DFB-Pokal illustrates Germany's footballing past, present and future
In the end, both teams suffer a 2-0 defeat. Third-tier club Dynamo Dresden are defeated by Borussia Dortmund and second-division side RB Leipzig are knocked by Wolfsburg. The next round of the DFB-Pokal will take place without the clubs from Saxony, but two days on the road in the state revealed German football's history, from past to present to future.
First, Dresden versus Dortmund, a match that breathes tradition. Two former champions, one from the old East and one from the old West.
When I leave Dresden's central station after the short trip from Berlin and head towards the old town and the river Elbe, some Dynamo graffiti reminds me why I am here. The eight-time German Democratic Republic champions currently play in the third tier of German football, having been relegated from the second division last year after three years in the 2. Bundesliga. They have gone through financial turbulence, which continues to plague them. Management has been far from mistake-free. Fans have added to the burden by causing trouble that costs the club in fines. The supporters' reputation is among the worst in Germany.
The city of Dresden also had its fair share of troubles in recent months. It's home to anti-Islamisation movement Pegida, which has made headlines worldwide through its well-supported protests in late 2014 and early 2015. It's safe to say Dresden has a certain reputation in Germany and also within the football family.
Yet, Dynamo Dresden continue to excite the people. Their average attendance is more than 21,000, and with Dortmund in town on Tuesday for the cup, people proudly wore the club's colours in the city centre and in the hip Neustadt district on the other side of the river Elbe. "We've been going since the late 1970s," Matthias and Heidi, a couple in their 50s, tell me. They are on their way to the stadium five hours before kickoff. "It's a family tradition. Our kids also go."
Closer to the ground, outside Acki's Sportsbar, fans have their beers and bratwurst. They light up flares, and the street some 500 metres from the stadium is enveloped in smoke. On the other side, riot police watch the scene. As the Dynamo players drive past in the team bus, it gets loud. "Sometimes, the opponents' bus driver gets the directions wrong and drives past here," Sebastian, a lifelong Dynamo supporter, tells me. "It can get nasty."
Inside the stadium, the emcee warms the crowd as he leads them in applause, his arms over his head, faster and faster. Dy-Na-Mo. Dy-Na-Mo. Dy-Na-Mo. Louder and louder. Everyone in the stadium gets up from their seat. It's wild, it's primal, it's hostile, it's amazing. It's what football support is all about. When they unveil their tifo, it shows a huge rolling machine. "We'll roll you flat today" is written underneath.
"Racism is not a fan chant," it says on the giant screen throughout the 90 minutes of football, and at halftime the stadium announcer looks ahead to the next league game against SG Sonnenhof Grossaspach. The 50 away fans, he says, will get a tour of the city and have been invited by Dresden fans for drinks.
The game itself is nothing to write home about. Dortmund go home with a 2-0 win, with the first goal presented to Ciro Immobile by a huge mistake from captain Markus Hefele midway through the second half. BVB coach Jurgen Klopp later complains about the horrible pitch and the Bundesliga club spend the next two days moaning about defender Dennis Erdmann, who injured Marco Reus.
When the game's over, the Dynamo players complete a lap of honour, and the stadium applauds. Dresden fans have learnt that football is not so much about winning, but about supporting their team through thick and thin, about the social experience, meeting friends ahead of the games. In the absence of money, they have learned that love for Dynamo can't be measured in trophies but in memories. Football, they know, is about disappointment, failure, struggles and getting up again -- just like life.
The next day I head over to Leipzig for their match against Wolfsburg. It's only an hour on the train, and its modern station with attached shopping centre illustrates the city's boom. Since 1998, the population has grown by more than 100,000 and is slowly inching toward 550,000.
In 2014, the New York Times labelled Leipzig the "new Berlin." The city has been a beacon for artists, students and anyone looking for cheap rent and life. Two auto manufacturing facilities and an airport came in handy as well.
But the town that watched the first German champions, VfB Leipzig in 1903, toil until they were disbanded was missing an ambitious football club. The local sides Sachsen Leipzig and Lokomotive Leipzig attracted a mix of officials and fans that limited their chances of returning to professional football.
