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Von den Ufern der Irwell bis auf der Küste von Sizilien

Submitted by on June 28, 2013 – 9:16 amOne Comment

potsdam

By Ryan Hulme, before and after FC United’s recent trip to Babelsberg…

Britain continues to produce a bonanza of examples of how not to run a football club, amid increasing protests from beaten down match-going fans.

Meanwhile, the FA sits on its hands as historic clubs like Blackburn become the butt of poultry-related jokes and long-standing fans discard their season tickets.

Still, that’s not to say that there haven’t been some signs that things are changing, with Portsmouth fans’ long-awaited victory in their court battle to secure trust ownership and the success of Swansea in the Premier League with a high level of fan representation within the club’s structure. At the same time, fan representation at football clubs is something the Germans know one or two things about as well.

With Bayern and Dortmund sweeping aside all before them in the Champions’ League this season, the British media’s new love for the German game has led to some breathless articles, with the Grauniad’s football finance crusader, David Conn, among the latest to celebrate safe standing, great atmospheres and a lack of cash-hungry carpetbaggers in the German game.

Cynics might note here the change in tune of many in the press from “well, fan run clubs are all well and good, but where is the European success for these German clubs,” to the current love-in. In general, though, the media’s praise for the way the Germans do their thing football-wise seems very much justified and, as with a lot of sections of German society, football fans are certainly a lot more politically engaged than you’re likely to see in the UK.

In February this year, I nipped over to Berlin to take in a bit of German football myself, as I froze my balls off – along with 75,000 others – while taking in a German second division game between 1. FC Union Berlin and Hertha, who eventually topped the table after being humiliatingly relegated from the Bundesliga 1 last year. For my troubles, I had a mate accuse me of being a football hipster.

Upon finding out what that supposedly means, I had to explain to him that when it comes to the German lower leagues, I’m seen my fair share of games – at least for someone who spent just 6 months there.

If I was lucky getting the chance to study in the carnival atmosphere of Berlin the same summer Germany hosted the World Cup (carnival of corporatism that it is), I was luckier to find the soundest flatmates imaginable. Rico and Rene were fans of SV Babelsberg 03 (SVB) and 1. FC Union Berlin, respectively, at a time when both teams were playing in the Oberliga – Germany’s fourth tier in 2005-06.

This was Union’s lowest ebb in terms of league position, but it also set the stage for a straight fight out with Babelsberg, as these were the only two teams in the division at the time who could qualify to play in the division above. In the end it was Union who prevailed and they ended the season just gone in the top half of the German second division, no doubt with ambitions of one day joining their better known rivals in the Bundesliga.

Meanwhile, SVB lost their spot in the third division and will drop down into the fourth tier again. But, for Babelsberg and their fans, it’s always been about much more than just football.

The sleepy city of Potsdam, with its Versailles-style palaces and parks, sits just beyond the edge of Berlin’s sprawl and is reachable on the city’s light rail system. Although Potsdam is best known for holding the Allied conference where defeated Nazi Germany and post-war Europe were carved up by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, the city is also known for its famous suburb Babelsberg.

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Famous not for being home to a fourth-tier counterculture football club that is, but rather for the oldest large-scale film studios in the world, founded in 1912. Over the years, Filmstudio Babelsberg has produced classics, like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and Nazi propaganda, like the famous epic Triumph of the Will. Today, it is still producing major films, such as Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and The Bourne Ultimatum.

Nevertheless, Babelsberg has been home to a football club longer than it has been to the TV studio, with SVB’s ancestor Sport Klub Jugendkraft founded in 1903. However, as with many such clubs of that era in Germany, Jugendkraft (Youth Power) were more into wrestling and weightlifting, and the club didn’t even field a football team until 1919, when it merged with local football club FC Fortuna 05 Nowawes to become – at least for a while – SV Nowawes 03.

It’s fair to say Germany had an eventful 20th Century, and with the rise and fall of first the Nazis, and then the Stalinist East German regime, the country’s sporting organisations were subjected to splits, mergers, dissolution, reformation and, unsurprisingly, quite a bit of exploitation too. For Babelsberg, the upheaval resulted in its being part of the multi-sport affair SV Motor Babelsberg by the time of German Renunification in 1990. The following year, the football team of Motor decided to go it alone and the modern incarnation of SVB was born.

The club’s rebirth in 1990s former East Germany had a major influence on its outlook and fan scene. In particular, this was down to the influence and spirit of Berlin’s squatter scene, which had been active in West Berlin since the 1960s and had been rejuvenated in the East in the lead-up to and, especially, immediately following the fall of the Wall.

