Twenty Four: The number of hours it took from Hamburg to Kaiserslautern and back for the final trip of the season.
I had thought that the trip to Köln in February would be my final St. Pauli game of the season, but when the Fanladen announced they would be organising a special train, or Sonderzug, for the trip to Kaiserslautern on the final day of the season I decided I couldn’t miss it.
I had heard many things about the Sonderzug, with some people telling me how great and fun they are, and some people saying they had done it once and never again due to how long and eventful it is!
For those who have not heard about the Sonderzugs, it is a specifically designed and renovated train, with specific carriages that have a bar and an open space for a disco. In fact, the train had two bars! The train seating is in compartments, some of which have beds above the seats to allow those with less stamina to get some sleep!
The Fanladen organises the train, sells the tickets and makes all the necessary arrangements. A group of supporters supplies the beer sold in the bars on the train, and all profits raised go to a good cause. This year, a couple of thousand Euro’s will go to the “Braun-Weiße Hilfe” <link: http://braunweissehilfe.wordpress.com/ >, formerly known as the anti-repression fund. it helps supporters that are victim of repression by offering counsel, contacts to lawyers and help finance court cases. I can only imagine the sheer amount of work that goes into the organisation, promotion and running of the Sonderzug by the Fanladen and some supporters, so I must thank them for all their hard work which can sometimes be forgotten or taken for granted.
Anyway, onto the trip. I made the trip from York to Manchester Airport on Friday afternoon, opting to stay at a hotel before my flight which was at 6.40am the following morning. My alarm was set for the scary time of 4.30am, so I had time to shower and check (and double-check) the hotel room to make sure I had packed everything! I was flying to Bremen with Ryanair, although you can also fly to Hamburg directly with Easyjet – but the prices is usually considerably higher. It worked out about 60% cheaper to fly to Bremen then catch the 1 hour train to Hamburg, rather than to fly directly to Hamburg.
I had checked the weather forecast earlier in the week, which said it would mostly be sunny and over 20c. So you can imagine my disappointment when I landed into Bremen Airport with the rain pouring down. I questioned whether the plane had actually left Manchester…
Whilst still half asleep and cramped into a small toilet at Bremen Airport, I changed out of my shorts and back into my jeans. For some reason, getting changed in a toilet is always 10 times harder than it is normally. It is almost so hard that we should consider putting it down as an Olympic sport. Standing on your shoes so as not to put your feet on the floor in case it is wet, then trying to balance on one leg whilst changing trousers. Eventually though, I completed the event and probably deserved a judges score of 6/10 for my effort.
Having caught the tram from Bremen Airport to the main station, i opted to get some breakfast. Having been up since 4.30am i decided it was perfectly acceptable to have Currywurst. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the hottest currywurst i had ever had! Not what i needed for my first meal of the day. After somehow managing to finish breakfast, I got the train to Hamburg and arranged to meet up with Sönke, a Yorkshire St Pauli member living in Hamburg. Sönke had very kindly offered to let me stay at his flat for the weekend, because the early start of the train meant getting a hotel would be pointless, as I would not sleep enough at the hotel anyway.
Sönke is also part of the 1910 Museum group, who are currently planning the design for a St. Pauli Museum. This will hopefully be in the new Gegengerade, as long as approval is given to move the planned police station from the space on the Gegengerade to a new external building. Having dropped my bag at Sönke’s place we headed for a meeting of one of the work groups that are preparing events and temporary exhibitions later this year.
It was great to see how the St. Pauli community comes together on a project such as this. This is on a weekend, when they are not paid, taking part in a huge project that requires a lot of attention and time. It is humbling to see how much hard work goes into the project, and also the various other projects that occur within St. Pauli. All for the benefit of the club and the fans. I am sure many people will appreciate the Museum when it is built and open, but we should also appreciate the efforts of those to actually make it happen.
The meeting was held in the Fanladen too, which gave me chance to look round it one last time before it moves buildings into a new home in the new Gegengerade. The Fanladen is an essential place for any St. Pauli trip. For us fans in the UK, it is the place to collect tickets but also to be in contact with the great people who run the Fanladen and to meet other fans. It’s a St. Pauli institution and will be missed. However I’m sure the new home will be just as welcoming and will soon become familiar.
I also managed to carry out one of my administrative tasks whilst over in Hamburg. This is rare, as I’m currently snowed under with bits that need sorting and updating, which will be a project to complete over the summer no doubt! I’d arranged to bring a scarf over for Johannes, a St. Pauli fan living in Hamburg who had asked if he could order one and collect it when we were next over. A rendezvous was arranged at the Jolly Roger. As I’ll probably say a few times in this article, it’s amazing meeting St. Pauli fans, and with each conversation I learn more about St. Pauli and what it means to those people who support the club. Each fan has a different story about why they are St. Pauli. How they fell in love with this club, the community and everything that it stands for.
