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Reportage

Hertha's heart found in Berlin pub

There's a special place for Hertha Berlin fans in Germany's capital. A year on from considering Berlin's football identity, DW's Jonathan Harding went to experience the 'Herthaner' fan pub on a matchday.

A year ago I wrote an article about why Berlin was still searching for its football identity. On Friday for Hertha's away game against Borussia Dortmund, I found some of that identity in a small pub in the Neukölln district of the city.

'Herthaner' is a sacred haven for Hertha fans in the heart of a busy, fast-changing district. It is a smoke-ridden, beer-soaked, blue-and-white church where Hertha fans unite on matchday like a family at a reunion.

The bar is owned by Gerd and his mother. Everyone who enters gives a nod and says hello. Most are awash with blue and white in the form of scarves, jerseys or the German football fan classic: the denim jacket fitted with badges.

Gerd's jacket is particularly impressive. A large, perhaps intimidating man from a distance, Gerd is as friendly as they come. He's not supposed to be working, but soon enough the numbers swell and he's filling glasses behind the bar.

For all of Berlin's modernization and trend-setting, Herthaner has stayed true to tradition.

"I'm not a fan of this whole start-up idea. To me, a start-up is something that has just started. Hertha has been around for 124 years," Gerd tells me.

The Hertha players know of this place too. US defender John Brooks has visited and at a Christmas party his children played table football with Gerd's children.

The fans I speak to are an informed bunch, passionate about their club and worried about the state of modern football.

Berlin-born Max, 29, tells me there had been talk of boycotting the  game at RB Leipzig in December. The only reason the fans are not boycotting is because Hertha's youngsters are also playing Leipzig that weekend and they don't want the youth team being dragged into the controversy.

It's clear speaking to him that he's keen to avoid even addressing the club created by energy drinks firm Red Bull, so great is his disdain.

He talks of how Hertha's traveling fans are a mix across the generations, how the club's marketing department should be doing more in Berlin, and how important Herthaner is to the community.

"Neukölln is a busy area. Down the road beer already costs three, four euros ($3.29 - $4.39). In here it stays at two, 2.50. They didn't have to do that," Max says.

Bundesliga - Borussia Dortmund v Hertha BSC (Getty Images/AFP/P. Stollarz)

Valentin Stocker scored first in the 1-1 draw

There's a roar to accompany the opening goal at Dortmund from Hertha midfielder Valentin Stocker. Gerd shouts a few words, the room replies and then everyone drinks gleefully.

Rousing cheers greet Rune Jarstein's penalty save but the grumbling discontent that follows Dortmund's 80th minute equalizer ends their hopes of glory.

It matters not. A draw at Dortmund is always a point gained rather than two lost, even if that's not the feeling for many after the final whistle. Hertha are suddenly a force in the Bundesliga.

As much as Germany's capital both needs and wants a top football club, it would go somewhat against Berlin's famous counter-culture.

Success for Hertha would lift expectations, change perspectives, and inevitably lead to more commercialization. At what cost? Fewer places like Herthaner? Maybe, but in this hip and constantly evolving city, Hertha (and Union) seem exactly the right clubs for the capital's people.

In Neukölln on Friday, that was very clear to me.

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