Four years have passed since Hertha BSC crossed the border to meet FC Union. They have grown close since then, but like every friendship, trials await these two Berlin clubs…
December 23rd, 1980
Out of everything he could send me, Hertha BSC chuckles at the open package in her hands, he sent me an ugly dress. Again.
It’s not like the Old Lady is that fashionable for Western standards, but after four years of going back and forth from her Olympic Stadium to his Alten Försterei, she at least expects her friend to remember that she’s visiting him as a football fan and not a Communist aunt who was forced to defect.
“You could’ve sent me East German marks, Union,” she shakes her head, clicking her tongue in mild disapproval at the mass-produced abomination, “could’ve saved me a lot of money…”
Actually, she thinks, recalling her expensive candlelight dinner in Munich and the bouquet of blue roses from Baden (she still has no clue how her not-quite-boyfriend got ahold of those), that’s not true.
She has a ridiculously wealthy friend in Bayern München and a ridiculously sweet one in Karlsruher SC, but she can’t ask for their help. Not when she’s been declining their Christmas invitations, with their implications of cuddling in front of a fireplace before – she stops herself, just in time.
The Absteiger sighs as guilt worms its way into her heart. Why must she fall in love – in lust – with not one, but two clubs at once? She wishes nothing more to turn her fantasies into reality, to just let herself go, yet, she finds herself unable. Not when it would be at the expense of the other’s feelings.
That’s not the only reason she’s refusing them, though (except for that one time when she and Karlsruhe found themselves alone in his home, Wildparkstadion… but then again, she hadn’t thought her fans would strike a friendship with the Reds’ supporters). Everything is uncertain now, even her Bundesliga fan friendships. Somewhere deep inside, she knows – soon she’ll be sleeping with the enemy, bedding down with Stuttgart and 1860, and no one will bat an eye. Their dynamic ‘capitalist mentality’ makes sure of that.
But with Union, no matter what atrocities they face, she feels secure.
The thought of the younger Berliner elicits a small smile from her, and she rummages through the package once more. Her eyes light up when her fingers close around an envelope.
Somehow, she can almost hear his voice – friendly yet hushed, as if the secret police could hear his comments from a country away,
Sorry to hear about your relegation! I wish we could’ve stayed up. But I kinda expected it for myself, so I wasn’t too sad. Dynamo wouldn’t shut up about it, though. That bastard.
She can’t help but laugh. ‘Sorry to hear about your relegation’ would be nice to hear at the end of last season, but after the 21st matchday in the second division, it just sounds silly.
Anyway, how are you?
She just beat her city rivals TeBe Berlin 2-0, so ‘never better’.
I hope you’re doing great, or at least better than Chemie Leipzig.
Damn, she shudders. What now?
They caught him and his fans smuggling stuff to Hannover a week ago, and… let’s just say he’s not the same. He can’t even walk right anymore.
Her heart stops. Union often tells her stories of reckless personifications and fans punished in horrific ways, warnings to their already cash-strapped, repressed clubs, but it still infuriates her. How could they? Don’t they have a conscience?
…sorry, got carried away.
She glares, hot tears still stinging her eyes.
I didn’t write you a long-ass letter to tell you about the millionth fucked up ‘incident’ at my place…
Of course you didn’t.
In fact, I wrote this to tell you I’m really excited about tomorrow!
Her anger fades away.
We’ve prepared something special for you Herthaners, so don’t you dare sleep in – we’ll be waiting!
P.S. Merry Christmas! Hope you like the dress!
“Toothbrush… passport… and done!” Hertha whoops, wiping sweat off her forehead. With a triumphant smile, she presses both sides the case, flattening its contents before closing it with a satisfying zip.
After brushing dust off her clothes, she throws herself onto her bed, reveling in the softness of the mattress beneath her. Her taut muscles slowly loosen as she closes her eyes, and soon enough, she arrives in the state between wakefulness and sleep, reminiscing about 1977 and the defining moment in their relationship…
“…you’re crazy, you know that?!”
