The one and only 1. FC Kaiserslautern Soccer Club It is a question we are often asked in life, usually as it relates to that first kiss, the first sexual encounter or our first real love interest. As you know, The Real Futbol is a soccer blog so our ‘first time’ memories are squarely focused on the beautiful game and what first got us dreaming of bicycle kicks and last second match winners.

In this post, our ‘first time’ will take you to Kaiserslautern, the quaint town’s footballing pride and joy, Germany’s Traditionsverein 1. FC Kaiserslautern, and the crown jewel of it all, Fritz Walter Stadium (auf dem Betzenberg).

Kaiserslautern is a University town known for a strong US military presence and the FCK soccer team.

Kaiserslautern is a University town known for a strong US military presence and the FCK soccer team

My first trip to “K-Town” to see the ‘Roten Teufel vom Betzenberg’ was some 26 years ago. I was not particularly pumped up to see FCK play but definitely curious since this would be my first professional soccer game. I had zero expectations going in and was more excited about sampling the Stadion eats and treats then I was about having a front row seat to some of the most fanatical Fussball ‘Fandom’ in all of Germany. The roughly 50 mile drive from Roemerberg was one to remember as the last 20 miles of our route was bumper-to-bumper traffic chock-full of FCK fans commuting to this Friday evening match from all over the region.

The FCK Westkurve ist one of the wildest and craziest fan sections in German soccer

The FCK Westkurve is one of the wildest and craziest fan sections in German soccer

Cars were decorated with FCK scarves, flags, decals and any number of fan items you can imagine, passengers wore their FCK jerseys and jackets and took every opportunity to ‘serenade’ the home team with a Hupkonzert (car honking concert) and popular FCK fan songs.

By the time we parked at Kaiserslautern’s Messeplatz and took the bus up ‘Zum Betze’ (the ‘mountain’ where the stadium sits), I had forgotten about Bratwurst  and Cola and was part of the mob singing “Hoeher Hoeher FCK” at the top of my lungs and quivering with excitement about what I would experience next.

The Betzenberg in Kaiserslautern (also known as Fritz Walter Stadion) is the home of the FCK red devils

Back then, all German Fussball stadiums had legitimate terraces (standing room only supporter sections) so nobody except a few pampered VIPs would dare sit during the game.

The Red Devil is FCK's lucky mascot, devil horns and all

The Red Devil is FCK’s lucky mascot, devil horns and all

Standing during a 90 minute soccer match may not be everyone’s idea of a great time, but I can’t think of a better way to intimately experience the pulse of the game, every bad shot, every hair-raising foul and of course every sweet goal.  I remember we played Bayer Leverkusen and the legendary South Korean striker Cha Boom known not only for his awesome name but thunderous ball striking ability. The biggest highlight by far was admiring the vast sea of red, made up of 20,000+ FCK supporters crammed into the West-end fan section (the legendary FCK Westkurve)

The rest of the evening was a blur but I remember coming home and discovered I had left my voice in Kaiserslautern. What a night! What a team! What awesome fans! I was hooked for good.

Fritz Walter Tribute Choreography

FCK fans honor hometown hero and Germany World Cup winner Fritz Walter with a choreographed pre-game celebration to remember

TRF Faithful … Happy summer! Time to recharge your batteries before they do it all over again starting July 19th with German 2nd Bundesliga action and 1.FCK’s quest to earn Bundesliga promotion for the 2014/15 campaign. Fast forward three  weeks … the first 2 weeks of BL2 are in the books, Kaiserslautern has won both its BL2 matches as well as handling business (7:0) versus 6th tier Neckarsulmer Sport Union.

Let’s backtrack a bit to early June and the German National Team’s visit to the States and the Centennial Match vs, the U.S. National Team … So as we head back home to the ATL after a great soccer weekend (well except for that final US v Germany score) it’s appropriate to reflect a bit on what we saw & heard.

