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For the love of the Game #3 – The Olympiastadion, Hertha BSC

It’s been a good few months since I’ve written a ‘For the love of the Game’ article, and I can’t wait to get to it. I’m at work, on a break, and being fuelled by instant coffee. February has arrived at last. This is the month that I’m off to Berlin.

I planned to visit the Olympiastadion a long time ago. I had made a list, on a flight to Dortmund, a year before the Covid Pandemic had buggered everything up. It was a bucket list of European football grounds to visit with my life-long friend, Darren. Camp Nou and Signal Iduna Park were all we could fit in before travel was restricted and it’s taken us a while to get ourselves back on track. So, just a couple of weeks ahead of our trip, we met up last night in the Testwood Arms, Southampton, to finalise our plans.

We fly at 9.00 am on Saturday 11th from Gatwick. On this trip, there are four of us: Darren, Stefan, Sharpy, and me. Sharpy is driving us to the airport. He doesn’t drink, so the three of us have paid for the petrol and parking. When Sharpy grows a beard, he looks like Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses. We take the piss. He loves it but pretends not to.

Sharpy is picking Stef up first on the Saturday morning, at 5am. Stef is not best pleased about the need to leave so early. He quips about telling Sharpy to “f!@* off” if he turns up that early. Darren is coming over to mine the night before so we can get an extra hour’s sleep before Sharpy gets to us at 6. We’ll probably grab breakfast before we fly and maybe have an early beer.

After landing in Berlin late Saturday morning, we are going to the Stazi museum in East Germany. The Stazi were one of the most hated and feared institutions of the East German communist government, active in the field of espionage between 1950 and 1990. I’m interested in Eastern European sport before the fall of the wall, so this is something that I am looking forward to particularly. It’s a good train ride East but we figure we won’t be able to get into our rooms until after 3pm anyway, so we might as well do something interesting before checking in.

We decide that Saturday evening will be an opportunity to visit a few bars in Berlin and see some of the sights. Darren shows us where our hotel is on Google Maps, and I am pleased to see how close we are to Brandenburg Gate and the centre of town.

Sunday will be all about the football, but first we will be climbing a Flak Tower in Flakturm Humboldthain which is a huge park in the city. Stef is a German History nut and has an unhealthy fascination with the rise and fall of the Nazi party. He’s booked us a ‘Walking tour’ on Monday, before we head home. I have no idea what to expect.

Embed from Getty Images

As always, I’ve done my research about the club that we are visiting. I must admit though, I didn’t know much about Hertha BSC before we booked up to go. I’ve spent a few days reading up. Here’s the first part of my research. It’s a summary of the history of the club.

1892-1933: The formation of BFC Hertha 92

Hertha Berlin were formed in 1892, shortly after the laws of the game had been translated from English in 1891. The club was formed in 1892 as BFC Hertha 92, taking its name from a steamship with a blue and white smokestack; one of the four young men who founded the club had taken a day trip on this ship with his father. The name Hertha is a variation on Nerthus, referring to a fertility goddess from Germanic mythology. (Wikipedia, 2021)

By 1900, there were around 200 clubs in Germany, with Leipzig, Stuttgart and Nuremberg emerging as key footballing cities. In the early days there was plenty of political resistance to the game. The German Social Democrats and trade unions were suspicious of bourgeois sports and football particularly, with its penchant for individualism and elitism. (Goldblatt, 2007)

Otto Heinrich Jager, published a polemic against football in 1898, labelling the game of football, ‘The English Disease’. He considered the game of football to be without purpose, morality, or spiritual discipline. He thought it devoid of purpose and too individualistic. (Planck, 2004)

Despite this, the Deutscher Fussball-Bund (DFB) was founded in 1903 and set about the Germanization of football language. Captain, became Führer, Free-Kick became Frei-Tritt, and goal turned to Tor. The game itself was described by the DFB in war-like terms, justifying itself in imperial and nationalistic phrases. “Two parties of usually eleven fighters are in a state of war. The main task is to move a large leather ball into enemy territory…the majority of the army will follow behind.” (Merkel, 2000)

In the decade before the first World War, football steadily grew in importance. The first national football championships were held in 1903, won by Leipzig. BFC Hertha 92, as they were known then, did not qualify from the Brandenburg football championship for the national championships in the inaugural year. That honour was reserved for Britannia Berlin, who beat BFC Preussen in a two-legged final. Hertha BSC would not win the first of their 12 Brandenburg football championship titles until 1906, a year after their current Bundesliga rivals, Union Berlin.

Although Union Berlin won the 1905 National Championship, they would never go on to repeat the feat. In contrast, Hertha BSC featured in six successive National finals between 1926 and 1932, winning two and losing four. They were a technically gifted side and well-funded. When they finally won the 1930 final (at their fifth attempt) it was in a thrilling 5-4 victory against Holsten Kiel in front of 45,000 hostile, fruit-throwing Kiel fans. (Goldblatt, 2007)

‘The Brandenburg championship was replaced with the Gauliga Berlin-Brandenburg by the Nazis in 1933, one of 16 new tier-one football leagues in the country. In the era that followed, the clubs from Brandenburg had little success and none ever reached a German championship final again until the introduction of the Fußball-Bundesliga in 1963, which did away with the finals games altogether.’ (Wikipedia, 2021)

