Hertha Berlin's goal for this season is to avoid relegation and put an end to the famliar cycle of ups and downs. But has the German capital's top football club learned from past mistakes?
The German term used to describe "yo-yo teams" that go up and down between the first and second division of Bundesliga football is "Fahrstuhlmannschaften", or "elevator teams."
Promoted to the top flight one year, only to be relegated one floor down the next: "Welcome to the second Bundesliga, please hop off for your share of second-rate opponents and low revenue."
Nuremberg, Bielefeld and Bochum have earned themselves that nickname, as have Berlin's Hertha.
Now they've just managed to move up again and Coach Jos Luhukay is keen to get rid of that "elevator" label once and for all: "The club has made decisive progress and is working on continuity," he said
The Dutchman symbolizes the down-to-earth approach that Hertha have been lacking in the past.
Following a sixth promotion in 1997, Hertha managed to make their way into the top of the Bundesliga table, qualified for international tournaments and played host to the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea, and Milan. The Berlin fans were quick to take this for granted.
But the lucky streak came to an end when club manger Dieter Hoeness spent a lot of money on buying in more and more mediocre talent. Berlin football fans quipped that there must be two Brazils: One where Bundesliga competitors bought their talented players and the other where Berlin got theirs.
While the expensive new transfers didn't pay off, talented homegrown youngsters left the club for greener pastures. Some of them were let go for laughably small fees: Jerome Boateng for 1.1 million euros ($1.5 million) or Sejad Salihovic for a mere 250,000 euros. Others left, although the club had tried hard to keep them: Malik Fathi or Kevin-Prince Boateng, for example.
What followed was a string of coaches, sometimes several per season and in the end Hertha was back in the elevator down - and 30 million euros in debt.
To pay that off, the club badly needed to get back up into the first division as quickly as possible, and this time stay there - hopefully avoiding bankruptcy. Coach Luhukay would appear to be the right man for the job. In Mönchengladbach and Augsburg he managed to secure a Bundesliga spot without hiring expensive stars. "We have to pull together, like we did last year," he said, describing his philosophy. "That collective gave us strength. And I, as the coach, want to set a good example."
The 50-year-old does not shy away from unpopular decisions. The Brazilian forward Ronny, who was Hertha's star last season, and team captain Peter Niemeyer have had to learn that the hard way. Neither of them seem to have a place in Luhukay's starting eleven at the moment. Instead, newcomers Alexander Baumjohann, Sebastian Langkamp, Johannes van den Bergh and Hajime Hosogai are adding a new element of rivalry to the squad. "We have a new situation now," Luhukay said, explaining that this season could not be about rewarding past efforts, but taking on new challenges.
The new captain sees little potential for the benched players to jeopardize the mission to stay up. "Competition amongst ourselves was what made us strong last year," Fabian Lustenberger argued. "Back then we also had players sitting on the bench who had been first choice before. But they accepted their role and gave a hundred per cent when we needed them."
The current situation is reminiscent in many ways of the beginning of the season in 2011. The team had just been promoted and coach Markus Babbel led his team to a comfortable midfield spot in the table. But then the club managed to make a turn for the worse: When Babbel hesitated to sign a premature contract extension, he fell out with manager Michael Preetz. Things went from bad to worse and the team saw another coach come and go and by the end of the season they were relegated once again - for the second time in only three years.
The future depends now on whether or not the club has learnt its lesson from past mistakes.
Players, management and fans all stress that their modest goal for this season is simply to avoid relegation. Jos Luhukay is urging to keep expectations low: "The Bundesliga has become tougher. We have to learn to keep up a positive momentum even if things get stressful; we should not get frustrated too quickly even in the face of defeat. If we manage that, then we can secure a place in the Bundesliga for the long term."
So continuity, confidence, modesty and long-term thinking - those seem to be the ingredients the coach has prescribed for his team to stay out of the elevator from now on.