselves on the Internet these days and as we took our duties as founders, administrators and general European football experts very seriously, so it was determined to convene our AGM on the train to and from Kiel.  With beer liberally added.

Stoffers was pacing nervously outside the arrivals gate at Hamburg airport when Danny and I arrived.  He is Mr German Efficiency 2011 after all.  He had a whole host of different plans for the day depending on the exact minute of our arrival.  Fortunately, all of his hard work was wasted as Plan A was invoked at 11.04am on the dot.  We would be going to the ball. A swift change of trains at the Central Station, a bag full of beers (when it Germany and all that) and a slice of pizza for breakfast later and we were in Ron’s 22.

14954064122_d9f81fbf1c_zJust forty-five north of Hamburg (so close that there is still some credibility in Ryanair referring to the airport here as “Hamburg”) lays the medieval city of Lübeck, birthplace of marzipan, home to the internationally acclaimed Museum of Theatre Puppets and once capital of the Hanseatic League (the forerunner of the Human League).  A perfect destination for a romantic weekend with the one you love.  In fact I had once brought the Current Mrs Fuller here to enjoy a cup of Glühwein, a nibble on a gingerbread man and a ride up the canal.  The city is full of old buildings, pavement cafes and ringed by waterways – a German Venice if you will (travel writers, please don’t steal that – think up your own original taglines!).  We wouldn’t see any of that though, with the railway station on the edge of the city centre and the Stadion an der Lohmühle even further out. After all, seen one canal, seen them all, right? Whereas football grounds, on the other hand…

VfB Lübeck 1 Goslarer SC 0 – Stadion an der Lohmühle – Saturday 16th August 2014
Two teams struggling for form, with a 100% beaten start to the season.  Never going to be a classic, right?  Absolutely.  It was hard to find one thing to write about in terms of the game itself.  The goal perhaps?  Maybe, although when Finn-Lasse Thomas’s shot hit the back of the net with eight minutes to go, Danny and I were on a bus on our way back to the pub.  Such was the disgust of our actions that Thomas was booked for angrily confronting Stoffers wanting to know where those “Englischers” had gone (that last bit may not be quite true).

14954415645_7158b69938_zHowever, let’s not do the club, the fans or even the stadium any disservice here. Admission was 6 Euro (SIX).  Cheaper than a bag of Emirates popcorn or a nodding bobblehead of David Gold.  For that we got to have a drink with the Ultras in their clubhouse (by mistake), stand with the Ultras on the terraces (another mistake) and enjoy a few beers (definitely no mistake).  The whole Ultras thing was a big mistake but hey, we’d all had a drink so let’s just move on.  Talking of moving on, we were on a tight Stoffers deadline to get a train to Kiel for our big Saturday night out.

We weren’t going to have a traditional Saturday night either.  Oh no. It seemed news of our impending arrival had spread like wildfire through the great and good of Kiel.  Now here was a first.  Someone who not only wanted to meet us, but to cook for us.  Obviously we have EFW groupies who send us saucy messages all the time, with promises of marriage and pots of cash in embargoed African bank accounts belonging to dead despots.  But this one was genuine.  An invite to dinner from Kiel’s most famous Football-loving Chef, Matthæus Arminius Kilius.  Who were we to argue? So after a quick change in our luxury apartment overlooking a tug boat pumping out the toilets of a cruise ship, we jumped into a complete stranger’s car and headed to the Kiel suburbs.

Matthæus loves his football, you couldn’t fail to notice that when you walked into his flat.  Football paraphernalia covered every surface.  His wife, Frauke, didn’t seem to mind sharing her bath with a plastic duck in the colours of every Bundesliga team, or laying on her Holstein Kiel bedspread. He’d cooked us a local dish with smoked bacon, green beans, potatoes and a big pear right in the middle.  German hospitality at its finest.  An hour later and we were sampling some of the delights of the gritty urban sprawl as the guide book had told us to expect.  Who needs baroque buildings when you have three different types of local Flensburger Pilsner.

Sunday morning and we were in the pub again at 11am.  Time for a Full German.  Like a Full English but with a beer it hit the spot perfectly.  The Palenka pub was a stopping off spot for the Kiel fans on their journey to the stadium so it would be rude not to join them, accompanied by a few German riot police to keep us company.

1860 Munich, had brought a few hundred fans and they were doing what German fans love to do on a Sunday lunchtime – standing on a petrol station forecourt drinking beer.  We were immediately singled out as being “foreign” because we were drinking Paderboner beer – the English equivalent of Fosters.  Does anyone really choose Fosters when given a choice of beers?  Really?  Same with Paderboner which made us look a little bit silly.  Then a chap walked passed with a pair of home-made trousers made out of old Kiel football shirts and immediately our street credibility rose.

Holstein Kiel 1 1860 Munich 2 – Holstein Stadion – Sunday 16th August 2014
We took our spot in the away end as the teams emerged.  The game had Pokal upset written all over it, with 1860 not enjoying the best of starts of season so far.  Two defeats in their first games had the fans hopping mad, so they hoped that a win against Liga 3 Holstein Kiel would give the squad a welcome boost before they returned to league action at Heidenheim in a week’s time.  The fans struck up their soundtrack for the afternoon, accompanied by drums and huge flags, all choreographed by a single chap with a megaphone sitting atop the perimeter fence.

