Dresden is a weird town. Divided across the river it seems caught in a permanent conflict between rebuilt, gold leafed chintziness and stark urban decay. Between the quest for more tourists coming to look at the Cathedral where so many died in the fire-storm that rampaged through the city after a single nights devastation at the hands of the RAF and the grotty side of a city still trying to deal with its loss of status after the wall came down.
It is a city full of ghosts, and feels a strange place with no fixed course to follow, unlike the river it fords. The “Venice of the North”, they used to call it, and it seems to fit. All I‘ve heard about Venice makes me think of a shabby old city, falling into the water with a stink that is all pervading. Dresden does okay from the tourists money, but reunification is really a myth. The East was absorbed by the West. The spoils weren‘t exactly shared around.
There are two things that jumped out at me in Dresden. Both museums. One: the Dresden Hygiene Museum (seriously, a hygiene museum?) and two: the SG. Dynamo Dresden museum. The latter (I simply wasn‘t going in a hygiene museum) is a labour of love, reflecting the very football fans that it is there to cater to. Pictures of Matthias Sammer and Ulf Kirsten the walls, with former European glories reflected everywhere. It is only two large rooms, while the foyer hosts a huge collection of kicker and Fußball Wochen stretching back years. I could have spent days there.
The impression is, to be honest, not of a team going places, but that of one looking bitterly back at a past that has delighted and screwed them in equal measure over the 100 or so years that the game has played there. But this is not the case. At least not quite. On Friday they host VfL Osnabrück – in the first of two play-off games to see who will be playing in the 2. Bundesliga next season – at their delightfully named Glücksgas Stadion, “the Happy-gas stadium” (have that HSV, you could have another four stupid sponsors names on your stadium in the next six seasons and you‘ll still never have one as good as that).
I really hope they win this one. It‘s not a question of a particular dislike for Osnabrück – hating Osnabrück would be a bit like hating the wind or Gary Lineker, you‘d get bored of it soon enough in the face of such pointlessness- but it would mean that the second flight in German football would have 1.FC Union and Energie Cottbus joined by the promoted Hansa Rostock and Dynamo. Two of the great old names of the GDR would be back and competing at the level that the neglected cities deserve, and that the country’s football needs. Union may have lost a derby with Hertha’s immediate promotion, but have gained some new enemies. Or regained some old ones.
Fans of both clubs will be taking any success with a pinch of salt; they have been subject to the machinations of higher forces for years and years. Rostock were formed around the basis of the successful, but tiny, Empor Lauter side that were forced to move North as Harry Tisch, a successful Politbüro member, decided that his town needed a good club more than the Lauter’s. Dynamo have been through more name changes than Zsa Zsa Gabor.
The thing is that in stature, compared to the Hanseatics and the Sachsens, Union were always small fry in the former East. Compared to teams that regularly appeared in Europe, and even occasionally on British TV. You would hear their names as a kid, and they would evoke all sorts of mystifying fears and feelings. Maybe they were automatons from a land of intrigue and shadow doings that you would never visit unless you were bad. All that was certain – all we were told – was that they had the best floodlights in the world, and that you didn’t want to be paired with them in the Cup Winners’ Cup.