Hertha BSC laughed at her new friend’s playful accusation, loud enough for him to hear over the thousands of fans chanting around them. “Crazy is good, right?” she shouted as she jumped and clapped to the rhythm of the songs. Union, though, fixed his gaze on the large patch sewn on the back of her denim jacket. “Not when the whole world can see it!” he yelled.
“That’s the point!”
He scowled at her. “This isn’t your country, Hertha!”
A heavy silence fell between them as they cheered for the blue-and-white team from Berlin; alas, they had to settle for a 2-1 loss.
“Fucking shit,” Union swore, kicking a beer can on their way out of Slovan Bratislava’s Tehelné Pole Stadium, “yesterday the Pokal, now this…” he grumbled. “Not only did we lose, we’re gonna get fucking arrested because of you!”
“Arrested? What the hell are you on about?!”
“This!” He pointed at the patch on her back, “This shit is gonna get every single one of our fans in jail!”
Of course he’d think that! “Just keep walking,” she commanded, pulling him along by his wrist.
An hour later, the relief was palpable. They’d escaped the watchful eyes of Czechoslovak officers and, as their eyes adjusted to the gloomy interior of this typical Eastern Bloc bar, the Germans prepared to drink away their defeat.
“Now, what’s with that ‘eine Nation’ shit?” Union asked.
“What ‘eine Nation’ shit?” asked the youngest supporter at the table (Hertha didn’t know if he was hers or his, as everyone came in her colors to avoid suspicion, but she guessed it didn’t matter).
“This,” Hertha said, turning her back to display a map of Berlin, so massive it nearly covered the entirety of her jacket. Between Eisern Union’s crest in the East and Hertha’s in the West, a red line marked the Wall, over which two hands – one red, one blue – intertwined in solidarity. The words “HERTHA UND UNION – EINE NATION” appeared below.
“You’ve got huge balls, lady,” remarked another supporter, his awe obvious, “did you make it yourself?”
“Does it matter?!” Union cut in, slamming the table with his fists, “If they see her, we’re all dead!”
“Calm down, mate,” the young supporter said, “we’re still here.”
“He’s right,” Hertha smirked, “we didn’t make these to get us all killed, you know.”
The boy looked confused. “We?”
“Hertha fans,” she replied.
“Oh!” His eyes widened. “Both of us are FCU fans,” he explained, “I’m Thomas, and this is Alex. Are you both from the West?”
“I am,” she said, “but he’s an Unioner like you two.”
“Well, this is interesting,” Thomas laughed and turned toward Union. “What’s your name?”
Hertha perked up. I wonder what he chose…
Union’s cheeks turned pink. “Wolfgang,” he muttered.
So he’d named himself after his goalkeeper…but why was he so uncomfortable about it?
“And you, Miss…?” Alex asked.
“Hertha,” she answered. The surprise on the brothers’ faces was funny enough, but Union’s scandalized look was priceless. In response, she flashed them her most charming grin. “My parents have been fans since the war ended,” she continued, the well-practiced lie sliding off her tongue.
“That’s nice,” Union spat, arms crossed, “now we know the name of the woman responsible for our future arrest.”
“Shut up,” she shot back, “you didn’t even let me explain.”
He huffed in response.
“I know we’ve been exchanging fan articles for a few years now, and wearing both red and blue in our matches, but we think it’s not enough. We want more people to know that Union and Hertha are friends, so we started making these.”
Before her friend could protest, she continued, “We know it’s dangerous, but listen… The media is strong. Stronger than your secret police, even. So if we get the whole world to notice us, the Stasi will be too afraid to do anything.”
“The Stasi? Afraid? You Wessis are delusional!”
Alex and Thomas exchanged glances.
“She’s right, you know. We can make this work.” argued Alex.
“Not to mention she’s still alive,” Thomas added.
Hertha met Union’s sharp gaze, her blue eyes imploring. He conceded defeat, signaling for another round of drinks.
