While in Germany we went to the Mainz 05 - Bayern Munich match. My son is a huge Bayern fan, and we were hoping to see them win the league title that day. The match was played in Mainz, a town of 200,000 and is where Gutenberg first printed stuff on his printing press.
It was pretty incredible.
First of all, for all the Americans - soccer is so huge in Germany (and, I am sure, all of Europe and many other countries and continents) that you cannot fathom it. There is NOTHING I can think of in America that is as popular as soccer is in Germany. Think the NFL and then multiply it times 50. Or 100.
It's so huge that you cannot wear your team gear in public!
We met some of my son's German friends for dinner two nights before the match and they told me, "Do NOT wear any Bayern gear around town or you face verbal and physical abuse". Say what?!?
Yep - it was true, I guess. Other than at my hotel on game day morning, I saw no one wearing any Bayern gear. Or, for that matter, Mainz's gear either. Because, it seems, ALL soccer fans get very...enthusiastic in their support. So no one wears anything for fear of opponent retaliation. But I will say, I never felt like if I HAD worn something that I would have been in any trouble.
So the rule was, wear your jersey to the game but wear a coat over it until you got in the stadium. OK, cool. But first you have to GET to the stadium.
Mainz's new-yet-ugly-as-sin stadium is about 15 minutes by freeway from the train station. So all the Bayern fans coming in from out of town were to meet at the train station at noon, and go to the stadium together. And that's what we did. Of course, we had a little help.
Specifically, we had 30 armed policement in full riot gear.
They were ALL OVER the train station. But again - I never felt in danger and I was wearing my Bayern jacket and a Bayern hat. No one looked funny at me or said anything on the 10-minute walk through Mainz to the train station.
The police herded all us Bayern fans into a group and marched us to our private city bus for the trip to the stadium. TV crews were there but this seemed like overkill to me.
Now the thing to keep in mind from this point on is that all the stuff I describe wasn't just put in place for Bayern - it is how ALL visiting teams and fans are handled.
We had our own police escort into the parking lot. Our section was totally fenced off. There was only one way in and one way out and if you weren't with Bayern, you didn't get in. And if you WERE with Bayern, you didn't get OUT.
We had our own team merchandise kiosks, a concession stand, and bathrooms. But we were basically in a pen.
We had our own entrance into the stadium. And once in the stadium, we had our own section. But again - no one could get in, and no one could get out. If you were in the Visitors section, you were IN THE VISITORS SECTION and you weren't getting out!
Our section - which didn't have ANY seats, LOL - was completely enclosed by netting. Sides and above. At least no one could throw anything at us!
If you decided to cut a hole in the net so you could climb out, you still had to get over the rails. Oh, those rails? NOT SMOOTH. They had shark's teeth all the way up and down! All that was missing was barbed wire.
The visitors section had two levels and I stood in the lower level with the Ultras. The Ultras are the team's most ardent supporters. They're the ones with the flags and they lead all the chants. Some observations:
-I was 30 years older than all the other Ultras
-You would think that six or seven 10' by 10' flags waving all the time would make it impossible to see the game
-You would be right
-Smoking is not only allowed in the stadium but apparently is a requirement in the Ultras section
-You can guess how much I enjoyed THAT
-In America, beer sales end about 3/4 through the sporting event
-In German, beer is served in the stadium not only through the whole game, but after it's over, too
-Ultras get very drunk very early, and stay very drunk the whole game
-Since they cannot SEE the game because of the flags, they turn to other ways to amuse themselves
-The main thing they do is try to push each other down, hoping to start a chain reaction that levels 10 - 15 rows of people below them
-I know you will find it hard to believe, but the team actually hates the Ultras
I watched....well. stood up through, the first half with the Ultras but after I figured out the Let's Push People Down Game, I made sure I was on the top row. At halftime I moved to the aisle but after that got rowdy (some guys figured they needed to fight security guards), I moved to the concourse.
The game was still 0-0 at this point but I was sure Bayern would score and when they did, I figured the main celebration strategy would be to throw their beers upon one another. Sure enough, Bayern scored and sure enough, a Beer Monsoon followed. I was VERY THANKFUL I was sheltering in place, LOL. Especially after the SECOND goal because everyone had reloaded their beers and created a Beer Hurricane on the second goal.
The good guys won, and after we milled about in the parking lot for awhile, our Polizie-escorted bus took us back to the train station where we were on our own. And, even though I was still in the red and blue of Bayern Munich, there was no trouble whatsoever from anyone.
I can't wait to go to another game. Don't get me wrong - the game was awesome. The fans were awesome. I was just in the wrong section. Next time, I will go to a HOME game, and I will sit in the stands with the regular fans.