THW Kiel wins the regular season title; SG Flensburg-Handewitt second place. 20 teams expected for 20/21 Premier League season
KIEL- After ice hockey and basketball is the 1999/20 season for the professional German Handball League (DHL) officially over. All 36 teams in the premier and second leagues voted unanimously to discontinue the season instead of playing in empty stadiums (Geisterspiele) through June, the month when the season would’ve ended. The decision to end the season early is the first ever in the history of the DHL and it comes in response to the Corona epidemic and the lack of measures needed to contain the spread of the virus. To add to the misery, all large-scale events including sports matches have been banned in Germany through 31 August.
The decision to end the season comes less than eight hours after the decision was announced to cancel the Oktoberfest in Munich by the Bavarian government and Munich’s city mayor (see here for article).
According to German public radio station NDR Info, the teams that started the 19/20 season will remain in their respective leagues for the coming season, however the top two teams will be promoted, thus having a total of 40 teams in two leagues when handball resumes play in the fall. In the elite league, the newcomers for the upcoming season will be HSC Coburg and TuSEM Essen. The last two teams in the league, Nordhorn-Lingen and Ludwigshafen will remain in the top league for the upcoming season. The plan is to have four teams demoted to the second league by the end of the upcoming season.
With the season being over, the zebras of THW Kiel have been crowned season champions, with second place finisher going to its archrival, SG Flensburg-Handewitt. Both teams will play in the Champions League this fall. SC Magdeburg, TSV Hanover-Burgdorf and Rhein-Neckar Lions will play in the Euro League. Due to the Corona Virus, it is uncertain when league play will continue on both the national and international levels. There is a possibility of starting the season later than usual. League play usually starts in September. At the same time, Geistespiele for at least part of the season may have to be introduced- a concept that is rejected due to the fact that a fair share of the revenue comes from the fans.
After the announcement to cancel the season, all eyes are now focusing on the German soccer league and its three tiers. There the debate over if and when to continue the season is fanning the flames both within the league but also with the local and national governments and health experts. This includes the continuation of the season through Geisterspiele versus cancelling the season. Already there is a sharp divide between those who favor the former and those for the latter. And the question of the financial status among all the teams in the three leagues is the fuel for the firey debate. With the DHL canceling the season, chances are likely that the fire will be extinguished through a concerted decision from the Bundesliga and the public officials that will satisfy the teams, fans and the cities that have the profi-teams.
SG Flensburg-Handewitt wins German League Title for the second time in 14 years; its first title since 2015.
FLENSBURG- Schleswig-Holstein has had some interesting times lately as three teams tried to advance onto the (inter)national scene after finishing in the top three. Holstein Kiel tried to break the 36-year Bundesliga drought in soccer. But the fighting storks finished third in the Second League standings and lucked out in the relegation playoffs against VFL Wolfsburg 4-1 in two games. SC Weiche Flensburg won the Regionalliga North title in its inaugural season after the merger between two teams in Flensburg. They came one goal and a possible shootout short against Energie Cottbus in the playoffs to become the second team from Flensburg to enter the national scene in Third League German Soccer. The score in two games: 3-2.
While the two teams are licking their chops and reloading their manpower for another run in the 2018/19 season, one team finally broke the drought and put the northernmost sea-locked state in Germany back on the map; and that was the Albatrosses of SG Flensburg-Handewitt (FH)! 😀
After finishing in fifth during mid-season, FH capped off its comeback of the season under first-year coach Maik Machulla by holding off Göppingen (in Baden-Wurttemberg) 22-21 in the last game of the season. FH needed an outright win in order to seal the deal, for a tie would have meant a heartbreaking loss, and a third, second place finish in a row, two of which would have been behind the Lions of Rhein Neckar. The Lions defeated Leipzig 28-25 thus closing the door on the opportunity of a tie between Flensburg and Göppingen. Both teams were tied at half-time at 12-12 before FH started an offensive to take a three-goal lead with six minutes left in the game. A furious comeback was stuffed by FH’s defense despite cutting the lead to one before the buzzard. Once the game ended, it was pandemonium in Flensburg!
In its 28th season, this is only the second German Premere League Handball title ever, the team’s first since 2004. As far as (inter) national titles are concerned, while the team has yet to win the triple crown like its rival in Kiel, this is Flensburg’s first title since winning the German Cup (DHB Pokal) in 2015. In this decade alone, FH has won each of its international and national titles once: The Champions League in 2014, The Super Cup in 2013 and the European Cup in 2012, the same year Kiel won the Triple Crown (German League, Champions League and German Cup).
With the monkey off its back, Flensburg will be focusing on bigger goals as it enters uncharted territory. It will compete in the Champions League together with Rhein Neckar, Berlin Foxes and SC Magdeburg in Germany. The European competitors will be tougher to beat. Yet even though it will defend its German League title, it may face an old nemesis when in the German Cup: HSV Hamburg. The team reemerged from bankruptcy with winning the Third League title this season and will be in the Second League. Hamburg and Flensburg had battled back and forth before the team went into administration after the 2016 season. Hamburg’s last title before that was in 2011.
