What if clubs were, in fact, people? What would they look like, how would they act, what would they dream?
Let me show you the tale of Union and Hertha, two clubs from a city torn apart.
August 24th, 1963
TSC Berlin arrives home from training covered in an extra sheen of sweat, thanks in no small part to the news buzzing on everyone’s television set: Bundesliga. Tonight.
The Wall might not fall now, he grins, throwing himself onto his couch with a beer in hand, but I have a good feeling about this…
Ninety minutes later, in the West, another Berlin club rejoices at her one-all draw. The first matchday for West Germany’s national league is finished. But will it change everything?
November 9th, 1963
‘Shit, I should’ve come sooner’ is the first thought that crosses Eisern Union‘s mind as he steps into the bar. Though the tenth matchday won’t start for another hour, the establishment is already packed with football fans. Unfortunately, the pleasant view of mingling fans is blighted by the wine-colored shirts of Dynamo Berlin. His blood boils at the sight of the club gloating in the middle of his ‘supporters’. If only he wasn’t backed by the fucking Stasi…
With a deep breath that does nothing to suppress the urge to throttle his rival, he makes his way to the almost-full bar, asking for a pint of beer.
His order comes not a minute later. After thanking the tired barman, his gaze travels to the wine red crowd around him.
He groans, downing his drink in what he thinks are three gulps, I’m not gonna make it out sober if I keep sitting here.
Even when he looks away from the pile of shit and towards the TV hanging over the bar, he can still hear the grating sound of Dynamo’s voice and his posse’s half-drunken cheering.
He really should’ve come here earlier… his ears are fucking bleeding right now, thanks to the crap Stasi Boy’s ‘fans’ are spewing!
I mean, he thinks, downing his beverage in just a few gulps, sure, Hertha’s lost on six out of nine matchdays, but they are. Not. Shit.
When the last drop slides into his throat, the blond Berliner pauses to catch his breath. Well, he lets out a long sigh, they played like shit when Hamburg and Dortmund steamrolled them… but that does not make them a shitty club!
As if reading his mind, Dynamo’s posse laughs.
He groans for what feels like the millionth time. “One more, please!” TSC shouts.
Another exhausted bartender serves him his second pint, which he grabs straight away.
He doesn’t drink it all in one go, though. He glances at the clock: it says 16:30. Still thirty minutes left – what would his friends say if he got wasted before the starting whistle?
What would Hertha say?
He pauses at the thought of Die Blau-Weißen‘s personification. While he knows Hertha’s players and matches almost as well as his own, he has no idea how the club looks, or how they act, or… anything, really. To be honest, although the mandatory Stasi meetings mean he knows his fellow DDR-Liga clubs by sight, he doesn’t know much beyond the surface. The dictators likely want to keep it that way.
Does Hertha go by a fake identity, too?
While he admits the West is a bit less… oppressive than the East, (he continues drinking at this) he doesn’t know if that leniency stretches to people – beings, whatever – like him. They could be classified as aliens for all he knows!
…Damn, this is getting really weird. He thought he could hold his liquor… focus on Werder – Hertha now, TSC. Focus.
So he shifts his attention to the TV, watching the ads blur into each other until the match begins… after which, the beers blur into each other as well.
Ninety minutes later, wearing a silly drunken smile, he turns to walk home.
Alcohol really does wonders to spice up brave comebacks like this, even if the end result is a draw.
As the season passes, whenever time permits, Die Eisernen watches his blue-and-white counterpart with unparalleled zeal, supporting them through the ups and many downs.
When Hertha finishes 14th, a point above the relegation zone, he sits on his front porch and raises his glass for a toast, letting the wind carry his congratulations over the barbed wire.
The next season, TSC lounges on his terrace every other week.
He doesn’t talk only about matchdays, or how much he hates Dynamo. There are times when he launches himself into a spiel about his hobbies, his favorite food, his crush…
Despite the Wall,
despite the Stasi,
despite the sheer impossibility of it all, he likes to believe Hertha can hear him.
May 16th, 1965
HERTHA BSC DEMOTED AFTER BRIBERY SCANDAL
Although they finished outside the drop zone, Hertha BSC have to part ways with the Bundesliga as they face charges for bribing players to keep playing in what has become a difficult time for West Germans…
His heart clenches.
Liebe Berliner Mauer, can’t you just fall already?
Regionalliga matches are harder to follow, but he couldn’t care less about it.
He just hopes his faith in Hertha will pay off.
In 1968, Hertha win the promotion play-offs with Kickers Offenbach.
It is a summer day in Berlin.
In the mid-1970s, representatives of the fan groups of both East and West Berliners first make contact with each other.
Not only they start personal friendships and exchange info or fan articles, they start coming to each other’s stadiums in hundreds, their voices united in song-
Ha-ho-he, Hertha BSC!
Ha-ho-he, es gibt nur zwei Mannschaften an der Spree – Union und Hertha BSC!
Wir halten zusammen, wie der Wind und das Meer die blau-weiße Hertha und FC Union!
Wir halten zusammen, uns kann nicht trennen, keine Mauer und kein Stacheldraht!
(Ha-ho-he, there are only two teams on the Spree – Union and Hertha BSC!
We stick together like the wind and the sea, the blue-white Hertha and FC Union!
We stick together, nothing can separate us – not the Wall nor barbed wire!)
