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Jacob Sweetman: The dustbins of football history

I was feeling paranoid as I skulked around in the middle of a classic Berlin shitstorm on Sunday, looking for a trace of the Stadion der Weltjugend, once the showpiece stadium in East Berlin and the second largest in the DDR. I couldn't find one.

Image for Jacob Sweetman: The dustbins of football history
Photo by Jacob Sweetman

I was there to see if I could spot a trace of the Stadion der Weltjugend, once the showpiece stadium in East Berlin and the second largest in the DDR. If you go to Schwarzkopf Straße, you will find it hard not to notice an enormous building site that could almost put Karl Marx Allee in the shade. This cavernous new building will be the German headquarters of the BND – the German equivalent of the CIA, I’m told – but that just made me feel paranoid as I skulked around it in the middle of a classic Berlin shitstorm on Sunday.

The Stadion der Weltjugend once held 70,000 people. There is nothing to indicate that it had once been there and my searching for a Denkmal was utterly pointless. A plaque for a former stadium? No chance, and this despite the fact that it had housed both Dynamo Berlin and the DDR National Mannschaft. At least for the sake of continuity in revisionism,  the Stadion der Weltjugend was first called the Walter Ulbricht Stadion… until he fell out of favour in the DDR. So they changed it.

I then followed the streets alongside, down to Hauptbahnhof, then right and past the old people’s homes. Left again and I’m at the Poststadion. A friend of mine told me about this place on Saturday. We were pissed in a bar watching Bayern München lose in the European Cup Final when he tapped me on the shoulder. “Come and have a look at this.”

We walked five minutes into the woods and there was the main stand for a beautiful-looking old football stadium that I had no idea was even still there. I’d heard of it, but only vaguely, as the stadium where Hitler watched his only football match – one of the few not played at the Olympiastadion in the 1936 Olympics – between Germany and Norway. Norway won 2-0 in front of 50,000 and Hitler left early. “The Führer is furious,” wrote Goebbels in his diary, who sat alongside him with Göring, Heß and Frick, shitting himself. The next day, I found a half-open metal shutter and let myself into the listed (and currently being renovated) main stand where those fuckers had sat so many years ago.

The spot isn’t marked for that reason either, but then most of the markings on the Poststadion are those made by the undergrowth (overgrowth?) that’s taking over the standing sections to the left of the old main stand and round behind the goal there. There were a lot more interesting things had happened there than a visit by Hitler, anyway. It opened on Christmas Day in 1925 with a match between the post office team, whose stadium it was (how do you think it got its name?), and Hertha BSC. Hertha gave the postmen a 3-0 headstart, and lost 4-3. Sepp Herberger would have played there for Tennis Borussia until he became their coach in 1936, and in 1931, it hosted a game between the seminal “Oase” team of artists, writers and actors with the great German actor Fritz Schultz as referee.

Hopping over the fence was the easiest thing; getting up through the trees and nettles to the top of the old tribune was a different matter. You could barely make out the pitch in front, but really got a sense of the history and sheer size of the thing. It must have been a monster. The terraces stacked up endlessly under the sprawling roots and branches, their crash barriers defiantly still standing where they might have been for 50 years, still ready for the crush of a Berliner Pokal final.

As I left the ghosts behind in the Poststadion, I bought a beer from a kiosk swarming with kids after a football tournament on the masses of adjacent pitches. They had seemingly won all the trophies and were excitedly chuntering away in their tracksuits. Almost 80 years ago, Sepp Herberger would have been here and he’d have been very proud indeed. I walked out and noticed a gap in the wall opposite the prison next door, and could see way over the train tracks north. There it was. You can see the behemoth rising on the site of the old Stadion der Weltjugend now. Across decades and countries, these two great old stadiums can’t have been more than two miles apart. I just scuttled off to get dry and wait for tomorrow, for Kicker to come out.