Drowning in Berlin : How to stop worrying and love a relegation fight

Life at the bottom of the third division cannot be much fun. But, as Titus Chalk discovers on a sunny day with Babelsberg 03’s fans, you would never guess it

Babelsberg is still fighting in Germanys 3rd division.
Babelsberg is still fighting in Germanys 3rd division.Foto: dpa

As the Mobiles once sang, you can drown all too easily in Berlin. Perhaps not in a frenzied panicked thrash to the death like in a raging sea. But in a slow and inexorable slither into quicksand with no footholds, no low-hanging branches for rescue, only gravity pulling you steadily and slowly into the mire.

It is a predicament Berlin’s football clubs know only too well – not only is the Alte Dame struggling against relegation, but
but Babelsberg 03 are battling that sinking feeling, too. The sometimes-successful suburbanites, known to have bothered the Zweite Liga, are currently at the wrong end of the third division and as I shuffled off on a sunny Saturday to see them take on VfR Aalen had not won at home for a miserable four months.

Given such a dire record since the winter break, I was unsure whether to expect empty stands at Potsdam’s Karl Liebknecht Stadion or massed ranks of mutinous fans baying for blood. Either would seem reasonable to the non-football fan: rational reactions to a stretch of stinking “entertainment”, like slipping out of an appalling film or heckling a lousy band. But stood in amongst the youthful ultras in the east stand behind the goal, under the watchful gaze of a Leon Trotsky banner, I was soon reminded that football fans do not limit themselves to such reasoned actions.

Author Rita Mae Brown wrote that, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results,” and though it would be cruel to say having a screw loose is the only reason to follow a team battling the drop, fans must possess an irrational streak to do what they do. The word “fan” itself derives from the word “fanatic”, which comes from the Latin “fanaticus” meaning “insanely but divinely inspired.” Certainly, one thing required of Babelsberg fans at the weekend was an unflinching belief in miracles and literally, blind faith.

Blind, because before kick-off, the club’s genteel brand of ultra (one sensitive young lad with his fringe in his eyes is proudly displaying his first love bites whilst waving a “Let’s fight white pride” flag) hang banners on the fences behind the goal, obscuring the view for others. The same slightly awkward ultras then need reminding to stop waving their flags when the home team attack our end. “Schwachsinn!” shout out the exasperated terrace elders, like curmudgeonly uncles, even if you suspect they will be just as proud to watch Babelsberg’s extra-good flag-waving later on Sportschau. The whole scene is reminiscent of a day out with a dysfunctional family all trying hard to get on amidst particularly trying circumstances.