The Unioners’ chants remain stuck in the memory of the blue-and-white supporters. They remain in the mind of their beloved club, too.
And so, die Alte Dame finds herself in the Friedrichstraße Station.
Normally, she wouldn’t even consider going there without a good reason (or a well-planned vacation). But ever since she heard her supporters make the trip from Charlottenburg all the way to the Köpenick in a show of solidarity, Hertha couldn’t sleep well. It’s as if something inside her begged that she find her counterpart-of-sorts in the East – and see them, if possible. So with her admittedly limited resources, she sent them a letter the day before her departure.
And now she waits near the checkpoint, eyeing the people traveling through the borders.
Only after half an hour does a man approach her – perhaps he’s the one she’s looking for.
Many things have changed on the Red side of Berlin.
Over the last seven years, not only has Union won the FDGB-Pokal (the East German Cup) and established himself in the first division before getting relegated, promoted, and relegated again, he also won the UEFA Intertoto Cup twice and reached the final stages of the DFB-Pokal almost every season.
…Well, ok. He watched Hertha do all that, but he did more than share their jubilance – he celebrated their victories like they were his own. Unioners all over the East started wearing blue under their red shirts, singing the famous ‘Ha-ho-he’ chant in bars, and casually chatting about European aspirations in between DDR-Liga matches.
But no matter how much he appeared to be carefree, he still steals glances over his shoulder, especially when he’s alone, and every time the Old Lady appears on TV, he discreetly warns his fans, please, not too loud, not here.
And as the Stasi tightens its iron fist around his country, he sets a curfew for himself, earlier and earlier each time people whisper rumors of suspicious disappearances, and stops his weekly ritual. His messages are no longer spoken, but relayed mentally.
When his fans start to cross the border to send – and receive – physical ones, he starts to lose sleep. Every night becomes torture as his imagination runs wild. But it was that faithful match, Hertha’s last home match of the 1973-74 season, that really caused him to panic.
Hertha were 8th, Stuttgart were 10th, so it was natural for him – and everyone else in that bar – to expect a win, right? His joy after Hertha won 1-0 was quickly replaced by shock. In the dying seconds of the game, he started hearing familiar chants… dangerously familiar ones.
He stayed rooted in his seat until all the patrons left, mesmerized and terrified at the same time.
With the amount of supporters that had crossed, and then been shown on fucking live TV, suspicions were sure to arise. What would the Stasi ask when they got back? He can’t let his supporters suffer, not to mention his club… god knows what they’d do to keep them in line!
To complicate matters, a letter claiming to be from Hertha arrived yesterday.
He tried to read it upside down and backwards and puts it under the lamp on his desk, but there was no trace of invisible ink, no indecipherable code – just plain, simple Hochdeutsch.
After devising an alibi for when the Stasi surely come looking – if they’re not the ones who sent the letter themselves – TSC takes a train to Friedrichstraße.
The garishly-dressed woman he spots right after he leaves the train couldn’t scream Wessi louder if she tried. Who the hell wears metallic flares to a train station? And no self-respecting Ossi would dye their hair silver, for god’s sake.
But maybe she does it on purpose, a part of him suggests, refusing to concede to the headache caused by the assault on his sight, maybe she is trying to grab someone’s attention.
He pauses. And then it clicks.
This is gonna be one hell of a meeting…
“You shouldn’t come here dressed like that, you know.”
Hertha gasps when she hears the man’s voice for the first time, but the strange expression on his face ensures her surprise doesn’t last long. In fact, it tugs the edges of her lips upwards. “You’re Union, I assume,” she greets him.
The East Berliner before her blushes, but quickly recovers himself. “That’s me. And you must be Hertha. Nice to finally meet you,” he replies, offering her a hand.
She gives it a firm squeeze. “Likewise.”
“Now, back to the important stuff,” Union says sternly. “Are you dressing like… this… (he gestured towards her clothes at this) on purpose? Because that’s like saying you have a death wish. Do you?”
Union may be sympathetic, Hertha muses, but he obviously is an Ossi. “Yes, since I can’t die regardless of what I wish,” she shrugs, “and…” she stares at him squarely, her deep blue eyes meeting rust red, “don’t you think it’s a bit much for you to talk about safety when your fans are the ones who waltzed into my stadium?”
His features contorted in anger. “I didn’t tell them to ‘waltz’ into your stadium, damn it!” he hisses, the fire in his voice nearly making his whisper a roar. “Also, don’t pretend your fans are innocent. I saw your supporters in my stands, too!
“Do you know how much it could affect my life? My fans’ life?” he continues, throwing his hands up in frustration, “the Stasi’s definitely gonna interrogate us! I don’t care about me, but what if they’re marked as dissidents or something like that? They can’t work anymore, Hertha! How are they going to feed their children?”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” she snaps, swatting his hand away, “we just met!” Can’t you take a little joke?!
“And?” the Köpenick team spits back, “I’m not the hypocrite, Wessi!”
His use of the degrading nickname extinguishes his own anger. “I’m sorry….”
The 1892-born club crosses her arms on her chest, an exasperated sigh escaping her lips. “I’m sorry, too,” she replies after a long silence. “Start over?”
“Yeah,” Union beams, his voice filled with warmth, “I’d love to.”
Tune in next week for Part 2, when the Wall comes tumbling down….