Union Berlin have turned their Alte Försterei home into a fortress, built by their own fans. - © Boris Streubel/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
Union Berlin have turned their Alte Försterei home into a fortress, built by their own fans. - © Boris Streubel/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

Bayern Munich set for Fortress Försterei, where fan power bolsters Union Berlin


Constructed and maintained by the blood, sweat and song of a unique footballing faithful, Union Berlin's Stadion an der Alten Försterei is a fitting venue for a forthcoming Bundesliga fixture that pits best-in-class Bayern Munich against Urs Fischer's high-flying Irons.

If winning promotion to Germany's top tier was the achievement of a long-held dream for Union's remarkable supporters back in 2019, Saturday's visit of record champions Bayern to the Berlin borough of Köpenick in a top-of-the-table clash must almost seem like the stuff of fairy tales. They may still be pinching themselves at the prospect of all of this after witnessing their team's best-ever start to a Bundesliga campaign, but you can bet that the locals will arrive in their droves this weekend to ensure their cherished home becomes Fortress Försterei in the face of the distinguished guests.

The likes of on-fire forwards Sheraldo Becker and Jordan are attracting all of the media attention following an incredible start that has Union sitting second in the standings for the first time ever. What cannot be ignored at the capital club, however, is local fan power.

Union fans dedicated thousands of hours as volunteers to help rebuild the Alte Försterei. - imago sportfotodienst/imago sportfotodienst

Union have lost just twice in their last 35 home games in Germany's top division [against Bayern and Borussia Dortmund] and the bond created between supporters and team has helped to propel The Irons to even greater heights of late.

That Union's fans came together to begin helping with the reconstruction of the Stadion An der Alten Försterei back in 2008 is now largely well known in footballing circles the world over. But it didn't just end with more than 2,300 volunteers putting in the hard work of laying bricks and installing key elements inside the ground, with 140,000 collective hours of work contributed. There was also a push to raise funds for the the club through the "Bleed for Union" project, a campaign whereby supporters donated blood - donors in Germany get paid - to add some much-needed cash to the Union coffers.

"The people [here] have values that are important to them; I believe in the end it is a club of the heart," Union's coach, Urs Fischer, told the BBC. "When you look out the window and consider that the fans helped to build this stadium, this is really out of the ordinary," the Swiss tactician added.

Watch: Union take the derby spoils against Hertha Berlin this season

"In our stadium, everyone knows it is only good if you take part," the club's director of communications, Christian Arbeit, added in an interview with Sky Sports. "Don't come here to look at how great it is. Come here and make it great," he continued.

And making it great is just what the fans continue to do. Following the team's rise to the top tier, Union subsequently made it into European competition for the first time after a seventh-placed finish in 2021/22 earned a route through to the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League. Celebrations didn't end there. Roared on by their vociferous faithful, the Berliners reached the DFB Cup semi-finals and landed a Europa League spot by ending last season's Bundesliga in fifth.

With European governing body UEFA allowing safe standing in its club competitions for the current campaign, the Alte Försterei is set to host European games for the first time in 2022/23, after Union played their Conference League home matches at Hertha Berlin's Olympiastadion last term.

Sheraldo Becker (l.) is joint top of the Bundesliga scoring charts after four mathes. - IMAGO/Roger Petzsche/IMAGO/Picture Point LE

The ground is thus close to having seen it all. Packed Christmas carolling inside the stadium has turned into a yearly event; a World Cup Living Room - where fans brought their own sofas to the ground in 2014 to watch that summer's festival of football on big screens - was also a unique touch.

There have been concerts too. Yet it is ultimately that Union footballing spirit that continues to produce the overriding passion and, as Bayern will once again find out on Saturday, the matchday experience at the Alte Försterei is one of a kind.

"We are the only team in Germany without goal music," Arbeit told Sky. "What we believe is that your team scoring a goal is one of the best moments in football. Why play music there?" the communications director - who doubles up as the club's stadium - added. "In our experience, people are absolutely able to celebrate something good in the way they want. They hug, they throw their beer cups in the air, they cheer. It is loud as hell so just let them do it. The less we do, the more people feel able to bring their own emotions."

The only melody sounding out on Saturday, therefore, will be the club's cherished anthem, Eisern Union, or Iron Union. The 22,000 plus crowd would of course like to add Bayern's scalp to some of the memorable results they have achieved since promotion. A victory against Borussia Dortmund back in 2019, Union's first-ever Bundesliga win, warms Irons' fans hearts still, as does the injury-time triumph against Leipzig on the final day of 2019/20 that ensured the men in red a first taste of European competition in decades.

Throw in a couple of home Berlin derby victories against Hertha over the past two seasons and you get a sense of the level of celebration Union fans have enjoyed.

What's happening now, however, is off the charts; uncharted territory for a band of special supporters who have yet to witness their team beat Saturday's visitors after six attempts [four Bayern wins, two draws]. Yet could this be Union's best chance to claim that elusive victory?

Watch: USMNT forward Jordan wowed the Alte Försterei on Matchday 3

The teams are level at the top of the standings on 10 points and although Bayern have scored a jaw-dropping 16 goals in four games (13 of those on the road), Union have the second-highest total in the division (11). Fischer's men even hit Schalke for six last time out, the 6-1 triumph in Gelsenkirchen representing Die Eisernen's biggest-ever win in the Bundesliga.

Fortress Försterei will thus be well prepared, the home fans ready to play their part in helping to push their team towards what could - given the right result - represent one of the greatest days in Union Berlin's fascinating history. "We are going to keep doing it how we like it," Arbeit once explained to Sky. "And, if you are someone who likes to throw themselves into it, come here to Union and jump in the mosh pit." Union's fans, of course, will supply the music.