A football pilgrimage to Cologne (v Werder Bremen)

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About a year ago, I made a spectacular blunder and decided to adopt FC Cologne as my Bundesliga team. Since then I have become rather smitten with the old goats, but the incremental effect on their form has been negative; the more I watch, the worse they get. Well, that’s how it was at first, now they lose so often it doesn’t seem to matter either way.

So, with the prospect of a witnessing a brutal defeat in person, I set sail (got on the train) from London last Friday to make my first trip to the RhineEnergieStadion for Cologne’s clash with Werder Bremen.

Why bother?

Because everyone bangs on about how great the Bundesliga experience is. Really, it’s not hard to see why Germany appeals to English football tourists. It’s hardly a giant step into the unknown – the drink of choice is beer and local cuisine consists mostly of meat and potatoes.

Obviously, there’s more to Germany than this. Berlin is the hipster capital of Europe, full of bearded, bespectacled artists listening to minimalist techno. It’s a great city, but Berlin has never had a great football team (sorry, Hertha). So I chose Cologne. We’ve been over this. So, here’s what I made of it.

Only Kölsch is Kosher in Köln.

Apologies for choosing the most obvious place to start, but the Cologne natives are fiercely proud of their beer, Kölsch. Tourists and locals can enjoy Kölsch in one of the numerous brauhauses that surround the City’s famous (and enormous) cathedral. There are many different breweries making the stuff, but the product is essentially the same: a chilled, pale beer, although a couple of them had a slightly fruity taste.

It’s usually served in small glasses (0.2 litre) to ensure each serving is fresh. When you finish one the waiter brings another and marks your beer mat to keep tally of how many you’ve quaffed. It’s a pleasant enough drink, but not particular memorable. I much preferred the wheat beer, but that was from Munich, as the scornful barman pointed out to me.

The brauhaus is also a good place to sample some traditional German cuisine. Sample menu: pork sausage and potatoes; pork schnitzel with fried potatoes; pork in a cream sauce with potatoes; pork in a cream sauce with potatoes and extra cream; pork with fried potatoes and pork. You get the idea.

Pre-match build up

Having fought our way on to a ridiculously packed tram (it made the Victoria Line at rush-hour look quite roomy), two stops later we were getting off again. We were still several kilometres from the stadium, but a very expensive looking Audi was expertly parked on the tracks, blocking the line. A long trudge to the next available station ensued. This was not a good sign.

Thankfully, when we did arrive at the stadium, traditional German sustenance was readily available to aid our recovery: wurst. I opted for chopped wurst with potatoes – a simple dish, but considerably more tasty than the average burger on offer outside English grounds (nothing compared to a balti pie though. Unlucky, Germany.) And, of course, there was no shortage of Kölsch to wash it down with.

To make a purchase inside the stadium requires a touch and pay card (London folk: it’s like an Oyster card). You buy the card off a vender, who can also credit your card with whatever amount you wish to add. It sounds like a bit of a hassle, but it massively speeds up the queues at the kiosks and bars inside the stadium, especially at halftime (insert your own generic comments about efficiency here). After the game, you simply take the card to a cashier and they will refund whatever is left on it.

Despite the fact that spectators are seemingly encouraged to ‘get on it’, there was no sense of overly aggressive drunken behaviour. This might have been influenced by the high proportion of female fans. I don’t have any empirical data to back this up, but based on some rather crude analysis (me and my friend looking around a bit) there seemed to be a much higher number of female fans present than I’d ever seen in England.

The match

The match wasn’t a classic, so I wont waste too many words attempting to describe it. Lucas Podolski waved his arms a lot, angrily gesticulating to teammates where he had wanted the ball to played. This was generally preceded by said teammates lofting the ball harmlessly out of play. He did score a quite magnificent goal early in the second half, but the linesman already had his flag up. You can watch football anywhere in the world, and there’s always some bastard with a flag to spoil your fun.

Of the other members of Cologne’s team, the central midfielder Martin Lanig put on a very positive display. Everyone else was rubbish. Bremen could barely be bothered to attack, but still looked the most likely to score. Cologne huffed and puffed, but were clueless in attack, and the match finished 1-1. Not the greatest football match ever, but made more enjoyable by the friendly locals in the surrounding seats who, having overcome their initial bemusement, provided some helpful and insightful observations:

“You’re from ENGLAND? You are COLOGNE fans?!”

“I think there are many places in Cologne where you can have a good party.”