Me and Sönke travelled along with Benni, who had travelled from his home in Berlin for the fan train. Benni is also involved in the 1910 Museum project, and somehow balances this with working and studying too. Huge respect! We decided to stay awake for the trip, as we wanted to help with preparing the train at Altona before it departed, which meant arrived into Altona before 2am anyway. So we decided to camp out in the Fanladen. I never thought I would get the chance to eat my dinner or fall asleep on the sofas at the Fanladen but I achieved both on this trip. Two things to tick off the bucket list!
We left the Fanladen and took the underground to Altona, where a few St. Pauli fans had already gathered to help loading the train. A van load of drinks had been ordered, about 4200 bottles of Astra, Becks, Guinness, and Cider plus a lot of soft drinks, so the task was to move them all from the van onto the platform where the train would soon arrive at. Unfortunately the van couldn’t park directly outside of the station, and had to park further up the road. The crates were heavy so some people got some trolleys from the station to help. Eventually the van had been cleared and everything moved onto the platform just in time for the train to arrive.
Unfortunately, this is St. Pauli, where nothing goes quite according to plan. The train pulled in, but onto the wrong platform. Cue several bemused St. Pauli fans, knackered from the moving of all the crates in the first place, looking on as the train came to a stop on the platform opposite them.
This meant having to stand in a line across the track lifting the beer into the carriages. There must have been 15-20 people helping to do this, and eventually the train was loaded. We hadn’t even set off yet and I was already exhausted!
Everyone else started to arrive, with full rucksacks to help them get through the 21 hour journey! As an amateur on the Sonderzug, I had simply brought a couple of croissants and a bag of crisps. But the more experienced had brought everything but the kitchen sink. Radios, cushions, full meals. They knew what to expect a bit more than I did!
The train departed just before 4am and called at Hamburg station before heading straight for Kaiserslautern. After a brief introduction to the people in the carriage, the fanclub G.A.S. (Gehirnamputierte Szene, “brain amputated scene”) handed round a quiz! Unfortunately, the questions were not general knowledge, but funny and peculiar questions about St. Pauli and the district. The only input I could offer was on a picture question of a statue outside an English football ground. However I had no idea and the black and white image didn’t help me hazard a guess! In the end I went for the Sir Alf Ramsey statue outside Wembley – but the correct answer was the Bill Shankly statue at Anfield. Admittedly, I had let the team down.
Having guessed at the quiz we took a walk down the train, with Sönke introducing me to several people who knew. Unfortunately I am terrible remembering names, so I won’t name any – because I can’t! One of the great things about meeting new St. Pauli fans is that many already know of Yorkshire St. Pauli. Mainly good things, too…
The sun was starting to rise, people had settled into their cabins – with some deciding to go back to sleep, and some deciding to start on the beer. I decided to do the latter. Before 7am a couple of Astra’s had been consumed, and the disco carriage was starting to fill up. Watching the sunrise through a train window, drinking beer and singing along with the rest of the carriage to ‘By The Way’ by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers is one of my abiding memories of the trip.
After a couple of beers I headed back to the cabin for breakfast – a croissant and some tomato sauce crisps to line the stomach. I also decided to unfurl the flag outside of the cabin. Within a few minutes, people were walking past, saying hello and asking about Yorkshire St. Pauli. Amongst them were Christian and his father, who had seen the flag and started talking to me about their relatives who lived in Bristol. We ended up talking about football in both England and Germany, amongst many other things. Eventually we ended up back in the bar!
Before I knew it, we were pulling into Kaiserslautern, where we were rounded up by the local police and escorted straight to the ground. Kaiserslautern is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It lies close to the German border with France, with very little around it. It has a relatively small population, but the club is massively supported with the Fritz-Walter-Stadion holding nearly 50,000 people which is almost always sold out. As we got outside of the station I got a call from Micky, a Newcastle fan who had been following Yorkshire St. Pauli for a while and had recently moved over to Hamburg. Micky had got a ticket for the game, so I’d arranged to meet him before. However, trying to organise to meet someone for the first time whilst in a crowd of 1,000 St. Pauli fans is quite an experience. I’d stood by a tree right outside the station entrance and told Micky to meet me there, but before he could the police escort had started and we had no other option but to start walking. Then a series of phone conversations ensued with us trying to pinpoint each other amongst the marching St. Pauli masses. Having tried normal methods of trying to describe where I was in the group, I eventually gave up and started waving my plastic bag contacting the Yorkshire St. Pauli flag in the air, which did the trick.
Just outside the ground is a rather bizarre roundabout, with statues of Kaiserslautern players. I’m not sure whether they are meant to be a squad from a particular era or just 11 statues of people wearing the kit for symbolic purposes, but it was a novel thing to see as we walked up the hill to the ground.
As we got into the ground, Benni and Sönke saw a sign for a museum, so continued their research for the 1910 Museum by making a visit before the match kicked off! I now had to find out how to get the Yorkshire St. Pauli flag in place. It seems Kaiserslautern have an odd system, whereby you have to go and hang it up with a member of their staff. Also, you have to do this one by one. So I queued up and eventually got the nod to go and hang the flag up. Unfortunately it was insisted that I hung the flag right on the bottom of the stand, which would mean it would be blocked by the advertising hoardings in front of it! I might as well not have bothered, but never mind.
