The Berlin derby was a tale of two clubs separated by a wall during the challenging times of post-war Germany. Now it is between two clubs who host a cordial relationship with one another. A derby in the capital is a rarity, and a match-up in Bundesliga, even more so. The two sides will meet on Matchday 27 this Friday when the politics and history of the old meet in the capital for the second time this season.
Union won the first meeting of the season back in November. Sebastian Polter arrived off the bench to score the only goal of the game. Union have enjoyed a decent start to their debut Bundesliga campaign and are just one point behind their rivals, Hertha.
Close in the league, and it is a similar feature in the German capital. History would dictate Hertha as by far the most prolific side from the capital. Union would have to wait until this season to play their part in one of the league’s more enticing derbies.
The match in November was one of only five games played by teams based in Berlin. The escalation of the Cold War and the construction of the Berlin wall the main reasons for this. As the two parts of the city diverged, so did its football.
East Berlin team competed in the East German league system. Founded in 1966, Union Berlin replaced the former, Union Oberschoneweide. Two years later they enjoyed their only cup success – the East German Cup title. Hertha were regular fixtures in the Bundesliga. Despite the separation, the two sides forged a long-lasting friendship. Their relationship became symbolised with the slogan “Hertha and Union – one nation.”
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it would take just a few 79 days for the two to meet in a friendly in Germany’s Olympiastadion. It was the first game in 28 years and an attendance of over 50,000, which some regard as too low, saw Union win 2-1. There was a celebration in Berlin.
Hertha continued their spell in Germany’s top tier, while Union underwent a meteoric rise through the country’s football ranks. In 2009, Union secured promotion to the second tier, and after a friendly, which Hertha won, a serious rivalry began to develop. The then Union president, Dirk Zingler, described the now troubled friendship as “starting to crumble”. There was very little response.
The following season the two played their first competitive match after Hertha suffered Bundesliga relegation. Union secured a famous win at the Olympiastadion through their former midfielder, Torsten Mattuschka.
The next campaign saw the once-friendly rivalry become a tense one. Hertha secured the bragging rights that time, much to the annoyance of Union’s Christopher Quiring who launched a derogatory term towards their rival.
Hertha would secure promotion back to the Bundesliga, ending a competitive battle between the clubs. We would not have to wait long for the next chapter of this developing rivalry.
In 2019, Union secured promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history. Their first meeting in Germany’s top tier would become the first top-flight Berlin derby in over 40 years.
There was conflict behind the scenes ahead of their first Bundesliga meeting. The game took place a week before the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Three decades ago, it was a different sight. Both teams joined at the hip, while Jubilant and disappointed fans sang together as one in the terraces. Fast forward to last year, and it had changed significantly.
The meeting underwent a temporary suspension when a selection of Hertha supporters fired fireworks into a section of Union fans. Some of those landed on the pitch. Union ultras also invaded the pitch. It was a far cry from the events of previous battles between both clubs.
This latest episode was won by Union, with Sebastian Polter playing the starring role. Union’s Rafal Gikiewicz also played his part as he stopped potential bloodshed when he promptly eased frustrations amongst the club’s ultras.
Cue next week’s, Berlin derby; no supporters will grace the vast and magnificent Olympiastadion. It is Hertha who leapfrogged above Union on matchday 26 with their convincing 3-0 win over Hoffenheim. Union will hope their 2-0 defeat to leader’s Bayern Munich will not have enormous ramifications for their push into the top half.
European football is also on for the two Berlin clubs, although unlikely. It will be quiet in the stands – but across Berlin, it will become a footballing city divided once again.