Mommsen-stadion, Berlin – Charlottenburg
NOFV-Oberliga-Nord: Tennis Borussia Berlin – 1. FC Union Berlin II 0-2
If I had passed by the Mommsen Stadium last year I probably would have written a whole different article. Because back then everything was clear skies and smelling like roses in Berlin-Charlottenburg. However in the past year dark clouds have formed above the West of the city. Tennis Borussia is in dire need of money and appears to be beyond salvation and as is often the case the (former) management are responsible for the financial malaise.
Tennis Borussia Berlin, commonly known as “TeBe”, was founded on 9 april 1902 from a merger between the “Berliner Tennis-und ping-pong-Gesellschaft” and the “Kameradschaftliche Vereinigung Borussia”. The Association was rather “elitist” in its early days and knew many Jewish members. TeBe, who initially played in Niederschönhausen in the East of the city, was always an outsider in Berlin’s football landscape. In 1924 it was the first German team that went on to play a match on French soil after the first World War at Club Français Paris.
Due to the large number of Jewish members the club felt the pressure of the Nazi dictatorship during the thirties. The Borussen lost in the years before World War II as many as 1/3 of their membership.
The first years after the war, the club merged with the neighbors of SC Charlottenburg as “SG Charlottenburg” before separating in 1949 and again competiting under the old name Tennis Borussia Berlin.
In the early 1950s TeBe was the number 1 in Berlin ahead of current giants Hertha BSC. There was even talk about a merger but a majority of Hertha-members voted against that combination of the two associations. At the creation of the Bundesliga in 1963 the German Football Association (DFB) allowed only one team per city. The neighbors from Hertha were chosen whereas the Purple Whites had to wait for over ten years to promote to the highest Division of this new competition. That adventure was not very successful and after the promotion in 1974 the relegation followed immediately. After the second promotion in 1976 Tennis Borussia proved itself again incapable of maintaining themselves at the highest level. Because during the 80’s Hertha BSC as well was on the decline the rumors around a merger once again reared its head. Together with Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin they would form one big Berlin club, but this time as well it did not progress past the point of just talks.
The past 2 decades in the club’s history can be best summarized as “turbulent”. After 5 years of mismanagement President Horst Nußbaum left the Purple Whites in 1997 with a mountain of debt ranging around 5 million euros. A takeover by the financial holding Göttinger Gruppe followed. It gave TeBe the reputation of “money club” which makes the team the target of a lot of hate, mainly in the eastern districts of Berlin. In 1998 the Borussen were promoted to the 2nd Bundesliga and the next season they narrowly missed promotion the highest level. But Tennis Borussia lived above its means in the late 1990s and the consequences would be felt shortly after. In 2000, the Berliners were denied a pro license. The downwards spiral of the team eventually led in the direction of the Oberliga, a regional competition on the 5th level. The Dutch proverb of a donkey never hitting the same stone twice is probably unknown in Charlottenburg because in the summer of 2007 the obscure Swiss investment group Treasure AG appeared suddenly in front of the gates of the Mommsenstadion, and was welcomed with open arms. The Swiss promised to invest 1.5 million euros in 3 years into the club and another 100,000 euro per season for shirt advertising. A new fairy tale seemed in the making because as the sovereign leader in the Oberliga Tennis Borussia effortlessly gained promotion to the Regionalliga. But beautiful songs don’t last long. The Swiss soap bubble popped and to make matters worse the Berliners could not escape relegation. Back to where they started for Borussia. And this is why they, just a few weeks ago, had to start in the Oberliga with no budget and a team of discarded players.
The 15.600 seat Mommsen Stadium in which “die Veilchen” (the violets) play their home games is without a doubt the largest stadium in the NOFV-Oberliga Nord. The developer of this athletics stadium named for historian and Nobel Laureate Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) in 1930 was the Sport-Club Charlottenburg. The club that currently plays 2 divisions lower than TeBe in the Landseliga returned to their old home and after years of absence in the season 1983-84 . Since then both Charlottenburg teams play their home games here on alternative weeks. A third occupant of the stadium is American football club Berlin Rebels. The Mommsen Stadium did service during the World Cup in 2006 as a training Stadium while during the Olympic Games of 1936 it was the scene for a number of group stage games in the Olympic football tournament.
Showpiece is undoubtedly the beautiful 104 m long main stand with the spiral staircases. The building with 1,719 indoor seats was designed by Hungarian architect Fred Forbát. The facade of the building on the street side exhibits Bauhaus elements and is characterized by two protruding tube-shaped stairs halls. The main stand is the only covered section of the stadium. The capacity of almost 38,000 places of yesteryear was reduced to 15,600 over time. The lighting columns date back to 1989 and together with the immense Stadium scoreboard give the well maintained stadium, a modern touch.
When I exit S-Bahn station “Messe Süd” two hours before kick off, the area surrounding the Mommsenstadion is still peaceful. The various entrances of the Stadium are guarded by stewards and while players and Board members of both clubs make their appearance one by one the first police vehicles arrive and start to patrol around the stadium. “Die Polizei” seems to have a remarkably strong presence for this game on level 5 of the German club football pyramid. During the next hour I see their numbers increase from a handful to a couple of 100. The opponent of TeBe today are the reserves of fellow Berliners 1. Fc Union Berlin. B-teams usually cause little commotion in the stands however the game tonight is a city derby. In addition to this is the simple fact that Union are from the East of Berlin. West against East and the reputation of “money club” that still sticks to TeBe works like a red rag to a bull for the boys of the trade union club from Köpenick. The feud between the two clubs is widely known in German football circles.
