FC United end of Season Tour 2013-v Babelsberg and Dynamo Dresden (cxl)
In January the news came through after numerous rumours that we were once again going to arguably our favourite European destination- Germany.
Three years after a memorable –well if you are able to-weekend in Hamburg and after another exciting but ultimately disappointing climax in Tier 7 the weekend that 500 or so FC fans had been eagerly anticipating had finally arrived.
Football is a great door opener –if you are prepared to give it a little nudge-a couple of years earlier Erik Kunert and one of his mates had found their way into the Main Stand Inn where I carry out the not so difficult task of opening numerous bottles of Starpraumen and Humdinger for thirsty FC’ers.
Noticing that the guys were not your average Mancunian’s- I’m astute like that you see, and that they were talking amongst themselves I decided to have a natter. Since that first encounter Erik has returned regularly with seemingly almost half of his home town of Wittenberg – and we had become good friends sharing a good few beers and meals around Manchester.
I messaged Erik to say my flights were booked and he immediately offered to be my host for the weekend- a greatly appreciated offer which I accepted immediately.
Due to work and family commitments I was something of a straggler making my way to Berlin, so my flight did not land until around 4 on the night of our first scheduled match against Nuldrei or 03 as Babelsberg are affectionately known by their own fans.
Erik’s instructions were simple and precise –on leaving the Airport go to the coach station and catch to the TXL to Haptbanhof –or main train station-but this was a busy Friday afternoon and for reasons unknown I got on a bus to the Zoological Gardens!! Well after two changes on the u-bahn and some very poor attempts at German by myself I finally made my way to the Main Train station-phew!
One thing I had noticed on the u-bahn was that the locals were not averse to having the occasional beverage –three lads struggled on to the train with 4 large plastic crates of large bottles of lager and proceeded to start an impromptu party with their fellow passengers………….I’m gonna like it here.
Fortunately Erik and his mates were dressed appropriately bedecked in FC colours which made finding them very easy…..and after greetings and a couple of beers we were on our way to Potsdam about 30 mins South West of Berlin to the ground.
There was a decent queue outside the ground with the travelling support not hard to spot …..or hear, there was a real buzz already as kick off approached.All the FC guys were in a covered terrace and were in good voice –Linus another good friend from Sweden who was in our party appeared not with a glass of beer –but a pitcher…….brilliant and the first of many. I could’nt help notice that by half time many around us had decided the plastic glasses provided with the Pitcher were surplus to requirements and were drinking straight from the Pitcher……………being the civilised chap that I’am I ………..err well did the same.
Apparently there was a game taking place which we won 3-2 including a great last minute free kick from a member of the home team –something of a legends eleven I believe………anyway the game was played in the right spirit and at the final whistle the home fans came over to our end of the ground and we had a good sing along to complete the evening inside the ground. I wandered onto the pitch and shared a beer or two with the friendly and amused locals.
Eventually it was time to make our way back into Berlin taking in a few more beers along the way-a small difference in attitude I noticed on the return journey was the locals attitude to drinking and singing on public transport. Instead of a typical UK response to a couple of dozen fans on a train in high spirits which would of resulted in some kind of antiterrorism response with helicopters and machine guns ………….In Germany even the most well dressed and conservative traveller was simply amused and wished us a good time!! How refreshing!
Eventually we caught our regional train down to Wittenberg at 00.15 –again UK train companies please take note-late trains so people can do stuff!
After a brief taxi journey we finally said goodnight ! A long but brilliant day.
So after a great breakfast at my host’s house we set off to the town of Wittenberg and after a brief walk around we arrived at our meeting place for lunch- http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187407-d1352884-Reviews-Kartoffeln_urig_individuell-Wittenberg_Saxony_Anhalt.html
This was a great restaurant which served 150 dishes featuring …potatoes and mighty fine it was too. Along with 3 generations of Erik’s family there were 12-15 others at our table –friends from the area and some from further afield in Germany and our good mate Linus from Sweden. Rather than feeling a little alone, on the contrary I was made to feel like just another guy, there for football beer and friendship.
The afternoon was spent taking in a some local culture including the 16th Century home and University of Martin Luther the famous reformer who helped create the Protestant Movement.
After another beer in town we headed back a few km’s out of town and watched the German Cup Final-the game was poor until the last 10 mins but with 25 different lagers and beers on offer I can’t say I paid too much attention.
All I can add was that after sharing a few drinks with Erik’s Grandfather and waffling on and on….and on- I reached my bed around 5am !!
Well no surprise I had to be woken at 10.30 –after a quick breakfast –not very much I might add-we set out on our alternative day to the scheduled trip to Dresden –game called off as we all know due to heavy rain.
We headed through the forest to Leipzig which took about an hour –during which both myself and Linus were turning an interesting shade of Green –not the alcohol you understand we were just a little car sick!
I was learning more about the time spent during separation ie East and West Germany and how this had affected different generations lives –even in a relatively small town like Wittenberg there was a garrison of 20,000 Russian soldiers who kept very much to themselves and were actually extremely poorly treated by their mother nation –as they were conscripts and a long way from home.
As with most preconceptions regarding East and West mine was a simplistic one that East was all bad and West was good –well naturally I was wrong and there was and still is good and bad in both parts of the reunited Germany. Unemployment in cities like Leipzig is around 20% compared with 6% in the West –however land and property prices reflect this –so for the ideal world live in the East and work for a company that pays western wages!!
Uwe –who is Erik’s father shares my passion for history and politics and gave me a real insight into working and living in the past as well as the present, I really appreciated his taking time not only as a guide but as an educator.
We headed towards Panometer Leipzig
What an incredible project –and perfect as the Rain had not stopped for 24 hours and was only getting heavier –the Everest Exhibit was spectacular and as the Wiki page says is the largest 360 degree photo in the world which you view from a platform 20-30 feet high in the centre of the sphere. The lighting and sounds change to reflect the difference between day and night and whole effect is simply stunning. Unfortunately some reading this may be familiar with the idea of a spinning room after a heavy night …………….I did have to briefly get some fresh air –it was the car journey you understand.
We arrived at Leipzig Hauptbanhof (Main Station) which was like no other train station I have ever seen it is huuuuuuuge!
Just google the images to see what I mean……..after lunch –well for some, we headed to http://www.panorama-leipzig.de/de/home this was a top floor restaurant with great views of the city –and they did’nt seem even a little bit bothered that rather than going for the 30 Euro per head menu we just wanted beers and coffee’s –I’ll leave it to you to decide which I chose.
After our refreshments and with the rain still pouring we made our way back to Wittenberg-just!
Two rivers that we crossed on the way back were already well in flood and the local police and residents were building sand bag defences –a very worrying time for many locals –and watching TV on my return it looks as though the floods got considerably worse-not good at all.
On reaching Erik’s family home it was decided that we would have a BBQ regardless of the weather and I fulfilled a long held promise to cook Yorkshire puddings –normally eaten in the UK with a Sunday Roast Dinner. These were eaten by all with a Bratwurst shoved in the middle with mustard etc piled on top. Not sure as cultural exchanges go it was the most sophisticated but with several bottles of lager it seemed to do the job.
Next morning we said our goodbye’s and agreed to expand our FC International Facebook page into a blog or website and as you are reading this it has obviously come about, mainly thanks to Erik’s computer wizardry and Linus’s endless enthusiasm for anything and everything FC!!