- Chris Tuck
Stadion An der Alten Forsterei – FC Union Berlin
Photos by Chris Tuck, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Stadion An der Alten Forsterei An der Wuhlheide 263 12555 Berlin, Germany
Stadion An der Alten Forsterei website
Year Opened: 1920
Fashionable Football in the Forest
Current football fashion dictates that a trip to Berlin demands a visit to FC Union and the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei. Across the city, Hertha Berlin attracts larger crowds, has a greater stadium capacity, and plays in the higher league. However, it’s FC Union and their compact 22,000-seat Kopenick home that’s captured the imagination of football fans across the continent.
Stadion An Der Alten Forsterei (translated to the stadium next to the old foresters house) opened in 1920. Terraced on three sides there are just 3,617 seats, all located in the main stand (haupttribune). The stadium has been the focus of redevelopments over the last 30 years which have resulted in a modern, bright, and fit-for-purpose stadium.
Early versions of FC Union have played football in the city since 1906. It wasn’t until 1966 that they fixed upon their current name. They played their football in the East German ‘Oberliga’ in the days when city rivals Dynamo won 10 titles in a row. The accusation that Stasi chief Erich Mielke helped ‘ensure’ Dynamo Berlin were champions brought forth a rivalry that lasts to this day. After the wall came down, financial hardships meant it was 2009 before Union climbed to their current level in Bundesliga 2.
It was my first visit to the city of Berlin and it captured my heart. I knew it would. The history, the architecture, the landmarks, and the street art all exceeded expectations, the bonus being numerous other football stadiums you should visit whilst you’re in town.
Food & Beverage 3
Entering the stadium perimeter through sektor 3 gives you immediate access to stalls selling a variety of refreshments. Visit an outdoor grill to purchase your bratwurst, then an adjacent stall for your beers and Coca-Cola. Queues are short, the price is tolerable and the quality of the bratwurst is excellent.
This sector allows external access around to the corner of the haupttribune stand and further catering outlets are available on each corner. As there are several steps to then enter the stadium itself, you could choose to buy your refreshments from kiosks inside the stadium, making it slightly less likely that you will spill your beer.
If you can’t wait, then upon arrival at the local Kopenick S-Bahn station, try the impressive Forum shopping center opposite the station where you can grab a pastry and espresso. You will also see pockets of fans outside bars dotted around the area with slightly stronger pre-match beverages.
Back in the centre of Berlin of course there are numerous culinary options. If you travel down from Alexanderplatz then there is a Coffee Fellows on the corner of Dircksenstabe with the usual sustenance available and it’s a great place for people to watch too.
The atmosphere is generated by the fans behind the goal in the Waldseite (sektor 2) helped by the fan choreographer and an enthusiastic PA announcer. Fans in the rest of the ground join in and impressively keep up the singing throughout the game. A good turnout by the away fans can help the atmosphere too.
A seat in the main stand will give you a cracking view of the action and outside, the opportunity to view one of the finest-looking facades in European football. Built-in 2013, the design is almost castle-like and is an imposing, eye-catching stand.
The other three stands are functional and nondescript in comparison. They are, however, home to three sides of glorious terracing from which nearly all the atmosphere emanates. It is so refreshing in these ‘all-seater’ days that a renovation hasn’t spelled the end of the terrace. The roof/coverings are also low, which helps keep the noise reverberating around the stadium.
Finally, the proximity of the fans to the pitch also helps. With no running track or big gaps between the stands and the pitch, it ensures players have little doubt about what fans require of them.
The stadium is located in a mainly woodland forest area, however, Kopenick itself has all the local amenities you need. If you choose to stay in central Berlin, it is a great place to base yourself to explore the rich history and various other stadiums dotted around the city.
Much has been written about this great city which this review refrains from competing with. Instead here’s a quick run-down of what we recommend. One highlight is walking along Karl Marx Allee, a preserved Soviet-style boulevard with wide streets and wedding cake architecture. Next, head to the Stasi Museum in Lichtenberg, preserved just as their imposing offices were left; it provided an incredible insight into their inner workings.
Whilst there take a peak at the decrepit but fabulous HOWEGE Arena, home of SV Lichtenberg 47.
The Berlin Wall memorial and Mauer Park market should also be high on your list. Take the U-Bahn from Alexanderplatz to Eberswalder and you’ll be immediately impressed with the fantastic floodlights of the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportspark. If you can catch a game there, it’s the old stasi team ‘Dynamo’ you need to look up. I went to a regionalism match on a cold Friday night with around 1,400 others. It’s a great stadium with a superb graffiti wall.
The Mauer market on Sunday morning can be found next door to Friedrich-Ludwig stadium. It’s an incredible mix of stalls selling clothes, artwork, toys, etc. with food also available from around the world. I went for an Argentinian beef sandwich followed by coffee from the ‘Coffee Ape’ mobile stall. When you are finished you can stroll down Bernaeur Street to see the remaining parts of the Berlin Wall. They have done a tremendous job of communicating the enormous heartache caused by this imposing monolith, now thankfully consigned to history.
Of course whilst in Berlin you should also check out the Brandenburg Gate, The Bundestag, The Jewish Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and the list just goes on.