The moment Alex and Thomas left, Union –who’d drank enough beer to finally loosen up – attempted to focus his eyes long enough to stare at Hertha, his eyebrows furrowed in what she thought was confusion.
“Hertha?” he slurred, leaning closer and closer. God, his breath stinks…“Why’re you Hertha?” he asked.
She frowned. She’d seen her friend drunk before, but this made quite a change from just smiling dumbly at everyone passing their table. “What do you mean?”
“‘Me Wolfgang,” he replied, pointing at himself, than at her, “you’re Hertha. ‘S unfair!”
“Unfair how?” she questioned. “It was your own choice.”
The younger club shook his head vigorously. “It’s them.” He peered through his fingers. “You pick your own name?”
“We do. Most of us name ourselves after our favorite players.”
“For example,” she continued, barely resisting the urge to snicker at her fellow Western clubs’ choice of pseudonyms, “Bayern’s name is Franziska Beckenbauer.”
He frowned. “Franziska?”
“She prefers Franz, though,” Hertha replied fondly, remembering the days she and the Bavarian had spent together.
“Ohhhhhh, I thought Bayern was a girl too.”
“Union, she is!”
“Niiiiiiice,” Union drawled. And he promptly face-planted on the table, unconscious.
He was much heavier than she’d thought. Alex and Thomas had offered to help her, but Hertha found herself refusing out of… what? She couldn’t explain it.
It just feels right to carry him in her arms.
Yes, his clothes were damp with sweat, and he reeked of alcohol, but for the first time in her life, she saw him truly blissful. His usual tenseness was gone, and his eyes, ever-so-cautious when awake, were devoid of worry.
The Old Lady didn’t consider her scrawny, messy-haired friend attractive, but his smile, god, it was beautiful. She wished he had more reasons to smile when he was awake…
Hertha stares at the ceiling, remembering.
To Union’s surprise, their reckless tactics worked. They still heard reports of the Stasi marking thousands of fans, but as the friendship grew in fame, the punishments ceased. The East Berliner no longer arrived home to a raided house; no longer were the DDR clubs fined for their fans’ clandestine adventures.
She can’t imagine how exciting it would be if – no, when – they actually become one nation. After all, they’d come this far with a Wall between them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem this war will end any time soon.
Guess I have to settle for secret meetings for now… see you tomorrow, Union.
That morning Hertha had been energized, having dreamt of the events in Prague. It had been an insane day, her infamous Ultras group Hertha-Frösche wreaking havoc throughout. Union, being his paranoid self, didn’t want to join them at first but soon he followed his supporters into the action.
“Who’s crazy now?” she grinned.
He shot her a look as he slung his second opposition banner on his shoulder. “Shut up,” he said, “you bought us tickets. It’s only right if we help you guys in return!”
“Sure, Union,” she teased, gracing another banner with a graffiti’d middle finger, “sure.”
Now, though… well, days like this one really make her wish the Wall would ‘just fucking fall’, as Union so eloquently says it.
Extensive inspections. Interrogations. Adhering to that unwritten rule: NO SPEAKING UNLESS SPOKEN TO BY OUR KINDLY OFFICERS. They hadn’t even been offered a single sip of water. Yet she suspected a few of her friends had peed their pants rather than go to the loo. Add in the bleak skies and the biting cold, and it wasn’t an experience she’d wish on even her worst enemies (save Dynamo Berlin).
Thankfully, they’re now entering the pub, a place she doubts could fit all fifty of them. But kindness is rare around here. And it’s got to be better than the goddamn expensive Interhotels the GDR makes us stay in. The innkeeper is an Unioner (and, of course, a Hertha BSC sympathizer) in his sixties.
As he welcomes them, the Blau-Weißen fans turn their attention to the door, applauding and cheering. Hertha’s jaw drops as FC Union fans file in. Soon both sets of fans are exchanging hugs with fans they’ve met before, wishing “Merry Christmas” to new friends they’ve just made. The joy is so palpable that her fatigue simply evaporates.
