So that’s it all over until the start of February. Not many more easy gigs, knocking out text about the derby. Hertha BSC and 1.FC Union Berlin have now met in the league, and can start drawing from the necessary mutual wells of resentment that make these games more interesting. A chance to restart that argument that’s been bugging you with a certain someone. As Klaus Kinski was described by Werner Herzog,”mein Lieblingsfeind”. My favourite enemy.
It was a fantastic evening for sure, the atmosphere in the Alte Försterei lifted by the noise to a rarified level, but this was just the beginning of a, hopefully, long saga. It even felt a bit forced in places. Union are certainly more upset about the Berlin Senate’s financial mollycoddling of Hertha than of Peter Niemeyer’s goal in the 90th second. Hertha are still wrapped up by the idea that they don’t belong down in the Zweite Liga, and are more serious about a rivalry with Schalke that awaits renewal. I actually asked a Herthaner about the hatred of Schalke and how it compares to Union on the train. “It’s because they are fat and have no teeth. Union just have no history.” I didn’t really know what to say to that: at the moment Hertha only have their history, and if we start disliking teams because of their dental situations then most games in will rightly descend into a bloodbath.
Still, it felt like a proper derby, a spice in the air mixed with the smoke bombs in the away end that caused a five-minute delay at the start of the second half. The Union ultras retorted with a banger that Maikel Aerts in the Hertha goal did well to barely acknowledge. It’s hard to fluster a ‘keeper without being Gerd Müller. They are made of strong stuff; behind the goal in the stand I almost shat myself.
In the press conference Markus Babbel was disparaging (though not incandescent or incendiary, which would have been better for the writers) about this element of his teams support, as managers always are, but there were loud voices in the Union end chanting “fireworks are not criminal”. This is the new front line in the fight “against modern football”, and an argument that won’t go away. Personally, I think it’s a red herring: I don’t remember smoke bombs being a part of un-modern football, and it’s an issue that distracts from the Ultras’ genuine disenfranchisement from what they disdain as being “modern football”. Jan Glinker was a bit more sanguine about the interruption, remarking mainly that the smoke stayed in his throat longer than it did in the stadium. Admittedly it did look great in all the photos.
Union were acknowledged by most as worthy winners, 1-1, proving the adage that Babbel had been repeating mantra-like all week. Hertha simply couldn’t win. Even if they’d steamrollered Union, it was David against Goliath and the world was watching – a fact shown by the paucity of sandwiches left in the media centre before and after the game. (Sebastian on the ever-brilliant textilvergehen blog mentions this phenomenon too). They had been swept up by the vultures of the national press when usually us sparrows get to peck away happily at our leisure. SKY technicians smoked fags with broadsheet journalists outside, waiting for either the press conference to begin or the baskets to be refilled with what passes for delicacies at the Alte Försterei on match days.
It was derby days all across the country of course last weekend. Union’s “kult Klub” forebears St. Pauli had an equally historic tie up with Hamburg and another chance to prove that they are more than the Neds Atomic Dustbin of the Bundesliga (ie they’ll shift t-shirts, but will the records stand up?) and an equally satisfying home draw. The obligatory smoke bombs were there, too, but Pauli being Pauli were naturally accompanied by pitch-side advertising for a fireworks company. Hertha fans will have taken great joy in Borussia Dortmund’s spanking of a particularly toothless-looking Schalke in what most people still refer to as the West German derby, with Raul proving to be the worst signing since Wayne Rooney got five million quid for his World Cup diaries.
The other big derby result of the weekend was Steve McClaren’s Wolfsburg beating rivals Hannover. An occasion that not only recorded their first points in the league, but will be noted in the history books for the first sentence uttered in German by an English manager here since Tony Woodcock. And what better way to lead in to what the Germans call “Englische Woche”. The implication that only the English are foolish enough to play and watch football midweek. Sure, they call fair play “Fairplay”, untranslated, and I’ve seen more three-lions tattoos than I care to recount. A banner at the Olympic Stadium for the friendly last year even thanked England “for inventing the beautiful game”… but play football on a Wednesday? “We’re not barbarians, for God’s sake.”
This round of games even featured Hertha playing against – in a concept that is as alien to me as Englische Woche is to Germans – Karlsruhe SC. Their friends! They walk around with each others’ scarves on like 1950s cheerleaders wearing the quarterback’s jacket. Now that’s a strange concept. A derby that has had no games ever preceeding it? Fine. League matches at weekends only? Seems civilised enough. An English manager in the Bundesliga that can barely squeeze out two words in German? No problem there either. But when the Karlsruhe fans left last night after being spanked 4-0, they will have been the first ones in the Hertha shop. I’m sorry, but that’s just weird.