When I first landed in Dusseldorf, Germany, as a freshly graduated and introvert 19-year-old with a limited German vocabulary, I was equal parts excited and scared. Excited because this was the adventure that I had been dreaming of and longing for, and scared because it was so far out of my comfort zone. But, as I’ve come to realise is a common thread in my life, football was the solution. Anyone that’s been in Germany knows that they are quite mad about their football, and I fell head over heels with their devotion for the game. I also arrived very timely and got to catch the last days and games of the World Cup 2014, which of course involved Germany winning the whole thing (this is a story for another time but wow, that was an experience!). As you can imagine, there was lots of good football talk to be had there.
But even after the bewilderment of the World Cup had died down a little bit, there was football to indulge in. The team of the city is called Fortuna Dusseldorf and as it happened, they were to inaugurate the 2.Bundesliga with the first kick off of the season, on 1 August and they got to welcome Braunschweig to Esprit Arena. The game in itself was good with goals left and right and the German football is appealing (to me at least), charging on like well oiled machines, but to be honest I do not remember anything about the game itself – that ended 2-2 for anyone interested. Instead what it left me with is the memory of what it felt like in the stadium.
We all have that team that introduced us to a specific type of football or to the excellence of a player or coach (or am I making assumptions now that are only based on my own experiences? Please let me know in the comments and save me from making more silly non-fact-based assumptions!). I had been watching Hamburg SV for years before moving to Germany (another good story of how I followed Rafael Van Der Vaart to Germany – that man is guilty of getting me into a lot of things in my life) but that Fortuna game was the first one that I saw live. That was where I had my first experience of German football support and how grandiose it is. Or what to you say about 41.000 spectators at a 2.Bundesliga game?
I will always remember that feeling of running around in the stadium, trying to find our places whilst squeezing past people spilling beer on us and forcing my friend to run and get another beer, only for it to splash out as we celebrated another goal. How everything was so loud around us, and felt so close, yet the stadium was huge. There was such a buzz all around, a buzz I was familiar with by then, having followed my division 1 team back in Sweden on a few occasions. It is a kind of buzz that transcends language barriers and does not have a country code – football is understood by everyone and can communicate through it.
We returned to the stadium a month or two later for a second game and were not disappointed. What welcomed us was once again a huge wall of supporters up and down every side of the stadium, singing their hearts out with scarfs being held up as a sign of allegiance and with everything drenched in red and white. The football was at times scrappy and some misogynist fans in the stands you can’t just erase on the spot but the German football and its enormous fan culture certainly made a big impression on me. I’ve been to several games since then, mainly FC Köln and Borussia Mönchengladbach, and it’s always had that buzz.
I am so happy to see that Fortuna Dusseldorf now are back in the topflight and although it is a sad seeing Cologne (where I lived for the following two years after my Dusseldorf experience) being relegated from the Bundesliga, we can all find some comfort in the fact that several players, among them Timo Horn – that has been linked with several big clubs around Europe – just signed an extension until 2023, and will follow the club down to 2.Bundesliga. Here you can read more about the passionate goalkeeper.