“Drink lots of German beer!”

All valid points. So, that’s my guide to football in Cologne.  Sadly, the famous Eff Zeh look increasingly likely to be competing in Germany’s second tier next season. Never a dull moment, that’s what they told me, and they were right.

However, it would be wrong to end on a depressing note, and I have just the antidote. Cologne have their own club Hymn, which they play before each home fixture. It’s a German soft-rock classic and, although I didn’t know the lyrics, the constant refrain of ‘EFF-ZEH KÖLN’ was easy enough to pick up. I have since found a video montage to accompany the song, which is shared below. I’m not saying it’s up there with the great montages of our time (e.g. Rocky IV: when Rocky’s reminiscing about his career and contemplating coming out of retirement to fight Ivan Drago, set to No Easy Way Out, by Robert Tepper), but it’s pretty good (awful). If you’re not convinced that you too should make the trip to see the mighty Billy Goats, maybe this will swing it.

 

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5 Responses to A football pilgrimage to Cologne (v Werder Bremen)

  1. Fabian says:

    Hi there, awesome text.
    Love the way you discorverd “Köln”.
    Funny and well written, and espacially the way you descripe the cologne folks and fans ;)
    My question is how or why did you choose cologne? What is your Team in England?
    Why German Football? “Because everyone bangs on about how great the Bundesliga experience is.” Is it possible you explain me(as a German, your sight at German Football?
    And yeah we in Cologne are pretty proud of our beer “Kölsch”. But Kölsch isn´t just the beer it´s also a part of our culture, Kölsch means also the dialect speken in the region surrounding Cologne. So Kölsch is the only language you can drink.
    Finaly as fan of the same team :) I translate the hymn for you so you know what you are singing. Again, its sung in dialect ;) I will mark Explenations with a ()

    Lehrefeld,Raderthal,Nippes,Poll,Esch,Pesch and Kalk (all parts of cologne)
    Everywhere are fans of Fc Kölle.
    In Rio, in Rome, Jläbbisch, Prüm and Habbelrath,(Citys in or out of Germany)
    Everywhere are fans of Fc Kölle

    Joy or grief, future and past.
    A feeling that unites FC Kölle
    New match means new luck.
    A feeling that unites FC Kölle

    We pledge allegiance to you
    We stay at your side FC Kölle
    We will walk through the fire with you
    We will always be just on your side FC Kölle

    If young or old poor or ritch
    Together we are strong
    Through thinn or thick (German old saying)
    No matter where you go.
    Only together we are strong FC Kölle

    We pledge allegiance to you
    We stay at your side FC Kölle
    And we will walk through the fire with you
    We will always just be on your side FC Kölle

    We pledge allegiance to you
    We stay at your side FC Kölle
    And we will walk through the fire with you
    We will always be just on your side FC Kölle

    We pledge allegiance to you
    We stay at your side FC Kölle
    And we will walk through the fire with you
    We will always be just on your side FC Kölle

    looking forward in reading more from you, ans maybe seeing you in Stadium
    Come on Efff zee!
    Fabian

    • Michael says:

      Fabian,

      My team in England is Watford, who play in the Championship (Bundesliga.2). They’re a small club.

      German football became very popular with England fans after the 2006 world cup. Lots of English fans went to Germany and had such a great time they decided to go back. The Premier League in England is very expensive and sometimes its very hard to get tickets. In Germany it feels like the fans are treated with more respect, and therefore it’s more fun going to watch a game. That’s what I think, other people might disagree.

      Thank you for the translation. It’s a very emotional song.

      “Joy or grief, future and past.”

      I think it’s fair to say there’s been more grief than joy so far.

      “We pledge allegiance to you
      We stay at your side FC Kölle”

      I can very much relate to this point. I’m pledging my allegiance right now. Although, I’m not sure I’m ready to walk through fire for Cologne just yet.

      I’m sure I’ll be back one day. Thanks for reading.

  2. Earl says:

    Great review of your day – I am going to Cologne this week to watch their game against Stuttgart. Do people congregate outside the ground and drink beer? Are there plenty of places to buy from?

    • Michael says:

      Earl,
      The answer to both questions is: yes. People start to arrive at the ground way before kick off, and there are plenty of places to buy beer. The one thing you will not struggle to find in Cologne is beer. Have a great trip.
      Michael.

  3. Pingback: A Football Pilgrimage to Köln (v Werder Bremen) | Bundesliga Fanatic

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