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  • Jacob Sweetman: Bearly legal


Jacob Sweetman: Bearly legal

When they signed a pact with the devil in Philip Anschutz, Berlin's ice hockey fans knew that they would have to pay at some point, but that point has now come. Season ticket prices are to go through the roof, and boycotts are now being threatened.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: Bearly legal
Photo by David Herrmann (Wikimedia Commons)

Berlin has an unhealthy polar bear kick. Knut is the obvious example; the bear whose miserable life stuck on a piece of concrete sweltering through the summers and bored through the winters was played out on the front covers of the newspapers and in the hearts of the city’s ageing knitting population. Knut had a terrible life, and the fact that people were more upset about the death of a polar bear than they were about the man who raised him tells us a lot about people in general: they are irrational, self-important bastards, destined to die lonely deaths rocking back and forth on the piece of concrete they call home. People, really, are just like polar bears.

But we know this, and therefore also know that we can make money out of polar bears, despite their obvious Pocahontas-isms – you get lured in by the cute big dark eyes and she’ll have you disembowelled before you have time to even tell the joke about Frank Sinatra and Walt Disney. The polar bear is not naturally at home in Berlin – indeed, it would be about as at home on the swampy land as Klaus Wowereit would be fishing for seals off ice flows or living through the harsh winter months off his blubber reserves – but we all know that the people of Berlin will continue to gush over, and pay through the nose for them.

This is not confined to the animal lovers of the city, naturally. This is the Sportsdesk and this is going somewhere. When the American multimillionaire Philip Anschutz bought the SC Dynamo Berlin ice hockey team he had big plans that revolved around a big, ugly stadium and a big ugly title winning team. But he also knew that the brand was tarnished – Dynamo were too associated with the bad old days of the GDR and the Stasi – and so to fit into the big ugly stadium he was going to build in the shadow of the death strip, his team had to be called something that would make money, they had to be called something friendly but dangerous (friendly so the kids would buy all the tat in the huge new shop at the huge new stadium, but dangerous so they would still be intimidating to play against, and that the parents wouldn’t be embarrassed about having to buy their kids all of this tat for). The Berlin Eisbären were born.

At first most of the fans were mollified. They were promised success and Anschutz delivered it. In an at-the-time brand spanking new O2 World the Eisbären have won six German championships – a fact that should be seen in isolation of their numerous GDR championships that were won in a two team league. But many, apparently, were all too aware that the honeymoon period couldn’t last forever. The booming chants of “Dy-Na-Mo” still ring out the loudest, but the bellows are being swamped with the enforced jollity of the show, of the mascots and the lasers, the dry ice and the infernal sounds of “We Will Rock You”, clapped along to by the cardboard clappers with a huge advert on the back that come free with every seat.

The fans are now threatening a strike, a boycott (just as the Eisbären prepare for the play-off games against the Hamburg Freezers starting next week), as the club announced that season ticket prices were to hit the roof, and that the play-offs and finals would no longer be included in said tickets. All of those fans who had made such a racket for so long at the Wellblechpalast in Hohenschönhausen were being used to make up the deficit in the clubs accounts.

Naturally the club say it is necessary, and that for five years there hasn’t been a single increase, but this isn’t cutting it for many of the fans. They are livid, boiling with rage. One comment on one of the many forums answered the clubs’ point simply enough: “Well, what would they say? That the fans are all idiots that they want to squeeze every last cent out of?”

With the news that Red Bull has bought the Munich ice hockey team, the sport in Germany has probably passed the final post that top flight football in England went down a while ago. Only money talks, and if you are not willing to pay, then we will find some other suckers who will. Thanks for your time.

If the protests don’t work then, like Knut the Polar Bear, the fans of Berlin’s ice-hockey are becoming increasingly imperilled.