Thursday, 20 December 2012

A play about FC Union Berlin - Das Stück Zum Spiel

The Background

After stalking the Eiserne Botschafter three weeks on the bounce I think they started to feel sorry for me. There is a piece coming up on their good work in the 'winterpause' but until then you'll have to trust me. A great bunch - they are Union Ambassadors with a small museum in Köpenick and exhibition space dedicated to Union. A cultural association that the mainstream media ignore. I met them by chance, after I was kindly invited by a Swedish chap named Erik, to join him and his Swedish mates on a tour of the modern museum. Erik sang 'happy birthday' to me down the phone the first time we spoke. You just have to love the Swedes! Anyway, after my third visit to the museum, Michael suggested I head to to Köpenick to watch a play about Union. As with all things Union this season it was of course 'ausverkauft' (sold out) but he said to turn up and take the risk as where was the fun in life otherwise...

Wednesday Afternoon

I was suffering from the dreaded 'man flu' and was facing a late fitness test. Luckily, I'd been to the Stasi Archives the night before and realised, that although my German is not great, I can get by and understand enough to make an experience enjoyable. I tweeted that I'd be going to see a play about Union and to my surprise a Dutchman by the name of Kasper was interested in joining me. A fellow risk taker. Result. We met at Ostkreuz and took the S3 out to Köpenick. I'm now losing count of the amount of people I have met at the 'Crobag' at Ostkreuz. 

The Risk

Well, hardly a risk, as after walking to the venue via the Union club shop situated in the shopping centre (where I purchased a Union santa hat), we were able to procure tickets in under a minute. We nearly missed out due to the fact I was 'hob-knobbing' with Chris Lopatta (one of the actors) in the foyer. Chris is a top bloke and very down to earth - a true Unioner who has a lifetime 'dauerkarte' (season ticket) - and he's up for an interview in January when his schedule permits. I was moved that his first line was, "I've read your blog" and thankful that the next line was not, 'and it's shit!' Union are a special club with true football people at the core. Of course I can't name the goalscorers from a match against Karl Marx Stadt in 1988 but that's not what Union are about. They appreciate people trying to engage with the club and the community. They appreciate effort and a willingness to make mistakes. Just give your all. That's what they give and what they expect in return from players and supporters alike.

The Play - Das Stück Zum Spiel   

I was at home in the compact theatre, surrounded by Unioner decked out in scarves and shirts. Kasper and I managed to grab a spot that was equidistant between the stage and the bar. Kasper ensured we had a full stein for the first half. Of course, it was 45 minutes each way. Whilst most of the action took place on the stage to our right, we were also graced with a table directly in front of us which was placed in the middle of the audience. This style of theatre, where the actors roam among the audience, is a real signifier of FC Union Berlin. They are not a cliched 'people's club' - they are a people who are a club. There is a subtle difference.   

After listening to The Doors and a spot of The Clash (London Calling) the lights were dimmed and the audience were greeted to the intro to Nina Hagen's punk classic that Union come out to at every home match. It was Lopatta who expertly imitated the gravely voice (unbelievable for a man who neither drinks or smokes!) that anyone who has been to a Union game will recognise. It was a superb moment when he appeared between the curtains, adorned in a retro Union shirt, clutching the microphone and setting the tone of the evening for the 250 capacity crowd.

I'm not going to claim I understood every word or all of the nuanced gags. I understood enough for this to be up there with seeing 'Trainspotting', 'A Clockwork Orange' and 'Glengarry Glen Ross' performed live. This was theatre the way it was meant to be performed. Affordable, relaxed and without any pretension. The themes were those that any football fan or indeed family could identify with. The son coming home with a bloody nose and the mother questioning the father about what was going on. The girlfriend offering to come to a match and the boyfriend running a mile - what fun is travelling away to these strange places was the gist. A truly comic moment occurred when the  girlfriend asked the dreaded question, 'Union or me.' The next scene meant the question was left unanswered. Subtle. Even the Unioner know that there is more to life than football - but mot much more. Saying that, we were treated to a glorious line, 'Es ist nicht ein spiel, es ist mein Leben.' (It is not a game, it is my life). 

It's difficult to bring to life such a production via a blog. Especially when you're not a theatre critic. However, there were some moments of pure comedy. "Have you ever ran 30 yards after an orgasm, just for it to be celebrated with 5 other guys." The Unioner on their way to Finland via boat and camper van in 2011, as their European campaign began shortly after 9/11(the played game took place on the 12th September). If you've traveled away with a group, you'd have appreciate the bickering and throwing up!  

The play took in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and the present day. Clearly, there were references to the DDR  days that were over my head due to my rudimentary language skills. I'll ensure I see this play again, do my research and talk to as many Unioner as possible so that I can appreciate these gags. It was a real honour to be in Köpenick to watch the play. It was first shown 6 years ago and initially the actors worked without payment. Even this year, the performers took 6 days holiday from their professional lives to stage the play.

The ending was made up of footage from years gone by. Original footage of the people of FC Union Berlin building the stadium was very moving. As were the scenes of jubilation when Union were promoted from Liga 3 to the Bundesliga 2 when playing at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark.  

Whilst the play was superb two moments for me will always stand out. The warm welcome I received from Michael (from the Eiserne Botschafters) was the first. Football clubs are about people and a sense of community. As a 'new fan' it's humbling to be treated in such a way. The second was when we left and the mutual shout of 'Eisern' between me, Lopatto and Kasper. It was a fitting finale and summed the whole evening up. EISERN!

Pictures to follow...

No comments:

Post a Comment