I was born in Chicago, the youngest of three, and a son of German parents. My father was a diplomat and stationed at the German consulate in the Windy City. As was the case with his career, we moved to a new city in the world every three to five years. These cities included countries such as Italy, USA, South Africa, Estonia, and, of course, Germany. One of the challenges facing my parents was to ensure that we children understood German culture and had a bond with Germany itself, without (at least in my case) ever spending much time there. Some of this was addressed by speaking German at home and visiting our home region in Germany almost every year, but this only conveyed some of what it meant to be German. The one constant that always created a sense of community and bonding was football, particularly the Bundesliga variety.
However, one problem was that we were not living in the year 2012 where global communication and the exchange of videos, images, and information were easy. We lived in the not so distant 1980’s — a time when football was rarely ever seen on American television. My first true and distinct memory of football was when I was seven and one of my uncles had sent a video tape of the Sportschau (the German version of the Premier League Review Show) and its recap of the final match day of 1985. It was an exciting thing to behold, even for a seven-year-old. The title that year was to be decided on the very last day between Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen. This was also the first time I was to behold my future love, Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund actually played a vital role that day. By defeating Bremen 2-0 and with Bayern winning against Eintracht Braunschweig, the Bavarians secured their first championship in four years (a crisis for that club). It was the first time I saw the south stands in what was still called the Westfalen Stadion. That match day also featured games with the likes of Arminia Bielefeld, Waldhof Mannheim, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Bayer Uerdingen, none of which play in the Bundesliga today. Given the goals, the players, and the atmosphere in stadiums shown to my seven-year-old eyes that day one thing was clear: I was hooked.
I would have to wait another year before witnessing another grand spectacle of the game I was beginning to love dearly. It was the World Cup final of 1986. Though the outcome was anything but grand for us Germans, and the fact that I had to see the match on a Spanish language channel (no US station carried football then), the passion shown on the pitch and in our home will always stay with me. Despite the abridged airings of the 1990 World Cup in the US, I was able to see the final in Germany. I was twelve then and understood much more about the game that one hardly got to see in the US. It was also that summer that I first ventured into a proper football stadium. It was a warm-up match for the next Bundesliga season between FC Cologne and Preussen Münster. Even though this match did count towards Cologne’s title aspirations or Münster’s hopes of staying in the second Bundesliga, the atmosphere was electric. I could not wait to see more of the Bundesliga, and when we moved to South Africa later that year, my wish was granted.
All throughout our time in Africa, we could watch Bundesliga matches live on one of the three stations that country had at that time. I became witness to the rise of our club, Borussia Dortmund with their new manager, Ottmar Hitzfeld. The weekly ritual of watching Bundesliga matches and round-up shows was more than a tie to our country and the family we missed, but it also strengthened the ties much closer to home. The year 1992 was when my pleasure of watching the Bundesliga was altered into pure obsession. Believe it or not, Borussia Dortmund, an also-ran in the 1980’s, was vying for the title. Once again it came down to the last day of the season. It was a three team race between Dortmund, Eintracht Frankfurt, and VfB Stuttgart. After all the matches were done, Stuttgart, to my everlasting dismay, won the title. In the seasons that followed my boys in yellow and black would always play near the top, but never quite reach their ultimate goal.
Then in 1994, my father (and of course all of us) was stationed back to Germany. It was a dream come true for me, the football fanatic. I could not only finally play for the same local club my grandfather played for, but was within close proximity to my beloved Dortmund, who won two Bundesliga titles and the Champions League in the next few seasons. Upon graduating high school, I moved back to the USA for college and did whatever it took to see Bundesliga matches. The drama of the 2001 final day when Bayern won the title in the 92nd minute, “robbing” Schalke of their first league title since 1958 was the sort of drama that drives the passion for any Bundesliga fan.
Each trip back home to visit my family now includes ritualistic viewing of the Sportschau and a trip to the stadium of our home town (some would say village) team on Sundays. On one visit back home in 2003, I was finally able to walk into the Westfalen Stadion and watch as my Borussia Dortmund destroyed Hannover 96 in a 6-2 game. An incredible experience I shared with my father and something we talk about every time I fly back to visit.
Today, living in the USA with my wife and young son, watching Bundesliga matches together with him on ESPN3 and then the German wrap-up show on Bundesliga.com, I not only maintain my relationship with my country, but I get to pass on the culture, passion and traditions to my son in the strong belief that he too will see the Bundesliga as his German home.