After several very enjoyable trips to the West in recent years, it was time for the KSG to head East. Specifically, the old East Germany. Leipzig was proposed by Craig as a decent base. Flights to/ from Berlin Tegel, accommodation, and ICE train tickets were booked well in advance. Three games in three days were planned - Chemnitzer vs Arminia Bielefeld on the Friday night, Carl Zeiss Jena vs VfR Aalen on the Saturday, and VfLHalle 1896 vs 1.FC Lokomotive Leipzig on the Sunday. Things got off to a bad start, however, when in the days leading up to our departure it was noted that the kick-off time of the Halle game on the Sunday had been moved back by an hour (or that Soccerway had initially listed it incorrectly; one of the two) and so, bearing in mind our seats on the ICE from Leipzig to Berlin were pre-booked, we wouldn't be able to attend that fixture (which I was gutted about, as Lokomotive Leipzig was the team I was most looking forward to seeing).
Not unlike last year, when we turned up at SC Victoria Hamburg on the Friday night, only to find that the game had been brought forward, the Holy Grail of three games in three days was sadly not be be. And things would get worse before they got better, as our flight from Heathrow was delayed by a couple of hours - BA were unsurprisingly next to useless with their updates - meaning that we would miss our connecting ICE train; costing us around 60 Euros each, and the chance to enjoy a relaxed lunch at a Brauhaus (although we did have just about enough time for a quick pint in Berlin).
Things started to look up, however, on the ICE we did manage to catch (after photographing as many riot police as I've ever seen, escorting some fairly youthful and innocent looking St Pauli fans from the platform to their game with Union Berlin). Obviously we didn't have reserved seats on this particular train - and it was reasonably busy - but we were able to sit down. I initially thought that we had entered first class by mistake. We hadn't, which gives an idea of how clean and comfortable it was. To say that it put First Great Western (and other British rail companies) to shame would be a huge understatement.
As Macleod (C) and I began to master Super Stick Man Golf on his iPad (or Samsung equivalent), Craig interrupted us to point out that we would have minimal time - less than 15 minutes, in fact - at Leipzig station, before the connecting train to Chemnitz (thanks again, BA!). As such, a military operation was planned: Macleod (C) and I were to find lockers to store our luggage (despite our hotel being close to the station, we now wouldn't have time to check in), Craig was to get our tickets, and Macleod (M) was to sort a carry-out. As it would transpire, all bar the latter would complete their tasks with flying colours: despite Leipzig being the largest train terminus in Europe (measured by floor area) - containing over 140 shops - Macleod (M) swears blind that there was nowhere to be found selling beer (or alcoholic beer, at least). I believe him, others might not ... ;-)
The train to Chemnitz was absolutely rammed (standing room only), the heating was on constant and there were no operable windows. Very uncomfortable. The scenery - typified by vast, flat fields - was a welcome distraction, as was the rather cute and very well-behaved dog, who was being transported in the handbag of a rather attractive female. While Leipzig station has clearly had a fair bit of money spent on it, in recent years, Chemnitz's turn has yet to come. Indeed, the whole city looked like it could do with a fair amount of regeneration. After debating whether or not we could walk to the ground - and stopping for a photograph with a Sex Kino in the foreground and a huge plume of smoke from a factory in the background - we jumped on a bus that happened to be passing, which was full of football fans (nearly all wearing Chemnizter's light blue and white colours, and several wearing scarves bearing Chemnitzer's previous name: FC Karl Marx Stadt). No fares, and less than ten minutes later, we were outside the ground: the Stadion an der Gellertstraße, affectionately known as the "Fischerwiese".
There seemed to be an impromptu tailgate party taking place in the adjacent car park and one nearby gentleman - who was wearing CFC Ultras paraphernalia and supping from a can of lager - immediately directed us to an old tram-shed, nearby, upon hearing our English voices. Here, in the CFC equivalent of the Anchor (or TISA's Railway Club), we mingled with other fans enjoying the 1 EUR bottles of (slightly warm) Krombacher and the various posters, flags, and photos on display. Then, after queuing briefly for tickets, my GCSE German came in handy when ascertaining that it was going to cost us as little as 36 (sechun dreißig!) EUR to get in; that's the total for four, so 9 EUR each for level three football). Block 4 was apparently sold out, so we were sold tickets for Block 5. This was ultimately irrelevant, though, as you could walk between the various terraced blocks as you pleased. A scarf was purchased for the Anchor scarf mural before we positioned ourselves, close to a refreshment hatch, to watch the game.