But in the meantime, let’s celebrate this victory and rearm for the next season. You guys deserve this title! 🙂
MANNHEIM- Formed in 2002 thanks to the merger between Kronau and Ostringen, the Lions of Rhine-Neckar, whose main base is in Mannheim, located south of Frankfurt/Main, has been a handball team that has quietly climbed up the standings to the top four, stalking the teams of Kiel, Hamburg, Flensburg-Handewitt and Berlin like a lion, in hopes that it will get its kill in the end.
On Sunday, the team got its prey in the form of the German Handball League title, but just barely!
After winning the European Handball Championship in 2013, the Lions won their first German Premere League title ever on Sunday, by sending their opponents from Lübbecke on its way to the second tier of the League in style. Thanks to an aggressive offense led by Andy Schmid and Uwe Gensheimer, the Lions took the lead right away and never looked back, taking an early 6-2 lead and leading by as many as seven points at halftime (17-10) before putting the game away in the second half. The final score was 35-23. Lübbecke, which joins Eisenach in the second league in the upcoming season, could not find any answers to a hungry Lion offense, which pounced on them all day with several blocks and interceptions.
The Lions’ victory added the last nail to the coffin of Flensburg’s title chance. Despite SG Flensburg-Handewitt’s stunning 41-27 victory over the Bergisch SC handball team, the Albatross’ quest for their first title since 2004 fell just a point short of their goal. The team had split the series with the Lions during the regular season. Despite finishing as Vizemeister (the name for runner-up) both Flensburg and Rhine Neckar have automatically qualified for the Champions League in the coming season. Sadly for the Lions, the title was bitter sweet, as the team is bidding farewell to Gensheimer. After 13 years playing for his hometown team, he will play his next season at Paris St. Germain in the French League this fall.
Archrival THW Kiel finished third in regular season play, by beating Stuttgart 32-23. For the Zebras, they finished their regular without any championship title for the first time since 2003. Stuttgart wrapped up its first regular season in the Premere League and together with Leipzig, which edged Wetzlar 30-29 in its final game of its first season in the Oberhaus, will be competing for the Handball Crown come next season. The two teams finished in 15th and 11th places respectively.
The Files would like to congratulate the team from Rhine-Neckar on their first ever German Premere League title and wish them all the best in the next season. You guys deserved it! 🙂
Magdeburg avenges Flensburg-Handewitt in the Handball German Cup, FC Bayern Munich wins another title, German Invasion in American Football?
The weekend of May 1 will go down as sensation made in Germany. A heavily favored team goes down in handball, the ladies soccer team beats the men at the title and lastly, a German is coming to Minnesota to play for his favorite professional football team. How did this happen? Let’s have a look at the highlights.
MAGDEBURG WINS FIRST GERMAN CUP IN 20 YEARS
Last year, the Fighting Albatrosses of SG Flensburg Handewitt stole not only one but two titles, including a stunning come-from behind victory against SC Magdeburg in the German Cup. This year, the team, with its aspirations of going for the triple crown, including the regular season title, may end up finishing the 2015/16 handball season empty handed. After being eliminated in the Champions League by Kielce (Poland) last week, the team had its last chance of redemption spoiled by SC Magdeburg. The team, currently in 10th place, not only beat the current second place team 32-30 today in Hamburg, taking revenge of last year’s defeat in the German Cup. Magdeburg’s German Cup championship is the first in 20 years. The team took advantage of early misques early by Flensburg and lead for much of the Finals game. Despite beating the Rhine-Neckar Lions 24 hours earlier, FH will need to win out and the Lions lose half of the remaining six games in order to win the regular season title. While Magdeburg is celebrating its first title in ages, this may serve as momentum going into the next season, as their place in the premere league is secured. 20 years was worth the wait. 🙂
FC BAYERN MUNICH WINS ANOTHER TITLE
The record is getting old and tattered and the songs are being played over again. But another soccer title is coming to Munich…..
GERMAN AMERICAN FOOTBALL PLAYER COMES TO MINNESOTA
America has long since been the place where people go from rags to riches, even in professional sports. While the Baltimore Colts picked up a jem off the streets in Johnny Unitas and made him a champion quarterback (read about his history here), there is another person that is following his footsteps. The catch: he has played American football for only five years but never at an American college. And he’s from Germany! Moritz Boehringer, who played only one season in the Bundesliga version of American Football for the Unicorns of Schwabish-Hall, is heading to the Minnesota Vikings after the team drafted him on Saturday. He plays wide-receiver, has speed and can outsmart the defensive secondary. The question is with only a handful of years experience, can he pull it off in the big leagues? Growing up watching fellow Viking Adrian Peterson (who is running back) play, he will have his wish come true by meeting him and perhaps work together to get him acquainted with life in Minnesota, which is not only laden with American football on all levels in the fall, but also anything pertaining to the culture of snow and cold, which is typical of the professional sport. But for the German, who is entering a different culture, he will feel right at home as not only the team, but also the people in the state are keen of having a chat over hot chocolate, going ice fishing, displaying their prized animals at the state fair, golfing, travelling to the lakes area for a swim, watching baseball,….. In other words, herzliche Wilkommen in Minnesota von einem aus diesem Bundestaat gestammten Amerikaner, der seit fast 20 Jahren dein Land und seine Kultur als Kolumnist und Englischlehrer genossen hat. Viel Spass und viel Glück! 🙂 More on the German football player in Minnesota here.
