Andreas applied for papers to leave East Germany in 1986. After a three-year wait his request was granted in July 1989. “As a 24-year-old I was ready for the west,” he says. Like everyone else he had little idea what would happen in just four months time. I ask him where in the west he wanted to go. “To West Berlin,” he replies.
On the eve of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Andreas’s team Berliner FC Dynamo is in west Berlin, playing away in a Regionalliga Nordost fixture in the German fourth division. Home to FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin, the Lichterfelde stadium is just 10 miles from the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark in the north-east, where Berliner FC Dynamo plays. It’s easy to draw a line through the city from one ground to the other, but this is a Berlin derby that couldn’t have happened 30 years ago.
Asked how significant a game like this is, Nick, another Berliner FC Dynamo supporter, says: “More for Viktoria than for us, I think. Before re-unification Dynamo had matches against Liverpool. But for Viktoria of course it’s a great thing to play against the 10-time champions of the GDR. Not a big team anymore, but a big name.”
The tree-lined stadium on the banks of the Teltow canal has a conspicuous police presence despite a crowd of 529, with the away support fenced in at one corner; while most of the home fans sit in the beautiful, curved art-deco main stand.
“This is real football,” says Daniel among the Viktoria supporters. His parents fled East Berlin in the mid-80s, he grew up in the west part of the divided city and was 11 when the wall fell. He’s here with his friend, a Viktoria fan, but Daniel likes to watch Dynamo whenever he can. “We used to visit my grandparents in the east,” he says, “and whenever I drive through Mitte now I can see myself as a little boy – but like in a black and white film. Nowadays we have colour.” I ask if he’ll be celebrating the colour on the anniversary. “I’m part of the history. I don’t need a big party. Often, when I’m working somewhere like Potsdamer Platz, I think about that time, but in my own way.”
On 8 November 1989, 2,000 supporters gathered at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark in East Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg to watch Berliner FC Dynamo play out a goalless draw at home to Eisenhüttenstadt. Andreas couldn’t be there. He was on the other side of the city, where he’d spent the first few weeks sleeping in a sports hall in Lichterfelde.
Meanwhile Viktoria was struggling at the foot of the Berlin Landesliga. In football terms, the two clubs were a world apart: Dynamo, the Stasi-sponsored club, at the highest level of East German football with 10 consecutive, albeit questionable, national titles to its name; while FC Viktoria’s predecessors, despite a rich pre-war history, were playing in West Germany’s regional amateur leagues. They were also in different countries. Dynamo is a complicated club still battling with the spectres of its past; its stadium sat right up against what was the inner wall in the east, and is just a short walk from the bridge at Bornholmer Strasse where 24 hours later the first few crossed, followed by thousands more.
“I came back from a party late at night,” recalls Nick, a journalist and historian, “and my father told me that the wall was broken. I thought he meant the one in our garden.” Originally from Munich, Nick had just turned 18 in November 1989. He has mixed feelings about the anniversary and won’t be in town to celebrate. “A lot of the gains of the far right now have to do with 1989 and the events afterwards,” he says,” with de-industrialisation, the colonisation of the East, and millions of people losing their jobs.”
But he acknowledges the importance of football, particularly post-1989, “not only for Berliner FC Dynamo but for all East German clubs. After 1990 collectives were destroyed. Many had to leave their flats and connections were lost, so football terraces were the place where people could meet their old friends or colleagues again. Going to your club was important for continuity.”
Back on the pitch Viktoria have the better of the first half, step up the pressure after the break, hit the post and have a shot cleared off the line. The atmosphere is cheerful, before the final whistle the police are tucking in to bratwurst, and perhaps in homage to the spirit of 8 November 1989, the contest ends goalless. It doesn’t lack bluster and blunder, including a booking for the Dynamo bench, has moments of flair in the drizzle, but it’s all square in Berlin. Christian Benbennek, the Dynamo trainer, is resolute on the East-West significance after the match. “It was a long time ago.”
Meanwhile, Andreas reflects on the fall of the wall, echoing what many people here have told me. “I’m glad. I feel only positive. In my daily life I have more possibility, more music. But I need no official celebration.” There are many such celebrations this weekend but the modest match under the Friday night lights is not one of them.
On 9 November 1989 while thousands were crossing from East to West, Andreas was going the other way, back home to Prenzlauer Berg. “Driving in a Trabi with my friend, without official papers,” his memory of reaching East Berlin: “Everybody was happy, but it was very dark!”