The bright floodlights beamed down onto the pitch and the decent-sized crowd (which looked much larger - almost double - the 4,950 announced) were in fine voice, creating a good atmosphere. Arminia Bielefeld had brought a very respectable amount - esp. bearing in mind the distance they would've had to travel - and their fans, in the away pen next to the tree-lined part of the ground opposite us, introduced themselves by letting off some firecrackers (with smoke lingering over the players for a time). Chemnitzer took an early lead: the name of Bastian Henning - who had scored a stupendous overhead volley for VfL Lubeck, when we saw them last October (whether he is following us around, or us him, is yet to be clarified!) - was announced over the tannoy, but further research would indicate that he wasn't substituted on until the 85th minute. Bielefeld - beset by financial problems and having endured consecutive relegations - fought back and would equalise early in the second half. Their diminutive, blond-haired #10 - Marc Rzatkowski - stood out, IMO, as the game's best player.
Excellent sausages were washed down by a few pints of lager, photos were taken, and the ground briefly explored - Macleod (M) and I went in with the flag-waving Ultras directly behind the goal, several of whom would clamber up the fences to voice their objection to a perceived refereeing misjudgment - before we had to leave early, just as the game was heating up and starting to get quite fractious. We had decided to catch the penultimate train back to Leipzig, as getting the last train would involve a lengthy bus ride, part of the way, and an post-midnight arrival back at the hotel (which we'd yet to check into!). We wouldn't miss any goals, it would transpire, with the points shared; CFC ending the weekend in 14th, Bielefeld in 19th (one off the bottom).
The train ride back was, thankfully, much less crowded; we were able to sit and enjoy our chosen alcoholic refreshments. Macleod (C) and I had decided upon bottles of Mixer - 60% beer and 40% cola, with added X. Fortunately it tasted much better than you'd think! After finally checking into the hotel - and a quick freshen up - we headed to the rather decent hotel bar. Macleod (M), then Craig, would head off to bed not long after Bayer Leverkusen had completed a 1-0 win at Freiburg on the TV. Macleod (C) and I then hit the town and almost immediately found a decent English pub on Nikolaistr. called the King's Head (soon to be christened the Jock Bull, owing to its collection of Scottish regulars). From here we ended up in a nearby nightclub, which was also rather good. However, after yours truly had seemingly offended a group of rather excitable Turkish youngsters (sparking a bout of handbags), Macleod (C) and I lost each other. Rather unnecessarily, I went back to the King's Head, where I was treated to further pints with the Head Scotsman. He would very kindly direct back to the Marriott Hotel a little later ... unfortunately, it was only when my room key didn't work that it became apparent we weren't actually staying in the Marriott! After a stumble around the bat-infested tram station - and a phone call to Macleod (M) - I eventually made it back to the Novotel, as the clocks approached 6am. :-O
After little more than three hours sleep, I was up and again back at Leipzig station, munching on some much-needed Käsebrot prior to our train to Jena. This was another lengthy ride - involving a change (at Weißenfels) - although the scenery was again picturesque. That said, arguably the abiding image of the journey was the Leunawerke - one of the biggest chemical industrial complexes in Germany - which had not one, but two, stops of its own! It was a lovely, sunny, autumnal day as we arrived in Jena; strolling through a park, and over the River Saale, towards the ground - the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld. Purchases at the Carl Zeiss Jena Megastore - which obviously does a decent trade in anti-Rot-Weiß Erfurt gear - included a couple of scarves (we got one for the Anchor scarf museum, and Macleod (M) brought a Bristol Rovers-esque one for himself), plus a mobile phone 'w@nk sock' for my Dad. We then waited for the Ticket Office to open whilst admiring the rolling hills in the distance ... and also the persistence of an elderly 'God botherer' with a bike.