And now, the moment you have been waiting for, for two weeks: the answers to the questions about the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Going from north to south the Files is providing readers with a guessing quiz on each of the German states as part of the series on Germany at 25. For the northernmost state in Germany, the area is rich in culture and history, which after looking at the answers to the guessing quiz, you will be motivated enough to spend a few weeks up there.
The answer key is only a complement to the guessing quiz which you can access here and print out for you to try on your own, as well as test your family and friends, especially those originally from the region who might need a refersher. However, you are also free to comment on the answers to the guessing quiz, either in the comment section or directly via e-mail, using the contact info available under About the Flensburg Files header page.
So without further ado, here are the answers to the quiz on Schleswig-Holstein:
ANSWERS FROM THE MÄÄHTRIX EXERCISE:
What’s the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein
Which of these communities is NOT a community but an island?
Interesting Fact: The Island of Fehmarn is also considered an island featuring several small villages plus the towns of Burg, Burgstaaken and Puttgarden. Yet since 2003, all the communities consolidated to form an Island-Community or City Island. Sylt still remains an island with many small communities run locally by their own governments.
List the communities in order from largest to smallest in terms of population.
Bad Oldesloe (24,100)
Bad Seegeberg (15,900)
Which community has the highest concentration of Danish people in Germany?
Answer: Flensburg. Of the ca. 90,000 inhabitants that live in this city, 30% are of Danish descent. No wonder that the city has several Danish schools and stores, mostly in the north and west of Nordermarkt.
Which community was established by the Dutch?
Answer: Friedrichstadt. The town was founded by Dutch Protestants in 1643 and is characterized by its houses, canals and even bridges, including its signature double-bascule draw bridge. More on the city’s bridges can be found here through the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.
Which community is famous for its chalk hills and is the site of Karl May’s Cowboys and Indians Show (a.k.a. Winnetou)?
Answer: Bad Seegeberg. Every summer in July, Winnetou and his Native American friends make a stop here to challenge the likes of Buffalo Bill and Kit Carson, just to name a few.
You’ll never be a full-fledged international tourist unless you visit this community with its historic city center (a UNESCO site, BTW) and try the world famous marzipan candy. Name this town in Schleswig-Holstein.
Answer: Lübeck. More on why you should visit this city to come in the Files. But if you don’t visit this city, you’re touristic criminal. 😉
“Moinson!” German actor Axel Prahl, who plays Thiel in the ARD mystery series “Tatort” (Crime Scene in EN) is originally a Schleswig-Holsteiner, originating from which community? (Note: It has a fine castle).
Answer: Eutin, located between Kiel and Lübeck. If you’re not convinced he uses this greeting profusely or if you want to know what he looks like, enjoy this Tatort film below:
Correction: The greeting is spelled “Moins En,” according to local sources.
Which two communities have a premere league handball team and what are their official team names? (Hint: The Files has profiled them in many occasions since its inception in 2010)
Answer: Flensburg and Kiel. The official name for Flensburg’s team is the SG Flensburg-Handewitt, featuring the acing albatrosses from two Flensburg handball teams and one from neighboring Handewitt that merged to be one team in 1990. The zebras of THW Kiel have been in the handball business for over 100 years (since 1904) and have been kings of the German and international leagues for over 50 years.
Which community is famous for its “Kornschnapps” (EN: grain schnaps)?
Answer: Bad Oldesloe, located between Hamburg and Lübeck.
ANSWERS TO HYBRID QUESTIONS:
Which river in Schleswig-Holstein is the longest?
a. Trave b. Treene c. Träne d. Tine e. Schwentine f. Eider
Answer: The Trave. At 124 km in length, the river flows through the eastern part of the state before emptying in the Baltic Sea at Travemünde near Lübeck.
Note: The Eider River would have been the right answer had it not been for the construction of the Baltic-North Sea Canal. Originally, the river sliced through the state from Tönning to Kiel, thus creating first the border between the Danish and Prussian Kingdoms then later the kingdoms of Schleswig and Holstein. It was 188 km long, however today’s river starts at Rendsburg and continues its route to Tönning, with the total length being cut down to 100 km.
