Berlin football : The only way is up

What do Moabit and Hollis, Queens have in common? Bizarrely, says Titus Chalk, a football club by the name of BAK 07.

Großer Auftritt. Im DFB-Pokal spielte der BAK 2010 gegen Mainz.
Großer Auftritt. Im DFB-Pokal spielte der BAK 2010 gegen Mainz.Foto: dpa

Renewal is at long last in the Berlin air and spring’s first crocuses are breaking through the soil. There can be no doubt, that much died this winter as it must do every year in this most punishing of cities. But for every dream, or love, or football club that freezes in the dark months, fresh tendrils stir elsewhere.

In between Moabit’s poplars and prisons for example, a particularly promising bud is burgeoning: Berlin Athletik Klub 07, whose Regionalliga Nord match against VfB Lübeck I watched on Sunday.
While the game itself finished 0-0 thanks to some truly woeful finishing, the few hundred fans, swelled by curious passers by out to soak up the pale sunlight, can only be content with the club’s trajectory.

This is after all, behind Hertha, Union and Babelsberg, the highest placed football club in Berlin, a fact not lost on those inside the Poststadion, a handsome ground whose main stand is confected from brick ribs and green cement like some giant Mint Aero. Word is spreading about this beacon in the peculiar nowheresville of Moabit and many in the stands confessed to watching the club in action for the first time.

Amongst them were a far broader mixture of people than I had expected, having heard that BAK 07 was the club catering to the city’s Turkish fans following the demise of Turkiyemspor. That is partly true – but since an abortive tie-in with Turkish club Ankaraspor five years ago, when BAK briefly changed its name to Berlin Ankaraspor Kulübü, the club has become a broader church.

The sausages may still be pork-free (I think mine may once have been related to a cow but only in the broadest possible sense), but those slurping them down in the stands are a diverse bunch of families and fans from the surrounding area. Is this integration in action? Perhaps not quite yet, as cliques do not dissolve instantly inside a football stadium just because. But it is proximity, and that is an important and educative first step.

Compare that to the Olympiastadion for example, a place largely devoid of Turkish fans. As Frank Toebs, a 51-year-old Berlin football devotee in the crowd points out, it was not that long ago that banana throwing and monkey calls were perpetrated by a visible minority there, alienating many potential fans. And while he stops short of calling BAK 07 a multi-cultural Utopia, he does say phlegmatically, “This is just how is has to be.”

With at least 10,000 empty seats at Berlin’s biggest club every weekend it seems daft, even in a cold hard commercial sense, that there is little out-reach to the football-loving communities outside of Hertha’s core support. But tradition – something Berlin’s more famous clubs have in spades – can be a multiplier of inertia.