How safe are Bundesliga stadiums? The attack in Berlin has raised this question once again. The tension was palpable in Cologne, where Wednesday's match against Leverkusen was played amid heightened security.
Tens of thousands of football fans flocked to the brightly-lit Rheinenergie stadium in the western German city of Cologne on Wednesday evening to see the last match of 2016. The local derby against archrivals Bayer Leverkusen from across the River Rhine attracted a sellout crowd of 50,000. About an hour before kickoff, supporters started making their way to the entrance gates, where long queues had formed as security guards carefully patted everyone down. Suddenly there was a bang. Panic flared up in people's eyes, followed by relieved laughter. It was nothing but a harmless firecracker.
The attack on a Berlin Christmas market earlier in the week has reminded Germans, once again, that they are vulnerable. Terrorists could strike again - anywhere, at any time. Bundesliga games in particular could be an attractive target with their large and unassuming crowds around the stadiums week after week. But what are fans to do? Should they cheer on their teams in constant fear or, even worse, not show up at all?
Submachine guns around the stadium
Many cities have ramped up security measures around this week's matches after the events in Berlin and so there were noticeably more police walking around Cologne's stadium in small groups. Some even carried submachine guns, as they usually do only at airports. They stood in dark corners, away from the hustle and bustle, as if they did not want to unsettle the football fans even more.
At the beer stand outside the stadium, the mood was relaxed. Fans here did not want to let fear get in the way of them enjoying the game.
"I won't let something like that ruin the football game," said Thomas Raab, who attends every Cologne home game. Boris Ferres said he didn't think the risk of an attack was any higher than usual.
"The same can happen when I'm on the bus or on the subway," he said. "Now that something has happened, everything is being exaggerated a bit."
Everything is normal - or is it?
Inside the stadium, the supporters showed no sign of being particularly concerned at first. The video screen showed laughing faces, both home and away fans sang their fight songs with fervor. It seemed like any other Bundesliga game- until a moment of silence before kickoff reminded all that not everything was normal. The German Football League (DFL) had asked the clubs for this gesture of respect for the victims of Monday night's deadly attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. The players wore black armbands.
After the game, which ended in a 1-1 draw, DW asked Cologne's defender Mergim Mavraj how the Berlin attack had the extra security measures around the stadium had affected him and the rest of his team.
"We were all shocked, of course," he said. "We send our condolences to the relatives who have lost their loved ones. I think that's more important than us feeling safe in a stadium with 60,000 people."
Players, fans, coaches, club officials, stadium staff, police officers, journalists - they all went home after an enjoyable night of football, marred only by little reminders of the times they live in. Surely, they will not let that stop them from coming back for the next game in 2017.