BY JAMES BOOTHFERRY
You've not made it as a city until a pop song has been written for you. New York. Paris. Amsterdam. Bangkok. Erm, Amarillo. This tradition exists among songwriters in other languages also. It’s not a phenomenon that is exclusive to the English language. In German, the ballads are usually dedicated to the romance, excitement and hedonism of Berlin. It lends itself far better to poetry and song writing than, for example, Bremerhaven. But one unlikely German city has found itself subject of a modern smash-hit.
Rostock. The song in question is "Mein Rostock" of rapper Marteria, a deep and nostalgic yet complicated love letter to his often-neglected hometown of Rostock in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern sat on Germany’s Baltic Coast in the former GDR. Marteria himself is a big FC Hansa Rostock fan, proudly and frequently publicising that fact, with the stadium and players featuring in the song's music video. The club has repaid the favour, playing it at each home game minutes before kick-off. This stubborn pride among the FCH fans is well known nationwide and increasingly acknowledged by football fans and enthusiasts further afield, with Hansa Rostock's Ultras, the "Suptras", being some of the most vociferous and feared fans in the country. Rostock is not a large city but the fans the football club gets go out of their way to compete with the bigger boys in the higher tiers of German football.
Places where life satisfaction and economic strength are low are usually good breeding grounds for hooliganism. This partly explains the aggressive reputation of many East German fans. Thus, knowing of Hansa Rostock's aggressive following, one would expect to discover a backdrop of uninspiring and undernourished council estates and dormant dockyard industry when you visit. But if you cannot bring yourself to call Rostock romantic, at least you cannot deny its charm and elegance. Centuries of connections to other Hanseatic League city states spread out across the Baltic Sea in medieval times have left their mark on the architecture. It bears no scars of air raids, communism or industrial decline, such as you'd see in Dresden, Leipzig or Dortmund. Rostock and its people did indeed suffer at various times during the 20th century, much as the rest of Germany, but the medieval city state's prosperity through – and influence from – Baltic Sea trade are easily seen; the old town architecture more closely resembles Copenhagen or Riga than it does Munich.
The Rostocker know their city's heyday was during the Hanseatic League's golden years, some 600 years ago, and not today. This goes part of the way to explain the identity of the club. The club’s logo features a merchant ship such as would be used by Hanseatic merchants trading goods across the Baltic Sea. The branding and iconography used by the club often features typical seafaring and swash-buckling slogans. One of the more popular fan chants is a version of “What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?”. And all the fan-made graffiti and stickers plastered around the city prominently feature distinct Viking-type figures, with clear claims to be Baltic Men of the sea. This image projected by fans is very distinct from other club and fan identities across Germany. They know full well that in modern times, the city itself has not achieved a huge amount compared to its neighbours. The club and its fans look to the past when the city was at its most powerful.
But FC Hansa Rostock doesn't solely represent the people of Rostock and their maritime-mercantile past. You stop to look at some of the fan Aufkleber around the city and you see the names of various other cities in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Schwaan Hansa fans. Rügen Hansa fans. Schwerin Hansa fans. Dargun Hansa fans.
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a former GDR Bundesland known domestically for three industries; agriculture, wind farming and tourism (MV's abundance of coastline boasts some beautiful beaches and provides another maritime link). There are no industrial powerhouses, no major manufacturing concerns, no major individual employers (compared to the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Bayer GmbH, Volkswagen, all of which are so strongly linked to other individual cities in Germany and often their clubs). Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is poor. There is no big city. The young tend to leave for the likes of Berlin and Hamburg. The regional council are really pushing for domestic tourism as a source of much needed revenue. We all know from personal experience that if everyone else calls your hometown a shithole, you develop a stubborn passion and pride for it. "It may be a shithole, but it's ours and we wouldn't change it". All those smalltown people need a tangible vehicle to express that pride.
Cue FC Hansa Rostock. The club's colours are blue and white with red detail, matching the colours on Mecklenburg-Vorpommern's flag. The club has come to occupy the role of "Club of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern", not just of Rostock. It is not necessarily active in trying to brand itself as "the club you should support if you are from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern". It doesn't need to do that. MV citizens naturally flock towards it, but the subtle nod to the entire Bundesland is definitely there. This gives the club the large fan base it needs both to stay afloat financially and to produce a set of really hardcore fanatics. Former glory, a unique heritage compared to other cities and regions of Germany and a large catchment area. The recipe is set. Mein Rostock; a pride worth singing about.
When I made my trip to check out the city and the club, FC Hansa Rostock hosted VfR Aalen in the third tier at the infamous "Ostseestadion". When I told my AirBNB host that I had a ticket to the game, she was a little shocked, telling me to be careful because the fans are a bit anti-social. I smiled and admitted that that was what drew me toward them.
The stadium is impressive and sits on the skyline without being overly imposing. As you would expect, the odd police car flashed by the stadium every now and then, but at this fixture, fans seemed content and happy to simply mill around pre-kick-off in front of the Ostseestadion drinking beer and eating fast food as only Germans know how. The support on the day was modest and the stadium relatively full but the team received a chorus of boos both at half time, at 1-0 down, and again at full time after an 85th minute equaliser. This not being a big fixture, the crazier fans were presumably saving their energy for the visit of fellow East German side 1. FC Magdeburg a few weeks later. If you are still struggling to imagine exactly how far the Suptras and the FC Hansa fanatics can go, take a trip to YouTube and enjoy. But if we are being honest, a visit to see FC Hansa Rostock fans first hand will definitely not disappoint you.
JAMES' FOOTBALL CULTURE BLOG, FROM BOOTHFERRY TO GERMANY, CAN BE FOUND HERE https://fromboothferrytogermany.com/