But where the hell is Union?
Hertha slumps into her seat. No one will admit to knowing a short, young Eiserner named Wolfgang with reddish eyes and tousled blond hair. But he can’t be late! Out of all the stereotypes in their personalities, only one didn’t quite fit: Union, the Ossi, is the one always reminding her to be on time.
So where in the world is he? she wonders, stabbing at her half-finished meat.
Don’t tell me he’s not coming…
Someone knocks against her table, sloshing her drink and attracting her attention. High boots… black pants… leather jacket… piercings… mohawk… rust-red eyes…
She can only blurt out a pathetic, ‘Union?!’ at the oddly familiar punk.
“Hertha!” he exclaims, pulling her into a tight hug, “I missed you so much!”
She says nothing.
Confused by her silence, he lets her go. “What’s wrong?”
Her look says it all.
“Oh, this?” Union laughs, gesturing at himself. She suddenly notices that his boots’ soles are so thick, he’s now taller than her. “Do you like it?”
She’s tempted to say no, but it’s much more fitting than his usual ‘boy-next-door’ look. “I do,” she replies. “But why? I didn’t recognize you at all!”
“Welcome to the eighties,” he smirks. “Yet… you’re still the same.”
Hertha considers her own look. Straightened hair parted in the middle, bright blue flares, turtleneck, denim jacket. She really hasn’t changed at all. “I don’t see a reason to get a makeover.”
“But you keep dyeing your hair,” he teases.
“How many times have I told you?” she asks. “It’s been gray since I was born.”
“You fucking liar. By the way, is this seat taken?”
“Nope,” she answers. “Want a drink?”
Union laughs heartily at that. “You know me so well!”
Everything happened so fast. The surprise Union had promised in his letter turned out to be the biggest Christmas tree Hertha had ever seen in Communist Germany.
After hours of decorating said tree, they partied all night – singing carols, eating, and of course drinking. Unsurprising, then, that she and Union had ended up side by side beneath the mistletoe. Or that they’d spend the rest of the night chatting. She remains surprised, though, at how good that kiss had felt.
A package and a newspaper are waiting at Hertha’s door. She smiles when she picks the box up – it’s a gift from Karlsruhe – and idly flips through the paper. Her jaw drops when she sees the words ‘Bayern’ and ‘violent’ … please, god, don’t let anything happen to her!
A CHRISTMAS VISIT GONE WRONG
Yesterday, Christmas Day 1980, supporters of German champions FC Bayern München travelled 585 kilometers to visit their friends in Berlin. But what they thought would be a festive atmosphere turned out to be a violent one.
“We waited at the meeting point, just like they told us to,” a Bayern fan said, “we never expected anything but a warm welcome.
“The Hertha fans attacked us without provocation,” the 30-year old, who wished to remain anonymous, continued, “they brought weapons; we were outmatched and outnumbered.”
Will the fan friendship remain?
“Certainly not!” another declared, “They almost killed one of us – a woman, no less. If that’s what those Herthaners call ‘friendship’ then we don’t want any part of it!”
Hertha doesn’t read the rest of the news. Not that she can, what with the tears in her eyes and all.
How could this happen? she wonders, setting the offending newspaper on her bedside table. She should’ve known the fans who’d remained at home would arrange a meeting with Bayern’s… They were friends, right?
Some friend you are.
Bayern’s voice breaks into her thoughts, cold and unforgiving… she deserves the rebuke.
Not just because she couldn’t control her fans, and not just because she abandoned one of the only people who accepted her as she was, but a part of her, the part who longs to tear down the Wall, actually wanted this to happen.
Of course, the imaginary Bayern sneers, just get rid of the third wheel. Or was I the fourth?
Stop! Hertha begs, covering her face with her hands. It wasn’t like that!
You could’ve broken up with me personally, but no, you had to attack my fans!