How many castles does Schleswig-Holstein have, and can you name two of them? (Hint: Eutin has one so it does not count)
Answer: seven. They include ones at Eutin, Ploehn (Plön), Salzau, Gottdorf (near Schleswig), Husum, Ahrendsburg and Glücksburg.
The last of the coal-fired steamboat exists in Germany and is still in operation in Flensburg. What’s the name of the ship?
a. Alexandra b. Bertha c. Clara d. Dora e. Euphremia f. Flora
g. Greta h. Helena i. Illonka j. Johanna
Answer: a. Alexandra. This ship was built in 1908 and still provides tours in the region between Flensburg, Holnis and Kappeln. Rumor has it though that this ship is expected to retire soon.
The Kiel Canal (a.k.a. Grand Canal) is a waterway built in 1895 connecting which two cities and their two seas? Schleswig-Holstein is bordered by these two seas.
Answer: The Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Hence the name Baltic-North Sea Canal or in German: Nordostseekanal (NOK)
The Grand Canal replaced the canal that followed the Treene River. True or False?
Answer: False. The Grand Canal replaced the Alte Eider Canal, which ran parallel to today’s canal between Kiel and Rendsburg as a canal and as the river Eider from Rendsburg to the mouth of the North Sea at Tönning
Name two of ten bridges over the Grand Canal. One of whom has received many accolades for its engineering wonder. (Hint: Sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a report on this theme)
Click here to get the answers. The Rendsburg Bridge is one of the bridges that received several accolades on the national and international level because of its unique bridge design. More on that here.
17.Uwe Barschel, a Social Democrat, resigned from his post as prime minister amid a scandal on October 2, 1987. Nine days later, his body was found at a luxury hotel in which city?
a. Munich b. Berlin c. Amsterdam d. Berne e. Geneva f. Vienna
g. Budapest h. Paris i. Prague j. New York
Answer: e. Geneva Correction: Barschel was a Christian Democrat, not a Social Democrat, according to locals and the history books.
The 1972 Summer Olympics took place in Kiel. True, False, or Naja?
Answer: Naja. While the majority of the events took place in Munich, the yachting portion of the events took place in Kiel.
Which German cartoon character originated from Schleswig-Holstein?
Die Wilde Kerle (The Wild Boys)
Wallace and Gromit
Answer: b. Werner the wild motorbiker. Interestingly enough, Rötger Hoffmann, the creator of this cartoon character, just recently celebrated his 65th birthday. He founded the series in 1982.
Which annual festival in Schleswig-Holstein does NOT exist?
Apple Festival in Glücksburg (near Flensburg)
The International Yacht Festival in Kiel
International Kite-flying Festival in Travemünde (near Lübeck)
Crocus Flower Pagent in Husum
Tulip Festival in Friedrichstadt
Answer: e. The Tulip Festival does NOT exist in Friedrichstadt, BUT there is a similar festival some 6,000km away in another Dutch city, Pella (Iowa) in the US.
You’re not a true Schleswig-Holsteiner unless you try one of the two local specialties (a.) and a good (b.) beer.
a. Sauerfleisch with broiled potatoes OR any delicacies with fish
b. Flensburger beer
Fehmarn Island is the flattest island in Germany. True or False?
Answer: False, but the island is the largest in Germany.
The Fehmarn Bridge, built in 1963, was the first bridge in the world to use this design?
Answer: The basket handle tied arch bridge. Since then, many engineers have embraced this design, and another bridge in Schleswig-Holstein will be built at the Levansau crossing using this design.
St. Peter-Ording is a popular health span resort namely because of of the discovery of which mineral in a geyser discovered in 1953?
Salt Petroleum c. Sulphur d. Nitrate e. Hydrogen
Answer: c. sulphur
How many universities and colleges exist in Schleswig-Holstein? Can you name two of them?
They are: The University of Kiel
The University of Applied Sciences of Kiel
The Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts in Kiel
The Europe University of Flensburg
The Flensburg University of Applied Sciences
The Lübeck Academy of Music
The University of Lübeck
The Lübeck University of Applied Sciences
The University of Applied Sciences in Wedel
The Pinneberg AKAD
The Nordakademie of Elmshorn
The Westkuste University of Applied Sciences of Heide
And now after getting acquainted with the first of 16 states in Germany, we will now move on to the second state going south. This is one of three city-states and one that was on the news most recently: Hamburg. More in the next article….
Giant Storm Causes Widespread Damage throughout Germany. World Cup in Brazil in Full Gear. Hamburg SV Handball Team Finished?
Getting off the train this morning at Erfurt Central Station in central Thuringia, passengers received a shock of their lives, as the sounds of thunder and lightning made the state capital sound like warfare going on. Pick any war in the last 20 years and it was reenacted by mother nature. And this in addition to heavy rains that flooded streets and brought the vehicular infrastructure to a complete standstill for a time. But this was the overture to the series of storms that occurred over the course of two days, ending today, which is comparable to Hurricane Kyrill in February 2007, and caused severe damage throughout all of Germany. More on that and a pair of sports-related items in the Files’ Newsflyer.
