World champions in 2014, Germany and its football are enjoying their best period since the glory days of Beckenbauer and Müller in the 1970s.
Attracting the highest attendances in Europe, Germany’s top-flight Bundesliga is the role model for others to follow. Affordable ticket prices, free city transport to stadiums on match days and family-friendly initiatives are all part of this winning formula. Beer flows copiously, quality Germany beer at that – fans are expected to behave, and are treated, like grown-ups.
For all this revenue, no German club, not even record champions Bayern Munich, can spend beyond their budget. A Real Madrid or a Chelsea can buy any star they like – Bayern can’t, which makes their achievement in reaching two Champions League finals in 2012 and 2013 all the more remarkable.
Even so, Bayern are mockingly referred to around Germany as FC Hollywood, able to buy the best players from other German clubs.
The two local rivals based in the country’s football heartland of the Ruhr – Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 from Gelsenkirchen – may have huge fan bases but truly top-drawer players only ever develop here, never arrive for big fees.
The quality of Germany’s stadia, however, cannot be gainsaid, many having been completely modernised (or rebuilt) for the World Cup of 2006. The country is also current favourites to host Euro 2024.
Station to station
As well as the main UK and Irish budget airlines that cover most major German cities between them, Germany has its own, such as germanwings and Air Berlin. National carrier Lufthansa also serves some 20 Germany cities.
Some airports have rail terminals linked to Germany’s efficient and comfortable train network run by Deutsche Bahn. On-the-day inter-city ticket purchases can be expensive – many Germans hold discount Bahncards – but the DB website provides print-at-home tickets at advance discounts.
Public transport in major cities is similarly efficient – though most Bundesliga clubs offer free match-day transport for ticket holders within certain times before and after the game.
Tables & trophies
Of Europe’s top five leagues, Germany’s Bundesliga is the only one with just 18 clubs. The bottom two change places at season’s end with the top two of the 2. Bundesliga (aka ‘die Zweite Liga’). The 16th plays off over two legs with the third-place side from the lower flight.
Exactly the same system is in place for promotion and relegation between the 18-team 2. Bundesliga and the third-flight, 20-team 3. Liga, overseen by the German FA.
Three teams drop down from the 20-club 3. Liga, into the Regionalliga, divided into five regional divisions. The Nordost looks much like the old East German league did – except that this is the fourth flight.
The winners of each of the five leagues, plus the runners-up in the most extensive Südwest, play off for the three promotional places into the 3. Liga.
The German Cup, the DFB-Pokal, starts with 64 clubs: all those in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, plus leading ones in the 3. Liga and from the amateur leagues. The draw is seeded, so that smaller clubs play bigger ones, almost always at home. Ties are decided over one game, extra-time and penalties if need be.
Upsets and cup runs by minnows are commonplace. The final takes place at Berlin’s Olympiastadion in May.
A League Cup, Ligapokal, was last played in 2007.
The weekend starts here
The Bundesliga starts in the third week of August and finishes in the third week of May. The winter break starts just before Christmas (the leaders thus called the Herbstmeister – ‘Autumn champions’) and goes on until the end of January/early February.
Traditional match time is Saturday, 3.30pm, but there’s usually a Friday kick-off at 8.30pm, a later game on a Saturday at 6.30pm, and two games on a Sunday, at 3.30pm and 5.30pm.
The 2. Bundesliga season starts in early August, sometimes late July, and runs until late May, with the play-offs soon afterwards. Like the top flight, there’s a winter break before Christmas, games starting again in early February.
The weekend schedule begins on a Friday, with a couple of games at 6.30pm and/or 8.30pm. On Saturday, there’s usually at least one game at 1.30pm. Sunday generally sees a game or two, again at 1.30pm, and there’s a Monday game at 8.15pm.
All ticket information for top- and lower-flight clubs can be found on the Bundesliga website.
The website is also at pains to point out that it wants fans to pay a fair price – and not turn to the black market.
That said, tickets at Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04, 1.FC Köln and Freiburg can be very limited. Even games at Augsburg, Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt are often a sell-out.
For domestic fixtures, the home (and sometimes away) end features standing places (stehplätze), usually a special type of terrace that can be quickly converted into seating places for European games.
The end is usually referred to as the kurve, the main stand the haupttribüne, the sideline stand opposite the gegentribüne.
The away sector is generally termed the gästesektor.
Through they’re generally filled with season-ticket holders, home standing usually costs around €15, seating behind the goals around €20-25. A decent seat on the sidelines is around €30-35.