There's an argument that Berlin is not just the capital city of Germany, but also the capital of Europe. While London, Madrid and Rome have regular interest in the top competitions, Berlin doesn't even boast a side in the 1 Bundesliga. Tom Archer reports.
It may have escaped the attention of those interested in the major leagues of Europe but the relegation from the Bundesliga of Europa League participants Hertha Berlin into the 2.Bundesliga has re-ignited the forgotten ‘friendly’ rivalry in the capital of Germany. The only capital city in Europe without a top division team will be home to two ferocious games between Hertha and the formerly ‘Eastern Bloc’ Union Berlin.
Hertha, under the leadership of ex-Liverpool player Markus Babbel, and Union, provide about as big a contrast as possible when it comes to the traditions of the teams. Most ‘city-rivalries’ have some sort of class or social divide. Boca and River in Buenos Aires sees the paupers from La Boca take on El Millonarios from across the city, Celtic and Rangers is well documented and Inter and AC Milan were formed with different backgrounds. However, the recent history of Germany and its re-unification means that there is not a derby like the Hertha-Union game in Europe.
Hertha, representing the West of the city and playing in the 74,500 capacity Olympic Stadium, can be seen as the cosmopolites whereas the much less known Union play their games at the 19,000 capacity Stadion An der Alten Forsterei. Die Alte Dame (Old Lady) of German football was formed in 1892 under the name BFC Hertha 92, taking the name Hertha from a mythical German Goddess of fertility. Hertha soon established themselves as a power in the Berlin area (the Bundesliga was founded in the 60s) and won the first ever Berlin championship in 1905, towards the end of the 1920s, having merged due to financial reasons with the Berliner-Sport-Club to become Hertha BSC, was one of the most successful periods for the club, reaching the German championship final six times in a row and winning two. Under the Third-Reich the club was put under the charge of Hans Pfeifer, who was to run the club under orders from ‘die fuhrer’. This marked the beginning of a baron period for the club until the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963. As the champion of the Berlin area, Hertha accepted the invitation to become a founder member of the new league. After a bribery scandal, Hertha were replaced by Tasmania Berlin (as the Bundesliga wanted a representative from the city) who then went on to record the worst season in Bundesliga history. In the 70s, Hertha managed to reach the Uefa Cup semi-finals and won two German cups, before again being relegated in 1980.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Hertha managed to establish a new fan base in the Eastern side of the city and a fan friendship was established between Hertha and Union supporters. Hertha were promoted to the Bundesliga in 1997 and went on to participate in the European Champions League and Europa League (Uefa Cup).
Union on the other hand, or the ‘schlosserjungs (metal-workers)’, on account of their blue uniforms of the time, looking like those of a local mine, have a contrasting history. Union enjoy the same sort of cult following as FC St. Pauli in Hamburg and generally are seen as a club that goes against the grain. Union have battled against Dynamo Berlin, run by the Stasi throughout the history of the DDR and were seen as the good guys battling against their communist oppressors.
Having been founded in 1906, Union struggled against more illustrious city rivals such as Tennis Borussia Berlin and Blau-weiss 90 Berlin and as a result were overlooked when the German championships came around. During World War II, sports associations were forced to dissolve, however in 1947 Union reformed but due to travel restrictions placed on them by the Soviet authorities forbidding Union from participating in the German championships, many of their star players and coaches fled to the west. Union then went through a number of name changes before becoming 1.FC Union Berlin in 1966. Following the formation of this new club, there was sparse success on the field with the club being refused a licence for the 2.Bundesliga twice forcing them to live their existence in the various Regionalligas and Oberligas. Union finally became the new capital’s second team in 2001 when they were finally accepted into the 2.Bundesliga. Even more surprising was the fact that they made it to the German Cup Final in the same year, losing to Schalke 04 in the final. Due to Schalke’s League position, Union were invited to participate in the Uefa Cup and made it to the second round before being knocked out by Litex Lovech of Bulgaria. Relegation again followed into both the Regionalliga and then further into the Oberliga before the resurrection of the club in 2009 with promotion back to the 2.Liga. Controversy followed when Union cut ties with their sponsor after they found out that the CEO was an ex-Stasi employee. In five out of the last ten seasons Union have been either promoted or relegated so this season could be full of surprises yet again!
Hertha have begun the season with two victories, at home against Rot-Weiss Oberhausen and a Monday night fixture at Fortuna Dusseldorf. Hertha fans staging a protest against Monday night fixtures, which baring in mind their fans had travelled over seven hours to see them play in Dusseldorf for an eight-thirty kick-off may be justified as many would not get home until seven o’clock in the morning. With there being at least five teams in the same area as Dusseldorf, it is no surprise that Hertha fans are worried about more Monday night away trips!!! The signing of Canadian striker Rob Friend from Borussia Monchengladbach to partner Brazilian Raffael will surely be too strong for most 2.Liga defences, especially with ex-Schalke midfielder and nearly permanent Bundesliga resident Levan Kobiashvilli providing the bullets for the two hot-shots and Christian Lell and Andre Mijatovic holding the fort at the back. New signing, goalkeeper Maikel Aerts, from Willem II in The Netherlands, may be able to put his feet up in a few of the games as Hertha should put a strong application forward for promotion.
Union on the other hand, began with a respectable 2-2 draw away at Alemannia Aachen but followed up with a 2-1 loss to promotion candidates Greuther Furth to leave them with a mixed start to the season. New signing from Vitesse Arnhem, Santi Kolk scored the goal against Greuther Furth and much will be expected of him. Having seen him first hand in the Dutch Eredivisie, he will be a very useful player for Greuther Furth and will become a fan favourite with his flowing black hair and good looks. It is also about time that Colombian Jhon Jairo Mosquera begins to back up is reputation by banging in some goals, especially if as he has started the season, he plays up front on his own for much of it. Union have plenty of experience at this level in their squad with Macchambes Younga-Mouhani playing over 200 2.Liga games and Belgian Bernt Rauw playing over 100.
The first of the city derbies takes place towards the end of September and tickets are already sold out for the game at Union’s stadium as they prepare to welcome their guests from across the city. To predict the result would be naïve, but keep tabs on 2bundesliga as a full round-up of the game will be given.
Tom will be taking a regular look at Bundesliga 2 for IBWM but you can follow his updates here.