Local Flooding in Cologne, Rostock and Berlin. Downed trees in the Ruhr River area, northern Hesse and Saxony-Anhalt. Train services suspended. Power outages everywhere. This was a familiar sign when Kyrill brought all of Germany to a complete standstill in 2007. Yet with the storm system sweeping through Germany yesterday and today, it brought back memories of the event. Sweltering heat gave way to golfball-sized hail, high winds and torrential downpour that caused critical damage to many cities throughout Germany. Fallen trees and flooding caused several raillines to suspend services, including the hardest hit area, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the German railways suspended all services statewide yesterday for the fourth time since 2007. Officials there are predicting services to return to normal by the weekend. Stations in Essen, Dusseldorf and Cologne were cut off from the rest of the rail network. Raillines between Berlin, Hamburg and places to the north and west were either closed down or rerouted. Over 100,000 travelers were stranded or had to find alternatives, which didn’t fare better with motorways being blocked due to downed trees and other objects. Damage is estimated to be more than $135 million. News sources are predicting a clean-up effort taking up to more than a week to complete; this includes restoring the infrastructure affected by the storm. More information and photos can be found here.
Hamburger SV Handball Team to Fold?
Once deemed as the one of the powerhouses of German handball, especially after winning the Champions League Title last year, the handball team from Hamburg’s days as a Premere League team may be numbered. Faced with a 2.7 million Euro deficit (ca. $4.4 million), no president since the resignation of Andreas Rudolph in May and with that, the team’s main sponsor withdrawing its financial support, the team was denied entrance to the first and second leagues. Its last attempt to save face and be allowed to play next season in the Premere League is to overturn the decision by the German Handball League through the arbitration panel. The decision should take place on Wednesday. Should the panel uphold the decision or Hamburg withdraw its appeal, the team will be forced to play in the Regional League (3rd League) in the next season. In addition, the team will not be allowed to participate in the European Cup in the next season, despite finishing fourth in the standings. Melsungen would replace the spot left vacant. And lastly, the team will most likely file for bankruptcy, which could lead to the club being liquidated, should no one step in with money to help them. Such a free fall would be catastrophic, as Hamburg has competed well against the likes of the 2014 Season and German Cup champions, THW Kiel, as well as Berlin, Rhine-Neckar Lions, and the 2014 Champions League winners, SG Flensburg-Handewitt. More information can be found here.
World Cup begins tomorrow
Germany and the US are two of 32 teams that will go head-to head with the competitors beginning tomorrow. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will take place in Brazil at 12 several locations, with the Championship to take place on July 13th in Rio de Janeiro. For the first time since 1930, all the teams winning a World Cup will participate in the competition (Argentina, England, France, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Germany). Spain is the returning champion, having edged the Netherlands in the 2010 Cup. This is the fifth time the Cup is taking place in South America, which has been won by teams from that continent the last four times. That means Brazil is the heavy favorites to take the Cup. More interesting is the pool play, in particular, Group G, where the US and Germany are in. They are scheduled to meet on 26 June in Recife. The stakes are high for the head coaches of both teams, who are both looking for their first World Cup title. Jurgen Klinnsmann is being criticized for the American team being Europeanized, which could be his downfall if his team does not make it. Joachim Loewe is hoping that winning the title will improve his chances of a contract extension before 2016. With both teams hobbling with players banged up from regular season competition, it will be interesting to see how the match will turn out, let alone, who will go far in the Cup. More on the Cup to come in the Files. If you want to know more about the tournament, click here for details.
The German handball team of SG Flensburg-Handewitt had been, more or less, owned by its archrival to the east, THW Kiel in the last seven years, with the zebras taking the crown on the national and international fronts. This includes winning the triple crown (the German Super Cup, the German Regular Season Title and the Champions League Title) in 2012 with an unprecedented 36-0 record- the first team ever in Germany to achieve that feat. There would be a time when the albatrosses from the Hölle Nord (also known as the Flens Arena) would finally get their revenge.
After upsetting Barcelona in the semi-finals, the team found itself behind early, as Kiel, fresh from knocking off MKB Veszprem, had built a six-point lead and was bound to run away with its fourth Champions League title in the team’s history. Despite being down 11-5, FH mounted a comeback of Herculean portions, thanks to aggressive offense and goalie Mattias Andersson denying one goal after another coming from the zebras, led by Aron Palmarsson. After trailing 16-14 at halftime, FH took its first lead in the 39th minute and never looked back. Despite a frenzy comeback in the last minute after being down 25-21, Kiel finally ran out of steam as time expired, and the crowd of 20,000 celebrated FH’s first ever Champions League title in the team’s 24-year history.
Sensational is the word to describe FH’s heroic deeds, as the comeback was the second in a row, after it upset Barcelona in overtime of the semifinals, despite being down by six goals with eight minutes left in the game. This time SG Flensburg-Handewitt was the team outscoring everybody, giving THW Kiel something to digest in the offseason while their archrivals celebrate their first ever title on the international scale. After a welcome-home celebration which will fill the streets of Roter Strasse (Flensburg’s city center), the next item on their to do list is the German championship and defending the Champions League title, a goal that was once unrealistic two years ago but is now within their grasp after the team’s successful run for the Champions League title and ending the 2013/14 season with a loud bang.
The Flensburg Files would like to congratulate the SG Flensburg-Handewitt team for its sensational run for the Champions League title and for giving the fans the best game of the season. You guys definitely won a lot of hearts with your run and gave the author another incentive to bring more expatriates to Flensburg to watch some handball games at the Flensarena! Revenge is sweet, but something like this is the most memorable and will set the stage for more successes to come.
Going to a soccer game on a Saturday at a German soccer stadium is a ritual for at least 10 million fans. For 90 minutes they enjoy the company of their friends and family, cheering for their favorite team, booing at the referees for making a wrong call, singing and supporting their team with slogans and fan waving, and when their favorite team scores the winning goal, they race to the entrance of the locker room, cheering and congratulating the team on a job well done.
Yet looking at soccer in Germany this year, the scene presents a rather different story. Instead of cheering for their team, fans are taunting them even if they lose, throwing firecrackers and smoke bombs in the stands and on the field. Fights are breaking out between the fans of both teams, while some are chasing the fan bus, throwing stones at the windows and harassing the driver. And the most climatic event to signal the end of Premier League Play was on 16 May in the relegation play between Hertha BSC Berlin and Fortuna Duesseldorf, when thousands of fans stormed the soccer field to celebrate Duesseldorf’s promotion to the top flight league and Berlin’s relegation to the second tier league- but with two minutes left in regulation! It took 20 minutes to bring the fans back to their seats before the game could continue, which had contain so much chaos, and as a consequence, involved the German government afterwards. While the team from Hertha filed a complaint and demanded that the game be replayed, it fell on deaf ears on the part of the German Soccer Federation (DFB) and the DFB Supreme Court. Still, it is a cause for alarm in Germany as the problem with fans, the team and even the law enforcement has reached a point where tougher measures will have to be made before the start of the 2012/13 season.
Normally one will see such fan behavior in American sports, as millions of viewers have seen some events that have led to questions about the role of fans and athletes. The best example can be found in the event on 19 November, 2004 at a basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, where a brawl among the players gave a fan an incentive to throw an object at Ron Artest, who raced into the stands to beat him up. Other fans and players jumped in and a minute later, the court was loaded with people throwing punches and kicking each other. The game was called off with less than a minute left. Artest and at least 10 other players other received suspensions of up to a year; the fan instigating the attack was banned from attending any professional basketball games at the place where the brawl took place- Detroit-for life.
In Germany, many people take pride in the country’s sports, whether it is handball or basketball. While watching a game in each sport in the last two years- a basketball game in Bayreuth (Bavaria) and a handball game in Flensburg, the mood of the fans was spectacular, as there was cheering and jeering, people meeting new people, and there were no firecrackers thrown in the sporting complexes, let alone fans running onto the court to hinder a game. Even the cheerleaders and the DJs managed to involve the fans and provide them with a spectacular show, to make the trip to the game worthwhile. An example of such sportsmanship between the fans and the players, were found in a game between SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Gummersbach on 27 April, 2011, a game which Flensburg won in a seesaw match 29-25.
Yet the fan problem in German soccer has become so dire that the DFB, German soccer leagues, the federal government, police and its labor unions, and other parties are coming together this summer to discuss ways to crack down on fan violence. Already conclusive is the fact that fines and sanctions against teams, whose fans instigated the violence, have had very little effect on curbing the violence. Banning fans from attending any soccer games, as has been stressed by German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich after the disastrous game between Duesseldorf and Berlin may not be the most effective as fans can find creative ways of entering the soccer stadium masquerading as someone else and causing trouble there as well. The police and its union have strongly recommended that each of the 54 top flight teams and the DFB provide security fees and take points off the standings for teams instigating the violence. Yet many teams may not afford high fees for security, and for some who are cutting costs in order to compete, security is one of those aspects that has been on the chopping block.
The most viable solution to the increase in fan violence is to combine all the variants and add a five-year ban from competing on the national and international level, leaving them stuck in the Regionalliga (the fourth league) to set an example for other teams to clean up their act and be square with their fans, while at the same time, demand that each team entering the top three leagues to have strict security measures in place for every game and tournament. This includes taking finger prints and facial scans from each fan entering a sports stadium and having a database for them so that they can be tracked, scanning them for all forms of firecrackers and any materials that could potentially cause a fire, and even involving the German military at places where violence is the norm at the soccer games. In the case of the 2012 season so far, that would mean cities like Frankfurt and the surrounding areas, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden and Karlsruhe, where reports of violence have been recorded the most, would have military presence. A record of the violence during the 2011/12 soccer season can be found here. The last part is a common practice in regions prone to violence, like the Middle East and Africa, yet it seems like the trend has arrived here, which makes more law enforcement through the police and army a necessary and not a luxury. Should teams not afford strict security measures, they would not be allowed to compete in the top three leagues.
