Scheisse! We're Going Up!
The Unexpected Rise of Berlin's Rebel Football Club
by Kit Holden
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Pub Date 18 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 04 Aug 2022
THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF A CLUB ON THE RISE AND A CITY IN FLUX. THIS IS UNION BERLIN.
No football club in the world has fans like Union Berlin. The underdogs from East Berlin have stuck it to the Stasi, built their own stadium, and even given blood to save their club. But now, they face a new and terrifying prospect: success.
Scheisse! tells the human stories behind the unexpected rise of this unique club. But it’s not just about football. Union’s tale is interwoven with a witty cultural history of contemporary Berlin that shines a light on the social issues which still define the German capital thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Scheisse! will appeal to readers who are captivated by sports biographies such as Raphael Honigstein's Das Reboot and social history like John Kampfner's Why The Germans Do It Better.
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Average rating from 5 members
This was as much a social and political history of Berlin as a football book. Like many other fans I have been taken by surprise and fascinated by the recent rise of Union Berlin and this well written and researched book by Kit Holden digs well beneath the surface and puts their achievements fully into context. Peppered with fan anecdotes this is a rollicking and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
What a brilliant book! It was the title which caught my attention and I was half expecting a humorous gallop through the history of Union Berlin with a smattering of references to German reunification. It is much, much more than than that. This is a detailed, thoughtful and intelligent chronicle of the rise and fall … and rise and fall … and rise and rise of a football club which has a real identity as an integral part of the tough East Berlin community in which it is situated. That identity is under threat as never before as Union Berlin’s current success as a leading Bundesliga club demands a rethink of the balance between commerce and community. The format of the book, telling the story of Union Berlin’s history and evolution through the perspectives of those people most closely involved brings realism and a real sense of what the club means to those people. That story is intertwined with the collapse of the GDR regime, the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification and what social and economic effect those monumental events had and continue to have on the city and people of Berlin and on Union Berlin.
I highly recommend this book to football fans and any non-football fans interested in a true “David and Goliath” tale told against the backdrop of a fascinating period of post-war European history.
German football has been incredibly well served by the quality of the books about it either written or translated into English. In particular, Uli Hesse, Raphael Honigstein and Ronald Reng have brought the story of German football to English readers in a number of excellent books. Scheisse! We're Going Up!', Kit Holden's upcoming book on the Union Berlin football club is another wonderful addition to that list.
Up-to-date Bundesliga fans will know that Union have been on a remarkable run of form the past three years, reaching 5th place in the Bundesliga having only reached the top flight in 2019. Union Berlin has fast become the football hipster's latest club of choice (sorry St. Pauli) thanks to their rise to the Bundesliga, their forest-surrounded stadium in East Berlin, their romanticized history of resistance to the Stasi, their fan-developed stadium, and their viral Christmas Carol sessions (yes, seriously).
The story of Union however is much more than a football club. It's not however the story of a romantic past of resistance to authoritarianism. Holden, like the club itself, is careful to burst the bubble that the club was a hotbed of anti-Communist activity during the dark days of the GDR- rather it was a relatively safe space for normal citizens to vent and sing and the rivalry with Dynamo, the Stasi's ream, a cathartic way to express disapproval for the repressive East German regime.
The book instead is about community, belonging, the meaning of football clubs, and the challenge of keeping what works while facing the inevitability of change. It's also about the city of Berlin and the challenges posed by both its unique history of partition and by its vibrant future.
Holden tells the history of the club and the city through interviews with a variety of fans and officials. It's an inspired choice and the narrative weaves excellently between personal recollections and the over-arching story of both the city and the club's past, present and future. The book is packed with stories and recollections of fans and their passion oozes out of every page. It wonderfully captures the essence of the club and what makes it special.
Scheisse is an absolutely brilliant book. It captures the very essence of why sport matters, the importance of recognizing that clubs are more than simply entities to be commercialized, and the often overlooked fact that change, while inevitable, does not have to mean the loss of that which was special about what already exists.
Scheiße! A ubiquitous exclamation in the German-speaking world, which can express disappointment, frustration, nervousness, anger. Or concern, as in the case of Union fans, unprepared for a promotion that could disfigure the team. Because Union was not born as a team of winners, but as an opportunity to get together and party, despite everything (and by despite everything we mean from the STASI onwards). Yet from a certain moment on, this small team from a suburb, playing in a stadium built by its own fans, began not to miss a beat, in an epic ride that Kit Holden recounts by mixing sport with the history and transformations of the incredible city that is Berlin. Like Berlin, Union has changed its skin, trying not to sell out its soul, or, if it must be sold, looking for the right buyer. A very interesting book, for lovers of football or Berlin. Or the two at once.
An outstandingly fun read, this will make any reader a fan of Union. Just say it right, and not with the English pronunciation, thank you many. Years ago a book made me a fan of Hellas Verona, as I didn't have an Italian team and the book, looking at a year in the life of the squad, was so enjoyable. This one certainly had a mountain to climb as I have been and always will be a Bayern boy, ever since visiting the old Olympic Park in the early '80s. But as I say, people who read this and fail to find an affinity with the Irons must have a cable loose. "Outside of the stadium, they often have the air of a beloved village cricket club" our author decides, and he can't really be proven wrong on this evidence.
Perhaps unexpectedly, the book latches on to one fan per chapter, and even if the interview yields little in the way of content itself the subject is seriously clung to. So we see the club as a home for dissenters in the old East Berlin in the old East Germany – the cross-town rivals being either the army squad, or much worse that favoured by the Stasi. We see the errant awkwardness the club faced when the Wall fell, and Die Wende impacted on so much of society (and there's proof this is worth five stars just from the fact the socio-politics of Germany through the ages is so prominent I itched to get the old DVD of the best film ever, "Goodbye, Lenin!", plugged in and watched yet again).
But this is a football story, and one so seldom seen given the structure (I at first typed "stricture" and that's too close to the truth) of the British game. Here is the rampant underdog, still without a stadium allowed to host European matches, nudging their nose in the trough to such an extent the fans can only show their concern with the titular banner. When people are not used to the big time, it can scare them big time – and indeed often in this telling the promotion the team most want is into the second division, not the one above. Or worse. The point of the whole narrative can be summed up in one line here – "If the club's soul was forged in times of hardship, does that mean that they lose something of themselves in the good times?".
Everybody will always maintain their clubs are the best, and I will insist on Liverpool being superior in England, despite allegiance to the Union-besting talents of my adopted home squad of Leicester, Bayern Munich, and Lech Poznan as being the ones other clubs should chase. And that's not just for talent and spirit and achievement – Poznan have a day every year when they utilise employees to clear war hero cemeteries. And the closest to that nature in Germany is probably 1e FC Union Berlin – meaning that I can definitely see me egging them on in the majority of their games next season, and more relevantly, egging this book about them on to the heights it deserves to achieve.
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