Stories and pictures of the beautiful game.
Berlin is growing: after population figures were dropping in the mid-90s, the net gain in the last two years alone was about 90,000 people. If they – just as the large number of tourists coming into town – are looking for a football team to support, there is quite a variety on offer. From flashy Bundesliga action (picture above) down to a relaxed morning or afternoon at an eighth league match.
Here’s an overview of fourteen grounds and what the matches and atmosphere there are like. It is sorted by capacity – starting with the largest. If you want to follow my football travels on a regular basis, subscribe to Groundhopping etc. on facebook.
Olympiastadion | capacity: 74,244 | Hertha BSC Berlin | pictures
Built in the 1930s and used for the Olympics, this ground and its surroundings still radiate the typical monolithic architecture of the time – you feel a bit insignificant. Even though capacity is down from the original 100k, it is still the biggest German stadium after Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park. When it got a makeover in the early 2000s, strict monument conservation laws applied, so the original character had to be preserved. It got a roof, plastic seats and a blue running track, though. The fact that it’s an all-seater makes it Germany’s largest stadium for international games. Berlin hosted several of the 2006 world cup matches, and spectators could see Zinedine Zidane headbutt some Italian guy who was in idle conversation about some relatives at this very ground.
The German National Team still plays the odd friendly or qualifier in Berlin, and the German cup final is also hosted here, but the ground is mostly used by Hertha BSC who spent 15 of the last 17 seasons in 1. Bundesliga and even played internationally every now and then. The active fans are in the Ostkurve behind one of the goals. While they are quite active, they hardly get the rest of the stadium to sing along. Most people come to be entertained rather than participate, and even get a bit testy when the team doesn’t perform. While the stadium’s architecture makes a trip worthwhile, it lets the atmosphere suffer, as much of the acoustics get lost in the wide oval with its running track. The distance to the field is rather big, so if you’re in the nosebleeds you won’t see many details. Another downside: because the stadium is so big, even a 50k attendance will make it feel a bit ghostly empty. You’ll also have to put up with pop tunes, an announcer on speed, half-time raffles, lots of loud mid-game ads and goal music.
The Stadion an der Alten Försterei is the antithesis to modern identikit arenas. The majority of its capacity is terracing, the only seating is at the main stand (+ a tiny section at the away end). It’s designed for people who enjoy football at its very basic core: meet your friends, have some food and drink and watch the game shouting your lungs out. Music played has more rough riffs than pop beats and ads are toned down. You’re also very close to the field. Just make sure to get there at least an hour before kick-off to find your spot if you’re not on the main stand. It gets really crowded and hard to maneuver through those people packed on the stone steps. If you’re a bit claustrophobic, you might want to opt for the main stand.
The ground wasn’t always in such great shape – before 2008, it was all crumbling overgrown steps, no roof and a tiny makeshift main stand (see in one of the pictures). Eventually, about 2,000 fans volunteered for the reconstruction and donated a total of 140k hours to their “living room”. Construction took a season, the main stand was added later and opened in 2013. The Alte Försterei is home to 1. FC Union Berlin who – after a rocky time in the early 2000s – are a 2. Bundesliga regular for the last 5 seasons. Ultras and regular fans equally create a lot of noise and as the ground is very compact, it fills the place like rolling thunder. Fans are very passionate about the club, winning is obviously nice but not mandatory as long as the team fights. These are the golden rules if you want to go: “Never leave before the final whistle, never boo at your own team, never make your team a scapegoat and leave with a croaky throat”. Fans consider themselves a big community, a family – and the family gathers for the holidays, so on December 23, the ground is packed with people holding candles and singing Christmas Carols. It’s a rather unique experience, as is attending a game.
Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahnsportpark | capacity: 19,708 | pictures
Now located in the hip parts of town, this used to be right at the border. The Jahn-Sportpark is a big areal with many football pitches, running tracks and the likes. The actual stadium got its last makeover in the late 1990s which added the colorful seats as a characteristic feature. The giant floodlight pylons can be seen from far away, but honestly don’t shed that much light on things. In the last years this has been a substitute ground for some teams, or one where smaller teams played their big or high-risk matches. It has seen some lower league football and will continue to do so; the Berlin cup final is played here every year and you also get to see a bit of American Football.
Mommsenstadion | capacity: 12,000 | Tennis Borussia Berlin | pictures
We’re now getting to the city’s mid-sized stadiums (10-12k). The Mommsenstadion is surrounded by trees and about 20 concrete steps, and a running track separates the spectators from the pitch. There is a roofed main stand and four floodlight-pylons. This old school ground is home to Tennis Borussia Berlin whose mismanagement and bankruptcies brought them as far down as the sixth division (Berlinliga). Today, there is a core of about 200 people across from the main stand who support their team no matter what, and who will start a chant every once in a while. But this is also the beginning of non-league football in this list, of just watching a match while enjoying the surroundings without much ado.
Poststadion | capacity: 10,000 | Berliner AK 07 | pictures
The Poststadion is similar to the Mommsenstadion in that it has a historic main stand and some concrete steps or benches on the other sides (it lacks floodlights, though). And just like the Mommsenstadion this used to be a far bigger ground. It’s the place where Hitler frowned when the German National Team got defeated by Norway during the Olympics in front of 55k. Today, fourth division team Berliner AK play their matches here – they are one of many teams who would like to be #3 in town but fail to put evidence to that claim. On an average league match there will be a few hundred people in attendance, most of them probably supporting the away team.