At the same time, the fact that Potsdam is the capital of the state of Brandenburg and was historically the centre of Prussia and the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm, made SVB all the more attractive for protest-minded, progressive young Germans, who wanted to consign their history to the dustbin and make sure that right-wing nutcases couldn’t gain a foothold in their new society.

The last ten years at Babelsberg have been relatively chaotic and controversy-filled at times, with some issues related to the club’s financial management and its relationship with the city. The club also apparently only managed to fulfil the licensing conditions for promotion to the new 3rd division in the 2011/12 season just 13 minutes before the deadline. Nevertheless, given the mismanagement seen in Britain today, Babelsberg would probably still constitute an example of good governance when compared with so many of the car crash clubs in the English game.

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After taking in the match at the Karl-Liebknecht Stadion, I spoke to my mate Rico about his feelings regarding the club and its fan scene:

− As I’m assuming it’s not a family tradition, how did you become a Babelsberg fan?
When you’re involved with football in the Berlin/Brandenburg area and, at the same time, hold yourself to certain progressive and emancipatory ideals, eventually you’ll come into contact with SV Babelsberg, one way or another. To be honest, I reckon my heart was won over more by that aspect of it than by the stunningly beautiful and successful football you see here! In short, there is no other alternative…

− For the average fan, would you say that what happens on the pitch is as interesting as what is going on in the stands?
Being a fan or an ultra or just an admirer of a certain team always means more than the sum of its parts, as it were. If I just wanted to watch football, I’d just stick on Sky and watch a bit of Manchester city. That’s fucking crap though! Maybe if Messi were to come to play for us in Potsdam though, it’d be a different story…

− What have been the most difficult moments for SVB in your time as a fan?
For me, personally, certain problems in the Babelsberg fan scene, having to do with what the fan culture should be about and what it really means to be a part of it, have created more difficult situations than any sporting setbacks. The misery of a relegation can be ancient history one year down the line, whereas when people within the support get into serious arguments or actually into physical confrontations with one another, the effects of that can be long-term. With such a small group of fans at our club, these kinds of things are magnified as well when compared with fan disputes at a bigger club.

− Are there any special relationships/rivalries between fans of SVB and those of other German clubs? What about St. Pauli?
The active fans at Babelsberg stand on the Nordkurve or in the Ostblock, with the Nordkurve as the main face of the fan scene. The Ostblock does its own thing, although also from an anti-fascist standpoint.

For my part, I haven’t got any problems with other clubs, as long as their support isn’t Nazi scum or made up of complete idiots. As far as the “tradition-laden” former East German clubs are concerned, it’s a good bet that there’ll be no love lost between us. There are some nice exceptions to the rule though, like BSG Chemie Leipzig. It’s a shame they play even lower down the leagues than us.

Of course, nobody likes Hertha (Berlin), whereas opinions on Union (Berlin) range a bit wider. The tendency among the younger and more active fans is anti-Union though.

St. Pauli fans are of course all Babelsberg fans as well – they just live too far away! This means we have to play an annual friendly against them, so that they get to come to the Karli* once a year, at least, and I can live with that.

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− Do you think there are any ways in which the activism of Babelsberg fans has positively influenced German football culture in general? Do you have any examples?
It depends who or what you mean by “German football”. The German FA? Other teams? Other fans? In any case, the actions surrounding our Football Fans Watching the Police campaign are well known. For this, we had lawyers accompany us on away trips, who then monitored the actions of the cops and released publicly available reports about them. The fan scene’s actions against racism, homophobia and other kinds of marginalisation are generally known throughout the region. Whether that will help to change something in Germany or in ”German football”, remains to be seen. What is clear though is that Germany has no fans on the Nordkurve.

− What campaigns are fans involved in at the moment?
The Nordkurve is part of the anti-fascist Alerta-Network and recently there have been a lot of coordinated actions around the theme of Football Fans against Homophobia. (picture) At the moment, fans are getting ready to mobilise as part of a big demonstration against rent payments. So you could say that the active fans at Babelsberg are quite a bit more ready for action than a number of our players were on the pitch last season.

− What created the Babelsberg phenomenon in your view?
The most beautiful stadium in Europe and the smartest fans in the world. Daft question…

− How much do you know about fan movements in English football? Do you think what has worked in Germany can work in England too?
You really can’t compare the situations since, at the moment at least, no single investor can completely take over a club in Germany. (The example of Red Bull Leipzig is a bit different, since Red Bull first had to find itself a club that would agree to be a “host” for it in SSV Markranstädt).

Nevertheless, it’s great to see that in England as well there is starting to be signs of an uprising against these types of developments. Whether that comes through supporters’ trusts or through the founding of alternative clubs for established fans, as FC did, I’d say to all involved – keep fighting and never give up.

− What was your single greatest memory as a Babelsberg fan?
The draw against FC United of Manchester…

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