I first came to St. Pauli from the U-Bahn station near the stadium. The station is now known as the Millerntor, after fans complained (correctly) in 1998 that the man it was named after, Wilhelm Koch, had been a Nazi Party member. The first thing I noticed was the graffiti art at the subway stop; not quickly scrawled but carefully contemplated and executed. The second thing I noticed was the giant concrete World War II-era flak fortress towering over Millerntor, looming against the north-German slate sky. As heroic a scale as St. Pauli appears at first, with wide avenues and monumental architecture, walking west from the team’s pitch it is apparent how old the neighborhood is. The narrow streets run according to a wholly interior logic, markedly different from the 90-degree intersections made for cars and CCTV in the north of the city.
Most of the graffiti within the quarter is far more discursive and spontaneous than that of the U-Bahn station. And that flak tower, it turns out, hosts a radio station and a dance floor. The graffiti is mostly about FC St. Pauli or the joy of drinking Astra beer while supporting FC St. Pauli, though there is plenty of politics intermixed. One of the most common doodles is the red heart and anchor that is the logo of Astra beer. The lager is a St. Pauli original and revels in its working-class imagery. Beverage giant Carlsberg has brewed it since 2004, but its price point and heritage make it the drink of “real” fans of the club and the neighborhood. This remains true even after the 2010 birth of Störtebeker beer, which may be named after the Hamburg anti-hero but is actually brewed in the eastern German port of Stralsund. Its ethically-sourced ingredients and higher price are pretensions that mark the beer—and its drinkers—as newcomers to the city’s ancient drinking culture.
Leery of the Scots at my hostel, who were in town on a Celtic FC-themed tour but who spent most of their time hooting at the female guests, I decided to go elsewhere to spend the night before the match. At the suggestion of a Hamburg-born friend, I went to Fritz Bauch for a drink. Max, my one-man Yelp!, says that this bar is “not so timid about their RAF support,” which was my cue to investigate. The RAF, in this case, is not Britain’s Royal Air Force, but Red Army Faction, the militant Marxist organization best known for murdering cops, bankers and judges.
Inside Fritz Bauch bar are a dozen or so people, a number of political tracts ranging from Green to Red on the political spectrum, and an awful lot of cigarette smoke. It’s in this bar that I first read Not in Our Name, one of many manifestos that begins with the words “A spectre has been haunting Europe.” This one has thousands of signatures from a wide swath of Hamburg society denouncing the creation of “Brand Hamburg” as a “socially pacified fantasialand” that will “line the Elbe [that flows through Hamburg] with glass teeth.” You can practically feel the raging breath on your neck as you read the manifesto, particularly in a claustrophobic bar like Fritz Bauch. As Not in Our Name puts it: “We think that your ‘growing city’ is actually a segregated city of the 19th century: promenades for the wealthy, tenements for the rabble.”
This rage is carried over to the game-time atmosphere the next day. Millerntor Stadium seats 29,000 but like many football stadiums, the correct verb is probably “stands.” Built according to 1990-era architectural standards, the stadium’s exterior is mostly decorative brick, cheesy mosaic, and thick panes of glass. The interior corridors are concrete, and the stands are covered. It looks like it could comfortably withstand any attack that the next-door anti-aircraft tower couldn’t fend off.
The Astra flows freely at three euros a bottle, and various wursts of dubious breeding go for about the same price. These are all sold from trailers covered in FC St Pauli graffiti and half-broken signage that are, this being Germany, likely approved by health inspectors and licensed by the club, despite their outward shabbiness. I am less sure that the trailers selling supporters’ gear in various shades of brown and black are state-approved. Ditto for the musical “stages” of cardboard placed atop mud on the stadium grounds where thrash, metal, and punk bands perform. Metal is very popular with FC St Pauli fans.
On the way to the match I followed a gaggle of supporters from a fan club, “Fanladen St. Pauli” which stands next to a Turkish barber about a kilometer from the stadium. Inside the club were several friendly faces, countless Astra bottles, and crests, banners, and placards from other left-associated football clubs around the globe. In Italian from A.S. Livorno, another in Yiddish from HaPoel Tel Aviv. Local politics can be subordinated to the inclusive, global-left identity that St. Pauli has cultivated. But the air was far less conspiratorial (and a bit more jovial) at Fanladen St Pauli than it had been Fritz Bauch. Even militant anarchists are allowed a good time on match day. The non-German speakers—including the Scots in their green-and-white Celtic gear—were warmly welcomed, provided they could speak the language of the left. Moments after I purchased my scalped ticket from a chainsmoker carrying a deck of them, I saw the same man tell a German in a starchy golf shirt that he was fresh out.