In 2009, Austrian energy drink giant Red Bull, eager to expand its football franchise into Germany, took over the licence of a minor league club just outside the city limits, and reinvented football in Leipzig. They have become one of the most hated clubs in Germany ever since winning promotion to the 2. Bundesliga last summer. The protest chorus has grown even louder than before.
Why is that? It boils down to the criticism of a company establishing a club as a marketing vehicle. Similar criticisms have been levied against Hoffenheim (funded by SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp), Wolfsburg (owned by Volkswagen) and Bayer Leverkusen (owned by pharmaceutical company Bayer), but Red Bull has come to represent the new era of football in Germany in which it seems success can be bought without a long tradition.
In the fans' eyes, it doesn't help that Red Bull shifts players between its clubs in Salzburg and Leipzig. Leipzig have also recruited former Schalke boss Ralf Rangnick as sporting director to bring some firsthand knowledge of the Bundesliga to the club. Everything about RB Leipzig says that success, to a certain extent, is down to a formula and all you need is money and the right idea of how to spend it.
As I make my way to the stadium, no one is wearing the club colours. Only in a bar a few metres away from the arena do I spot a few fans. They sit over their drinks and quietly watch the sports news programme. Some artificial music bangs out of the loudspeakers. A Schalke pennant and a few others hang from the wall behind the bar. I ask the proprietor if it is a fan bar, to which he replies: "We are getting there. But Red Bull could offer more help." I ask how but don't get an answer as the two guys next to me buy another round of beers and vodka.
I decide to head back to the stadium. Two hours until kickoff, but the surroundings of the stadium -- which has been built right into the remainders of the famous Zentralstadion, which was home to games with more than 100,000 spectators -- are deserted. A handful of fans wait for friends. And that's it.
The stadium slowly fills up. It's officially a sellout for the first time in the club's history, although several seats will still be left empty when the game kicks off. I chat to a pensioner who can't afford pay 700 euros annually for the privilege of being a non-voting member, and gets free entrance to the stadium working as a steward. When I ask him about the Red Bull marketing, he says that "cities like Rostock would also not have been against the money" and asks: "What's the difference to Wolfsburg anyway?"
On the giant screen, the public address announcer and the club mascot present a friendship between Wolfsburg and Leipzig. Modern German rock music is played over the loudspeakers, and behind the goal the fans warm up. It's a different atmosphere compared to the one in Dresden the night before. It's less hostile, and when the stadium starts to clap it feels like a James Blunt concert. It's not thrilling, but those who are there seem to enjoy it.
The Leipzig XI boasts a lot of talent, still raw, and not all of them will stay. In the winter, Bayern Munich signed holding midfielder Joshua Kimmich. He will be gone in the summer, and, on that night against Wolfsburg, he demonstrates what the Bundesliga champions see in him. Right-back Lukas Klostermann, 18, and 23-year-old Sweden international Emil Forsberg, who joined from Champions League club Malmo in the winter, also don't look like second-division players. That is the Leipzig way. They are in it for the long run.
On Wednesday night, raw talent is not enough against Wolfsburg, but they keep the result at 2-0 on a nearly perfect pitch. Indeed, Leipzig could have taken the lead early on in the match. But the defeat does not hurt the supporters, who enjoy their first night on the centre stage of German football. Many more nights will follow. "That was good. But boy do Wolfsburg have some players," a man on the tram tells me. "You're not a local, are you?" he asks me, and I recount my trip the past two days. "A real shame Dresden gave away that one goal last night. I would have loved to see them win," he says.
You'd never expect to hear a Dresden fan say the same about Leipzig.
But in Leipzig I have witnessed a new, more polished version of football. Being a traditionalist, loving the ups and downs in the history of clubs, it leaves me baffled. "An atmosphere just like Dortmund's Sudtribune," someone on the train back to Berlin tells me. I am too tired to argue. All I know is that the new football has picked up considerable speed in Germany, and is slowly rolling over the old ways.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.