In the event that violence breaks out during or even after the soccer game, a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” rule should be enforced on all teams, keeping track of the record of violence committed by fans of the teams as well as scrutinizing the teams that are unable to control them. First strike means fines in the six digits and three points taken off, second strike means doubling of fines and six points taken off and the third strike means automatic relegation one league lower. If the event happens the fourth time, a five-year ban should be imposed. This rule is based on a law in the US dealing with drunk driving that was passed in the 1990s, which exists in most of the states- first strike meaning heavy fines, second strike meaning revoking the driving license and the third strike meaning jail time, in some cases, permanently. Yet its origins come from America’s favorite past time sport, baseball. A ban from attending any soccer game for those committing the violence should be enforced, but the responsibility of keeping order at a soccer game lies solely with the two teams competing with each other. Therefore, one should consider the punishment for each insubordination a punishment for all involved. While these measures are probably the harshest and it may contrabate the Constitutional Laws, resulting in the involvement of the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe on many occasions, but given the sophistication of the violence committed at German Soccer games, if even the German government is stepping up pressure for action, then the situation is at the point where inaction is no longer an option.
If there is a silver lining to all the violence, especially at the end of the season, it is fortunate that there have been no deaths or severe injuries reported. But it takes a tragedy to change that. It may not be the one similar to the infamous soccer stadium fire at Bradford City (in the UK) 0n 11 May, 1985, but one death will change the way we think about the game of soccer in Germany. We have already seen that in other places, as one can see with the violence at a soccer game at Port Said in Egypt on 1 February of this year, where over 70 people were killed. Unfortunately, Germany has taken one step closer to the danger zone and should the violence persist by the time the whistle blows to start the next season, we could see our first casualty recorded, regardless of which league game it is. When that happens, it will change the face of German soccer forever to a point where if there is a soccer game, the only way we will see it is on TV…….. as a virtual computer game!
Flensburg Files Fast Fact
Thestadium fire at Bradford City was (supposedly) caused by someone dropping a cigarette into the wooden bleachers full of rubbish, causing a fire that engulfed the stadium in less than five minutes. 56 people died in the fire and over 260 were injured. The fortunate part was the fact that no barriers to the soccer field were in place, like it is in today’s soccer stadiums in general, which allowed most of the fans to escape through the soccer field. It was a tragic end to the team’s promotion to the second tier of the British Premier League. The stadium was rebuilt in several phases (finishing in 2001), including replacing the wooden bleachers with steel and concrete. Since the fire, a ban of wooden bleachers have been enforced both in Britain as well as the rest of Europe.
Flensburg Files’ Fragen Forum:
After reading this article and watching the clips, here are a couple questions for you to mull over and discuss with other readers:
1. How would you approach the problem of fan violence in soccer stadium? Which measures are the most effective in your opinion: fines and other sanctions against teams, finger print scanning and keeping a database of the fans, point reduction in the football standings, banning teams with fan trouble from competing in certain leagues, or a combination of some of the measures? If none of the suggestions work, what would you suggest?
2. Do you think handball and basketball will surpass soccer in Germany in terms of popularity? Or will soccer remain a household name, like America has its household name sports of American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey?
3. Do you think fan violence is a universal problem in sports or is it focused on selective sports?
Please submit your answers in the Comment section, which is here after this article. Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you readers!
Like many of us, I had my favorite teams to cheer for when I grew up in rural Minnesota. In the summer, there were the Twins in baseball; the winter time consisted of split shifts between the Timberwolves in basketball and the North Stars and later the Wild in ice hockey; and in between, we had the Minnesota Vikings in American football. We had great seasons, cheering for our favorite players and demonizing the rivals, taunting them while they were chased out of the Metrodome and Target Center. We had dismal seasons where we demanded coaching and player changes so that we had a better season the next time around. And nine times out of ten, one losing season was followed by consecutive winning records and playoff appearances.
That was until just recently when greed, the strive for bigger stadiums and losing records combined with indifference among the players and ownership caused me to lose my appetite for one of the teams from Minnesota, the Vikings.
Since 1995, there have been calls for a new stadium with a retractable roof to replace the Metrodome, which was built in 1981 and has housed the Vikings since the 1982 season. Yet with every plea for public money to fund the project, it gets blown in the face with either other more desperate pleas to spend money for other projects, losing records and big disappointments, threats of relocating, or all three, the third variant being the most poisonous as it results in the loss of fans and respect for the team.