Hans Zoschke Stadion | capacity: 10,000 | SV Lichtenberg 47 | pictures
This is Berlin’s second largest football-specific stadium – there is no running track. It is also one of the most basic and rustic of the mid-sized stadiums, which adds to its charm: overgrown concrete steps surround it, and a few seats were added on one of the sidelines. During Lichtenberg 47’s matches in the 5th division you will see a lot of families who enjoy a relaxing day out, but there is also a small group of supporters who will start a chant or show a banner every once in a while.
Stadion im FEZ | capacity: 6,000 | S.V. Askania Coepenick | pictures
The Freizeit- und Erholungszentrum (FEZ) has a large park, the Wuhlheide concert stage, public outdoor and indoor pools and plenty of space for kids’ activities. And somewhere in the foresty part of it you will stumble upon the Stadion im FEZ. Home to another Kreisliga team Askania Coepenick who mostly play on the grass pitch (sometimes on the adjourning astro turf). It is also used by some of 1. FC Union Berlin’s and also Askania’s youth teams. It’s pretty close to the Stadion an der Alten Försterei, so worth a visit after an Union match – there might be a game going on still.
Friedrich-Ebert-Stadion | capacity: 5,000 | S.D. Croatia Berlin | pictures
This used to be Viktoria Berlin’s home before they merged with Lichterfelde and moved to their ground (below). S.D. Croatia Berlin (7th division) are now the only tenants, but still play most (though not all) of their matches on the adjourning astro-turf pitch. There is a cute little covered seated area on the main stand and your typical overgrown concrete steps around it. The side across the main stand is a grassy hill with trees and a few crooked benches.
Stadion Lichterfelde | capacity: 4,300 | FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin | pictures
After Viktoria Berlin more or less took over Lichterfelder F.C., the new team’s ground is Stadion Lichterfelde. The capacity is smaller than at grounds like Mommsenstadion or Poststadion, but the idea is the same: there is a small roofed main stand and club house with balcony on one side, and terracing & trees on the others. The blue running track makes you think of the Olympiastadion for a second. Viktoria also want to be #3 in town, and while they are Germany’s largest club (1,500 active players, 65 teams), their attendance numbers do not follow suit. By fourth league standards, it’s not too bad, though – a few hundred, sometimes about 1,000 people enjoy frequenting this ground every other week.
Stadion Friedrichsfelde | capacity: 4,000 | SC Borussia 1920 Friedrichsfelde | pictures
League-wise it doesn’t get very much lower than Kreisliga B. Stadium-wise it doesn’t get much more basic, but Stadion Friedrichsfelde still has its charm. Pick your favorite spot for the afternoon from 9 concrete steps and three tidy rows of seats.
Sportplatz Lüderitzstraße | capacity: 3,000 | Hertha BSC Berlin III | pictures
Hertha’s third team play in the seventh division, kick-off is usually around noon. There’s a core of about 50 fans who support the team and the early kick-off sometimes lets players from other teams drop by to study their future opponents. One league lower, BFC Tur Abdin play on the adjourning astro-turf pitch. Both pitches are separated by a few concrete steps and a beautiful line of poplar trees who disguise the fact that the stadium is situated in an urban residential district.
Sportplatz Freiheitsweg | capacity: 3,000 | Füchse Berlin Reinickendorf | pictures
Another amateur ground lined with trees, concrete steps and benches. It’s sixth division at the moment and you supposedly get pretty good burgers here with about a hundred people attending.
Stadion Rehberge | capacity: 2,500 | BSC Rehberge 1945 | pictures
A few blocks up Sportplatz Lüderitzstraße, we arrive at a huge park: Volkspark Rehberge. It’s a large and varied refuge, not too crowded, there are lakes, lawns, forests and even some caged animals such as wild boar. And in the middle of all that is Stadion Rehberge, a grass pitch surrounded by a running track, some old terraces and about 320 seats. BSC Rehberge is another one of those 7th division teams where the club has a large number of members and other sports teams, but only few locals show up for the matches.
Kickersplatz Monumentenstraße | capacity: 2,200 | FC Internationale Berlin | pictures
It’s probably most enjoyable to watch the match while you sit on the small grassy hill behind the goal or on the sideline. FC Internationale is a special club – there is no connection to the Italian Inter despite the look-alike shirts. Inter was founded as an antidote to commercial football, with the firm belief that the game should be played for fun and out of passion for the sport, rather than for money. Players don’t get any financial compensation, but are loyal because they appreciate the club’s values, like: “No Racism” which is on the team’s jerseys since the clubs inception in 1980. Right now you can watch them in the 7th division but the club is determined to get promoted to 6th division (Berlinliga) soon.
So that’s it for now. It’s a pretty extensive collection that covers quite a few grounds and teams, and it (+ the picture galleries) should give a good first impression of what’s out there. There are hundreds of teams in Berlin, so obviously there are many more grounds to discover. A large chunk of those teams play on astro turf pitches that don’t have many special features, though. This will make you feel like you’re back at school exercising, or just kicking the ball around with your friends (which you might as well do in that case). Then again, there are still many other stories left untold of interesting stadiums or teams – but this will be for another time. Follow Groundhopping etc. on facebook in the meantime, to get stories, pictures and videos on a more regular basis.