- Chris Tuck
Merkur Spiel-Arena - Fortuna Dusseldorf
Photos by Chris Tuck, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Merkur Spiel Arena Arena-Straße 1 40474 Düsseldorf, Germany
Year Opened: 2004
Alles aus Liebe
Fashion, finance, and Fortuna are just three reasons people visit Dusseldorf. Add the renowned local Altbier, the picturesque Aldstadt, and some amazing avant-garde architecture, and your 1970s stereotype of Dusseldorf as an industrial relic quickly vanishes. The Esprit-Arena, home of the mighty Fortuna since 2004, encapsulates the transformation.
All proper football fans mourn the passing of old grounds; Fortuna supporters will remember the magnificently named Flinger Broich with a smile. It’s now completely redeveloped and still used for second X1 and occasional cup matches. Another old home was the cavernous RheinStadion, which hosted five matches in the 1974 World Cup.
However, just as this beautiful city in the North Rhine-Westphalia area of western Germany now sparkles with renewed self-confidence, the city’s beloved football team also has a new ultra-modern, multi-purpose stadium to be proud of.
Built between 2002-2004, its capacity of 54,600 makes it one of Germany’s largest stadiums. The design came from JSK Architekten who was also involved in the impressive Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw, Poland. From the outside, the Esprit-Arena is distinct due to its square/boxed ‘wrap-around’ which suggests a cinema complex or shopping centre rather than a football stadium.
“Concerts, shows, football, and hockey - The Merkur Spiel-Arena is proud to host to a broad range of events” boasts the stadium website, suggesting it is “Dusseldorf’s prime address for large-scale events.” Stadium Journey arrived with eyes only for the football and to glimpse a club whose fans profess ‘Alles aus Liebe’ for their famous team.
Food & Beverage 3
It is good to see a different approach to serving refreshments inside the stadium. Firstly, there are numerous kiosks ensuring plenty of options. Secondly, they are ‘free standing’ with curved serving counters. This approach spreads the queues in a far more efficient way than the traditional ‘hole in the wall’ layouts that often cause frustrating blockages in the concourse area.
Chips, bratwurst, pretzels, and currywurst are all on the menu as you’d expect. Soft drinks are available, but most will go for the local Altbier. It’s darker than the pilsner beer you often find in Germany with a more distinctive taste.
Prices are reasonable, or maybe we’ve all just got used to 4 Euros for a beer and 6-8 Euros for a sausage and chips. My recommendation is always the currywurst, a local favourite which is a sausage covered in curry sauce. Not the easiest to eat standing up if you are on the terrace. It’s also quite spicy so keep that Altbier to hand too.
Fortuna topped the second tier of the Bundesliga on the day of our visit in early 2018, which had a positive influence on the atmosphere. It is striking just how joyful Fortuna supporters are, not just inside but also on their way to and from the stadium. The lack of away fans in attendance on the day (just 100 had made their way north from SV Sandhausen) also contributed to an atmosphere that was more ‘party-like’ than cagey or tense.
Inside, the retractable roof provides cover from inclement weather, as does a unique heating system installed to ensure a variety of events can be held here. When empty, the speckled, different coloured seats with no discernible pattern differentiate it from the branded colourings most stadiums now have.
The match day atmosphere comes in the first instance from the home terrace, but the rest of the ground certainly does its bit too. The scoreboard provides all the usual updates and the tannoy system provides all the key information and encourages the crowd to support their team.
The view from the seated areas is excellent as you’d expect; the civilised way to watch football these days. For the less civilised (as I very much count myself) it’s all about the terraces, where it’s less about seeing every moment of the action and more about being part of the action. On our visit the terrace swayed, bounced, cheered, and groaned in unison; a good old-fashioned raucous atmosphere ensued.
The Merkur Spiel-Arena is a classic ‘out of town’ stadium. There’s very little to see or do in the immediate vicinity. Most visitors will have some time to explore as well as watch a game so some time in central Dusseldorf is a must.
If it’s the fashion you’re after, head to Konigsallee; Gucci, Burberry, Chanel, and all the ‘must-have’ labels are all open for your business. For people watchers, look out for visitors from Saudi with seriously deep pockets who can often be found perusing the upmarket shopping arcades.
