Too cool for their own good? Union Berlin’s struggle to preserve their identity | Union Berlin

The practice takes about half an hour to get from central Berlin to Köpenick, and the journey is a recreation of two halves. The second half is a delicate rumble by the economic, residential and woodland areas of Union Berlin. The primary half is a world-famous nightlife sightseeing tour of Berlin.

After Alexander Platz, the practice pulls to Janowitzbrücke, the place an enormous energy station towers over the riverbank. Behind him lies Tresor, a significant statesman within the metropolis’s artwork scene, and the Package Kat Membership, well-known for its erotic events and really peculiar gown code. Because the practice approaches Warschauer Strasse station, tracks, avenues of river parts and an impressive grey constructing loom within the open sky over a low-built retail park. That is Berghain, Berlin’s most well-known membership and a world-class instance of the town’s 24-hour taboo-free occasion tradition. The strict door coverage they’re identified for is an attraction in itself.

All of those are near the place the Wall as soon as stood, and so they had been all established inside a decade or so after the reunification. They’re locations that grew out of that distinctive interval in Berlin’s historical past, when historic shock and a stagnant economic system meant the town was nonetheless filled with empty areas.

These days, areas are disappearing and golf equipment are surrounded by shiny new development websites, workplace complexes, and purchasing malls. Berlin has modified radically prior to now 30 years, however few areas have modified fairly as a lot because the central areas of the previous East. Greater than anything, they had been topic to that acquainted cycle of gentrification: a pissed off space turns into a cultural hotspot, tradition brings cash and improvement, and slowly however certainly individuals start to drive them out.

Union, whose house is within the leafy suburbs of former East Berlin, is a world away from all this. Nevertheless, as they’ve risen from the obscurity of the decrease league to the European league over the previous decade, they’ve additionally come to face the identical issues as different main subcultures within the metropolis.

“When you have too many people who find themselves simply right here as spectators, it wouldn’t be so cool ultimately,” says Christian Arbet, the well-known long-haired membership announcer and spokesperson, once I met him in September 2021. He is speaking about Union, however he also can speak about Berghain.

Grafitti shows his support for Union Berlin
Union Berlin promoted from the mysterious decrease league to the European League. Picture: Sibylle A Moller / Alamy

Arbeit has been the face of the league for greater than a decade, and has seen his membership and metropolis increase in reputation throughout that point. He meets me at one of many beer gardens within the stadium, and in the midst of the interview we have now to shout at one another. It is the day earlier than the sport, and behind us, somebody is testing the audio system within the stadium. At one level, they ran a well-liked advert for a model of Berlin beer that simply so occurred to be sponsoring Union. A sequence of fast-fire clips that includes cranes, mechanics, dominatrix and DJs coated in a 2003 track. Berlin, Du Bist So Wunderbar. The track is an anthem to Berlin’s self-image within the twenty first century because of its masterfully crafted organ word, hip-hop rhythm, and muddled vocals. It was launched in 2003, the identical 12 months that then-mayor, Klaus Voeret, described his metropolis as “poor, however thrilling.”

When Arbeit first took the mic, Union was poorer than attractive. They had been nonetheless within the fourth division and had monetary and soccer issues within the early 2000s. After a fan-led renovation of their stadium and promotion to the second division in 2009, they established themselves because the undisputed second energy in Berlin, behind their western rival Hertha BSC. In addition they turned extra affluent, and shortly the success of soccer started to go together with the cultural coolness of the town. Because the beloved German DJ Westbam put it in an interview with FAZ in 2016, “Al Ittihad is extra techno than Hertha.”

For a very long time, Arbeit has been a part of that image. A bearded guitarist with shoulder-length hair, he was a custom-built membership spokesperson for a cult membership. However the look has modified in recent times. When he shaved his hair on the wild 2019 promo festivities, he determined to not regrow it. He wears shirts extra typically now, and appears extra cautious of overly romanticizing the union.

Christian Arbit, broadcaster and spokesperson for Union Stadium Berlin, shaved his head at the promotion ceremonies.
Christian Arbit, broadcaster and spokesperson for Union Stadium Berlin, shaved his head on the promotion ceremonies. Picture: Rinaldo Kudo H/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Group/Getty

“We do not do something particularly to please others. We will not assist it if individuals like us,” he says, acknowledging that it wasn’t all the time comfy when the union’s reputation reached new heights within the mid-2010s. “There have been lots of people Within the fan scene they noticed that with a number of skepticism.”

By the point the affiliation was promoted to the Bundesliga in 2019, followers had lengthy expressed their dismay. Two years earlier, when Union first challenged the promotion, they hoisted a banner within the stands that learn, “Rattling it! We’re even going!”

They had been solely half joking. Success was by no means a part of the league’s DNA, and there have been actual considerations about whether or not they might preserve their id as a fan-led group membership within the first division. What if some huge cash and success results in a membership change? What in the event that they modified it for the more severe?

Along with concrete questions on sponsorship offers and ticket costs, this has additionally meant considerations about who’s coming to the union. When you hit the mainstream, being cool is a double-edged sword. Because the areas stuffed with city landscapes round nightclubs, additionally they stuffed with lifelong followers on the terraces at Alte Försterei. In 2010, the union had 6,500 members. Within the decade that adopted, it grew exponentially to just about 40,000.

So, at what level is it now not the identical membership; Not the identical metropolis? When does the phrase “poor however attractive” cease describing actuality, and start to turn into a nostalgia journey, and even an apparent lie? Does the union, like Berlin, threat shedding its soul because it achieves better success? Once I ask Arbeit, he narrows his eyes and chooses his phrases rigorously. “The membership won’t ever cease altering,” he says. “However I hope it is sluggish sufficient that he can nonetheless acknowledge himself.”

Scheisse!  We are going up now available.
Scheisse! We’re going up now obtainable. Picture: Duckworth Books

As with the artwork scene, this implies sustaining a stability between vacationers and locals. These for whom the stadium or membership is a listing of issues expertise, and people for whom it’s a lifestyle. At Berghain, they use the world’s most well-known guard to filter out voyeurs and preserve the social stability inside. The federation could not have a wholly strict door coverage, however Arbeit makes it clear that additionally they aren’t successfully attracting new followers. Not like different golf equipment from Europe’s main leagues, he says, they haven’t sought to develop their fan base within the Far East or the USA. “If we focus our energies on issues like that, we are going to lose our major function.”

Whether or not it’s for the union or the membership scene, this self-control can be an train in self-preservation. The extra seen you’re in Berlin, the extra probably you’re to be overrun by vacationers and thrill seekers. Ideally, you need to be cool sufficient to thrive, however hidden nicely sufficient to outlive.

“It’s kind of like Sleeping Magnificence,” Arbeit says. “To get to it, the prince first has to know the place it’s, after which he has to make his manner by the woods. With us, the individuals know the place we’re, however you continue to should stroll by the woods earlier than you kiss us awake.”

Scheisse! We’re going up! By Package Holden Posted by Duckworth Books (£14.99). To help Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com for £13.04. Supply expenses could apply

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