After purchasing our 10 EUR tickets (Callum and I would have our first encounter, in the queue, with the Wolf; a long-haired, black vest-wearing, middle-aged die-hard, who resembled the Gladiator character and had an impressive tattoo of the Carl Zeiss Jena badge on his arm), we entered the ground and enjoyed a couple more pints of Kostritzer dunkel - fast becoming a firm favourite - whilst seated on the wooden benches outside a clubhouse of some description (Fan-Projekt?). After marvelling at the huge array of scarves in said clubhouse, it was time to take our place with the Ultras, to the right of an impressive scoreboard - apparently one of the first of it's kind in East Germany, when installed in 1978 - inside the stadium (complete, sadly, with an athletics track).
Unlike at Chemnitzer the previous night, the CZJ Ultras were abysmal. While there was a fair bit of flag waving going on, the chanting was sub-standard and the ring-leader - a callow looking fellow, with glasses and a hat that recent X-Factor winner Matt Cardle might wear - seemingly didn't even know how to switch on his microphone (yet continued to sing into it regardless!). Perhaps this general lack of enthusiasm was to be expected, bearing in mind CZJ's lamentable form (they were propping up the table). The players also seemed similarly unsure of themselves, so a scrappy game ensued. Not that this stifled our enjoyment: the sun was shining brightly, the sausages were even better than at Chemnitzer (Callum and I bumped into the Wolf again, when queuing up for seconds!), while the floodlights really were something else!
Best. Floodlights. Ever.
As news filtered through that Chelsea were 2-1 up against Arsenal (much to Craig's satisfaction), the game we were watching sprang into life during the second half. Firstly, Jan Simak opened the scoring for the home side following the award of a soft-looking penalty. Simak was a name that we recognised and it transpires that the 33-year-old midfielder has previously appeared for the likes of Hanover 96, Bayer Leverkusen, Sparta Prague, and VfB Stuttgart. Indeed, I was surprised to read that he has only one cap for the Czech national team. As befitting a seemingly relegation-threatened side, though, CZJ gifted Aalen an equaliser: Macleod (M) missing the Willie Tucker-esque gift from the home side's keeper. Simak would restore CZJ's lead, again from the spot (for his seventh goal in 13 games this season), before things really started to unravel for the side that knocked Newport County out in the Quarter-Finals of the 1980/81 European Cup Winners' Cup (before losing to Dinamo Tbilisi in the Final). And we would miss both of Aalen's two quick-fire goals, that would win them the match!
Distracted by news from Stamford Bridge that Arsenal had won 5-3 (much to my delight, and Craig's disgust!), we were only alerted to the 2-2 and then 2-3 scores when the away fans went crazy. Small in number (we counted about 30), they made a decent racket, while many remained shirt-less throughout. Their microphoned Top Boy cut an imposing figure, even from a distance, with rippling muscles (no doubt honed by repeated swirlings of a huge black and white flag) and A A L E N stencilled across his shoulders in Germanic lettering. In stark contrast to the away fans celebrations, the groans around us were clearly audible; seemingly of a 'seen this all before' nature. Matt Cardle slumped to the ground, his head in his hands. Too much, too soon for him, methinks. Wolf, admirably, tried to rouse the troops - making significantly more noise that Cardle did, without the need for a microphone - and he might need to consider coming out of retirement. News of hated rival Rot-Weiß Erfurt's 1-0 win, at high-flying Heidenheim 1846, hardly helped the disconsolate mood of the vast majority of the 4,350 filing out of the ground at the final whistle.
Rather than follow the same route through the park, that had brought us to the game, we headed under a rather vertically-challenged underpass (cue great album cover photo) towards the town centre; passing some typically striking Gothic churches and historical buildings, the University library, and at least one Chuck Norris-stickered lamp-post, before taking residence on a table outside the packed 'Cheers' American sports bar on Johannisplatz (showing the various Bundesliga matches). Here we would be bemused by a Scottish pipe band playing nearby - you couldn't make it up! - and master the response "Jena verloren" to the many passers-by who, when noticing our CZJ scarves and programmes, asked how they had gotten on (many were shocked and delighted, in equal measure, upon discovering that we were English visitors to their very pleasant city). Once the Bundesliga matches had finished - and Cheers had emptied of replica shirt-wearing Borussia Dortmund fans - we were able to get a table inside and enjoy some burgers (mine was delicious). Man City vs Wolves flickered on the many TV screens, before we headed back to the station to catch our return train.
