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Official Review by Tarek Zohdi, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Welcome to a stadium that intimidates the away team and fans simply by its presence. Welcome to a stadium where the referee blows the final whistle only after the home team is leading. Welcome to a stadium full of tales. Welcome to the Red Devils. Welcome to Hell.
So far, that is the myth (forgotten are, of course, all the dreadful and sad defeats, but who remembers them anyway..?). The Fritz-Walter-Stadion or the " Hell' Betzenberg, as it is also called in common parlance, is one of the more special grounds in Germany. Built for 49,780 spectators on the " highest football mountain in Germany', the 285m high Betzenberg stadium is home of the local 1. FC Kaiserslautern. Nicknamed " the Red Devils', because of their all red uniforms, Kaiserslautern has just been promoted once again to the Bundesliga for the 2010/11 season. The club, once a founding member of the league in 1963 and a four time national champion, is now trying to revive the glorious old days after its second relegation in 2006. Days, like in 1998, when Kaiserslautern won the championship the same season they had been promoted for the first time - an unrivaled record. Or like forming the main axis of the legendary 1954 German world champion team, with players like Fritz and his brother Ottmar Walter or Horst Eckel.
The stadium is named after the late club legend and native Fritz Walter who spent his entire career in one of the smallest Bundesliga cities with only around 100,000 inhabitants. Up until now, the fans have been successful in convincing the management not to sell the stadium's name to a company willing to pay for their letters on the roof and in the media.
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The selection and prices of food and beverages are average for a Bundesliga venue. You'll get your pretzel and candy bar with your beer and soda like anywhere else. There is one peculiarity though: sausages made out of horse meat, a local delicacy. When it comes to paying for your culinary delights, you'll need to get a so called " Justpay Card', which you have to charge first as there is no cash accepted. Getting back your deposit for the mugs can easily become a pain in the proverbial after the match. Expect to wait in line for half an hour or just give your mugs to someone else.
The stadium's architecture is considered " English', as the stands are close to the pitch and the roof is designed to support the sound intensity of the fans. Generally, the atmosphere differs not much from other newly built Bundesliga stadiums. On certain days however, a little spark is all that's needed to let the hell Betzenberg live up to its name. This can be a foul, a saved penalty or a promising scoring chance and suddenly the crowd is there to help the team to turn a 0-3 deficit into a 4-3 win. Or at least to manipulate the referee.
Towering over the city, the stadium lies right next to the center, within walking distance. However it is a bit of a scramble to crest the high Betzenberg Hill, depending which way you go up. You'll quickly understand why away fans easily get intimidated simply by getting there and looking up.
To fortify yourself before the great climb, the Kaiserslautern supporters bar " Zum ZwÃ¶lften Mann' is situated directly on the forecourt of the main train station. And if you should run out of liquids during the hike, several street vendors on the way up offer cold drinks and snacks before and after the match.
Being the only Bundesliga team in the region for a long time, the Red Devils attract mostly people from the area. There are certainly clubs with more nationwide supporters. But maybe that's the charm about the club and the stadium, people know each other. Before the game, the crowd chants both the club's hymn and the famous " You'll Never Walk Alone'. With the latter, the fans are following more of a trend, given that several clubs around Europe copied it from the Scousers at Liverpool FC.
When you're in town, you'll probably see the stadium by just looking up. There are several Park&Ride spots where you can leave your car behind and ride a shuttle bus that drops you off near the stadium. After working hours, you can also use the parking spots of several shops and stores near the main train station, which lies conveniently at the foot of the Betzenberg between the stadium and the city center. With a ticket to the game you can ride nearly all trains and buses in the region for free on the day of the match.
With tickets from 9,50"'¬ to 47,00"'¬ the Fritz-Walter-Stadion is one of the more affordable grounds in Germany, and Europe for that matter. And although the team has to improve to keep up with the stadium, for a small amount of money you'll get what you have come here for in the first place: a Bundesliga match in a great stadium with an enjoyable atmosphere.
Like many other stadiums, the Fritz-Walter-Stadion offers tours through the arena's underbelly. The Fritz-Walter-Museum is in planning stage and a special exhibition has been opened to the public already.
The stadium is definitely worth a visit, the team, well, let's give them a couple more seasons. You don't get spoiled here with appealing soccer. Instead, you'll witness dedication and hard work. But who knows, maybe you'll end up being there on one of those special nights at the Betzenberg, when the stadium turns into hell and pushes the Red Devils to a dramatic win.
Oh, and if you want to score at the next trivia night at your local, here are some further more or less interesting facts about the Fritz-Walter-Stadion from the club's official website:
Toilets: 336 + 200m of urinal gully
Smoke detectors: 697
Overall bar length: 204,90 m
Annual amount of color used for lining the training and stadium fields: 900 kg
Total value of screws used in construction: 10.000"'¬
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Kaiserslautern, Germany 67655
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