Fall of the Berlin Wall: The Hertha football fans caught on the wrong side of the Wall

On the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall,  Tom Peck meets one of those ‘exiles’ and hears how they kept the faith after it went up

Tom Peck
Saturday 08 November 2014 00:00 GMT
The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, whose anniversary will be marked on Sunday
The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago, whose anniversary will be marked on Sunday (The Washington Post)

Today it’s the sounds of Ed Sheeran, Noel Gallagher and Motörhead that carry the short distance to where Helmut Klopfleisch and his friends would carry out their quiet act of resistance 53 years ago. This weekend a line of balloons marks the spot. Without them, you couldn’t know.

It was 1961 and the Berlin Wall – then little more than a fence – had gone up almost overnight. A sudden, thin but still impenetrable divide between the Stadion und Gesundbrunnen, home of Berlin’s leading football club, Hertha BSC, in the west by a matter of metres, and a large chunk of its fan base.

“In the first days, we would hide right next to the fence. We could still see the stadium,” says Klopfleisch. He was 13. Now he is 67, and never misses a match. “There were maybe 60 of us. We had a small radio so we could listen to the game. They announced the score, but they didn’t need to. We could hear the cheers.”

His long years supporting Hertha from the wrong side of the wall were watched closely by the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police, who kept a huge file on him. It would eventually require him to flee, leaving behind his ill mother and costing him his home. He spent more than two decades trying but failing to get it back. “When the wall became a wall for real, we couldn’t see the stadium any more, and the police wouldn’t allow us to be there.”

Two years later Hertha moved to the Olympiastadion, the grand bowl built by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympics, eight miles into the western part of the city. No cheers could possibly carry that far.

“After the move I stayed in touch with the club by letter. They would write to me, telling me what was going on. I knew some of the players too, especially the old ones from the 1920s, when Hertha was successful. I founded a fan club in East Berlin. We would meet secretly in bars and pass round the letters.”

The old stadium was knocked down in 1974. Today there is just a small patch of grass where Berliners take their dogs for a runaround in the shadow of the Max Schmelling Halle, built in 1996, home of Berlin’s volleyball and handball teams, and a very popular pop concert venue.

Tomorrow will be 25 years since those rarefied moments when the wall’s many checkpoints were overwhelmed and became suddenly porous, calling forth the bulldozers in the days that followed. The full perimeter of where the wall once stood is currently marked with white balloons that will be released into the air tomorrow night.

Last night, at the Olympiastadion, Hertha played Hannover 96, a typical Bundesliga mid-table affair.

It was here that the black Jesse Owens left the white Germans for dead in 1936 to the barely disguised disgust of Adolf Hitler. It was here that the forehead of Zinedine Zidane met the chest of Marco Materazzi. It was here that Usain Bolt tore down the blue track, winning World Championship gold and setting jaw- dropping world records in the 100 metres and 200m that may well stand for decades.

Hertha BSC playing in the Olympiastadion in 2011
Hertha BSC playing in the Olympiastadion in 2011 (GETTY IMAGES)

And it was also here that, two days after the fall of the wall, 15,000 East German fans flocked to watch Hertha BSC for the first time in almost 30 years. In goal for Hertha that day was Walter Junghans, now the goalkeeping coach for Bayern Munich’s second team.

“The atmosphere in the stadium that day, it was something quite fantastic,” he says. “Hertha were in the second league then, fighting for promotion. We had sold 44,000 tickets but the club made another 15,000 available as a gift to people from East Berlin. Suddenly it was full.

“I had been watching the whole thing on television, all the team had. We couldn’t really come to terms with what was happening. We had seen the demonstrations leading up but then it all just happened so quickly. On the Friday we couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

“We couldn’t allow it to have a huge influence on our preparation for the game. We just knew there would be a big crowd. Not just East Berlin fans either. All the people from the whole area, the little villages to the north, we knew they could come and watch us for the first time.”

Junghans had grown up in Hamburg and had a long career at Bayern and Schalke before signing for Hertha, then in the third tier, in 1987 with an explicit aim to take them back to the top.

“It was a very unusual experience. West Berlin had this island status. Whenever I wanted to go to West Germany, back to Munich or Hamburg, it was very difficult, and it hit home how hard it was for the people living there. We had to travel to almost every match by plane. ”

Immediately in November 1989 there was a mood at the club that everything would change. That huge crowds would start coming every week. They did for a while, but never as many as on that first day. But at the end of the season, they won promotion.

“Did we do it for the whole city? I don’t know. When we went up that was reward enough. We were extremely happy.”

Germany’s World Cup win this summer was their first since 1990, eight months after the fall of the wall. But that team had qualified for the tournament as West Germany and played as West Germany. This year was the first time a unified Germany had won the tournament, and many of the team had been born in a unified country.

It is a fact that had never occurred to Junghans. “It is so far away from our point of view nowadays. We just don’t think about it.”

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