Imagine seeing THIS walk through the U.S. Soccer Federation hotel in DC … Germans everywhere. Photo source: Woody, University of Maryland grad student

Funny Fact: It turns out that our hotel (Hyatt Regency Washington) was the official U.S. Soccer Association HQ for the centennial celebration so we were greeted by literally 100s of local, regional and national U.S. soccer officials in town for the big event. Walking through the hotel decked out in Germany schwag was a blast especially when all of our chats with the officials focused on the bright future of the German NT, not their own. Of course, we toned things back a bit post-game on Sunday.

While on location, we took the chance to catch the Germans’ Saturday pre-match practice. Here’s a short vid edited and produced by the fabulously talented Victoria Hersey

Another highlight of the weekend, was seeing Miro Klose, who had just joined the team after winning the Italian Cup in Rome, practice and strut his stuff.  While Klose was not able to break Gerd Mueller’s total national team goals record against the Americans, we’ll keep our fingers crossed he stays healthy and in form heading into next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
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Second division German Bundesliga soccer is back after an action-packed first week of the 2013/2014 season ended on Monday with freshly relegated Fortuna Duesseldorf’s 1:0 victory over Energie Cottbus. Our Traditionsverein 1. FC Kaiserslautern was equally successful in its season opener with a fairly ‘decisive’ 1:0 win in Paderborn last weekend. Simon Zoller celebrates FCK debuteDie Roten Teufel featured a ‘new look’ Elf with four starters making their FCK debuts including Finnish International Alexander RIng and youngster striker Simon Zoller, both of whom thoroughly impressed, and in the case of Zoller, even netted the winning goal. This Friday evening FCK hosts FC Ingolstadt 04 at the Betzenberg marking both the FCK Faithful’s first look at the ‘new and improved’ squad as well as the return of former coach Marco Kurz and FCK defender Leon Jessen. Although Kurz got the Pfaelzer boot (aka his dismissal from the club) back in March of 2012, K-Town is still a fan of the well-traveled Fussball teacher and Lautern fans won’t quickly forget his leadership and coaching ability that led to FCK’s Bundesliga promotion back in 2011, after four long years in 2. Liga.

The mystical Betzenberg in K-Town

The Betzenberg and the Fritz Walter Stadion are the pride and joy of Kaiserslautern and every 1. FCK fan around the world. Built in 1920 and majorly upgraded in time for FIFA’s 2006 World Cup in Germany, the stadium packs in 50,000+ fans and is known throughout Germany and Europe as one of the toughest ‘away’ places to play.

Match wise, Kaiserslautern should have the upper hand, especially if you look at the teams’ last four encounters dating back to 2008 (3 wins, 1 draw) and this season’s FCK squad and its new weapons both among strikers and midfielders. Add to that, the support of 40,000+ hometown Lautern fans at the Fritz Walter Stadion at the Betzenberg and “6 points after 2 matches” should not come as a surprise.

Some things are just meant to be … We expected Boston and all New Englanders to rise up, rally and hunt down the Boston Marathon terrorists, we knew Manchester United couldn’t be relegated to 2nd place for long and to no ones surprise they easily re-claimed the English Premier League championship this year. It’s with the same conviction and confidence that I predict that 1. FC Kaiserslautern, ‘das Herz der Pfalz’, will once again be ‘first class and at the conclusion of the 2013/2014 2. Bundesliga Season be promoted back to the German ‘Oberhaus’.  Like team GM and FCK legend Stefan Kuntz said after the relegation playoff to Hoffenheim in May, “what saddens me the most is that we have first class fans who deserve to support a first class team.” I admit I was crushed after ‘die roten Teufel’ so narrowly missed promotion this year, but in my heart of hearts I knew it was too early and the talent pool was too thin to make it last. FCK Erst Klassig

