Berlin buzzing as capital's derby days return with top-flight twist
After decades in wilderness, Bundesliga new boys Union set to renew rivalry with neighbor Hertha
BERLIN - Berlin is divided again - by soccer - with two rival clubs in the Bundesliga.
Hertha Berlin's ambitious plans have almost gone unnoticed in the excitement over Union Berlin's promotion to Germany's top tier.
While Hertha wants to build a new stadium in the west of the city, Union has already outgrown its 22,102-capacity stadium in the east.
The Stadion An der Alten Forsterei (Stadium at the Old Forester's House) in the borough of Kopenick was sold out for Union's Bundesliga opener last Sunday - a 4-0 loss to RB Leipzig - and the club is conducting a lottery for members hoping to catch Borussia Dortmund's visit in two weeks' time.
Union, which clinched promotion via a playoff in May, is the first Bundesliga team to have played in East Germany's Oberliga since Energie Cottbus was relegated in 2009.
The Oberliga was disbanded in 1991 following German reunification the year before.
Hertha, starting its seventh season since returning as second-division champion in 2013, has a new coach, a new investor, and hopes of European qualification after years of steady but unspectacular progress.
Union's ascent has re-energized an old rivalry and led to an outbreak of sticker wars in the capital, with rival fans adorning lampposts and road signs in their respective club colors.
"On every rain-pipe there are at least five Union and five Hertha stickers, sometimes all over each other. It's about supremacy," Hertha fan Gerhard Jungfer told the Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Berlin's interest in the Bundesliga, which began last Friday with Hertha drawing 2-2 at defending champion Bayern Munich, has never been greater.
"We're now the only German city with a derby in the Bundesliga. Munich can't do that," Jungfer said.
The first top-flight derby between the sides, slated for the weekend of Nov 2 at Union's stadium, has already been marked as a highlight.
Hertha coach Ante Covic said he wants to "win both derbies", adding: "It's about showing that Hertha is the capital club, the No 1 in Berlin."
Covic has been charged with building on the work by Pal Dardai, who established Hertha as a first-division team free of relegation worries.
Hertha would have done much better last season were it not for a bad patch of six losses in seven matches. The team finished 11th in the end when Dardai's departure after four and a half years was already set.
Hertha announced in June that investor Lars Windhorst bought a 37.5 percent stake in the club for $140 million, with possibly more to come.
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