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Zum fußball, with love

Germany enthusiast Mark Arrol says there’s a lot more to a Bundesliga game than what’s happening on the pitch.

The Germans do so love their football! So do many other nationalities, including the British, but events in the Bundesliga are interwoven with life in the 18 cities and towns in the top division in a way that isn’t often the case elsewhere.

As a community event there is nothing like standing (yes, you can still stand) or sitting with the fans at a Schalke (in the Ruhr), Union Berlin or St Pauli (Hamburg) game, clubs which have a passionate local following and have come to embody their local community, particularly if it has fallen on hard times.

I’ve travelled to over 20 German football games in the last five years…and it’s fair to say they are some of the best sporting occasions I’ve ever been to, regardless of which city or town they’re in, which teams are playing, and what is happening on the pitch.

It’s relatively easy to get tickets. As a result of the World Cup in 2006, huge investment went into the grounds, with some being extensively rebuilt (Stuttgart, Frankfurt) and some getting entirely new stadia (Munich, Schalke). Some even rebuilt hoping to get on the schedule (Düsseldorf). This means that, with a few exceptions, there are plenty of large stadia and available tickets, the pricing of which is very reasonable. Standing tickets are usually €15-20, with seats usually starting at €25 for even the top games.

As a result of all that investment the quality of the surroundings for nearly all games is fantastic, with customer comfort and enjoyment at the heart of the experience. However most of the stadia are quite a way out of town, so require public transport. The majority of clubs grew up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as part of sporting societies that saw exercise in the countryside as beneficial, so this is where they started and this is where they have remained. Hence Eintracht Frankfurt play at Waldstadion (Stadium in the Woods) and Hamburg play at the Volksparkstadion (People’s Park Stadium). It’s rare to get stadia which can be reached by walking from city centres, although Dortmund and Hannover are two exceptions.

For the best experience arrive a couple of hours early and sample the pre-match ambience at the beer trucks, as both sets of fans happily mingle and get into the spirit. In all the games I’ve been to, I’ve never once seen even a hint of animosity.

Get into your seat 15 minutes early and you’ll be able to hear the club song belted out by up to 50,000 people, their voices straining with pride. You can also join in the tradition of shouting out the surname of each player in the home team, as the stadium announcer reads out the first name then waits for the surname to be yelled back at him.

During the course of a game, both sets of fans will chant away throughout, often choreographed by someone with a loudhailer at the front of the standing enclosure, ably assisted by a drum or two. What happens on the pitch, whether your team are ahead or trailing, really makes no difference to what is going on on the terraces.

Unlike in the UK, fans can drink during the game and take their drinks back to their seats, adding to the overall sense of Gemütlichkeit which permeates the whole experience. The idea of a ban on beer consumption through the match would be unthinkable to a nation of beer drinkers!

If you want to experience a sporting and cultural occasion that is right at the heart of community life, then a German football game is a great way to do it.

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