When the gates are opened at 18 hours I enter the stadium with a group of elderly supporters. The man at the counter asks me if I’m happy with my camera to which I answer affirmatively. Just like a few months ago in Sparta Prague a retired man tries to sell football trinkets to the fans just inside the gates. In addition to a whole collection of pins and badges and a mountain of old program booklets he also offers a pennant of SV Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin, a club that was once active in the Bundesliga in 1987, then disappeared a few years later to be refounded as an amateur club. A friendly TeBe-employee leads me to the fanshop where I become overwhelmed by the large number of fan articles. To help Tennis Borussia recover from the financial disaster of the last few years I buy 2 post cards, a pin and 2 t-shirts. The purple shirt I will only wear indoors in Antwerp for “religious” reasons, the black shirt I can be seen wearing around town. In anticipation of the match I eat a sausage which I follow up with 33 cl of cold beer. I knew that TeBe had different reputations. For some it is a “elite club”, for the other a “Jew club”, for East Berliners it is a “money club” while in the West they are seen as an “alternative club”. From what I can see tonight TeBe is a family friendly club where all nationalities are welcome on the stands. A “money club” without money also because each euro is a gods gift in Charlottenburg. What I did not know is that “the Violets” also like to position themselves as a “gay club”, at least that is what I gather from the banners that the kop brought with them. On the terrace on the opposite side they unfold them and slogans like “Tennis Queerussia” and “Gay Pride” leave little to the imagination. It also explains why the stadium-DJ mixes rougher numbers such as a punk rock version of the Irish classic “Fields of Athenry” with songs that can only be described as “jeanetten muziek (gay music)” in proper Flemish .
In the stands I notice that many supporters relish the purple and white team colours. I am surrounded by a colourful mixed bag such as an older man with purple crocs, a young couple where the boy wears an Elvis Costello-hat, an English fifty-year old man who constantly contacts the home front by phone, a man with a yellow Tour de France-bandana and a supporter that could be the doppelganger of the character Jemaine Clement from the tv series “Flight of the Conchords”. “TeBe ist mehr als Fußball” I saw when I headed into the stadium and I can’t deny that I am indeed entertained, especially when the match is started and both supporters clans start to confront each other. Both sides tonight are about 200 strong and vocally evenly matched. Every time the home fans shout the battle cry “Lilla-Weiße!” the other side answers with “West Berliner Scheisse!”. Each time the visiting fans use their famous battle cry “Eisern Union!” the TeBe Legion answers with “Paderborn! Paderborn! “. The first team from Union lost earlier in the evening its away match in the 2nd Bundesliga at SC Paderborn 07. The visiting fans also allude on the LGBT character of the home team but not all I hear tonight is suitable for publication on this site.
Between the lines it is clear that “Union zwee” is a class above the Westberliners. After the relegation from the Regionalliga at the end of last season as many as 23 players left the Mommsenstadion leaving trainer Cemal Yildiz with the almost impossible task to save the club from a second relegation in two years time. With “Scheimann” and “Kirstein” I can find only two German sounding names on the match sheet. All other names suggest that TeBe this season is a hotchpotch of fortune seekers from often exotic places. The team is also dead last after 4 rounds of play with just 1 point and a paltry goal balance of -10. The visitors were promoted at the end of last season from the Berlin-League to the Oberliga and seem to have easily adapted to the league with 6 points from 4 games. It doesn’t take a lot of effort from the Union-reserves to make the gap painfully obvious. After barely 5 minutes the home defense is penetrated far too easily and Hegert can open the score on a pass from Thomiks. When Mrkaljevic doubles the score after 19 minutes with a nice tight shot in the lower-left corner everyone in the stadium knows that the match is already decided.
Luckily the home fans are not bothered by the weak showing on the field and they remain passionately encouraging their heroes. While I keep spotting the continued troop movements of the police in the stands they ironically chant “Wenn wir wollen, kaufen wir Union! (When we want, we can buy Union!)”. When they reach the final minutes of the game to the sound of the British national anthem “God save TeBe” they are saluted by the visitors with a storm of jeers and whistles. After the final whistle, both the home and away teams are celebrated by their respective supporters as if they just won the title.
When I leave the stadium the Hebrew “Hevenu shalom aleichem” echoes through the classic sound system. Tennis Borussia Berlin is a club with many reputations, and in Charlottenburg they do everything to make sure all these reputations stay intact.
Despite the large show of force by the police about half an hour after the game a small group of TeBe-fans returning home were attacked by a larger number of Union-fans in the Savignyplatz S-Bahn station. The group, which included a number of children, received punches and kicks and was bombarded with beer bottles. Several people were injured.
Rivalry between supporters clans is associated with football and even gives an added value to some games, however, this is only on the condition that this rivalry is expressed in an entertaining way. Any kind of verbal and physical aggression should not be associated with our beloved sport and should be condemned.
“Fussball Derbys: die 75 Fußball-verrücktesten Städte der Welt”. GISLER Omar, Copress Sport
“Auf Schatzsuche”. EHLERS Mathias & JÜRGENS Tim in 11 Freunde, nr. 88 – March 2009
“Fußball-Woche: Sonderheft 2010/2011”
“Auslaufen unter Tiefstrahlern”. WILHEIM Raimund in Fußball-Woche, jg. 86 – nr. 37 – 13/09/2010
“Gebaut für die Leichtathletik”. SKRENTNY Werner in “Das große Buch der deutschen Fussball-Stadien”, Die Werkstatt