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.
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 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.