Germany Mini Tour

“That baby was on this plane last week with a different mother”..
“Maybe she sold it…”

As conversations that you get to listen in on go, this one between two RyanAir stewards features quite highly on my list..

Just 50 minutes in the air and My Dad and I had arrived in the German city of Cologne. Day 1 of our 4 day mini football tour had begun. For those of you that haven’t been to Cologne in winter time, I advise you two things:
Take appropriate clothing and don’t attempt to go shopping on a Sunday. Everything’s shut.. They don’t open shops on a Sunday in Germany which is great, if you don’t want to go shopping on a Sunday. But if you do want to go shopping on a Sunday, not so great….

Anyway, it was a Friday.

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We walked around the town for a couple of hours, marvelling at the stunning Cathedral which is purely and simply, the centre of every picture you’ll ever see of Cologne. After a short visit to the Olympic and Sports Museum on the waterfront, we made our way back to the Hauptbahnhof (central train station), bought our tickets to Leverkusen, made our way to platform 10 and promptly got on the wrong train. We realised our mistake after about 25 minutes, by which point we’d gone quite severely off in the wrong direction. We got off at a little station in the middle of nowhere and waited patiently for a train back, laughing at ourselves but secretly hoping any ticket inspector we might encounter would speak English/Idiot.

An hour later than planned we arrived at Leverkusen Chempark. The whole town is basically shaped around the Healthcare giants Bayer. Hence the ‘Bayer’ in Leverkusen’s football team name. The Kasino hotel was our stop over point for the evening. Stunning. Our room was more like a suite. The bathroom even had a sectioned off area for weighing yourself, with built in scales… Not sure i’m cut out for this level of poshness with my common Essex accent.

I made my way down to reception to find out the wifi password to double check the kick off time for the game that evening. Leverkusen were taking on VFB Stuttgart who were bottom of the Bundesliga. Got the password, went back to the room, clicked on to Bet365 and confirmed it was a 7.30 kick off. We got showered and changed then made our way out towards the bus stops hoping to find a bus to take us to the Bay Arena. Karl (a helpful Schalke supporter that spoke fluent English) advised us on the best bus to get. We followed his instructions and sure enough, got off the bus 15 minutes later just 2 minutes walk from the stadium.

If you’ve followed my blogs in the past, you’ll know that i like to get to the venue around 2 hours before kick offto take photos of the exterior, then get inside as soon as the ground opens to get photos of the stadium whilst it’s still empty, followed by further pictures as the ground fills, then throughout the game…

We got to the ground about 5.20. Followed the usual pattern and made my way in, leaving my Dad outside to do his own thing. He hates getting in early and sitting there whilst i’m pandering around with my camera like a holidaymaker. I raced around like a kid in a toy shop taking photos of the stadium, fans and adding to my ever growing collection of panoramics. By 6.30 i decided i’d got enough for now and went to the concourse to grab a drink. In order for that to happen i had to pay a 10 euro deposti to sign up for a club Card, then put the money i intended to spend on to the card. I’m sure there is a good reason behind this system but I’m yet to work it out. Anyway, i grabbed a Coke and found my seat.

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Dad came in about 10 minutes later and we remarked on how unusual it was that with 45 minutes to kick off, there were only about 50 people in the ground. With 20 minutes to go, still only about 250 people, mainly away fans…

You can see what’s coming here can’t you.

Sherlock (Dad) looks at the programme we picked up for free in the newsagents outside. “It say’s kick of it 8:30pm”… I hadn’t adjusted the time to account for the extra hour that they’re ahead of us. A few expletives later, Dad disappeared off for a walk.

Leverkusen won 4-0. But I took away 2 things from the game. How vociferous the crowd were and that after every home goal, they play Status Quo’s Rocking All Over The World! Which is genius. If I ran a German football club, i’d play Quo after every goal too.. Even the away goals.

We left the ground with 2 minutes left on the watch, found the queue in which to cash in my awesome club card and jumped on the Fan Bus waiting outside. The bus filled and took off. We were told this was the right bus. But it didn’t stop at the main station, then drove straight past our hotel. We started to panic, thinking this could be the 4th time today we’d find ourselves at Cologne central bloody train station..

It kept moving.. We stopped at some lights and then took an unexpected left turn. 2 minutes later we stopped at the Chempark train station. It was a park and ride bus. We had no idea but were incredibly happy and relieved when the doors opened. After congratulating eachother and rejoycing over our new found luck of getting on public transport heading in the RIGHT direction, we walked back to the hotel and slept off the days excitements.

Early start, back to Cologne for breakfast before hopping on an ICE train heading to Dortmund. Hands down the smoothest and most comfortable train i’ve ever been on. Seats reclined, we had a table, newspapers and even a handout telling you about all connecting trains and their timetables at any of the stations we were stopping out. More importantly, it went 200kmph!

