Berlin divided again as Union hosts Hertha in Bundesliga
BERLIN (AP) — Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Bundesliga derby between the city's biggest clubs is dividing the German capital once again.
Promoted Union Berlin hosts Hertha Berlin in the eastern borough of Köpenick on Saturday, a week before the city marks three decades since the wall was first breached by East Berliners going the other direction into West Berlin.
Hertha, based in the west of the city, initially wanted the derby on the anniversary of Nov. 9, but Union resisted, saying, "We don't want to play football on this historic day."
It was the first broadside in a city-wide battle.
In the blue camp, Hertha has been positioning itself as a club for the whole city — including Köpenick — by adopting the slogan, "The future belongs to Berlin," and peppering billboards across the city with adverts that say, "Berlin Wall is when the city stands firmly together." Fans can purchase the "30 years Mauerfall" T-shirt with club mascot Herthinho the bear to commemorate the occasion.
Union, playing its first season in the Bundesliga, has been more low-key in the red camp, concentrating on its fan base in the east of the city. But the club has brought out a range of merchandise just for the derby with the slogan, "Berlin wears red."
Meanwhile, rival fans have been fighting sticker and graffiti wars across the city. Victories are quickly covered-up and reclaimed.
Union warmed up for Saturday's game with a 3-1 win at Freiburg in the German Cup on Tuesday, while Hertha will have a day less to recover after a penalty shootout win over Dynamo Dresden on Wednesday.
"Perhaps it's an advantage for them, but it shouldn't be an excuse," Hertha striker Dodi Lukebakio said.
Hertha is beginning to settle in Ante Covic's first season as coach, while Union hasn't always been rewarded for good performances. Urs Fischer's side lost at Bayern Munich 2-1 last weekend and ended a run of four straight defeats against Freiburg the week before.
"It's a side of us, to work and invest a lot. Union's fighting power, we have to keep it that way," Fischer said after the latest win over Freiburg on Tuesday.
It will be the fifth Bundesliga derby featuring teams from the capital after Hertha and Tennis Borussia Berlin met for West Berlin derbies in the 1974-75 and 1976-77 seasons.
Union is the fifth Berlin club to play in the Bundesliga after Tasmania 1900 Berlin, Blau-Weiß Berlin, Tennis Borussia Berlin and Hertha — all based in what had been West Berlin — but Union is the first Bundesliga team from the capital to have played in the DDR-Oberliga, East Germany's equivalent of the West German Bundesliga. The East German leagues were incorporated into the West German system in 1991, after German reunification the year before.
Though some Hertha fans chanted about "Crap Union" at their German Cup game on Wednesday, the clubs previously enjoyed a friendly relationship going back to when the city was divided.
As West Berliners, Hertha fans had been allowed to pass into East Berlin and some used to visit Union's Stadion An der Alten Försterei (Stadium at the Old Forester's House), a place of dissent against the East German authorities.
Union fans reciprocated by traveling to Hertha games in eastern Europe. Some 15,000 supporters from both sides of the city were estimated to have attended Hertha's UEFA Cup quarterfinal at Dukla Prague in 1979.
Hertha's Olympiastadion was packed for a friendly between the sides in January 1990, shortly after the end of the Berlin Wall, and Hertha was invited for a friendly in Köpenick to celebrate the reopening of Union's stadium after redevelopment work in 2009.
The rivalry grew as the sides faced each other in the second division, and old friendships will be forgotten for their biggest game yet.