LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Union Berlin

Iron Union strengthen status as Berlin’s top club

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

Berlin’s de facto second club since the demise of Tennis Borussia, working-class ‘Iron’ Union have historical ties to the district of Oberschöneweide, near Treptow-Köpenick. A major player in the local football scene, Union became Berlin champions in 1920, the year they moved into what was then the Sportplatz Sadowa, today’s Stadion An der Alten Försterei.

Union even made the national final in 1923, in front of 64,000 at the Deutsches Stadion, forerunner to the Olympiastadion. Star player of the day was Karl Schulz, who later ran out for the national team.

Still very much blue-collar, Union found themselves on the Eastern side of the divide after 1945. From here the story gets complicated, as under former Hertha star Hanne Sobek, a Union team played and stayed in West Berlin in 1950, going on to form a new club (SC Union 06 Berlin) that based themselves at the Poststadion in Moabit. In the centenary year of 2006, the two Unions with 44 years of shared history played a friendly at Alten Försterei, won by 1.FC Union 6-0. SC currently play in the local league.

The Eastern variant, meanwhile, became BSG Motor Oberschöneweide, swapping blue shirts for red ones and amalgamating with sundry GDR factory sides until reforming, on January 20 1966, as today’s 1.FC Union.

With midfielder Reinhard ‘Mäcki’ Lauck, later to star for the GDR in their seminal win over West Germany at the 1974 World Cup, 1.FC Union improbably won the cup in 1968. In the wake of events in Prague, UEFA forced Warsaw Pact teams in European competition to play each other, Union and others withdrew, and Mäcki and his men were denied a shot at the Cup-Winners’ Cup.

Forever losing out to favoured Dynamo Berlin in the local derby, Union meandered in the GDR game, losing a cup final in 1986 and steering themselves (just) through difficult times during the post-1989 restructure. Near bankruptcy saw thousands of fans take part in a ‘Save Union’ demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate. Punk singer Nina Hagen even composed a Union song.

In a quite improbable turnaround, under Bulgarian coach Georgi Vasiliev, in 2000-01 Union won promotion to the Zweite and beat Borussia Mönchengladbach on penalties in the German Cup semi-final. A creditable performance against Andreas Möller’s Schalke at a packed Olympiastadion opened the door to the early rounds of the UEFA Cup.

Union have since enjoyed two stints in the Zweite, including the current one since 2009. Stability has led to the club being able to raise enough funds – partly from a share issue among its 10,000-plus members – for an ongoing major renovation of the Alten Försterei stadium.

Stadium Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Currently being revamped, the 21,700-capacity An der Alten Försterei sports new Main and West Stands as part of a massive €17 million refit that would have been inconceivable when Union were staring bankcruptcy in the face in the late 1990s.

The club’s ties with this modest venue, set near a bend in the Spree, the Müggelsee Lake and the forests of Wuhlheide in Berlin’s eastern suburbs, go back nearly a century. Back in 1920, the ground was called the Sportplatz Sadowa, the club SC Union Oberschöneweide.

With 1.FC Union renamed in 1966 and crowned GDR cup winners two years later, the stadium saw a few improvements in 1970 and again ten years later, but its authentic retro look won many new admirers after 1989 when the club engendered a cult following. Floodlighting and covered seating only arrived in 2000.

Yet the Alten Försterei was deemed unsuitable to host Union’s UEFA Cup matches in 2001 and talk turned to the building of a new stadium elsewhere in Berlin. Fans mobilised, money was raised and the major redevelopment began in 2008.

A simple lay-out comprises four stands close to the pitch, simply divided into sector 2 behind the home goal, sector 5 for away fans taking up half the opposite stand. Sector 4 is the other half. Sector 1 is the main stand, sector 3 opposite.

getting there

Going to the stadium – tips and timings

The nearest station is Köpenick on the S3 line, direction Erkner, from Ostkreuz (12mins), easily accessible from Hauptbahnhof or Alexanderplatz on several S-Bahn lines. At Ostkreuz, trains leave from platform 3 every 10mins.

From Köpenick, it’s a 12min walk from the stadium – follow the train tracks back along Am Bahrdamm, turn left into Hammerlingstraße at the railway bridge – or take tram 63 (direction Haeckelstraße) for 4 stops/7mins to the Alte Försterei stop. Walking brings you to the Arbeitsfalle fans’ bar on Hammerlingstraße.

If you’re coming straight from Schönefeld Airport, take S-Bahn S9 (direction Westkreuz) or S45 (direction Westend) to Schöneweide, then change to trams 63 or 67 to the Alte Försterei stop. There’s also a direct bus, the 164, from outside the airport terminal to Köpenick, journey time 45mins.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

There are four main outlets for tickets: from the office at the stadium (Mon-Wed, Fri 11am-6pm, Thur 11am-8pm, match days); the Union Fanshop at the Forum Köpenick near Köpenick S-Bahn station (lower floor, Bahnhofstraße 33; daily 10am-10pm); the Union petrol station (Michael-Brückner-Straße 26-31; daily 24hrs) near Schöneweide S-Bahn station; and, near the stadium, the Sport Shop Union (Seelenbinderstraße 24; Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-1pm).

They are also available online via this link.

Ticket prices are set in four categories according to strength of opposition. The priciest (€28-€40) are in the Main Stand. It’s €10-€11 to stand in sectors 2-4. Visitors have the choice of standing (€11) or sitting (€24) in sector 5.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The two main stores are the Union Fanshop at the Forum Köpenick near Köpenick S-Bahn station (lower floor, Bahnhofstraße 33; daily 10am-10pm) and, nearer the stadium, the Sport Shop Union (Seelenbinderstraße 24; Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-1pm).

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Opposite Köpenick S-Bahn, on the other side from the shopping centre, the Bierstübchen Hauptmann von Köpenick (Mahlsdorfer Straße 1) is a classic corner bar whose back room is plastered in decades of match posters for Union fixtures. Just along Am Bahndamm, the Union Tanke is a scruffy yard and open-air bar.

Closer to the ground, the main pre- and post-match bar is the Abseitsfalle Fankneipe (‘Offside Trap Fan Bar’), with live football on TV and framed Union shirts on the wall.

At the stadium, the Fankneipe came into its own during the 2014 World Cup, when sofas were ranged around a big screen.