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After the fall of the Berlin wall, Berlin missed just one a thing. A proper Derby. But now, it is here

Whether you're in Glasgow, Madrid, Milan or Belgrade, the rivalry between two teams from the same city has been around for decades and has been passed down from generation to generation. Not so in Berlin. SANTOS headed to Germany's capital for a derby that is getting fiercer by the year, but until recently, wasn't a derby at all.

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If you walk through the Brandenburg Gate metro station in the heart of Berlin, you will get a little history lesson – as in so many Berlin metro stations. Wonderful photos from the 20th century give travellers a quick glimpse into the city's turbulent history. From the Nazi past to the Berlin Wall and back again. As the city's most famous building, the Brandenburg Gate is described as follows: 'once the symbol of division (the Berlin Wall passed just in front of it), today the symbol of the unity of Germany.'

Not too long ago, Hertha BSC and 1. FC Union Berlin were not rivals at all, quite the contrary. They played in the same city, but then again also not: Hertha comes from the free-spirited West Berlin Union from the east, separated by the Berlin Wall. The teams had rivals on either side of the Iron Curtain, but Hertha and Union had never met in a league match at all. The wall created a bond, and where Hertha fans regularly came to East Berlin to support Union, those from Union travelled with Hertha when Hertha played a match in Eastern Europe.

So much for other times, back to our time. East Berlin, West Berlin, you hardly notice it in the streets. Harrie Jekkers could not make a song out of it anymore. Today's fanatics, mostly under the age of 30, did not grow up with a Wall in the city. They constantly travel from East to West Berlin and back again without realising it. What they did inherit was the 'Mauer im Kopf': the Wall may have been demolished 33 years ago, but hardliners still think in terms of prejudices about East and West.

But the cards have also been shuffled differently in sports. For years, Hertha and Union were of a different order of magnitude: Hertha, the stable Bundesliga club and Union, relatively inglorious one or two divisions behind. Only in 2010 did the Berlin clubs – after Hertha's relegation – play their first official game against each other, but the proportions turned out to be the same. How different it is now: after being promoted in 2019, Union is now a stable team in the Bundesliga, active in Europe, where the 'big' Hertha is now struggling.

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In short, for both teams, the Berlin derby has become one that counts just a little more than the other games. This is also the most special so far. Due to the corona crisis, Hertha and Union had not yet met in a full Olympia stadium, but today it would happen. Where Hertha normally draws close to 50,000 fans, 75,000 tickets were now sold in no time.

It's a pretty sight on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Berlin. At which metro station, on which tram, on which terrace you look: everywhere you see tufts of blue-white (Hertha) and bright red (Union). The Union district of Köpenick, in the extreme southeast of the city, is quiet. Hertha's Olympiastadion is a whopping 23 kilometres away, so 'Eisern Union' fans gather in West Berlin, at Savignyplatz. A little further on, a procession with the most fanatical Herthaner crosses the Kaiserdamm. Although the two supporter groups are close to each other, it remains quiet. It makes no sense either, as many as 1000 Berlin police officers have been deployed today. Still, they seem to be there at the Olympiastadion, especially in case trouble happens, and fans of both teams are mixing badly with each other.

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The Olympiastadion has a great atmosphere. Union Berlin has brought nearly 12,000 away fans to West Berlin, but it doesn't stop there. The home sections are also frequently populated with red, and the Unioners are in the majority in the sections immediately next to the away section. It is a special day for them. An away game in the Olympiastadion for the first time in the Bundesliga. Although Union is much higher in the rankings, there is still modesty.

What follows in the 90 minutes after that, the Ossies had never imagined possible in their wildest dreams. Union beats Hertha across all fronts. Where there is still disbelief at 0-1, that makes way for conviction. At 20:15 the scoreboard reads 1-4, and the Union players ran frantically down the dirt track to the Bengali fireworks-filled away section. The contrast with Hertha's Ostkurve could not be greater. Meanwhile, 'Stadtmeister, Berlin's number eins!' reverberates through the Olympiastadion from the Union sections, it is a war on the other side. Enraged are the Hertha ultras. They require the Hertha players to take off their shirts, and almost all players go to the dressing room without a shirt. A hallucinatory scene.

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As fiery as it is in the stadium, so calm is it outside. And that, while King Alcohol has already had an effect. Of course, there is some shouting and singing back and forth, but both groups of supporters often go back to the city with the same S-Bahn.

Yet it is clear: the times when supporters of Hertha BSC and 1. FC Union Berlin going hand in hand to matches is definitely a thing of the past. Whether it is a good or bad thing is not yet decided. You can argue that in a city that has already known so much division, there is now again a dichotomy. On the other hand: Hertha and Union are now fighting in and around the same city, which makes the fledgling derby of Berlin a beautiful symbol of unity. Just like the Brandenburg Gate.

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Images: BSR Agency