Hoffenheim, a village near Heidelberg of just over 3,000 people, supports a club of nearly 6,000 members. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim have notched up ten consecutive seasons in the Bundesliga – after playing professional football for only six. This absolutely remarkable achievement has not pleased everyone in the German game, the deep pockets of ex-Hoffenheim youth player and software billionaire, Heidelberg-born Dietmar Hopp, funding not only a top-flight football club but a spanking new stadium opened halfway through his club’s first Bundesliga season.
Though finishing a very creditable seventh in that first year, Hoffenheim were everyone’s tip for the drop in 2012-13. Despite a bottom-two position for much of the spring, the Blue and Whites surprised many by overcoming Bundesliga hopefuls Kaiserslautern in both legs of the play-off, and live to fight another day with the Bayerns and Dortmunds of this world. By 2017-18, they were within one game of qualifying for the Champions League group stage, only to gain the right automatically a year later. After the visit of Liverpool for that vital tie in 2017, it’s Manchester City in 2018-19.
Their stadium is the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, whose capacity of 30,000-plus is ten times (!) the population of Hoffenheim. Its location, though, is in the nearest town of Sinsheim (population 35,000) a short S-Bahn hop from Hoffenheim. Though with its own station on the same S-Bahn line, Hoffenheim is today the largest of a dozen villages considered suburbs of Sinsheim.
A steep climb from Hoffenheim station is the club’s modest old stadium, named after its patron Dietmar Hopp and surrounded by quiet houses. Sinsheim has shops, bars and hotels, and the quirky Auto & Technik Museum that was recently the only reason to visit. The Rhein-Neckar now beckons beyond the discarded Concordes and Tupolëvs that create a surreal horizon above the sprawling museum grounds.
Nearby stands one of Germany’s nicest stadium hotels, the four-star Sinsheim – another feature that would grace a town ten times the size of Hoffenheim.
The nearest airport to Sinsheim is Frankfurt 112km (70 miles) away. By train directly from the airport, it’s a relatively simple journey of 1hr 20mins by high-speed ICE (changing at Mannheim, ticket €30 online) or just under 2hrs if changing at Mannheim for the S-Bahn to Heidelberg. A taxi (+49 7261 3777) would cost around €150.
If you’re setting off from Heidelberg, take S-Bahn S5 (every hour, 35min journey time, direction Eppingen) that follows the river and calls at Hoffenheim, central Sinsheim (Elsenz) Hbf and Sinsheim Museum/Arena.
The Sinsheim municipal website has a list of the few local hotels and more numerous holiday apartments – but no booking service.
The four-star Hotel Sinsheim is located almost exactly between Sinsheim Museum/Arena and the stadium, and a 7-10min walk to either. Setting the right balance between boutiquey and business, it features a decent spa area downstairs and quality restaurant and lounge bar by the lobby. There are no match packages as such, but reservation for big visits are recommended. Room No.421 overlooks the stadium.
In the heart of Sinsheim, the Hotel Bär is a friendly, local place patronised by visiting actors, entertainers and, according to the photo in the lobby, Uwe Seeler. Also close, and cheap, is the Gästehaus Ruth, with a pretty garden. Singles and doubles are also available at the Gästezimmer am Burgplatz, convenient for Sinsheim S-Bahn stop and top football bar Quints.
The first stop on any football visit to Sinsheim should be 1899-focused Quints, a café, fans’ bar and club lounge at the back, where the biggest fan is probably the boss himself. Photos of him with various players greet you as you reach the entrance, that opens out into a room decked out with players’ portraits and framed shirts. TV match coverage here is sacrosanct.
It’s just over the stream from Sinsheim S-Bahn, close to a perhaps more offbeat but no less passionate football bar, the Turkish-run Bistro Zentrum, just off the high street by Metzgerei Dick, the butcher’s, on Kleine Badegasse. The flags proclaiming 1899 Euroliga! may yet by flying outside in 2013-14.
Less partisan but football-friendly is the Brauhaus Jupiter, a large restaurant and own-brew pub the other side of the Auto & Technik Museum from the Hotel Sinsheim, where pictorial support for Bochum and 1. FC Köln complements old beer posters. Portions are huge.
Also recommended is Schmidts, an excellent railway bar/restaurant established at Sinsheim station in 1868, adapted for modern-day use with live TV football, DJs and a roof terrace in summer. The conservatory adjoining the lovely main bar room overlooks the platform.
Finally, anyone up for seeing Hoffenheim reserves at the Dietmar-Hopp-Stadion can enjoy authentic Italian cuisine at the clubhouse Fair Play (Silbergasse 43) restaurant (Tue-Sat 5pm-11.30pm, Sun 11am-11.30pm), where TSG 1899 line-ups stand proudly alongside Cannavaro and the boys lifting the 2006 World Cup.