Finally, ‘Street Food Thursday’ in the fantastic Markthalle Neun gives you a fantastic array of dinner options, from pulled pork sandwiches to octopus. Simply turn up, wander around, and dip in and out of the various stalls until you are full. The nearest U-Bahn is Gorlitzer Bahnhof.
Our base for our 4 days in town was an apartment right outside Hallesches Tor U-Bahn station, just one stop south of Checkpoint Charlie. Whilst it was technically in the stylish Krezsberg area, the locality was a bit run down. It more than suited our needs though, we even had a pub on the ground floor of our block and a coffee shop three doors further down the road – perfect.
Not many fans can attend a match and tell their kids they helped build the stadium that they stand in, that they’ve sat on a sofa on the halfway line and watched a World Cup game, or that they’ve donated their blood to help ensure the club doesn’t go bust.
This though is FC Union Berlin (nickname Eisern Union ) whose fans certainly don’t agree that convention is something to follow. The anti-establishment feeling comes from that old rivalry with Dynamo and the German 50+1 ruling is something they cherish; not seek methods to get around.
So far in 17/18 average home attendance is 21,170, In 16/17 it was 20,859, just under 20k the season before. In short, attendances are consistently good and any promotion to the top flight would bring pressure to increase that stadium capacity of 22,012.
Schonefeld Airport is 20km south of Berlin and you can catch a taxi into town which takes around 25 minutes and costs 40 Euros. Alternatively, Tegel Airport brings you into the northeast of Berlin and it’s a similar distance into the centre of Berlin.
To get to the stadium, the train is your best option. From Hallesches Tor, take the U-Bahn east to Warschauer Stabe. Then you cross over the bridge to board an S3 metro train heading southeast, you’ll probably be seeing plenty of home fans by now, clutching their bottles of beer and bedecked in red and white.
You can also board the S3 from more central locations too like Alexanderplatz, and journey time is between 30-50 mins depending on where you get on. You can buy tickets for the Berlin transport system from machines at each station. The whole system works on trust so there are no barriers anywhere, but plain-clothed staff will be around to check whether you have paid.
Once you’ve disembarked at Kopenick (Zone B) you can pick up the match day programme at the entrance to the station, easing any worry you may have about whether you will find one. From the station follow the fans on a ten-minute walk which will feel more like a nice stroll in the countryside than a walk to the football.
It’s worth noting that to get into any of the three terrace sectors you will need to climb several steps. At the top of the steps you enter the stadium at the very top of the stand, then climb down the steps to your place. If mobility is an issue contact the club first or consider buying your ticket in the haupttribune. Your ticket may be for M, N, O, P, etc. but no one is checking so you can choose whichever view you like. We stood in Sektor 3 or ‘Gegengerade’ as it is also known, close to the noisier fans behind the goal to our right.
If you travel to the stadium by car you will want to miss central Berlin. If traveling from the west exit Autobahn 10 and use the address 12555 Berlin, An Der Wuhlheide 263 on your navigation device. From the east it's Autobahn 113 followed by the same final address. There isn’t any parking at the ground but there’s some in the vicinity. It looks quite busy by kick-off time so perhaps arrive early and take in the atmosphere.
Return on Investment 4
Terrace tickets cost just 16 Euros each, which is decent value for the whole experience. Refreshments are reasonably priced although, on the merchandise front, a scarf set us back 15 Euros which seemed a little steep. The programme is 2 Euros and the local transport system is pretty cheap. Berlin itself is, of course, going to cost you a few Euros, particularly if you spend time around the tourist areas.
The club shop will sell you all the usual merchandise you may require. If you like the more eclectic gift, there’s an FC Union toothbrush or an FC Union spirit level. Perfect for your builder friend who has bad breath.
Each Christmas, the stadium also hosts a carol-singing event that has gone from fewer than 100 attendees to almost a full stadium. Hymn sheets are provided and visitors travel from all over to this rather unique event.
Berlin, what a city! Four days isn’t enough! I’d recommend you take with you one of the excellent David Young East German fiction thrillers Stasi Child, Stasi Wolf, or A Darker State. I took the latter. The descriptions of East Berlin in the books are vivid and thrilling as you walk the same, mostly unchanged, streets.
Whilst in Berlin, Stadion An der Alten Forsterei is a stadium you need to tick off. A first-rate club doing some exceptional things in a superb city. The unique and attractive frontage of the stadium, the lusty atmosphere, and the forest location do make this a great venue.
Fans are friendly and the commute from Berlin to Kopenick, followed by the stroll to the ground all add to the intrigue and anticipation.
The only real ‘problem’ is the raised expectation before you arrive. Maybe I’m just contrary but once something becomes fashionable, I head to the road marked unfashionable.
Many argue that Berlin football hasn’t hit the heights a city of this stature should; they are probably right. Nevertheless, there is a richness to the football culture in Berlin that goes far deeper than the need for trophies, glory, of course, manifests itself in many different ways.
So do visit this atmospheric ground, but make sure you also visit the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportspark and HOWEGE Arena too if you are a fan of the tumble-down and not just the trendy.