Kaiserslautern is a so called Traditionsverein- a club with tradition, tradition for being a strong member of the German soccer Elite not a ‘yo-yo’ club consistently fighting relegation.  Before the 1996 season, Kaiserslautern was one of only four of the original sixteen teams that had played in each Bundesliga season since the inception of the league in 1963, never having been relegated. Since then, FCK has been relegated thrice with the darkest period being the 2008/09 season when the club was one loss away from being demoted down to the 3rd German Liga. Stefan Kuntz, who was brought in as savior and GM in 2008, has had his share of ups and downs (near demotion to league 3 and relegation in 2011/12) but continues to build a solid foundation for future success. Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of 1.FCK’s preparations for the 2013/2014 season on TRF and the Bundesliga Fanatic and an ‘Ausflug nach Kaiserslautern’ pictorial later this month.  For now, let’s remember what the squad accomplished last year and agree ‘Das war Erstklassig’. Maybe not first class in terms of gaining promotion, but first class for re-energizing fan spirit and the unequivocal Herzblut that defines FCK fans throughout the region and all over the world.

US-Soccer-Centennial-Germany-Football-Friendly-0613 (130)US-Soccer-Centennial-Germany-Football-Friendly-0613 (106)US-Soccer-Centennial-Germany-Football-Friendly-0613 (138)We spent last Saturday baking in the DC sun with the hopes of watching our German National Team Fussball heroes during their final practice session before the friendly vs. the U.S. Men’s team on Sunday. We were not disappointed and as posted previously, got our share of action shots. Granted, we would have enjoyed seeing the absent ‘A-listers’, but seeing some familiar faces and many more fresh ones was still a thrill.US-Soccer-Centennial-Germany-Football-Friendly-0613 (61)

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U.S. Soccer celebrates its 100th anniversary with back-to-back matches on Sunday, June 2, in Washington, D.C., and Toronto, Canada, respectively. The Men’s National Team faces Germany at 2:30 p.m. ET at RFK Stadium and the U.S. Women’s National Team takes on Canada later in the day.

Germany vs. U.S. on American soil. While there is no shortage of story lines and themes to the DC Showdown, I am most intrigued by … the reunion of the WC 2006 managerial masterminds, but this time on opposite sides; Germany’s ‘C’ Mannschaft vs. U.S. ‘Chinese fire drill’ squad; Germany’s battle with the local heat vs. U.S.’s balancing act of conserving energy ahead of next week’s ‘do or die’ WC qualifiers.

Although we circled this date on the world football calendar back in late November 2012 when the German’s mini ‘US tour’ was first announced, much has changed in terms of what we’ll see on the field come Sunday afternoon. For one, the untouchable Juergen Klinsmann is no longer the USMNT golden child; his leadership has been questioned by key NT players, his coaching strategy and big change management initiative have been ridiculed, and most importantly from a results standpoint, his team’s standing in the overall World Cup qualification standings is less than rosy. However, with all that said, we should not forget what a great day this will be not only for US soccer but for Germany’s contribution toward making the 100th year celebration a memorable one.

Supporters of the German National Team watch the ‘Jungs’ practice one more time before Sunday’s U.S. match

Thanks to some pre-match alerts and our ‘know-it-alls on Twitter, we learned that the German and US team were inviting the public to an open practice session yesterday late morning and early afternoon. We headed straight to RFK Stadium upon landing at Reagan National and were joined by a hundred plus other Germany supporters, most of them local expatriates, with a few US sympathizers (waiting for the UMNT to take the field) mixed in.

While the fans’ enthusiasm is undeniable, so is that of the media. We were very surprised to see Germany’s Sky TV Sport News crew walking around the grounds looking for soundbites including TRF’s opinion on the state of German and US Soccer as well as the current popularity of  U.S. boss Klinsmann. In addition, we spent some time with Woody, a overachieving University of Maryland grad student, who decided to battle the DC heat and soak up the German’s practice session first hand as part of a digital media assignment. We had a great chat about the upcoming friendly and soccer fandom, in particular as it relates to our support for the German side.

We spent the rest of Germany’s practice session snapping photos of  Poldi, Mertes, Miro, Drachsler, Jogi Loew and the rest of the boys so here are some samples …

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The Euro 2012 curtain has just closed and a resounding victory for defending Euro and World Champion Spain over reborn routinier Italy is now history. Still, this leaves us some time to offer up our reflection on Euro 2012 … 12 ‘food for thought’ delicacies to hopefully tide you over for a while.

