Bundesliga Culture Clash on the Rhine

Kaiserslautern fans know how to make the most of the good times. Newspaper vendors in the town report extra sales with club supporters apparently eager to cut out and keep a copy of the league table that shows the Red Devils top of the pile.

Only joint top, admittedly. And after only two games.

But after a traumatic decade, the Kaisers are the Kings of Germany and this Sunday’s Rheinland-Pfalz derby at Mainz is Europe’s most surprising top-of-the-table fixture of the weekend.

You can watch it live on Eurosport2.

The new Bundesliga season has been full of surprises. Newly-promoted Kaiserslautern came from behind to beat Cologne 3-1 on the opening day, before stunning Bayern to make it two from two. The town is still buzzing from Ivo Ilicevic’s jaw-dropping opening goal against the defending champions.

Mainz have also chalked up two surprise wins. Stuttgart were Germany’s best team of the calendar year before being disposed of at the Stadion am Bruchweg. Then on Day 2, Mainz incredibly came from 3-0 down to beat Steve McClaren’s Wolfsburg, a result only knocked off the front pages by the weekend’s other bizarre away day, Borussia Monchengladbach’s 6-3 victory at Leverkusen.

Tipped by many for relegation last season, Thomas Tuchel’s men spent all but one week in the top half of the table. Small, friendly and well-managed, Mainz have a chummy relationship between fans and players.

Indeed, the perennial underdogs of Mainz, a town famed for its carnival atmosphere, are rapidly emerging as many German’s second favourite team.

Kaiserslautern's Marco Kurz

The same can’t be said of their Rheinland-Pfalz rivals. True, Kaiserslautern get a sympathetic nod when 1954 World Cup winner Horst Eckel takes his seat at the Fritz Walter Stadion every week (the 78-year old still enthusiastically plays charity matches). So why do FCK remain unloved?

* In a country known for its financial discipline, Kaiserslautern set up a secret fund to buy players such as Youri Djorkaeff and Taribo West. In the resulting financial scandal, President Jürgen Friedrich lost his job, narrowly avoiding a prison sentence.

* The club were fined three points in 2003-2004 for financial irregularities. 

*  After the club ran up debts of more than 30 million euros, some Rhineland-Palatinate taxpayers were outraged that public authorities bought the legendary Fritz Walter Stadion for more than 55 million euros. To add fuel to the fire, rental payments on the stadium were reduced to around 3 million euros a year. State Minister President Kurt Beck, former chairman of the Social Democratic Party, is a big fan of the club.

 * In contrast to Mainz, Kaiserslautern’s fans have a poor reputation on their travels.

There’s little history between the two clubs — Kaiserslautern will play at at the Stadion am Bruchweg for only the third time this weekend — but a real rivalry is brewing in Rheinland-Pfalz.

Striker Chadli Amri controversially left Mainz for Kaiserslautern over the summer. Mainz asked how their supposedly hard-up rivals could afford the Algerian international.

”We agreed with Mainz manager Christian Heidel not to start an argument about things like this,” Chairman Stefan Kuntz told Eurosport2 at the start of the season.

”We have the smallest budget in all the Bundesliga and we’ve stayed within this budget,” Kuntz scoffed. ”If a player sees our stadium packed with 50 000 fans in a Bundesliga 2 match and wants to play for us, be part of our tradition and earn one euro less, well that’s his choice.”

If you believe German football pundits, the only way is down for Marco Kurz’s men. And the coach agrees.

”Our fans can dream as much as they want,” Kurz says. ”But anyone who thinks we’ll win the Bundesliga is dreaming.”

But optimistic fans point out that the last time Kaiserslautern were promoted, in 1997, they went on to win the league under a certain Otto Rehhagel. And that year they also started with two wins. Another title would be a miracle. But three points against Mainz on Sunday would at least please the newspaper sellers of the town.

Andreas Evagora

Eurosport 2

Eurosport 2 coverage starts on Friday 10 Sept. with the co-leaders Hoffenheim against Schalke. Our other lives matches: Dortmund v Wolfsburg; Bayern v Bremen: Cologne v St. Pauli.

Don’t forget to check out Episode 8 of the Bundesliga podcast where Dan Levy and real German Philip Ross discuss the National Mannschaft. And there’s wrestling too . Listen to it by clicking HERE


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