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As much as Berlin enjoys hosting the German Cup final every year for the badly needed economic stimulus the 75,000 fans bring to the city, watching Bayern Munich celebrate titles on successive Saturdays in Olympiastadion while at the same time knowing their only Bundesliga side, Hertha Berlin, have been banished to the second division might have been just a bit too painful.
Berlin will be the only European capital without even a single club in the top domestic league. It must be hard to imagine Berlin being such a soccer wilderness for those in places like London, where Chelsea just won a domestic double, or other capitals with stacks of top teams to follow.
Bayern’s 4-0 victory over Werder Bremen on Saturday night was the last time the German capital will see top-flight Bundesliga soccer for another year -– until the 2011 Cup final next May. Sadly for Berlin soccer fans, Hertha’s relegation to the Zweite Liga means there will be no Bundesliga football within about 300 km of the capital. Hamburg and Hanover will the nearest Bundesliga towns next season. In fact, there will be no top-flight soccer anywhere in formerly communist East Germany with Energie Cottbus and Hansa Rostock having gone down in previous years.
This sorry state of affairs is compounded by the fact that Bayern Munich -– from the German city probably most loathed in Berlin, an affluent place that is further removed from the ‘poor but sexy’ capital than anywhere else in the country –- have now celebrated two successive titles on their turf in the last week. That is more silverware than Hertha have managed to collect in the last 80 years. Hertha’s last championship season was in back in 1930/31.
One of the best Bundesliga seasons I can remember came to a disappointing end in Saturday’s DFB-Pokal final.
While the league gave us two great stories with the rise and fall of Hoffenheim and the ultimate triumph of Wolfsburg, the Cup final was a damp affair.
Unless you happen to be a Werder Bremen fan, you’d probably agree with the rest of Germany that Werder’s 1-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen in Saturday’s Cup final made for a deflating end to the season.
Germans have a term for it: “Angsthasen Fussball” (scared rabbit football) — an appropriate description for a fear-filled struggle between two of Germany’s biggest underachievers this year, doing everything they could to avoid one last defeat before the holidays.
When Bayer Leverkusen, 1-0 down in the German Cup final against Werder Bremen, desperately poured forward in search of a late equaliser, somehow you knew there was no way they would turn this round.******They ended up losing another final on the same day their former midfielder Michael Ballack, who has also missed or lost everything there is to lose in football, including World Cup, European Championship and Champions League finals, was lifting the FA Cup with Chelsea after beating Everton.******But for Leverkusen it was more of the same bitter story of the past 12 years.******In 2002 they famously let slip a “treble”, losing in the Champions League final to Real Madrid, choking over the final three matches of the league to end up second to Borussia Dortmund and losing the German Cup final against Schalke.******Since 1997 they’ve finished second in the Bundesliga four times, most painfully in 2000 when a Ballack own goal against Unterhaching cost them the title on the last day.******That’s why they are called “Vize-kusen”.******Hold on, some might say. They have been to two Cup finals, fought for the Bundesliga four times and almost won the Champions League. There are not many teams out there who can boast to have done all that in such a short period.******That is true. But do these seven near-misses count more than Borussia Dortmund’s one Champions League win? Are they more precious than Schalke’s solitary UEFA Cup win? Or newly-crowned Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg’s one and only trophy?******Whether fairly or not, no one apart from the Werkself fans themselves will remember Bayer’s almost-seven titles, nor will there be anything to display in the trophy cabinet.******Leverkusen keeper Rene Adler had a hard time fighting back the tears after the final whistle:***
“It is difficult to say anything meaningful. Second place, you don’t get anything for that. Second place is the first loser. It’s terribly bitter. Vizekusen is just a word. It is a shame it was again confirmed tonight.”
PHOTO: Bayer Leverkusen’s Michael Ballack walks past the European Cup after his team lost the Champions League final against Real Madrid at Hampden Park. May 15, 2002. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach