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Dynamo Dresden: '58 affected – but they mean all of us'

October 29, 2019

Over 30,000 fans accompanied second-division Dynamo Dresden to Hertha Berlin away in the German Cup. They weren't just supporting their players on the pitch, but also fellow fans under investigation by police.

Fußball Berlin Fans von Dynamo Dresden zünden bengalisches Feuer
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gora

"Everyone in yellow to Berlin!" That was the message to over 30,000 Dynamo Dresden supporters who made the 200km journey to the German capital on Wednesday night - not for a cup final, but for a second-round fixture against Hertha Berlin.

The fanatical support in the Olympic Stadium was almost crowned by a famous cup upset as the second-division outfit held Bundesliga side Hertha to a 2-2 draw after normal time and a 3-3 draw after extra-time, only to crash out on penalties.

But while there was defeat on the pitch, there was victory in the stands as fans donated the deposits on their plastic beer glasses to raise money for 58 fellow supporters who are facing astronomical fines after being accused of organizing a protest against the German football association (DFB).

In May 2017, over 2,000 Dynamo Dresden supporters took part in a fan march ahead of an away game in Karlsruhe. Clad in matching military-style camouflage and marching behind a jeep, the self-styled "Football Army Dynamo Dresden" set off copious amounts of pyrotechnics and symbolically "declared war" on the DFB.

The protest garnered nationwide media attention and unleashed a wave of protests against what hardcore fans perceive to be the over-commercialization of the game. "We consciously wanted to be as provocative as possible," explained a representative of the notorious Ultras Dynamo in an interview with German public broadcaster ARD in February 2018. "Perhaps it was a bit over the top, but it achieved its aim."

However, after refreshment stands were allegedly plundered and stadium workers assaulted, police raided the homes of 28 supporters who were suspected of organizing the march — an investigation which has since been expanded to 58 fans.

The charges included: breaches of the peace, grievous bodily harm and breaches of German law concerning the wearing of uniforms during public gatherings and the use of explosives. Earlier this month, 35 of those fans were ordered to pay a combined total of €290,000 ($321,000) in fines, legal fees and other costs. 

"These people are adequately suspected of having organized and implemented the use of pyrotechnics as well as having willingly accept the risk of injury to police officers," said the public prosecutor in Karlsruhe earlier this month, announcing the initial 35 sentences. The charges have been dropped in a further 12 cases. 

Fußball 2. Bundesliga Karlsruher SC Dynamo Dresden  Fans von Dynamo Dresden
The "Football Army Dynamo Dresden" protest drew nationwide attention but fans are paying a heavy priceImage: picture-alliance/dpa/U. Anspach

SoKo Dynamo

"They’re trying to make an example of a black sheep," says Corinna Funke, a home-and-away Dynamo fan since 2002 and spokeswoman for the "Solidaritätskomitee Dynamo" – the "solidarity committee" or "SoKo" – established to provide financial and emotional assistance to the affected fans.

The SoKo claims that no evidence has been brought against any individual regarding the charges, merely the suspicion of having organised the march. According to the SoKo, several of the affected fans weren’t even in Karlsruhe on the day.

“They want to silence the ultra movement and the active fan scene in Germany," says Funke. "They want the stadiums to be filled with event fans who simply pay their money and keep quiet.”

The SoKo’s campaign has since raised over €40,000 ($44,000) for the affected fans. Former players such as ex-Germany international Jens Jeremies have put medals and kits up for auction, local bands have produced CDs, and a jumble sale was organized at a recent home game. Meanwhile, donations have come from all over the country and further afield – including from rival fans.

At a recent Borussia Dortmund home game, for example, BVB ultras encouraged fans to donate to the Dresden cause and displayed a banner quoting the SoKo’s campaign slogan: “58 affected – but they mean all of us.” Just as with the initial fan march in Karlsruhe, the plight of the Dynamo fans has come to symbolize the fan protest movement as a whole.

"It feels like every fan group in Germany is behind us," says Funke. "I couldn’t name a group which hasn’t shown solidarity."