The latest round of backfires involves these three variants and this one could doom the team and force its relocation to Los Angeles. The current owners, the Wilf family, are threatening to move the organization to the City of Angels as the city of 10 million has been in demand of a new professional football team since the mid-90s and has every facility at its disposal. The state is trying to find ways to keep the team in the state but is faced with opposition from those refusing to pay higher taxes for a new stadium- especially when measures are passed without a referendum, as was attempted in Ramsey County, and attempts to keep the team in Minneapolis in neighboring Hennepin County have fallen on deaf ears to date. And its latest marketing campaign to round up support from state representatives blew up in their face this past Monday when Green Bay pasted the team 45-7 sending them to a 2-7 record in a season where the record of three wins out of 16 set in 1984 is in serious danger of being broken because the team has overpaid and overrated players who cannot protect a rookie quarterback who is the only one actually playing- not learning the lessons of last season when they finished last at 6-10, six games fewer than the season before that!!!
So what is the next move now? Faced with a chronic recession consisting of 9% unemployment and one in three families struggling to make ends meet, the last thing everyone needs now are higher taxes to fund a team that is in limbo and dysfunctional and its overpriced stadium. Keeping silent for too long, I have one word of advice to the organization: “Shut up and play some ball! Then we can talk!”
Looking at the teams in every level of sport, each one has received support for a new venue when they had successful seasons- comprising of winning records, playoff appearances and even championships. For one soccer team in the German Bundesliga, 1899 Hoffenheim, a club located in the extreme southern part of Hesse between Mannheim and Stuttgart, it has been because of yearly marches through the lower leagues and all the way up to its current place in the premier league. A small town of 3,400 inhabitants, its rise to fame started in 2000 when it won the Verbandsliga, the then fifth lowest league in the German soccer ladder, and every year up to 2008, its ascension was annual, raising the eyebrows of many who watched them, and with that came more fans and investments until the team reached the top. Then it received a new stadium, not just because of their success, but because their own venue was too small to host so many people. The end result of these two reasons was investment from mostly the private sector and from the German soccer organization. To this day, the recipe of success is being repeated in places like Leipzig (where it has been missing a top league team for over 20 years). As for the team itself, Hoffenheim has been a real pain to many of the traditional teams from Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, and Berlin, for every team in the Bundesliga has lost at least one game to this new powerhouse. That is just as amazing a feat as its ascension from a small league consisting of villages trying to establish their own team and place in the world of its most beloved sport.
Even some teams in other sports who have had constant success but problems with venues will eventually receive a new one because the support from the public is strong. This applies for the handball team, SG Flensburg-Handewitt in the German Handball Premier League. While Campus Halle sports complex, located on the campus of the University of Flensburg has been their home since 2003, a change of ownership combined with too high expectations in rent and other fees and other issues with transparency could result in the team severing their contract and looking for a new home. And given their success being in the top 6 combined with a pair of championships and success on the international level, FH has enough support from their fans and the city of rum for a new venue.
While the Vikings had their share of success with two winning seasons, including a 12-4 finish in 2009-10 and a run to the NFC Championship, it is not enough to convince the state of Minnesota that money is needed for a new stadium; especially given the hardship the people in the state and the country are still facing since the 2008 economic meltdown. And 2012 could be a repeat of 1968 in terms of turmoil from the public with political and economic implications on the country and the world being sky high. The Minnesota Vikings picked the worst possible timing to be demanding for a new stadium or leaving town, and with two straight seasons of losing records (combined with more to come) has resulted in many like me to be indifferent, saying “Take your team and go to LA, but never come back here to Minnesota ever again!” It is really sad that sports today have become more of a money factor than one where we see real athletes do their work on the field, and many of us are really fed up with that. This goes beyond the embarrassment that the Vikings faced Monday night against the Packers in what was supposed to be the battle of cross-state rivals.
It is obvious that the Vikings will hit rock bottom after this season and a complete makeover is inevitable, beginning with the players and ending with sacking the head coach. But perhaps these changes should also include the ownership, as the current ones are threatening to move the organization to L.A. without even thinking about what Minnesota needs in reality. Proposals for public ownership of the team and the Wilfs receiving the minority have already been presented, and it may be the only remedy to force the family to see reality and take a few steps back on the stadium issue, or put the team up for sale, which would be a blessing to many who want to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, its home for 51 years.
While it is inevitable that a new stadium is needed in the future, given the current situation with the team and the state, now is not the time to act on the stadium bill. It can only be implemented if the economic conditions have improved over time, and the same applies for the team and their performance. It does not necessarily mean the Vikings should follow the same recipe as Hoffenheim, Flensburg or even some of the teams in the state- like the Minnesota Twins in baseball. But realistically, if the team can pull off at least three consecutive seasons with winning records with playoff appearances- two of which must include victories- then we can discuss the need for a new stadium. Until that happens, the team is in dire need of a complete makeover with a new objective, new principles, and new personnel. And this can only happen when the 2012-13 season starts, which is as soon as the last seconds of the fourth quarter of the last game of the 2011-12 season run out, regardless if they break the 1984 record for the least number of wins in a single season or not.