To be honest, until the other day, I’d never heard of BFC Dynamo. A couple of days later, I was sitting in the stands, wondering who looked dodgy enough to beat me up. You see, I’d been warned beforehand by colleagues that for me – as a black woman from South Africa – it wasn’t safe to wander through the crowd as I pleased. Some fans were apparently very aggressive and not very welcoming of outsiders.
Sure, the history was a little unsettling – the rumours of the team being funded by the former head of the Stasi; the talk that their 10 championship wins were thanks to nothing but collusion and match-fixing. Still, I didn’t take my colleagues’ warnings seriously. Firstly, there was two decades separating us from BFC Dynamo’s unsavoury past.
Secondly, it was just a friendly match.
Thirdly, who batters someone at a football game? And worse, just because they support the other team, or because they’re from some far away country.
“Nah,” I thought, “They’re just exaggerating. I’ll be fine.” I didn’t test my luck by donning my Bafana Bafana T-shirt, but I set off determined. I even took a South African friend along.
As I entered the Jahn-Sportpark stadium, I looked around the crowd. I wondered who among them would possibly take the trouble of picking a fight for no reason at all. I was almost surprised by the atmosphere. People just stood around, nonchalantly eating their Bratwurst and drinking beer – nobody gave us foreigners as much as a sideward glance.
In that moment, I secretly cursed those who’d warned me about my safety because if they hadn’t, it would have been like any other match with no possibility of danger – only a couple of football teams and a crowd of passionate fans.
Of course, as I took my seat, I also wondered where all the BFC Dynamo fans had gone. All I saw was blue and white – the colours of Hertha BSC, with BFC Dynamo’s maroon nowhere in sight. Then I saw the crowd right on the other side of the stadium. No-one sat in the seats on the two ends of the stadium. Strange, I thought.
It was right about then that I realised that maybe I had been downplaying how seriously people in Germany take their club football. The stadium wasn’t full, but a good base of ardent supporters cheered, sang and waved flags, sometimes even insulting the other team.
I was shocked when a colleague explained that the people on the other side of the stadium were BFC Dynamo supports. It was necessary to separate the fans of the two teams, particularly with BFC Dynamo playing, whose fans were known to get aggressive.
Then I noticed the large number of police officers, dressed as if they were ready to dismantle a bomb, and with faces so stern, you’d swear they were guarding the president.
It shouldn’t have come as so much of a surprise. Back in South Africa, the biggest sport right now is football – we all know why. But the sport that really gets people going is rugby. There are regular incidents where fans become violent, leading to brawls on and off the field.
South Africa too has an embattled history, which has resulted in the country having its fair share of right-wingers and supremacists. But, no-one has to fear for their safety when attending a football match.
Still, as the game between Hertha and BFC proceeded, I found myself – a person with no in-depth knowledge or experience of the team’s past – rooting for the underdog, BFC Dynamo.
Maybe I would’ve felt differently if I were sitting on the other side of the stadium, exposed to BFC’s fans. I would almost certainly have felt differently if it were the other way around – if I’d been watching a game in South Africa, with a team who had a tainted history deep-rooted in apartheid.
I would say that what happened in the past should stay there, and that we should move on – even when it comes to something as uncomplicated as a football team. But, as a South African, I know it’s not that simple.