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Hertha Berlin president supports legalizing pyrotechnics

October 21, 2022

Recently-elected Hertha Berlin boss Kay Bernstein believes the authorities should engage with fan representatives to find a solution. His position enjoys support from some politicians, but not everyone's a fan.

Borussia Dortmund's ultras light flares ahead of the Revierderby against Schalke.
Borussia Dortmund's ultras light flares ahead of the Revierderby against Schalke.Image: Ralf Treese/IMAGO

New Hertha Berlin club president Kay Bernstein says he believes the use of pyrotechnics by fans inside football stadiums should be legalized.

Bernstein, a former member of the Hertha ultra group "Harlekins Berlin" turned businessman who was elected president in June 2022, has proposed designating specific areas of stands for the use of flares and smoke bombs, with provisions made for them to be safely extinguished immediately after use.

"I cannot accept anything which puts people in danger, or any form of violence," the 42-year-old insisted to German newspaper Die Zeit. "But the way it's being regulated at the moment is pointless."

Flares, smoke bombs common

Generally designed for emergency martime use, flares are popular among hardcore ultras who consider them a means of visual support for their team on the pitch, as well as an expression of their independent fan culture. For younger fans, the rebellious nature of breaking stadium rules is also an obvious attraction.

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, the use of pyrotechnic devices inside football stadiums isn't technically illegal - but it does constitute an administrative offense and contravenes stadium regulations which prohibit their use given that they can burn at temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees centigrade.

Nevertheless, the number of injuries as a result of pyrotechnics at Germany's stadia remains low. According to statistics collected by German police's center for sports operations (ZiS), 152 people were injured as a result of the use of pyrotechnics in the 2018/19 Bundesliga season, the last full season with normal operations before the pandemic.

In comparison, the number of spectators overall was just over 22 million.

Some German clubs have already given their fans a green light to experiment with legal forms of pyrotechnics, including Schalke and Hamburg.

According to Hertha president Bernstein, the authorities should put "more responsibility" in the hands of supporters, so that they'll be able to live up to it.

Hertha Berlin president Key Bernstein at the club's AGM
Key Bernstein, Hertha Berlin's presidentImage: Britta Pedersen/dpa/picture alliance

Conventions, rules and responsibility 

While the use of pyrotechnics inside German football stadiums may look dangerous, uncontrolled and anarchic, it's actually a lot more organized and coordinated than it seems.

The relatively low number of injuries can be attributed to the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, most German ultras adhere to a strict set of conventions, most notably the unwritten rule that flares and smoke bombs should never leave the hands of those using them, and certainly should not be thrown. The use of loud bangers, which can perforate ear drums or cause acoustic shocks upon detonation, is also considered taboo, at least in Germany.

However, incidents do occur where those conventions are disregarded, which potentially dangerous consequences. This season, for example, Eintracht Frankfurt ultras fired several flares onto the pitch and into neighboring blocks in their German Cup first round tie away at Magdeburg, before engaging in a dangerous exchange of rockets with opposition fans away at Olympique Marseille in the Champions League.

The violent clashes which marred FC Cologne's Conference League game in Nice in September also saw ultras and hooligans throw lit pyrotechnics at each other, while VfL Wolfsburg ultras also fired rockets towards Eintracht Braunschweig fans this week.

Support from some politicians

Still, given that the technical prohibition of pyrotechnics has done nothing to prevent their use, some voices in German politics believe a solution should be found between supporters and the authorities, mostly from the country's Green Party.

Philip Krämer, a Greens Bundestag member, recently acknowledged pyrotechnics are "part of a vibrant fan culture." According to Krämer, a discussion needs to be held about the "safe and responsible use of pyrotechnics" in German stadia.

Moreover, the coalition parties of Berlin's Senate are currently holding internal discussions about a pilot project which would allow the "responsible" use of pyrotechnics in the city-state's stadiums.

However, Germany's federal interior ministry told broadsheer Die Welt it is against such a move nationwide.

ft/mf (Zeit/dpa)