Berlin #2 (Köpenick and football at Union Berlin)

After our night out in Neukölln, we stumbled back to the hostel. The plan to “not have a late one” had gone the same way as these well intentioned plans usually do. It was well after 3am when we got back. I thought that we were fairly quiet, but the problem is that, after beer, my brother snores like an elephant. We’d had the room to ourselves earlier but there were 3 others there when we got back and, at 06:30, they made their displeasure known by getting up and thumping around like baited bears, clearly in a fit of childish revenge. It was hard to get asleep after that and a lie-in wasn’t an option as we’d arranged to meet my German friend, Arne, at 11:30 at Ostkreuz station to go to football. So, bleary eyed, lacking in sleep and hungover we forced ourselves out of the hostel and to the station with the eventual destination of Köpenick, one of Berlin’s south-east districts, for the Union Berlin – Nuernberg football match on our mind. The metro was jam-packed with football fans.

The Union stadium, Stadion An der Alten Försterei (“The old forester’s house”) is a picturesque little stadium, set in the middle of woods. It reminded me of Wycombe Wanderers’ stadium.

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I’ve seen Germans getting smug on some forums about having such a fan-friendly football culture, but, in fairness, they have a right to be. The stadium was well-equipped, had a great atmosphere and it was weird, but excellent, to stand again on terraces at a second-level football game. No problem taking beer or hungover younger brothers

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on the terraces and they had good currywurst stands. Yum!

The loudspeakers blasted out multiple club songs (how many do they have? Loads!) My favourite was a rowdy punk one, which I captured a bit of on video here. It set the mood perfectly for the game that followed, which didn’t disappoint. A real back and forth seesaw battle. It was all Nuernberg to start with and it took only four minutes for them to go in front with a deflected goal, but Union equalised after 20 minutes and dominated the early part of the second half, going 3-1 up. It looked like they had the game in the bag, but Nuernberg stormed back.

One of their players scored a brilliant goal, dribbling past two Union players before slotting in from a tight angle. (Goals are here.) Then, with 15 minutes left, Nuernberg equalised after a scramble from a corner. Both sets of fans were great, never gave up. The guy in front of me almost broke my nose by accident when he jumped back to celebrate a goal. To, their credit, even when 3-1 down, the away fans never stopped singing either.

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Ultimately…. a fair result.

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We decided to head round Köpenick after. It’s not one of Berlin’s better known districts and is a bit of an oddity. For the last 10 years, it’s been one of just 3 constituencies in the German parliament won every time by The Left party, half of which originates in the former East German communist party. While it’s easy to see how the other two (Marzahn and Lichtenberg) have elected post-communists, it’s hard to imagine a place that looks less like a far left stronghold than Köpenick. The streets have a comfortable suburban look about them

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and overall, Köpenick still looks and feels what it was until 1920: a sleepy commuter town on the edge of a big city, popular with pensioners and people who can’t/won’t pay the higher rents of the city itself. Köpenick, after Marzahn and Reinickendorf, has the highest percentage of German-born residents in Berlin.

We strolled along, photographing the large church,

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the riverside,

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and finally, Köpenick palace (Castle?) All in all, there didn’t look that much in the way of nightlife options, though we did find one appropriate place for a photo.

so appropriate!

so appropriate!

While we’d stood around sipping coffee, looking and feeling crap, Arne had already had two beers at the football as if to prove that Germans could do it better. But, in the end, we decided to have a small beer at Schlossplatz, which markets itself as “Germany’s smallest brewery.”

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Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed in the beer, so after one small one, we headed back to town, agreeing to meet later. There are worse places to walk round than Köpenick, but there are also much better, livelier districts of Berlin and, unless you’re there for some specific purpose (football!) you haven’t missed much if you don’t visit it.

Me and my bro headed back for a siesta, which was interrupted by our Spanish dorm mates coming in an hour later. They rolled their eyes at the idea of us being in bed, asked me in English where I was from, and after I’d said Ireland, assumed we didn’t speak Spanish and proceeded to say nasty things about my brother’s snoring, while I sat, trying not to smile, pretending not to understand, even though, with 9 years of Spanish living/study, I have a good level.

Feeling fresher, me and Gerard walked along the East side gallery, the largest remaining stretch of the Berlin wall, passing the former 02 arena, which hadn’t even been there when we first visited Berlin.

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We crossed the bridge at Warschauer Strasse into Kreuzberg. I’ve been visiting Kreuzberg since the first trip to Berlin in 2000 and it’s changed and not all for the better. The grungy alternative bars near the Spree bridge, which gave it its character have gone, replaced by Wine bars, sushi bars, Italian restaurants and other totems of the noveau riche. Further down it gets a bit less yuppie, though.

We headed to bierkombinat, one of the microbreweries in the city and met Arne and his friend, the vocalist and guitarist in a punk band, who I’d met years before. The weather had been crazily warm. It had hit 17 degrees earlier that day. I’d been in Berlin twice before in November and I thought, and Arne confirmed, that this wasn’t normal. It’s usually 8-10. I sat outside in a t-shirt before deciding that this was a little too extreme.

Bierkombinat is a bit of a grungy, smoky neighbourhood bar which does great beers.

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We enjoyed the pale ale, though, despite me warning my companions that it was likely 6.5% volume, we ended up doing rounds of the stuff. Halfway through, as I was chatting to a random Icelandic artist who was there for the weekend, my brother disappeared. I assumed he’d gone outside for a smoke, but after 15 minutes when he didn’t come back, I went hunting and found him round the corner, hunched up being sick, obviously more of a lemonade than pale ale man. Sadly, but probably luckily for me for the next day, that meant we had to cut the night short and get a taxi, given my bro had forgotten how to walk and his own name at this point.

Back at the hostel, our Spanish roommates, two girls from Teruel, had also been partying and I revealed that I actually did understand Spanish. They spoke a lot about their buddy Antonio. The way they went on, we expected a tall, muscular matador type, but he turned out to be a weedy, nerdy student. They kept calling my bro George and, in heavily-accented English said stuff like “George, when you eh-sleep, you no hawhhhhh” (imitating snoring sounds.) Amused, and with peace and love in the dorm restored, we turned the lights off to try and get some eh-sleep before the final day.

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