Die Plumpe –  Stadion am Gesundbrunnen

Hertha 1945-1968

‘A competition similar to the Brandenburg football championship never reformed. After the end of the Second World War, Germany remained divided until 1991 and the former clubs of this competition played in separate countries. Clubs from both parts of Berlin played in the same competition, the Oberliga Berlin until 1950, but it did not include clubs from the rest of Brandenburg. After the reunion, the clubs from what was East Germany joined the united German football league system, but a competition that only includes clubs from Brandenburg and Berlin was not recreated.’ (Wikipedia, 2021)

During the Cold War years, and prior to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, tensions between the western allies and the Soviets led to chaotic conditions for football in the capital. After taking on several players and a coach from the Dresden Club, SG Friedrichstadt, Hertha were banned from playing against East German teams in the 1949-50 season. The following season, teams from the eastern half of Berlin were forced from the Oberliga Berlin to play in the DDR-Liga.

Hertha played their home matches at The Stadion am Gesundbrunnen from 1923-1963. The stadium was nicknamed “Die Plumpe” and had a capacity of 35,000, of which 3,600 were seated. Hertha left the stadium for the 74,649 capacity Olympiastadion when they joined the Bundesliga in 1963. However, after attempting to bribe players to play in Berlin, Hertha were demoted to the regional league in 1965, and they returned to “Die Plumpe.” After several years in the wilderness, Hertha returned to Bundesliga in 1968.

1971-1993: The Bundesliga Match Fixing Scandal of 1971

The Bundesliga match fixing scandal of 1971 hit Hertha Berlin hard. Amid allegations of bribing opposing players to go easy against them, breaking transfer limits, corruption and Tax Fraud, an investigation revealed a hole in the accounts to the tune of DM 200,000. Hertha were punished with relegation and were forced into the sale of the “Die Plumpe” site in order to avoid bankruptcy.

‘In spite of this, the team continued to enjoy a fair measure of success on the field through the 1970s with a second place Bundesliga finish behind Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1974–75, a semi-final appearance in the 1978–79 UEFA Cup, and two appearances in the final of the DFB-Pokal (1977 and 1979). The following season saw the fortunes of the team take a turn for the worse as it was relegated to the 2. Bundesliga, where it would spend 13 of the next 17 seasons.’ (Wikipedia, 2021)

If the Seventies had been a period of success for Hertha, by comparison the Eighties was a period of abject failure. Hertha slipped as low as the third tier Amateur Oberliga Berlin, where it spent two seasons (1986–87 and 1987–88). Two returns to the Bundesliga (1982–83 and 1990–91) saw the team immediately relegated after poor seasons.

1989 – Present

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hertha became a popular side in East Berlin as well. Two days after the wall came down, 11,000 East Berliners attended Hertha’s match against SG Wattenscheid. A fan friendship with Union Berlin developed, and a friendly match between the two attracted over 50,000 spectators.

Financial difficulties threatened the club again in 1994, as it found itself 10 million DM in debt. The crisis was resolved through the sale of real estate holdings in addition to the signing of a new sponsor and management team. The media group Bertelsmann transformed the club from a team forced to train on rented British army polo fields into serious contenders. (Goldblatt, 2007) By 1997, Hertha had found its way back to the Bundesliga, where it generally managed to finish in the upper-third of the league table. When Hertha was promoted in 1997, it ended Berlin’s six-year-long drought without a Bundesliga side, which had made the Bundesliga the only top league in Europe without representation from its country’s biggest city and capital. (Wikipedia, 2021)

‘Since the Bundesliga was founded in summer of 1963, Hertha BSC have experienced almost every high and low imaginable. From dropping down to the Regionalliga (fourth tier, 1965-68), to finishing runners-up in the Bundesliga (1974/75) and playing in the Champions League in 1999/2000 – the Blue-Whites have seen it all. Even the two 21st century relegations were followed by immediate promotions in 2011 and 2013, before returning to European football in 2016 and 2017. At least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hertha BSC has been proud to call itself the capital city’s club, uniting fans from the east and west.’ (We are Hertha, 2023)


I post a few tweets about our trip and follow some Hertha BSC fan accounts before I head home after work. I ask which bars we should visit and invite some Hertha fans to meet up before the match. I know my potted history of Hertha will not do the club justice and I am keen to really understand the club and its fans. In Part 2, I’ll review Hertha’s season so far and read-up on the team and its key players.

I feel a little bit closer to the club already and can’t wait for our visit. 10 more sleeps!

Domestic Honours

German Champions:

Winners: 1930, 1931

Runners-up: 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1974–75

2. Bundesliga:

Winners: 1989–90, 2010–11, 2012–13

Runners-up: 1981–82


Winners: 2001, 2002

Runners-up: 2000


Runners-up: 1976–77, 1978–79, 1992–93 (reserve team)

European Honours


Semi-finals: 1978–79


Brandenburg Football Championship (2021) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: (Accessed: February 1, 2023).

Goldblatt, D. (2007) The ball is round: A global history of football. London: Penguin.

Merkel, U. (2000) “The hidden social and political history of the German Football Association (DFB), 1900–50,” Soccer & Society, 1(2), pp. 167–186. Available at:

Planck, K. (2004) Fusslümmelei über Stauchballspiel und Englische Krankheit. Münster: Lit.

We are Hertha! (2023) We are Hertha! | Hertha BSC. Available at: (Accessed: February 1, 2023).

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