Most walk the long kilometer that separates the Köpenick train station from the stadium: the journey is a journey through the unionist universe. Groups of fans warm up engines At the doors of the bars, fans sell the club’s booklet, street musicians sing to the long memory of the Union while the ticket resale gives its last throes.
‘Försterei’ in German means something like a house where the forest rangers live. The Union’s headquarters were originally located in a forester’s house which still stands today, in front of the stadium. There is probably no better detail to understand the importance of the roots for the identity of this club. “This is more than football. It’s a communitythe place where you meet friends, family and colleagues”, explains Uwe as he finishes his beer.
The Union is a neighborhood team and Köpenick, the district that has seen it grow. Situated on the eastern outskirts of the German capital, it is the stronghold of a club accustomed to surviving on the fringes of the world of football. This was the case during the socialist system of the former German Democratic Republic -in which the Union It was not exactly the preferred team of the regime– and continued to be so after the fall of the Berlin Wall. which until recently was leader of the Bundesliga It is an anomaly, a miracle in a sport whose elite live by the dictates of money.
The journalist who writes these lines published a report on this football anomaly last October. After sending the text to the club’s press department, the response came: “Hello Andreu. Thanks for the report. We invite you to watch a game at our stadium”. The invitation is not just anything: getting a ticket to see the Union live at the Alte Försterei is almost an impossible mission. Since its promotion to the Bundesliga in 2019 – the first in its history – the stadium, with a capacity for 22,000 spectators, is always full to the brim. This is the chronicle of the visit to the home of a club like no other.
Sausages, tobacco and beer
In the Alte Försterei they encourage and suffer without concessions, they use the first name and speak, above all, with the Berlin dialect. Coming here is like spending a Sunday afternoon in your grandparents’ living room. These fans actually call their stadium the Union’s “living room”. “This family was small and has been growing little by little, as in life itself. This family went through shitty times, things weren’t as good as we are today”, says Joachim at half-time in the match between the Union and Borussia Mönchengladbach that takes place this Sunday afternoon.
La Alte Försterei it smells of sausages, tobacco and beer, which runs among the fans before, during and after each game. Here is still a scoreboard with hand-changeable slats and most follow the game standing up, as in the stadiums of the 80s: only the main stand, where the board of directors and the press are located, has numbered seats. Whether standing or sitting, something unites the fans: here the 90 minutes of the game plus discount are shouted. “Eisern Union, Eisern Union, Eisern Union!” the fans shout every five minutes.
‘Eisern’ means “iron”. No one knows very well what the origin of the adjective is, but remember the worker character of the club. In the 19th century, the Köpenick area was one of the most industrialized regions in Europe. The Union’s social base has historically been hard-working and proud of it. The familiarity between fans and the Berlin accent are part of that identity.
no frills game
Union fans don’t need a 30-pass play to cheer. A recovery after a divided ball, a corner kick in favor or a shot into the clouds are enough to start a standing ovation. The unionists know what the football limitations of their team are and they are not ashamed of it. The physical delivery of their footballers makes it possible for this game without frills to be effective. Go Bundesliga fifths and they compete in European competitions.
The crowd shouts ‘Fußballgott’ (“god of soccer”) every time there is a local change. But here the gods are flesh and blood, and they are working a miracle with a club that was on the verge of disappearance two decades ago due to financial problems. If the Union continues to exist, it is because its social mass wanted it that way, which came to donate blood to raise funds for the club and to work on the reform of its stadium without charging a single euro.
“When we shout that Union Berlin will be the next German champions, of course we shout it ironically,” Georg clarifies, his voice cracking after another epic match. The Union beat Gladbach 2-1 tonight with a header in the last minute of discount. Full glasses of beer have flown over the press box. The miracle continues in Köpenick.