Good Guys Finish Last [Poland]: Who was not rooting for co-hosts Poland to do well at Euro 2012? After all, their Borussia Dortmund super stars trio, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek, helped power Borussia Dortmund to its second consecutive German league title. While they were eager to put on a good show for their home fans at Euro 2012 their collective team performance was anything short of impressive. Dismal goaltending and an underwhelming offensive performance kept the Poles out of Group A contention and the elimination rounds

Head Games Trump Talent [Germany vs. Italy]: A side-by-side comparison of the two footballing powerhouses showed a clear advantage for the Germans but history and head games prevailed as the Azzuri proved once again that history does indeed play an important role in future German NT performances. In trying to change the course of a loosing history vs. Italy, Germany’s Joachim Loew made major tactical changes leading to a clear victory by the Italians.

The Perfect Storm [Ukraine v France, Group D match-up]: Euro 2012 made history by delaying a group match due to bad weather. Thunder and lightning kept players sidelined for a while before being able to finish their Group D match.  Ukraine’s Group D showdown with France at Donetsk’s Donbass Stadium was dramatically suspended after thunderstorms forced the teams off after just five minutes.

Don’t  Believe the Hype [Euro Host preparedness]: All this talk about disorganized hosts and fears of ultra violence and hooliganism dominated the pre-Euro headlines. Yes, there were some reports of boneheads and idiots misbehaving and even more news of transportation and field condition issues, BUT, overall this tournament went off without a hitch.

How ‘beautiful’ is the game? [Spain]: Many have called this the most boring and uninspired Spanish performance in recent times. Why? Because they are so disciplined and routine that flawless play, even if not flashy has to be criticized? As a Germany supporter I can tell you, I wish we played boring and uninspired … it might have landed us in the finals.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers [Holland]: What happened to the fierce Dutch team that made it to the 2010 world cup final? ESPN’s Alexi Lalas called it early on in the tournament when he said Holland  had lost its shine. 0 wins and 0 points was an all time low for the Dutch

Against all Odds [Italy]: Betting scandals, economic issues, low popularity rating for the national team, and a 3 game losing streak headed into the Euros, all means  nothing when Italy plays in a World Cup or Euro tournament. They made it to the final, a lot more than expected.

Natural Born Captains [Euro Goalies]: I have the advantage of having watched the finals, but Iker Casillas is a bad ass. He did what he needed to do in Spain’s convincing 4:0 trashing of Italy in the final, and like his other goalie captains Buffon (Italy) and Hugo Lloris set the tone for his side’s attitude and aim. It’s not coincidence that 6 of the 16 Euro 2012 captains are defenders.

(No) Luck of the Irish [Ireland's disappointing Euro tournament]:Who was not  excited about having Ireland back at an international tournament? Especially since an old Italian icon led them there. Unfortunately, they fizzled much like a morning after alkaseltzer and left no lasting highlights or memories. They are actually to blame for Italy’s advancement to the next round based on a lopsided win vs. the hapless Irish.

Down but not Out [Greece]:I picked Greece to finish last in Group A of Euro 2012, thinking Poland, the Czechs and Russia would all be stronger and leave the Greeks behind. In an impressive show of resiliency, the Greeks delivered Russia a  crushing defeat and much like their Euro 2004 run, surprised the experts by advancing to a Euro 2012 quarterfinals.

Decisions, Decisions [Germany's talent 'problem']: Is there ever too much thing of a good thing?  Well, in Germany’s talent (and deep bench case) the answer may be yes.  Every pre-game discussion this Euro started with who should start – Podolski or maybe Schuerlle or maybe Reus instead of Mueller. This lack of conviction on the national coach’s end led to a lot of second guessing as well as a good measure of over confidence due to the depth of talent at Loew’s disposal. In fact, the number of talented subs available to Germany vs. Italy may have led to the sketchy decision-making  and play calling.

From Russia with (no) Love [Russia's fast start and slow finish]:  It seems like no one really likes Russia; be its political views, how it’s citizens are treated or its national  football team. The few international stars have worn out there welcome in England and elsewhere so an opening 4:1 thrashing of the Czech Republic made for some headlines.  In the end (last game of the Group A matches), the Russian lost out to the surprise Greeks and entered the tourney without much fanfare.

