Fireworks and ‘ultra’ pitch invasions as Union win first top-flight Berlin derby

Fireworks brought play to a halt and tempers threatened to boil over as FC Union defeated city rivals Hertha Berlin 1-0 on Saturday in their first Bundesliga derby since German reunification.

Fireworks and 'ultra' pitch invasions as Union win first top-flight Berlin derby
Photo: picture alliance/dpa

A 90th-minute penalty, converted by home striker Sebastian Polter, sealed the hosts' third league win this season on an emotional night at Union's sold-out Alten Foersterei stadium. 

However, the referee had to march both teams off for six minutes at the start of the second-half after fireworks launched from the terraces landed on the pitch.

After the final whistle, a group of Union 'Ultras' — masked hardcore fans — invaded the pitch seemingly intent on confronting their Hertha rivals, before Union players persuaded them to return to the stands.

“It's a city derby and there was a lot of emotion,” said match-winner Polter.

“We, as players, wanted to make sure the (image of the) club wasn't harmed and we had a responsibility to prevent our fans from doing anything stupid.”

Nevertheless, hosts Union now enjoy bragging rights after an historic night for football in Germany's capital.

“To put it simply, it's the most important game of the season, definitely, more important than the (Bundesliga) championship, I would say,” Union fan Kenny Schwarz told AFP outside the stadium.

Next Saturday will mark 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down. Hertha had originally wanted to host the derby on the anniversary, an idea Union rejected.

'Not a friendship'

“I'm only 22,” laughed Schwarz. “I got all the coverage — that Hertha wanted to play on November 9 — but that doesn't mean much today.”

Just 26 kilometres (16 miles) separates Berlin's top clubs, but the Iron Curtain that divided communist East Germany from capitalist West Germany from 1961 kept the two clubs at a much greater distance until the Wall came down in 1989.

This was only the fifth competitive meeting between the clubs, following Union's promotion to the Bundesliga in May, having previously only met in Germany's second tier.

Among older fans too, the sporting rivalry replaced any nostalgic thoughts. At 48, Nicole Burckhardt experienced the fall of the Wall as a teenager.

“At my age”, she said, “I believe that history plays no part, for me it's all about football”.

Fellow Union fan Andreas Rudolf, 56, agreed the derby's background pales compared with bragging rights now secured.

“That was a long time ago, but we are two different clubs, one is blue, one is red” and both clubs wanted “to be number one today”.

“It's definitely not a friendship, but perhaps there's no hostility either, that has to do with” the past, but “we don't like them – the Blues.”

Union now leads the mini series with two wins with two draws, to a single Hertha victory, in competitive games.

Hertha hosted Union in a friendly at the Olympic Stadium in January 1990 — just days after the Wall fell — when both sets of fans united on the terraces to sing about Germany's imminent reunification – a unique moment some fans will never forget.

“It used to be that Hertha and Union were friends, which is important to us,” said 71-year-old Hertha fan Helmut Klopftleich, a former East German who fled to west Berlin in 1984.

“We lived in East Berlin at the time of the Wall, but ran away to the west, and moved from Union to Hertha.

“Today, we are real Hertha (fans)… and have been since 1984.”

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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.