The Financial area can be found in the Stademitte area of the city. The city leads in the telecommunications sector with many of the big mobile phone companies setting up home here. Business visitors may also be in town to visit one of the numerous trade shows that base themselves in Dusseldorf. For the architecturally minded fans, take a stroll around the MedienHafen district in the south of the city.
The harbour area retains its old wharfs and cranes that served the city so well now standing strong and proud in retirement. A tour around the MedienHafen area is available for 12 Euros. The ‘Evangel. G Johanneskirche’ is also a wonderfully bright and striking building nestled in amongst a sea of bars just off the Bolkerstrasse.
Dusseldorf sits on the confluence of two rivers, the Dussel and the Rhine, Dussel giving the town its name and ‘Old Father Rhine’ of course one of the longest and most famous rivers in Europe. Areas of the waterfront have been opened up in recent years.
This allows locals and visitors to stroll or have a lazy latte as the fast-flowing Rhine heads north and west towards its North Sea end. To see the local Altbier up close and personal there is a special tour available which takes you to five microbreweries across the city. For just 27.50 Euros you can become an expert and of course, try a sample or three along the way.
For nightlife you do not need to leave the Aldstadt area of the city; we counted at least 5 Irish bars within a square mile and there are over 200 bars, restaurants, breweries, and cafes in this buzzing district of the city. Of course, Dusseldorf is famous for its ‘longest bar in the world,’ due to the wall-to-wall bars that creep up the Bolkerstrasse. Alternatively, for a slightly more sophisticated evening, the architecturally impressive MedienHafen also boasts a growing number of bars and restaurants.
There is a small alley called Schneider-Wibbel-Gasse just off of the Bolkerstraße with some excellent steak houses, tapas, and pizzerias. We went for the ‘Da Primo,’ the food was good and the service was fast and friendly. For even faster food try ‘What’s Beef’ on Immermannstr. 24, 40210 Dusseldorf, it will certainly fill you up.
There are accommodation options in good proximity to the stadium; in fact, the Tulip Inn is built into the stadium complex. It’s probably more for business travellers than sporting aficionados but if you want a short commute this one is for you! We’d recommend an apartment as close to the Altstadt as possible giving you access to the river, the shops, the restaurants, and the bars and only a 20-minute ride to the stadium.
One recommendation is Tolstov-Aparthotels (Old Town Burgplatz) which is clean, roomy, and just right for the needs of a stadium traveler. The best Twitter account for tourism tips would be the @VisitDusseldorf account and their accompanying tourism website. We will leave the last words of this section to local poet Heinrich Heine, who described his hometown simply as “Very beautiful.”
Fortuna (or F95) fans liken themselves to the UK’s Newcastle United, a ‘big’ club often underachieving, a city emerging from its industrial past and famous for a distinctive local dark brew (although the Geordie’s Newcastle Brown is now made in Holland…). The main rivalry for Fortuna fans comes from FC Koln in the south and Duisburg in the north. In the top flight expect Dusseldorf matches to sell out, in Bundesliga 2 the ground will often be less than half full.
Average attendance in the past few years has hovered around 25,000. As recent as 2013/14 the average was 33,982 and for derby games and cup matches expect games to be close to sellouts. We stood in the Sudtribune end of the ground right in amongst the Fortuna ultras. Welcomed by the locals we joined in with the best array of songs I’ve heard for a long time.
The word Fortuna fits into so many tunes that despite not having great German we could sing along for most of the match. The best songs are simple and our favourite is; “For, for for for for for fooooor… Tu, tu tu tu tu tu Tuuuuu, Na Na Na Na Na Na Naaaa…..Foooortuuuunaaaa” Closely followed by the same words set to an old English Hymn. On occasions, we were also encouraged to stoop down (not easy on a packed terrace) as we whispered a song before rising to our feet as one as the volume rose and again Fortuna! was the loud refrain.
The fans sang from beginning to end with both corners also joining in. Despite only 20k in attendance at the game, we saw the noise was still stirring. A great fan Twitter account to touch base with if you heading to Dusseldorf would be @UKFortuna who will happily suggest where to drink and how to get tickets etc.
At least three airports (Flughafen) serve this industrial corridor in the west of Germany, often described as the ‘engine room’ of Europe. Bundesliga football clubs are abundant in the area and so scheduling more than one match during your stay is a must. Dusseldorf airport should be your plan A; it is one of Germany’s largest. Located just 8 km north of the city, the S-Bahn will whisk you into the centre of Dusseldorf in just 16 minutes.
We chose Koln/Bonn airport transferring via the S-Bahn which took just 46 minutes into Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof. However, it is worth stopping off, as we did, in Koln just to see the magnificent cathedral which was once the tallest building in the world.
You can view this splendid structure which took 632 years to build, from the comfort of your seat on the train just after you cross the Rhine. We’d recommend hopping off the train and spending an hour exploring this incredible monolith whilst grabbing a local pastry or a franchise Starbucks for sustenance.
The third option is the Dortmund airport, also within range if you are comparing prices. It's only an hour’s train ride south to Dusseldorf (once you have transferred from the airport to the city centre). If you are arriving by car from the south use the A57 / A59. If you arrive from the north use the A 52 / A3 and the arena is well signposted. Parking options are provided on the Merkur Spiel-Arena website.
From the centre of Dusseldorf, the Esprit-Arena is located 5 km to the north. Take the U-Bahn (Rheinbahn) line U78. The stadium has a dedicated stop all of its own and is located at the end of the line. The station is called "Merkur Spiel-Arena / Messe-Nord." It’s just a 20-minute ride from either the main Hauptbahnhof or Altstadt.
Your match day ticket covers the cost of the transport so you don’t pay for the journey. As there is very little to do near the stadium, you will be joined on your way in and out of the town centre by locals carrying their beer bottles and singing their songs, making for an entertaining if a little squashed journey.
Despite the box-style facia of the stadium, the concourse area layout is the same as most bowl-shaped arenas, allowing access to your block from entrances around the perimeter of the pitch. If you have specific accessibility requirements, you can apply for free parking at the stadium. The Esprit-Arena is also barrier-free and lifts are available. Contact the club before you travel if you require more information.
Tickets can be purchased from outlets across the city; a map is available on the Fortuna website. Alternatively, there is a ticket hotline you can call or of course buy online, again via the website. Prices for adults start at just 13 Euros, an excellent value for the money. Prices rise to 46 Euros, but there are plenty of mid-point tickets for less than 30 Euros.
Return on Investment 4
A visit to the Esprit-Arena is cheaper than its English equivalents. As with many modern stadiums though, expect merchandise and food to be a euro or 2 more than it's worth. For a stadium and city as impressive as Dusseldorf I’d suggest you don’t let cost prevent a visit.
With cheap flights into the region, sometimes as low as 20 Euros, trains that allow you to use your football ticket to travel plus a cheap match day programme and you’ll understand the attraction of visiting this area for a match or two.
Match day tickets in Bundesliga 2 start from 13 Euros, which is admirable, but expect to pay more for top-flight matches. Buying your beer en route to the stadium rather than paying stadium prices is another way locals save money on the experience.
To get a more detailed history of the stadium and see some of the ‘behind-the-scenes areas you can book a tour. Public tours start at noon every Sunday unless there is a match on. You will need to pre-register for the tour via the Merkur Spiel-Arena website. Visit the club shop at the ground or online for an array of F95 products. There’s an LED logo for 20 Euros, a Fortuna Dusseldorf Monopoly set for 30 Euros or a Fortuna seat cushion for just 4.95 Euros.
The impressive cuboid façade, the purpose-built train station beneath one of the stands, the plethora of refreshment stalls, and the ultra-modern retractable roof mark this stadium out as one to add to your list. Upon arrival though, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you could just as well be attending a concert or a show. This isn’t how football is supposed to be.
The real transformation is revealed when the supporters arrive. Add flags and choreographed chanting, add the energy of a pulsating, packed terrace, add the on-field action and perhaps an Albier or two, and only then does the stadium come alive. With the bright lights of Dusseldorf calling you back after the game and the possibility of a visit to another nearby cathedral of football like the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen or the RheinenergieStadion in Koln, you will not regret your visit one bit.