The other irritating factor about the trip to Kaiserslautern was that they also made away fans buy top-up cards to purchase food and drinks. Usually at German grounds this is for home fans only, and away fans are allowed to buy for things with cash. This makes sense, because why would an away fan want a top-up card that they will use once a season? To make this even worse, the minimum top-up was €15. I think you could take the card back at the end of the game and get a refund on whatever was left, but I think they then rely on people not being bothered to queue up for ages after the game for a couple of euros on a card. A smart way to make money at the expense of the fans. I’m glad that the idea to bring a similar scheme to the Millerntor was rejected after protests by the fans!
Eventually I made my way onto the terracing, which was already full with 20 minutes still before kick-off. It was a weird atmosphere, Kaiserslautern players and fans clearly had their eyes on the game against Hoffenheim already and so weren’t really too interested. St. Pauli fans seemed to be intent of enjoying the game and making an atmosphere. I was slightly disappointed with the atmosphere from the home support, which were very quiet for large spells of the game. In contrast the St. Pauli end was bouncing and enjoying the final game of a long, hard season. The players were playing in the same way too – with the pressure evidently lifted with their safety confirmed, they looked full of confidence, playing some excellent football against a decent Kaiserslautern side. Kaiserslautern had rested several players, and understandably had one eye on the playoff matches, but they still named a strong side and St. Pauli can take plenty of positives. I won’t give you a match report, as I was too busy singing and bouncing to pay much attention to the game, but the 2-1 victory was well deserved.
Back onto the important details. After the final whistle I collected the flag, and we headed back to the train station and onto the train. Sönke had put his name down to help behind one of the two bars on the train, and asked if I wanted to help too. I’ve never worked behind a bar, and nor do I speak much in the way of German, but how hard can it be?! (Astra induced logic.) After a brief introduction to the bar and prices, we got to work. My apologies to anyone who had to put up with my broken German and explain what they wanted 3 times before I understood! It was a great way to meet more fans though, with everyone exceptionally friendly and welcoming.
At 8pm, after a couple of hours behind the bar and having only eaten a kit-kat and some peanuts since breakfast, I decided to head back to the cabin for something to eat. This was less easy than I imagined, as both Christian and his father had fallen asleep in our cabin – clearly feeling the effects of the Sonderzug! Alongside them was a female who I’d not encountered during the trip! I decided to leave the food for a little while and head back to the bar instead.
On my way back I bumped into Mick, who by this point was also feeling the effects of drinking from 4am onwards. When you’re that rough and with still five hours until arriving back in Hamburg, the only option is to carry on drinking, so we headed back to the bar! Thankfully, not being a heavy drinker, I had drank water in-between beers, a tactic that meant I was probably one of the most sober people on the train! Good job really, as otherwise I wouldn’t have remembered half of the information in this report.
Before long, everyone I’d met during the day seemed to be at the bar. Benni, who had been sat elsewhere on the train told us how great his journey had been, as the people he was sat with had supplied him with free beer for the whole journey. Elsewhere, Christian and his father had woken up and were buying drinks, Sönke had finished his shift behind the bar, and the Astra’s were flowing. Then the party started, with cheesy pop songs one after another! Haddaway’s “What is love” was followed by Reel 2 Real and “I like to move it” and then finished off by “Barbie Girl by Aqua. The sight of St. Pauli fans partying on a train, proudly singing and dancing along was one of those moments that I’ll never forget. St. Pauli parties are awesome! Wait, you don’t believe this occured? Well here’s proof 😉
Before long the music was quietening down and we were pulling into Hamburg. The lights came on, the music stopped and the clear up began. It was just before 1am, 21 hours since we had left Altona. We said goodbyes to those leaving us at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof and we stayed on until Altona. The night wasn’t over though. The volunteers also need to get all the empty bottles back into crates and get them loaded back into the van. Never an easy task at 1am, but even less so when you’ve not slept for 24 hours! Many people helped out though, and within 45 minutes everything had been taken off the train and put into the van. As an example of German efficiency, it was 1:45am when we finally left Altona station, almost exactly 24 hours since we had arrived.
We headed back to the Fanladen to collect bags, before a night cap in the Jolly Roger. At this point though I was exhausted, and couldn’t bring myself to drink another Astra. As we sat down in the Jolly Roger I struggled to stop myself from falling asleep whilst sat in my seat. Many though were still partying at 3am when we left. Fair play to them for the effort. Monday was a Bank Holiday in Germany, and I feel most of those on the train will have needed the Monday to recover.
For me, the trip summed up everything about St. Pauli. The football was the reason for the trip, but the real stories are the community spirit, the friendly nature of everyone and the sense of solidarity and belonging. The trip wasn’t made special by the result or the beer. The fans are the success story of this club, on every level. “Magic St. Pauli” is true, not because of what we see on the pitch, but for what we do and what we stand for off it.
I’d like to finish by saying a huge thank you to all those who made the Sonderzug possible. The Fanladen, the volunteers, and everyone else involved. Without you I wouldn’t have the experience of meeting so many wonderful people, and so many memories from an excellent trip. Here’s to the Sonderzug next season!