• Berlin
  • Jacob Sweetman: The loneliness of the German cricket fan


Jacob Sweetman: The loneliness of the German cricket fan

The Sportsdesk is currently miles away watching cricket, a game few in Berlin care about and even less understand. But it actually has some deep roots in the Hauptstadt.

There is no way to write this without sounding smug, so, sorry. It’s almost certainly raining in Berlin and is definitely going to be colder than a night spent in the Arthur Scargill commemorative Suite with Margaret Thatcher, but I really don’t know. You see, the Sportsdesk is currently basking in the sunshine in Delhi (well, I’m in a bland, air conditioned hotel in an industrial estate in Delhi, but why ruin the image) in between doing something so incomprehensible to most Germans that it seems worth paraphrasing the words of the great Douglas Adams. You see, I have tried explaining to my friends in Berlin, from young Germans to the old Turkish guy who sells me my fags, but they know as little about cricket as a tea-leaf knows the history of the East India Company.

The very idea of playing a game for seven hours a day for five days, with the possibility of it still ending in a draw just doesn’t make sense to them. It probably doesn’t to you either.

But Berlin does have a long history of playing the game that I am currently soaking in, happy as a pig rolling around in its own faeces. The brothers Otto and Franz Baudach founded Viktoria Berlin in 1889, German football champions in 1894, 1908 and 1911 (and currently sitting pretty in second in the football Oberliga Nord), as a cricket and football club. They apparently got it, and were far from alone in trying to bring the game to the wider German public. There is a beautiful photograph in the book of Berlin’s stadia (that is as much a labour of love as it is a fascinating history), Rasen der Leidenschaften. It shows players of Britannia 92 playing cricket during the summer break from football in 1900. It is almost certainly fixed, the expressions are a little too studied, the flannels a little too well creased, but it still evokes a certain amount of the spirit of the game at a time when it was still developing internationally, and had as much a chance as football of becoming huge. The moustachioed men understood the millions of little nuances of the game that are intrinsic to its very nature, just as the brothers Baudach did.

Cricket lends itself to contemplation and to artful brutality in equal measure. It’s also great to watch stoned. It should be a very Berlin sort of sport.

Last year when the Berlin Cricket Club was being forced to move from the home they had had since the British took over the part of West Berlin that includes the Olympiastadion grounds, they were, they said, also being asked to move from the only real cricket pitch this side of Bremen. It is not a game that has exactly swept the nation in the way that its winter cousin, football, has, but for some the game still has virtue.

Just a few months ago the club’s new home, a short hop away on the Maifeld, hosted the city’s first schools game between the Berlin British and the Quentin Blake schools. The reports say it was well attended and eagerly participated in, but then I suppose they would. It serves no one’s purposes to write a press release that said “the game was rubbish, the kids hated it and, anyway, what actually is the point of this stupid, drawn out exercise the Inselaffen call a sport?”

After all, it is not as if Germany has never taken to strange sporting pursuits either. It needn’t be pointed out for too long that Friedrich Ludwig Jahn – the man who has at least one stadium and several roads named after him in Berlin and thousands more across the country, as well as a statue of his Cousin It from The Addams Family visage looming over the drug dealers in the Hasenheide Volkspark – is regarded as the father of German competitive sport.

Jahn’s name is invoked in reverent tones because he was the great champion of Turnen, which is basically organised pointing. Turnen is team prancing on the grandest scale, so the next time a German tells you that cricket is weird then at least there is a comeback for some of us.

Anyway, I don’t care, or at least I won’t until I’m back watching Viktoria play football in the freezing snow behind Templehof again. I do miss Berlin, but not that much. And if that sounds smug, then it’s tough, really.