"We could have won it. Can you believe it? Around this time last year we were still competing for the title." Hans ”Hanne” Weiner is slowly shaking his head. So far he’s been a talkative host, cheerfully informing me which norwegian players tackled him throughout the years when he was a professional footballer. The past, in short, is full of cherished moments. The future, however, does not look to promising.
The view from here and out past the memorabiliacovered walls of Hanne am Zoo, Weiners bar, is actually pretty grim. From this table the two time Bundesligachampion has seen his former club Hertha Berlin stumble and lose the title at the very end of last season. And then they just kept on stumbling and falling throughout this season, never getting back on solid ground. By now they are falling so fast that it will take a small miracle to prevent them from landing in Zweite Bundesliga. "I’ve only been to the stadium three times this year. Rarely have I seen such helpless football. I said it five months ago: 'We’re going to be relegate".
It’s at first glance not easy to understand why this great city doesn’t have a great footballteam. Is Berlin soon to be the only european capital without a team in the top national league? My fellow norwegian Kjetil Rekdal is likely to have an opinion. The former Hertha-player has gotten off to a great start of the season as coach for small Aalesund in Norway, the team he last year coached to a surprising cupvictory. After the final he commented, in his own modest way, that the victory was a result of ”world class coaching”. His answer this time is just as immediate, but not quite as flattering.
"Well, obviously the work that has been done with this club just isn’t good enough", he says, on a phoneline that barely makes it all way to Berlin from the Norwegian west coast. "It’s not bad luck when you hardly win any games. It’s very hard to point to individuals when teams collapse like this – it’s more likely a failure on all levels, both from the players, the coaches and the economical side."
The upcoming game against Schalke 04 is crucial
You’ve played for many clubs in different countries – how would you rank the footballinterest in Berlin?"It’s enormous, very intense. A city like Berlin should obviously have a team that competes on a top european level. Hertha can make it up to that level, given some time. If they get more people in the system that the supporters and the city can believe in, then things will turn around." Can Hertha make it this season? "The upcoming game against Schalke 04 is crucial. If Hertha wins, then Bayern Munich might not have to win the last game against Hertha. And beating Bayern Munich in Berlin isn’t impossible – we did it when I played there."
In Hanne am Zoo, Weiner is concerned about the economical consequences that would come with a relegation for Hertha. The whole city will lose money when the huge crowds of the other Bundesligateams’ fans no longer come to town every other weekend. "My bar will definitely be affected by this." He sits quietly for a minute, before he looks at me and smiles. "But you know, after a relegation, we might need a new coach…"
The implication is obvious – not least for the person implied. "He he. This speculation seems to be continous", says Rekdal. Would you be tempted if the offer came from Hertha Berlin, the Zweite-Bundeliga-Club? "If a club like Hertha makes you an offer, you always have to consider it, no matter what. I would be interested in the conditions – not the pay, necessarily, but more what would be possible to do there. I will never again accept a deal like the one I had at Kaiserslautern, where I worked with a defective organization without any possibility to make real changes. I really loved living in Berlin, so just the thought of doing that again is tempting enough. But, hey, first Hertha has to get in touch. Then we can see what happens."