For all of the hazards that standing on an open terrace with some hard-core fans brings, during the afternoon we saw the worst of the worst.  Someone had left a programme on the floor.  Not exactly a small, inconspicuous item, weighing in at A4 in size, yet we lost count with the number of people who stepped on it and slipped.  One chap took his humiliation, embarrassment and anger out on it by trying to kick it which led to him slipping again.  Of course we didn’t laugh. Much.

14820048790_7f2e2fa190_zWith just eight minutes on the clock, a great run to the byline saw the ball pulled back to Kiel’s Siedschlag who smashed the ball home.  Instead of groans on the away terrace we all just bounced up and down a bit and sang abusive songs about those bastards in Red (apparently).  1860 simply didn’t look like scoring until just after the hour mark when their Austrian forward Rubin Rafael Okotie equalised.  Ten minutes later and he put 1860 ahead, converting a penalty after he had been brought down from behind. Game over.

The final whistle brought some good-natured thigh slapping, the sound of flesh on Lederhosen filling the air.  A row of blonde female riot police kept the home fans back with minimal effort to let us grab the only taxi in the rank, quite literally, and we headed for the Kieler Braurei, the one tourist attraction that we all wanted to visit in our 24 hours in Kiel.  Craft beer is the home-brew of the 21st century but without having to use your best jumper to keep the beer warm in the airing cupboard.  The brew house was certainly worth the wait and we had soon sampled our way through most of the menu.  Alas, we had a train to catch so we grabbed a takeaway and headed for the station.

15006114692_83aa8797de_zIn the grand scheme of things it had been a pretty good weekend. Whilst the rain was lashing it down outside the bar back in Hamburg, we were happily snuggled up inside.  Whilst thrill seekers had headed for the seedy delights on offer on Reeperbahn for centuries, or the lurid window displays of Herbertstrasse where literally anything can be bought, we had chosen to mingle with the locals.  Bar Bodega at 10pm on a Sunday night wasn’t exactly rocking when we arrived but by the time we left the locals were linking arms, swaying from side to side as Danny led them in a chorus of “No ney never”.  These were our new best friends.

After an emotional farewell at Altona, we headed to the airport where our beds for the night awaited.  By night I obviously mean 4 hours which Danny spent sleeping in his shoes, “just in case there was a fire” Of course at 5am on Monday morning he couldn’t remember any of the events from the night before, the sign of a great night.

Until next season Germany.  Be good, don’t go changing.

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The happy world of Haribo

It doesn’t matter what the country is, the cup is full of stories of wonder, awe and inspiration. David beating Goliath, George slaying The Dragon and *that* goal by Ronnie Radford, Ricki Villa and Trevor Brooking. In France there was the story of Calais taking Nantes to extra time in the 2000 final, in England we of course had 4th tier Chesterfield coming within a poor David Ellerey decision of a Wembley date with Chelsea and of course in Spain back in 1980, Real Madrid beat their second team Castilla in the final.

This season in Germany the hopes of the nation on an upset laid at the opponents of the two sides from Munich. In the red corner, German superbeings Bayern München were due to take on Regensburg whilst the “people’s club” 1860 were drawn to play against FC Hannef 05. The tiny club from a few miles outside the former West German capital Bonn, the town that gave (and continues to give) us Haribo. Named after the founder HAns RIegel and the town BOnn, the gummy sweets are a worldwide sensation. Today they produce a mere 80 million sweets per day in their 13 worldwide factories, enough to keep my kids happy.

<a href=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/sam_3303.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-18559″ title=”SAM_3303″ src=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/sam_3303.jpg&#8221; alt=”” width=”584″ height=”438″ /></a>With hordes of Bavarians preparing to descend on Hannef, it was a wise decision to move the game to SC Bonners 10,000 capacity stadium. It was here back in May that Hannef won the Middle Rhine Cup and thus gained a pass into the DFB Pokal. This would be the biggest game in the club’s history.

1860’s history is a bit more glamorous. Winners of the Bundesliga in 1966, they have been out of the top division since 2004 and despite playing at the 69,000 Allianz Arena, times are not happy. they crave a move back to their former ground and to be gone with sharing with the red half of the city. They have won the cup before, the last time in 1964 when they then went on to reach the final of the European Cup Winners Cup (you’ll have to look at one up kids) where they lost to a team called West Ham United.

It was almost like groundhog day for us, as we started the morning, bleary eyed, starring at our Englischer breakfast with our salad. Another train took us to Koln, where we saw the most bizarre sights on a Sunday morning where the Gamesco conference was taking place and numerous travellers were alighting dressed as Elves, Sprites and various members of video games.