The Euro semifinals are here at last and our match predicting canine Dude is once again ready to give it his best. Today, he’s focused on Spain vs. Portugal and tomorrow he’ll reveal his picks for the classic match-up between Germany and Italy.

Then, there’s this business of the mole in the Germany camp that leaked the Germany starting lineup before the Greece quarterfinal match. While we know it wasn’t the actual hole digging mammal that dun it, the distraction might be the perfect remedy to pre-Italy match jitters.

Roughly 12 months ago, TRF covered the 3rd annual Kicking & Screening (K+S) soccer film festival in New York City. We were and remain fascinated by the idea of a festival dedicated to nothing but football films; full length features, shorts, foreign, home-grown, and many never publicly screened before. At the time, we had a chance to interview Rachel Markus, Kicking & Screening brainchild and co-founder, about the festival’s background, the features and short films being screened, and the detailed festival schedule. So, when Rachel emailed me a few weeks back asking about my participation at this year’s 4th New York festival, I wanted to make sure we included a ‘second act’ interview.

From left: Rachel Markus, K+S co-founder, film/production crew of Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story, Greg Lalas (second from right), K+S co-founder, and Alexi Lalas, former USMNT player and K+S film panel participant

K+S New York 2012 Highlight Reel

  • World Premiere of “1:1: Thierry Henry” (June 28), “Gringos at the Gate” (June 27) and Rivals: Celtic vs. Rangers
  • US premiere of ‘The Four Year Plan and ‘The Last Proletarians of Football’
  • Festival Runs June 27-30 at World-Famous Tribeca Cinemas
  • June 27 & 28 screenings sold out but tickets still available for June 29 & 30th
  • Marquee sponsor KICKTV will stream some of the K+S NYC films in the near future as part of its new YouTube soccer documentary channel
  • 10 soccer films including 6 features and 4 shorts from 9 countries. See the complete K+S NYC 2012 schedule here.
  • 4 nights, 4 themes: June 27 ‘Enemies Forever: Great Rivalries’; June 28 ‘Yes, I Can: The Individual Spirit’; June 29 ‘Secrets of Success’; June 30 ‘Soccer & Politics’
  • Each film night includes post-screening panel discussions with producers & directors as well as an after party at the Varick room
  • K+S’s chosen charitable partner for 2012 is the international soccer nonprofit Coaches Across Continents, which uses football to improve the health and well-being of disadvantaged children in developing countries.
TRF’s Q&A with Rachel Markus about the Kicking + Screening Soccer Film Festival New York City, June 27-30

TRF: It’s been nearly a year since TRF attended the 2011 K+S Soccer Film Fest in New York City and you guys are now back with the 4th, 2012 edition. What has happened at K+S within the last year?

RM (Rachel Markus): K+S has been extremely busy and closely involved in various national and international football film festivals. After a very successful K+S NYC last July, we hosted our inaugural ‘Rewind: K+S London’ football film fest (with a tremendous amount of guidance from UK football media legends Grant Best and Tom Watt) an 8 day fall event spanning dozens of films and uniting football heroes of past and present. In addition, we were asked to help curate football films for the Kerala (India) International Film Fest and ended up adding 7 renowned indie football selections to the sports film program.  While NYC and London will remain our two annual staple festivals we are always looking to work with cities with a strong soccer culture to host smaller, satellite festivals. For example, we previously did this in DC, were involved in a similar event in Liverpool, England and are planning a K+S Portland later this fall.

TRF: What are the main film fest highlights this year?