I’m sorry! she sobs (god, it hurts, it hurts, something’s burning in her chest and please s t o p,) I’m so sorry! Please don’t leave me!
It’s too late, her old friend growls. Goodbye, Hertha.
In the middle of the night, Hertha’s telephone rings.
Under her covers, she squeezes her eyes shut, willing herself to sleep.
The next morning, the West Berliner wakes up to someone banging on her door.
It’s VfL Bochum. Bayern’s real friend.
“She’s in the hospital,” he chokes out, “and it’s all your fault!”
She slams the door in his face.
“It’s not your fault.” The match has just ended and Union has his arm around her shoulders as he guides her home, “don’t you dare think that.”
Hertha says nothing.
“Hey,” he says, gently turning her to face him, “it wasn’t your fault, okay? You can’t control your fans. None of us can.”
His rust-red eyes are shining with forgiveness – forgiveness she has yet to show herself. She wants to hug him so badly, but –
You don’t deserve it!
“I could’ve,” she retorts, wiping her tears with dirty sleeves, “I should’ve gone home… Whenever I close my eyes, I hear Bayern scream… I could’ve saved her!”
At the last word, Union closes the distance between them, his breath mingling with hers. The falling snow weighs on their coats and chills their bones, but the feeling of his body against hers, of his acceptance, is pure warmth. She melts into his embrace, little by little, just like the way she did under the mistletoe a lifetime ago…
“It’s okay to make mistakes, Hertha,” he whispers, a gloved hand stroking her hair while the other steadies her shaking form. “Cry if you need to.”
Yes, just cry, traitor. You’re clearly the victim here.
She lets her head fall on the smaller club’s shoulder.
“Hertha?” Union calls, alarmed by her silence, “Hertha, are you okay?”
She shakes her head fervently. (Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry) “So… c-cold…”
“Shit,” Union swears under his breath. “We gotta get you home.”
The walk takes just a few minutes, thank god. She stands at her door, her hands shaking, hoping the stupid key will go inside this goddamn hole –
“Do you need a hand?” her friend asks, leaning so, so close she feels his breath once more.
“N-no, thanks,” she sputters, finally forcing it in. “See? The door’s open now. You should go home, too. It’s late.”
“Alright,” Union says reluctantly, “see you later, Hertha.”
“Thanks for walking me home.”
The moment the door closes, she breaks down, tears cascading down her cheeks. She shouldn’t cry herself to sleep yet again, but it’s the only way to block out thoughts of the attack, the only way to avoid hearing Bochum’s accusation again and again… oh, if only he’d stay…
“Union!” she cries, slamming the door open, “Union!”
She runs out of the house, yelling for her friend, not even noticing the bitterly cold air. But the snowfall is so heavy it’s impossible to ignore. For a moment, she curses his bleached hair. “Union! Come back!”
She spots him running towards her, long coat swishing behind him. It’s frankly a ridiculous sight, but she has no time to think about it.
“Let’s get inside!” he shouts over the wind, “It’s fucking freezing out here!”
“God, I’m never going outside again,” Union groans, collapsing to the floor beside her. “so, what now?”
With an enigmatic smile, Hertha stands up, takes off her shoes, and hangs up her coat. “You can take a warm bath, if you want to.”
“You look like you need it more than me,” he remarks, looking her up and down.
She turns to walk upstairs.
“Hey, where are you going?” he yells. “It’s not nice to just abandon a guest!”
Despite everything, he managed to make her chuckle.
“Hertha, wait up!”
“What, can’t catch up to an old lady?” she teases, staring down at Union, who’s a few steps below her on the staircase.
Disbelief fills his eyes at this. “Is that a challenge?”
“Why don’t you come in to find out?”
For once, Hertha wakes up earlier than her Eastern counterpart.
And damn, she muses, he’s even cuter sleeping than he is wasted.
Although the wall separating their countries isn’t showing any sign of tumbling down, the wall between them sure had.
Coming soon: post-wall, both literal and metaphorical