<a href=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/426689_10151176370676240_269603713_n.jpg”><img class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-18593″ title=”426689_10151176370676240_269603713_n” src=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/426689_10151176370676240_269603713_n.jpg?w=223&#8243; alt=”” width=”223″ height=”300″ /></a>We arrived in Bonn just in time for opening hour. The city centre was sleepy to say the least, but the vicinity around the Sportpark were rocking. The mercury was due to hit 40 again today and we had all taken precautions against the effects of the sun. Yep, we had all remembered deodorant. After the customary security pat down by the young security girl, we walked into the huge bowl that is the Bonn Sportpark. Home to SC Bonner with a capacity of 10,164 it can be summed up in one word. German. Back in the 1970’s grounds like this were the common theme everywhere in the country. Some of the great old grounds were characterised by tower floodlights, athletic tracks with one covered main stand and huge banks of terracing. Gelsenkirchen had the ParkStadion before they built the Veltins Arena next door; Munich’s OlympicStadion had a fancy glass roof, but essentially was in the same design and redeveloped stadiums in Hamburg, Hannover and Cologne are all constructed on the foundations of the traditional design.

The most stunning aspect had to be the floodlights, that not only extended upwards by about 70 metres but also tilted at an angle of around 30 degrees into the stadium. Quite bizarre. So bizarre that a beer or two was needed to get over the shock. Fortunately the Kolsch van had arrived and we were soon two handed toasting, drinking to the good health of German Footballing Weekends.

<a href=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/294574_10151176371126240_1902399322_n.jpg”><img class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-18592″ title=”294574_10151176371126240_1902399322_n” src=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/294574_10151176371126240_1902399322_n.jpg?w=252&#8243; alt=”” width=”252″ height=”300″ /></a>We took our place on the terrace that was at the top of the covered main stand with the rest of the 1860 hardcore fans. This was a journey and a half from Bavaria but that hadn’t stopped the six hundred or so who were now belting out the songs. Everyone was welcome, as long as you had a beer in both hands. Old blokes with mullets and leather waistcoats (and nothing on underneath), men wearing badge-laden denim jackets, girls with their boobs pieced. Everyone.

Let me just rewind on the last point. Germany loves a piercing. I’ve never seen so many pierced people in my live as in the past few days. All the usual suspects were covered but one girl, who had stripped down to her bikini for the game had her boob piece…twice. We aren’t talking nipple-piercing here. We are talking about her actual boob. Twice. Thank heavens she didn’t appear to have implants otherwise they would be leaking all over the shop. In fact it seemed like a fashion parade for the girls to expose as much naked pierced flesh as possible. Not that I was complaining of course. In fact we raised a glass in honour of the latest fashion craze sweeping the nation.

<strong>FC Hannef 05 0 1860 Munich 6 – Am Sportpark Bonn – Sunday 20th August 2012</strong>
In the end it was literally a walk in the Sportpark for 1860. Just like Borussia yesterday, they were “professional” in their execution of a team playing 5 divisions below. The goals didn’t come until the 30th minute, by which time the home side should have taken the lead when they hit the bar when clean through. Two goals in as many minutes in the first half broke their dreams of a giant killings, whilst three more in a short period in the second half extinguished any hopes of a comeback.

<a href=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/sam_3304.jpg”><img class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-18560″ title=”SAM_3304″ src=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/sam_3304.jpg&#8221; alt=”” width=”584″ height=”323″ /></a>The 1860 fans had prepared for the sunshine by all donning beanie hats and throwing around blue balloons to welcome the teams onto the pitch. From the moment the sides appeared the songs began. We stood up, sat down, jumped around, clapped, cheered and kept silent all because a man at the front told us to. It was bloody great. I’m no wall flower when it comes to football but even this was a step above from anything we ever see in England. The riot police stood in the sunshine, keeping an eye on events but the whole section was essentially self governed yet there was no hint of any trouble.

Half time saw the only real action when a water fight broke out on the concourse, started by a riot policeman, who then took a drenching in good spirit back. A few fans, including one who would have needed an E-cup bra if there was a market for them (we’re in Germany – of course there is a market for them!), simply sat drinking beer in the sunshine, ignoring the events on the pitch.

<a href=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/523350_10151176371356240_801348430_n.jpg”><img class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-18594″ title=”523350_10151176371356240_801348430_n” src=”http://stuartnoel.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/523350_10151176371356240_801348430_n.jpg?w=224&#8243; alt=”” width=”224″ height=”300″ /></a>Full time, and a comfortable 6-0 win thanks to goals from Vallori, Lauth, Blanco, Bülow, Bierofka and Stoppelkamp. The home players milled around the main stand, talking to family and friends about the biggest game of their careers so far. I had “acquired” a press pass and so it would have been rude not to take the opportunity to venture onto the pitch and have our picture taken. Nobody gave us a second glance as we acted like kids on Christmas Day. I got some strange looks with my pass on, and it appeared that everyone else in my “company”was working hard taking away all of the TV equipment so we decided to head off.

At this point I had to leave the happy party. Monday would bring a long day of work back in London before some acclimatization training in the 45 plus degree heat of Marrakesh. We take our pre-season training very seriously here at TBIR so after the crowds of Centerparcs, the beer and sausages of Germany, it was now down to some African sunshine (and the outside possibility of a game). Danny, Kenny and Stoffers headed back to the European Command Centre to prepare for Mission: Rot-Weiss Essen, whilst I made my way to CGN as us airport code experts know it as. Danke Germany.