The eternal magic of the Berlin Cup

History and diversity dovetail in Germany’s capital

Turks, Croats and century-old clubs compete for the top prize in Germanys capital

A pub team without a pub, Polar Pinguin have just enjoyed their 90 minutes of fame by taking historic opponents Berliner AK 07 to the wire in the Second Round of the Berliner Landespokal, the Berlin Cup. The fact that 90 minutes almost became 120 only underlines the size of Polar Pinguin’s achievement. Twice cup winners in recent years, BAK 07 are based at the Poststadion, the de facto national stadium until the Olympiastadion was opened in 1936.

But, with home advantage always given to lesser sides, the current leaders of Germany’s fourth tier, North-East division, had to meet the Penguins on their own patch, a modest artificial pitch south of Tempelhof at Berlin-Mariendorf. Unable to build on their 2-0 lead, the side standing above Carl Zeiss Jena and Lokomotive Leipzig in the league table fell to a late goal from the hosts, who then hit the woodwork as extra-time beckoned.

Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark/Jim Wilkinson

The final result of 1-3 barely tells the whole story. All across Berlin that weekend, in fact, all kinds of stories were being told. Stern 1900 came roaring back against once illustrious Tennis Borussia Berlin but lost 3-2, one-time top-tier GDR outfit Lichtenberg 47 needed penalties to overcome Teutonia Spandau, and Al-Kauthar scored early on against Köpenicker FC just across the Spree, only for the visitors to hit 15. Perhaps no surprise there, however, as the hosts of Middle-Eastern provenance haven’t won all season, conceding 36 in six league games.

While SD Croatia were beating Friedenauer TSC 2-1, the Serbs of Novi Pazar/Marathon 95 were falling to Alemannia ’90 of the Kreisliga B, pretty much as low as you can be in Berlin’s football food chain of 20 divisions and 300+ teams.

This last result best illustrates the unique nature of the Berliner Landespokal, the Berlin Cup. A colourful patchwork of ethnic outfits and cult clubs – alma mater of Karl-Heinz Riedle, once trendy Blau-Weiß Berlin hit nine past SC Westend 01 – is interwoven with sporting institutions that have survived the slings and arrows of 20th-century history to field teams in the 21st. 

In the case of Alemannia, the ’90 refers to 1890, when Berliner Thor- und Fussball Club Allemannia first saw light of day. ‘Thor’ refers to cricket, quickly abandoned as a local pastime, and now referring to a type of football played by blind people. Of the 86 founding members of the German FA in 1900, nearly a third were from Berlin.

SV Babelsberg 03/Jim Wilkinson

The Berliner Landespokal was inaugurated soon afterwards, in 1907. Given that the German game was organised regionally until as recently as 1963, the importance of football in the nation’s States cannot be underestimated. Winners of that first trophy, BFC Viktoria 1899, were crowned German champions the following year in a play-off in Tempelhof.

Predecessors of Blau-Weiß, Union 1892, had won the national league trophy in 1905. These venerable outfits hark back to the days when Berlin played a leading role in the German game. Two hundred metres from where Polar Pinguin played Berliner AK 07 on Markgrafenstraße, Blau-Weiß are based at Rathaustraße, where Germany’s national team held England’s Amateurs to a 2-2 draw in 1911. Close by, at Eisenacher Straße/Westphalweg, Viktoria-Platz hosted Germany’s first international home game, also against England’s Amateurs, in 1908. A memorial plaque now displays images from this distant era.

After Hertha last claimed the national title in 1931, no side from Berlin has come close, in the West at least. The East was a different story, of course, and once dominant Dynamo Berlin have just progressed in this season’s Berliner Landespokal by beating Hertha Zehlendorf, boyhood club of Pierre Littbarski.

Mommsenstadion/Jim Wilkinson

The Berlin Cup is only open to teams from the third tier and below. Overshadowed by the national cup competition from the 1930s onwards, it was reintroduced in 1946 as the Cup of American Wire Radio, then reserved for clubs from West Berlin from 1950 onwards.

Kreuzberg-based Türkiyemspor were just beginning to dominate the competition when Reunification in 1991 saw an influx of clubs from the East. Current Bundesliga league leaders Union won the Berliner Landespokal in 1994, just before the final was moved to the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark, recent home of Dynamo Berlin. In 2017, a crowd of nearly 7,000 saw Dynamo beat Viktoria 3-1 there, although the event has since been switched to the Mommsenstadion in the West, home of Tennis Borussia.

The next round of this season’s Berliner Landespokal takes place during the midweek of October 26. Of the ties to look out for, BFC Preussen, created in honour of the Crown Prince Wilhelm, host Blau Weiß, and Dynamo and Lichtenberg 47 clash at the Sportforum, where Liverpool played a UEFA Cup game in 1972.

See here for fixtures and times or refer to Berlin’s football weekly of record, Fußball-Woche, soon approaching its centenary. Follow the progress of Polar Pinguin here.