Fanatical support

Dynamo Dresden’s supporters have earned themselves a reputation as one of the most fanatical sets of fans in Germany. Led by the Ultras Dynamo and a large active hardcore, they have generally averaged home attendances of over 25,000 over the last decade and regularly take huge numbers away.

In 2005, 2011 and 2016, Dynamo were accompanied by around 20,000 supporters when they played 1860 Munich in the Allianz Arena. In January 2017, over 10,000 travelled to Nuremberg. In that context, a 30,000-strong away following in Berlin wasn't all too surprising, especially given that the following day, Reformation Day, was a public holiday in Saxony. But it presented a particular challenge for local authorities.

"There will be an increased police presence at these two volatile football matches," said Benjamin Jendro from the Gewerkschaft der Polizei, the Police Union, in Berlin - referring also to the first ever Bundesliga derby between Hertha Berlin and Union Berlin the following Saturday as well as other non-football related events in the city. "In all honesty, we are currently talking about a permanent state of emergency in Berlin."

For Dresden fans, on the other hand, travelling in huge numbers is nothing new. "Dynamo fans have always loved to travel, I’ve never known it to be any different," says Tobias, a supporter of 22 years. "Dresden is a beautiful city with lots of history. We’re proud of our city and our club, Dynamo. There is an enormous sense of solidarity, here."

Fußball TSV 1860 München vs SG Dynamo Dresden - Fans von Dynamo Dresden
Away days: Almost 20,000 Dynamo Dresden fans traveled to 1860 Munich in 2016Image: Imago Images/S. Kuttner

Supporters not customers

With over 22,900 voting members, Dynamo Dresden are the biggest football club in eastern Germany, outside Berlin. Unlike at many clubs, the professional football team hasn’t been outsourced either, meaning the membership retains full control, something which is important for club and fans alike.

"We see ourselves as a democratic, traditional club which belongs to the people," the club’s commercial manager Michael Born tells DW. “We don’t see our supporters as mere customers; we want to continue to develop the club together with our members. We believe that it’s easier to identify with a club when you have an active say and an active fan culture, which is why we always try to stand up for our fans’ interests."

That is why the club are also officially supporting the 58 fans who have been fined for their alleged involvement in the Karlsruhe affair, launching a special kit and donating the proceeds to the SoKo.

"We have a good relationship with the club," explains Corinna Funke. "As soon as the fines were made public, we got in touch with them. The people who work for the club come from Dresden and understand what makes Dynamo tick. It’s not just a job for them; it’s a passion. It’s one huge feeling of togetherness."

That togetherness was on show again in Berlin when the traveling hoards painted half of the Olympic Stadium yellow. Even the club got involved. "Nobody has the intention of going to Berlin …" they wrote on their official website, "but just in case you do, get your cup t-shirt for ten euros!"

'Dynamo is Dresden and Dresden is Dynamo'

The paraphrasing of the fateful words of former East German leader Walter Ulbricht – who promised Berliners in June 1961 that “nobody has the intention of building a wall” – was no coincidence, as the match took place just nine days before the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event which made this fixture possible in the first place.

For four decades before that, Dynamo played their football in the old East German “Oberliga” where they became one of the biggest clubs in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), amassing eight league titles and seven East German Cups. Back then, their only meetings with West German teams came in European competition, and their trips to Berlin were limited to one side of the wall.

After reunification however, without the backing of the East German police and unable to compete in the capitalist, free-market Bundesliga, Dynamo dropped as low as the fourth tier by the turn of the millennium, but the club has since re-established itself in the second division, where they have been since 2016.

Yet throughout all the ups and downs, the support has remained constant. "The city and region are inextricably linked to Dynamo Dresden," says Michael Born. "It’s a connection which has grown over the decades, a feeling passed on from generation to generation. Dynamo is Dresden and Dresden is Dynamo."

That’s what 30,000 yellow-clad fans demonstrated in Berlin on Wednesday night as they donated the deposits on their plastic cups to the SoKo - supporting their team, their club, their city and each other.

Update: This article has been amended to include details of the charges pressed and the position of the public prosecutor in Karlsruhe.