Upon arrival back in Leipzig, we had another quick drink in the hotel bar after using the WiFi in the lobby to check the details of MUFC Ltd's 5-0 FA Cup win at Godalming Town. We discussed the upcoming 1st Round Proper draw: I predicted that Maidenhead would finally get to face a League team - at home - albeit one that we've played recently in non-league. E.g. AFC Wimbledon. Or Aldershot Town ...
We then headed to the Jock Bull (surprisingly no Head Scotsman, this time around) and stayed there until gone 1am, when Craig (possibly fed up of my ribbing of the Chelsea-Arsenal score?!) retired to the room. Bundesliga and EPL highlights had been on a continuous loop and, whilst I will never, EVER tire of John Terry falling flat on his face prior to RVP's second goal at Stamford Bridge, other images - Marco Reus' double for Gladbach against Hanover 96; Raul handling one in and Huntelaar scoring two for Schalke against Hoffenheim; Mario Gomez scoring two for Bayern in their 4-0 win over Nürnberg; Thomas Tuchel (a future Chelsea manager, IMO) looking mightily aggrieved at Mainz's 3-1 home defeat to Werder Bremen; Timo Hildebrand sitting in the Veltins-Arena stands, playing with his mobile whilst wearing a hideous white knitted cardigan - will forever be seared into my brain (and not in a good way).
Head Scotsman and others had mentioned that Chocolates was the recommended nightclub; Macleod (C) and I had unsuccessfully attempted to find it the previous night. This time, with Macleod (M) in tow, we decided to get a taxi. And it transpired that it wasn't very far away. However, both Chocolates - and 21's, across the road - seemed, from the outside at least, to be full of young men in tight white t-shirts (if you know what I mean). After deliberating what to do, we spotted a sign that read "Night Fever: 70s and 80s Discotheque" and headed straight in. I think we were all fully expecting it to be empty, and for us to be leaving not long after paying 5 EUR or whatever to get in. Instead, we didn't have to pay and were presented with a maze-like basement that was absolutely heaving; we had inadvertently found Smokey's Leipzig!
Within minutes, Macleod (M) was at the bar impressing a Malawi student with his knowledge of the landlocked African country, while I was soon cornered - literally - by the Living Dead; there were women in there old enough to be Macleod (M)'s mother! There were some very decent looking females - some heterosexual, some clearly not - in attendance as well, mind, plus several people wearing fancy dress for Halloween (including a bloke wrapped head-to-toe in bandages). There was a really good vibe, albeit no thanks to the Derek Jameson-lookalike on the decks! Cheered on a harem of MILF groupies, Jameson cleared the dance-floor on more than one occasion with a horrendous choice of song. He also made the mistake of playing an Oasis track (Wonderwall, I think), leading me to bombard him for the rest of the night with requests for more of the same! Needless to say, we owned the dance-floor (!) and were virtually the last out; making it back to our hotel rooms at approximately 7am.
Despite no game to go to now, on the Sunday, it was another early start. We did a bit of wandering around/ sight-seeing ... and I'm glad that we did as it is easy to see why Leipzig was named, by the New York Times, as a top ten city to visit in 2010. There were monuments to Bach, Goethe, and Mendelssohn - and spectacular churches galore - while the Barfußgäßchen was chock-full of restaurants. We would eat in Kildare's (I'm still not sure how I managed to finish off the huge and very hot Chili Con Carne!) before - upon discovering that the Jock Bull was closed (and not finding anywhere else showing the Leeds vs Cardiff game for Murdo) - heading back to the hotel. It would be here, milling around in the lobby, playing Lego Pirates of the Caribbean on the Xbox (again, you couldn't make it up!), that we would find out via the WiFi that Maidenhead had, as I'd predicted, drawn Aldershot Town. Could've been better (e.g. Sheffield Wednesday away), could've been worse (e.g. Basingstoke Town away).
The ICE got us from Leipzig to Berlin in next to no time and - after a bus ride to the rather tired-looking Tegel Airport, and one final bier - we were soon airborne and heading for England. Neither the extreme tiredness (from all the travelling, plus the lack of sleep), the air-con (which made me nauseous), nor the super-annoying kids - from the Samuari Karate club in Hereford - surrounding us on the plane, could detract from the fact that it had been another absolutely superb KSG trip to Germany. Discussions have already taken place as to where we will go next year. I certainly wouldn't mind a return to the East. Perhaps we should hold fire on deciding, though, until Bastian Henning's next move?!