On the German football route

A new 800km trail shows you where world-beaters are made, says William Cook

Growing up half German in England in the 1980s, supporting the Nationalmannschaft was the love that dared not speak its name. Germany was the old enemy, its football team was England's fiercest foe. Not any more. Last time Germany won the World Cup, in 1990, beating Argentina 1-0, just as they did last Sunday, I kept my Teutonic allegiances well hidden. This time, Germany seems like every football fan's second-favourite team.

So what's changed? Well, the football, for one thing. Germany were always very good, but they used to be good at winning ugly. "Ruthlessly efficient" was the common cliché – and, like a lot of clichés, there was some truth in it. Today, even the most jingoistic Little Englander can hardly fail to enjoy German football. With a young multicultural team, playing with verve and flair, this Nationalmannschaft really does seem like the new Brazil.

However the biggest change was the 2006 World Cup. When I went to Germany a few months before that tournament, to interview German "Ultras" for The Independent, there was talk of potential trouble between English and German fans. Thankfully, it was all hot air. Germany hosted a super party, and Ingerland supporters had a ball. Here was a place a world away from the crude stereotypes of the British red-top press: a great footballing nation – a lot like England (albeit with decent public transport and better beer).

And now the German National Tourist Office (germany.travel) has devised an epic road trip called the German Football Route. This 800km trail runs right through Germany's football heartland, from Bielefeld to Aachen. Clearly signposted throughout, it's suitable for bikes as well as cars, and every city en route boasts its own Bundesliga team.

Like English football, German football was a by-product of the Industrial Revolution, and its biggest concentration of football clubs is still in its industrial north-west. Like England's North-west, this isn't the prettiest part of the country. Its heartland is the Ruhrgebiet, Germany's enormous rustbelt, and many of its towns, like Gelsenkirchen (home of Schalke) have clearly seen better days. Yet the Ruhrgebiet is famous for its tasty Imbiss (fast food) and friendly Kneipe (cosy bars), and travelling in this gritty hinterland feels like a real adventure. It's in old steel and mining towns such as Gelsenkirchen that football is most important. This is the working man's opera, and its theatre and ballet too. Dortmund may be a bit run down, but its Westfalen Stadium attracts the biggest crowds in Germany. The team they all come to see, Borussia Dortmund, features World Cup winner Mats Hummels, and rising stars such as Marco Reus. The BayArena in Leverkusen is much smaller, but the atmosphere in this compact stadium is electric. The resident team, Bayer Leverkusen, will compete alongside Schalke and Dortmund in this year's Champions League.

Every conurbation along the German Football Route has a first-class football team, but there's lots of other stuff to see and do along the way. FC Koln's Rhein Energie Stadion was a World Cup venue in 2006, but Cologne is even better known as a centre of the arts. Ditto Duisberg and Düsseldorf, both renowned for their galleries – and football teams. All along this 800km trail, you can spend the morning in a magnificent museum, and the afternoon in a splendid football stadium. What better way to spend a Saturday? And what better way to get a closer look at the new world champions?

The good news is, you don't need to wait until the next World Cup to enjoy more German football. The new Bundesliga season starts on 22 August, barely a month away, and a weekend trip to a German league game is a great way to get a true taste of Germanic culture (their roadside sausage stalls also beat our burger vans hands down).

Unlike their English rivals, the biggest German clubs have been allowed to retain some standing areas, and the atmosphere is a lot livelier as a result. These hi-tech terraces are extremely safe, and even hardcore fans are very welcoming, especially to Brits – despite their recent triumphs, they still regard England as the home of football. These stadia are full of noise and colour, but I've never seen any trouble. It feels like English football in the 1980s, but without the aggro (or the filthy toilets).

For British supporters familiar with Premier League prices, Bundesliga tickets are incredibly cheap. At Borussia Mönchengladbach, admission starts at €14.50 standing, or €27.50 seated. Tickets are usually available for all but the biggest games. A lot of clubs let you print your ticket, which doubles as a local train ticket. No wonder the Bundesliga enjoys the biggest attendances in Europe.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss