Hertha tops league amid history of bankruptcy, bombs and bribery

The German capital's leading football club Hertha Berlin has overcome its colourful history of bankruptcy, bombs and bribery to find itself in the unusual position atop the Bundesliga this season.

Hertha tops league amid history of bankruptcy, bombs and bribery
Photo: DPA

Hertha are four points clear at the top of the table with ten weeks left and their success is so unexpected midfielder Sofian Chahed has even promised to buy every Hertha fan a beer if they win the title.

“Nobody saw our success coming before the season started,” admitted midfielder Patrick Ebert. “We wanted to win as many games as possible and establish ourselves near the top of the table. We have done well so far, but we still have a lot of tough games to come.”

Having finished 10th for the last two seasons, Berlin must still run the gauntlet of 10 league games if Swiss coach Lucien Favre is to become only the sixth coach from outside Germany to lift the Bundesliga title.

They confirmed their pedigree as genuine contenders last month with a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich on St Valentine’s Day which won the hearts of their fans. Their history is as colourful as their blue and white strip.

The club was established in 1892 when one of their founders took a boat ride on the steamship ‘Hertha’ which bore the club’s eventual colours. Hertha were German champions in 1930 and 1931, but after more than 200 Allied bombs hit their Plumpe Stadium during the Second World War, the club was disbanded until 1949 when a group of players fled East Germany to sign for


The club then started playing key games at the Olympic Stadium – built by Hitler for the 1936 Games – but when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, the club found it hard to attract top class players to the isolated city.

The result was the German Football Federation (DFB) eventually found them guilty of bribery and Hertha were banished from the Bundesliga to the regional league in 1965.

They clawed their way back to Germany’s top flight, but a match-fixing scandal in 1971 revealed the club had six million Deutsche marks of debt and only the selling of their old Plumpe Stadium saved them from bankruptcy. Since then, Berlin had failed to threaten the top of the Bundesliga – until now.

Germany defender and Hertha captain Arne Friedrich was the club’s only household name when the season started, but 17 goals from strikers Marko Pantelic and on-loan Liverpool star Andrey Voronin have raised both Berlin’s profile and league position.

After exiting both the UEFA Cup and the German Cup, Hertha now have just the domestic league on which to concentrate and with 58,753 supporters watching them beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 last Saturday their gates are also rising.

Ebert is typical of the hard-working ethic which has seen Favre forge his side into title contenders.

“It is a fantastic feeling to be doing so well,” said the 21-year-old. “Team spirit is the crucial factor. Everyone is giving his all for the good of the team. That is what sets us apart.”

Ebert says part of the success is down to Favre’s training regime since he took over in July 2007.

“Firstly, his training sessions are always varied and interesting,” he said. “In addition, he works hard with the young players to show them their weaknesses and help them improve. He always makes time to listen to us and his qualities as a coach are beyond question. He is meticulous with his studying of the opposition and is tactically astute.”

But wilting finances are Hertha’s main problem who may have to let Voronin return to Merseyside at the season’s end. The Ukrainian has scored eight goals in his last six games and wants to extend his loan stay.

“This summer we can’t spend a single cent to buy new players,” warned Favre.

But for Ebert and Hertha, UEFA Cup qualification is the goal. “I would love to read the papers at the end of the season saying we had reached the UEFA Cup – the Bundesliga title would be a bonus,” he said with a grin.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.