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. In German, the ballads are usually dedicated to the romance, excitement and hedonism of Berlin. It lends itself far better to poetry 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 loveletter to his often neglected hometown of Rostock in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. 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 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, with Hansa Rostock’s Ultras, the “Suptras”, being some of the most feared.
Places where life satisfaction and economic strength are low are usually good breeding grounds for hooliganism. This partly explains East German fans’ reputation. Thus, knowing of Hansa Rostock’s aggressive following, I expected to discover a backdrop of uninspiring and undernourished council estates and dormant dockyard industry. I was very wrong. If you cannot bring yourself to call Rostock romantic, at least you cannot deny its charm and elegance. 800 years of Hanseatic League heritage 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 Her people did indeed suffer, much as the rest of Germany, but the medieval city state’s prosperity through and influence from Baltic Sea trade is 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 500 years ago, and not today. This goes part of the way to explain the identity of the club. The logo is dominated by a merchant ship, such as would be used by Hanseatic merchants trading goods across the Baltic Sea. The branding and media used by the club often feature typical seafaring and swash-buckling slogans. And all the fan-made graffiti and stickers plastered around the city prominently feature distinct Viking-type figures, with clear claims to be Baltic and Men of the Sea. This image is very distinct from other club 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 looks 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.
Hansa forever, und für die Ewigkeit!
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a former GDR Bundesland known domestically for 3 industries; agriculture, windfarming 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. I know from personal experience that if everyone else calls your hometown a shithole, you develop a strong passion and pride for it. “It may be a shithole, but it’s ours and we wouldn’t change it”. All those small town 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 crest. 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. MV citizens flock towards it, but that subtle nod to the entire Bundesland is definitely there. This gives the club the large fan numbers it needs, both to stay afloat financially and to produce a set of really hardcore fanatics. Former glory, tough identity and large catchment area; the recipe is set. Mein Rostock; a pride worth singing about.
Today’s game saw Hansa host 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 ‘asi’ (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 German 3rd tier is pretty tight; two victories would see Hansa rocket from mid-table to the promotion spots. The expectation was notable throughout the match. VfR Aalen (and a very poor away showing) raced to an early lead, which led to a chorus of boos from the home fans at half time. An 85th minute equaliser did not prevent a second chorus of boos upon the full whistle.
But with the Hansa Rostock Ultras in the Südtribüne providing strong and vocal support, I had no qualms.
Apologies for the hiatus. We’re back now.