Taking (Ro)stock

Hansa Rostock 0:1 VfB Stuttgart

I’m going to start this article the same way I finish most of my social interactions: by apologizing. It’s no secret readers come to Bloody Hell for the real deal, Fußball Pur action that can only be found in the lowest of the lower leagues. Today we’re asking you to bear with us as we examine the glamorous football elites we’re usually busy complaining about.

That’s right, we went all the way up to the 3rd division! Specifically, to Rostock, where Hansa Rostock hosted VfB Stuttgart in a German Cup battle of fallen greats. Despite Rostock being decent 3-hour journey from Berlin it was a match up we just couldn’t pass up. Besides, what else are you going to do on a Monday night?

So, it was with great excitement that I and a couple of (totally existent, I swear) friends headed off to Rostock. Laughs, beers and pistachios were had by all. Is it possible to consume canned beer on a train without posting photos of it on social media? I forgot to take a picture, so hopefully this quick sketch will suffice.  

Author’s rendition of the train cans.

Massive Hansa graffiti became increasingly common, signaling our approach to the northern port city. Sure, we were pumped for a nice day out and a game of football played high above the usual Bloody Hell standard, but there was also much to see off the pitch. In many ways, Rostock are indicative of the struggles and trends afflicting numerous clubs in Germany’s East. Hansa’s post-reunification glory days were a good shade brighter than most clubs in the former DDR. That wasn’t enough to prevent the familiar drop down the leagues. Once a fixture in the Bundesliga, they’ve slid hard since their last relegation from the top tier in 2008. They’ve just kicked off their 8th straight season in the 3. Bundesliga.

Rostock’s All Right

More depressingly, they’re known for a right-wing fan base that mirrors many scenes in former East Germany (though recent comments from a Schalke executive are a reminder that idiocy isn’t geographically predetermined). Hansa have a reputation for a raucous atmosphere, right-leaning support and defiant pride in their eastern roots.

The Ostsee Stadion was mobbed with Hansa fans decked out in matching white shirts printed up for the big game. The ground is beautiful, with towering floodlights drawing attention from far outside the stadium. The crowd of 24,000 was standing room only, including Stuttgart’s impressively-packed away block given they traveled from the opposite end of the country on a weeknight.

Though most of them were innocuous enough, stickers emblazoned with slogans like ‘Heil Hansa‘ and ‘Wessis (referring to West Germans) Not Welcome’ sprinkled amongst the rest around the ground were a good indication things were going to be exactly as we expected. The Böhse Onkelz, a surprisingly successful band infamous for a lengthy and controversial far-right phase, played before the match.

A deafening crowd welcomed the players onto the field while the supporters end broke out a tifo that praised the fatherland and featured a rather familiar-looking skull. The atmosphere was awesome, but the clear politics of the fan base cast a sobering cloud on the day. Apparently I was more intimidated by it all than 2nd-division Stuttgart. They’re a much bigger club than Rostock, and having won the Bundesliga back in 06-07, their transition from a relative German power to an elevator side is an even further fall than Hansa’s. Their lineup hasn’t changed much from last year’s top-flight squad, and 7 players who appeared in Stuttgart’s historically mediocre showing in the relegation playoffs against Union started at Rostock.

Revenge for Stuttgart

The hosts were decent in possession in the early going, but Stuttgart weren’t flustered. As Hansa repeatedly failed to turn solid ball movement into clear cut chances, Stuttgart absorbed pressure and did just what they had to. A 19th minute short corner, with a mouth-watering ball from Daniel Didavi to an unmarked Hamadi Al Ghaddioui, put the visitors ahead and launched the away section into a frenzy.

Stuttgart never really left the driver’s seat. The Rostock fans kept singing all match (including my personal highlight from their songbook in the form of a banger about beating Wessis) but it wasn’t enough to will on a comeback. For the fight they gave, Rostock really should have been more clinical, especially with a few golden opportunities that any club in the 2nd or 1st division would put away with ease.

Last season Hansa pulled off a 2-0 upset over Stuttgart in the cup. This time round, Stuttgart got their revenge, leaving the home crowd disappointed to depart empty-handed after a strong showing. The atmosphere was truly impressive, but it’s hard to ignore the glaring red flags. It’s certainly too easy to say ‘it’s the East, so of course all the fans are nazis’ or to assume even a majority of the stadium has unified views on politics. Of course, much of the posturing is done to provoke and get a rise out of people just like myself. But the blatantly nationalistic choreo and stickers shouldn’t be ignored or written off as simply trolling, especially in a broader context of rising nationalism. And the responsibility can’t just be washed away in a sea of supporters, as the Böhse Onkelz were piped out of the stadium speakers and the club cannot condone such a massive fan action.

“Out of Control for Club and Fatherland”

The ride back to Berlin felt longer than on the way up. You notice just how empty the capital’s surroundings are. The angry red glare of the occasional lit up wind turbine is all you’ll see on large stretches of road, highlighting the region’s isolations: how cut off cosmopolitan Berlin is from the area around it, how cut off the East is from the West, and just how isolated many of these clubs are from their glory days.

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