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Dortmund is an expensive place to stay on a game day. We paid almost as much for a Travelodge style room in Dortmund as we did for the suite in Leverkusen. There’s not a lot to see around the town. We had a rather poor Chinese all-you-can-eat-but-only-on-one-plate meal, bagged ourselves a scarf each and after a quick change at the hotel, caught the train out to the Westfalenstadion. ‘The Wall’ is something that as a fan of football stadia, photography and even just football as a whole, i’d wanted to see for a very long time. If you don’t know, The Wall is an affectionate name given to the stand behind the South-End goal where up-to 29,000 fans gather for every home game, producing one of the very best atmospheres anywhere in the world.

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I recently bought a new house with my wife Terri and as part of the decorating process, we’d been deciding on which of my photos we would like to have up on the stairwell wall. We decided on a design and picked out 11 photos we both really liked. That left one space. So i was sent to Germany with the instruction to get that one ‘perfect’ photo to fill the gap. Before each home game, the Dortmund fans raise their scarves above their heads and sing You’ll Never Walk Alone, just like at Anfield and Celtic Park. I’d decided well before going that this was probably going to be the moment to pick up that final piece of the jigsaw. I snapped just over 70 photos in around 60 seconds hoping one would capture the scene exactly as i remember it. With the hairs on my neck still raised, i sat and looked through the images i’d taken hoping one at least would stand out. It did. Terri picked the same one.

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The game was unfortunately a very boring and poorly contested 0-0 draw. But I didn’t care. There was a disallowed goal that everyone celebrated due to a late offside flag so I still got to experience the roar of a goal from The Wall. Our seats were high up and next to the away fans, but coincidentally we were sat next to two English lads from London that had spent the night partying in Cologne, only got to bed at 10am that morning and neither seemed to really understand or be bothered about football. Though one claimed to be a Millwall fan, which some will believe backs up my original point.

Filtering away from the ground afterwards was quite impressive. In excess of 80,000 fans were all trying to get back in to the station to get the train back to the centre and if you’ve ever been to Wembley you’ll appreciate how long this can take. But we went from back to front to being on the train within 10 minutes. Once back we bought a cake and a hot chocolate then strolled back to the room. We were off to Monchengladbach in the morning for the final game of the mini tour.

After a continental breakfast at the hotel we boarded the train and said our goodbyes to Dortmund. We’d been looking forward to the game and seeing The Wall so much that we both felt a little blasé and unentusiastic at the prospect of the final game at Borussia Park.

As we pulled in to our destination, Dad produced his printed off Google map complete with instructions in order to get us to our Hotel. “It’s this way”, he exclaimed, walking us off in the wrong direction. Fortunately, we’d seen a huge ‘SEX SHOP’ sign on the the side of a building as we pulled into the station and seeing this again helped us realise the mistake. It was lunchtime, so we walked through the high street looking for somewhere to eat. ‘Sunday – Closed’ adorned the window of each and every shop or restaurant we passed. As we walked up the hill, we turned a corner and like a desert walker spying a stream in the distance, it appeared.. The beautiful site of the golden arches over a red background! MCDONALDS! On Friday night in Leverkusen, my nose had spotted a McDonalds across the road from the Bay Arena and more importantly, they had a sign up for a new burger called The Big Rosti. Now this interested me. Standing at the counter i read the incredients. A quarter pounder burger, melted swiss cheese, bacon, a large hash brown and bbq sauce. “2 of those please…”. Dad agreed with my choice.

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After walking it off, we checked in at the Best Western and had a rest for half an hour before getting the fan bus from outside The Pub directly to the stadium. I’m not sure if it was due to our low expectations, but we both said after that we enjoyed the game and atmosphere here more than the 2 days previous. The whole experience of visiting Dortmund for the first time was unrivaled but neither of us expected much from this day and yet we loved it.

As usual, I headed in to the ground early to get some photos. Disappointingly at Dortmund and Monchengladbach it wasn’t possible to walk around the stadium due to fencing but after 10 minutes talking to a steward and explaining what i do, he took me down under the stand and up in to the media section on the half way line.

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Borussia won the game 2-0 against a poor Hannover side, though the home team were well worth their victory. Afterwards we were filtered back on to the fan buses again and taken back to the central station. Our experiences of the public transport network during our 4 days in Germany proved just how good things can be. The English equivalent is an embarrassment when comparing the two.

The walk from the station back to the hotel took us past McDonalds again. “2 Big Rosti meals please”. Is was rude not to really.

The mini tour was at an end. I’d loved every minute of my first European football trip and that night we sat up talking through grounds we’d like to visit and the countries we could go between on future trips in to Europe. The list went on… But what was for sure was that this was the first of many.

If you’ve never done it, do it. You won’t regret it.