RM: This year we decided to theme each film night (5 total) and screen multiple features at one time due to an increase in fantastic film submissions we received. The first two nights include the highest profile films with ‘Gringos at the Gate‘, a feature on why US vs. Mexico has become the most fiery and socially significant clash in international soccer, and ‘1:1 Thierry Henry‘, a behind the scenes documentary into the French football legend’s move to the MLS’ New York Red Bulls. The Henry film in particular is sure to attract a drove of local Arsenal supporters and Red Bull players and staff.  Other incredible features include  ‘The Four Year Plan’, Queen Park Rangers’ future with new billionaire owners, and ‘The Last Proletarians of Football’, Sven-Göran Eriksson’s socialist-leaning revolution that led IFK Göteborg’s semi-pro squad to the 1982 UEFA Cup

TRF: Last year, we thought the post-screening panel discussions were riveting and very well attended. Are any panels planned for this year?

RM: The panels are definitely the most popular aspect of our screenings since film goers have a chance to meet the producer and directors behind the films as well as football personalities who show up. Several of the films’ directors including 1:1 Thierry Henry director, Austrian Verena Soltiz, will be there.

K+S founder Greg Lalas chats with Simon Laub and Sam Potter, producers of Soka Afrika, during a K+S NY Film Fest panel discussion

TRF: How many film submissions did you have for the 2012 New York edition?

RM: We had a record 50 submission including numerous short films. We ended up choosing 10 selections including six feature-length films and four shorts.

TRF: I know that Wednesday and Thursday are already sold out but if I can only make it to one other night of the screenings which one do you recommend?

RM: Friday or Saturday nights are good options, not only for soccer fans, but film lovers and any one interested in idea exchange and panel discussions.

TRF: We see that KICKTV is a new sponsor this year. Tell us more about this partnership.

RM: Sure. KICKTV, our marquee sponsor, is a digital network dedicated to soccer. Like the site says, it’s YouTube’s global headquarters to the beautiful game.  Ideologically, it’s a great fit for both entities and will help broaden the viewership and interest level of soccer films. We know they will soon launch a documentary-type channel on their network so many of the films we feature at K+S festivals will be available there as well. While we continue to value the New York Red Bull’s support and community partnership, we are really excited about what KICKTV will bring to the festival and the global soccer film enthusiast.

While TRF will not be able to attend the 2012 K+S NYC soccer film fest, we will continue to support this worthy initiative from afar and look forward to seeing some of this year’s content on KICKTV in the future.

About a year ago I stumbled upon a timely and well written article about German Bundesliga footballers migrating to Major League Soccer and before I knew it I was 2 hours and 30 comments into my eight article on something German soccer related … I had just discovered the Bundesliga Fanatic, an English language site dedicated to German football. According to BF founder and brainchild Gerry Wittmann, “the blog’s aim is to publicize and spread the history, culture, quality,and competitiveness of the Bundesliga and German football to the English speaking world.”

But it offers so much more. Thanks to the gifted staff writers and to an extremely diverse team of contributors (of which I am one), no German soccer story, past, present or future is left unturned. Content ranges from match reports and analysis to historical and cultural pieces as well as interviews with prominent figures and players.

Beyond the content, the interaction with other contributors and BF readers is awesome and truly makes blog content come to life with commentary and opinions. In fact, I have discovered numerous other tasty football sites and resources thanks to the Fanatic.

With roughly 30 new articles per week, the content never gets old, and during the German Bundesliga and 2nd Bundesliga season (August t0 May) things really start to heat up. Nearly each major Bundesliga team has a loyal fan/analyst who contributes match reports and analysis on a weekly basis, and thanks to a deep writing roster, many less popular, often obscure topics and teams are spotlighted. Speaking of, as a passionate 1. FC Kaiserslautern fan, I will continue to contribute match previews/reviews for the Fanatic kicking off with a 2012/13 ‘K-town in der 2. Bundesliga’ preview later this summer.

Currently, the Fanatic is doing a full court press on the Euro 2012 tournament with more than 60 articles (since June 8th) focused on the German National Team, profiles of Bundesliga players competing for other Euro teams, and many historical Euro match pieces.

My favorite part is the Euro 2012 contest Gerry and his team came up with which tests your German national team soccer knowledge in exchange for some fancy football gear and other prizes. The final Euro contest is going on now so check it out and see if you can win some cool memorabilia including a Germany ultimate fan goodie bag donated by yours truly and The Real Futbol blog.