I am currently living in Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW), one of the 16 regions of Germany and by far the best for football. I live and work in Münster, a reasonably big but unheard of town in the north of the region, and have spent the last few months travelling to as much football as possible. Not only are there 5 Bundesliga clubs in NRW, the majority of the second division clubs can be found here too and there are a lot of third division too.
In the last few weeks I have been relatively quiet for a number of reasons, but one of the major ones is the sheer amount of football I have been attempting to watch. Over the course of my year here I intent to visit every Bundesliga ground, but along the way I want to experience German football culture at all levels, and NRW is the perfect place to start for that.
To prove how easy it is to be a football lover in this region, I will first of all explain my last weekend to you, and how far in advance I planned it all. If football is your thing, let NRW be your base and allow me to be your tour guide.
Friday: VfL Bochum vs. SC Paderborn
I bought my ticket on the door for this one, a tidy €12 offering that allowed me a standing space for one of the quarter finalists of this year's Pokal. A high quality performance from Bochum saw them run out 4-0 winners, a result which would have been better had they not missed a penalty too. From Münster it took me a little over an hour on the train and local transport is included in your match ticket. It wasn't the most full stadium ever and I felt sorry for the Paderborn fans crushed in at the far end when there were so many empty seats, but their treatment has not been in keeping with my general experience of German football.
Saturday: Werder Bremen vs. FC Köln
My Bundesliga match of the weekend saw me travel into Niedersachen on the ICE, another easy journey which took maybe an hour and a half direct from Münster. The Bremen Christmas market is stunning and the city is beautiful, so if you were to be staying anywhere near I would recommend visiting anyway, even if there is no football and it isn't Christmas. I however wanted to watch Werder Bremen, although after the turgid 1-1 I was lucky enough to watch I'm not so sure I'd be heading back there anytime soon! Tickets were very expensive: if you get in ridiculously early you could get a standing ticket for €14 but the next cheapest was around the €30 mark and by the time I went to buy I was looking at over 40 for a seat high up.
Luckily ViaGoGo exist and I picked up a ticket earlier in the week for €25 in the standing end; more than face value, but way cheaper than going through the official site for a rubbish high up seat. It taught me that planning for a Bundesliga game is far more critical than for any other domestic competition.
Monday: Arminia Bielefeld vs. St Pauli
Every football lover's dream is to see St Pauli and although I saw them away I was very happy to be able to tick them off the list. I bought this ticket on the Friday when I got in from the Bochum game as the second division had really given me a good experience, and although I had to pay €30 I was able to sit on the halfway line at the perfect height. The fans, atmosphere and St Pauli away kit were absolutely perfect, and the stadium is in a really nice part of town, but the game was rather lacking a number 10 or two... St Pauli have attained their lofty status of 4th on the back of solid defending and Bielefeld have drawn a lot of games this year, which combined for an entertaining but frustrating 0-0. St Pauli didn't show that much attacking intent and Bielefeld lacked a man to link their solid defensive and hard working but shot-shy front line.
Oh, and DSC Arminia Bielefeld used the DSC to perfection in the club shop with 'Run DSC' branded T-Shirts and mugs (in the style of revolutionary American hip-hop act Run DMC in case you were struggling with the reference).
Tuesday: Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Werder Bremen
Nightmare to spell, nightmare to get to, but Gladbach are well worth the effort. After a slightly disappointing first half, which saw them head back to the changing rooms 1-0 up, Bremen came out firing in the second half and really surprised basically everyone, especially the Gladbach team who took 20 minutes to respond. It was a very entertaining second half of this Pokal game, again which I was able to get to using my match ticket as a train ticket, which ended in a rather unexpected 4-3 win for the away side. At €24 for a seat right behind the goal it was very good value too.
So with such a successful weekend behind me I am celebrating Christmas in Germany the only way I know how: with another 4 match weekender. Starting in Gelsenkirchen for Schalke vs. Hoffenheim on Friday night, passing over third division home-town side Preußen Münster on Saturday afternoon, back to Gladbach to see them play Darmstadt on Sunday evening and finally ending in Paderborn for their match on Monday night, it promises to be a cracker. I'm sorry, but every piece needs a terrible pun right? It is nearly Christmas!
I look forward to whetting your appetite for travelling around the football capital of the world and hope that you can enjoy the amazing atmosphere at every German ground as much as I have with these really basic starting recommendations and ideas.
Have a look at the photos below to find proof that it is all possible and get a taster of what you could expect if you were to travel the grounds of Germany.
Have a relaxing weekend and enjoy whatever football you are travelling to or watching on TV. It promises to be another good one. Glück auf!
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