On 26 September 2021, Freiburg played their 360th and final Bundesliga game at the iconic Dreisamstadion, running out comfortable 3-0 winners against Augsburg. It was a fitting way to say farewell to their home of the last 66 years.
Before the match, Freiburg head coach Christian Streich had declared that the sense of nostalgia surrounding the club's final home outing was perfectly understandable, but that it had no place in his dressing room. He and the players weren't thinking about it, hadn't really discussed it - they were too busy preparing for a "complicated game" against an Augsburg side who had just got the better of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Come the final whistle, the 56-year-old was up in the stands, megaphone in hand and tears in his eyes, leading the fans in song as he said goodbye to a ground that has been his office since 1995, when he joined Freiburg as an U19s coach.
It may not have been part of any official team talk, but the 11 players on the Freiburg teamsheet had clearly grasped the significance of the day. Perhaps none more so than the captain, Christian Günter, who was also celebrating a personal milestone: his 300th competitive outing for the club.
"It was a big occasion and we wanted to do it justice," Günter told scfreiburg.com. "So we came out of the dressing room and set off fireworks in the first half."
Indeed they did. Roared on by a sellout crowd of 14,400 - a Covid-restricted number that will swell significantly to 34,700 when they move to the new Europa-Park Stadion - Freiburg came out all guns blazing, putting three first-half goals past an Augsburg team who had just kept consecutive clean sheets against Union Berlin and Gladbach.
Günter, a constant menace down the Freiburg left, was involved in the opener on just six minutes. His shot was parried by Augsburg keeper Rafal Gikiewicz but fell nicely for Lukas Kübler, who slid in at the back post for his first ever Bundesliga goal. Lucas Höler then made it 2-0 on 25 minutes with a lovely dinked finish, after brilliantly controlling a fine through ball from Maximilian Eggestein. And Vincenzo Grifo wrapped up the three points from the penalty spot just after the half-hour, after Raphael Framberger was penalised for handball in the area. The visitors never looked in any danger of spoiling the party.
Watch: Highlights of Freiburg's 3-0 win over Augsburg
For the rest of the game, Freiburg huffed and puffed in their quest to get a fourth, which would have been the 1000th Bundesliga goal scored in the Dreisamstadion. Woo-yeong Jeong, Grifo, Ermedin Demirovic and Nils Petersen all came close, but they had to settle for 999 as it finished 3-0. It was still the perfect send-off and saw the Black Forest outfit set a new club record by going unbeaten in their first six games of a Bundesliga season. The only other team yet to lose in the league this term are champions Bayern Munich.
"It couldn't have gone any better," Günter enthused. "We've all experienced a lot here, the people at the club, the fans, me personally. So it's great to say a proper farewell. I think there'll be some celebrations this evening, with a good bottle of wine! We'll enjoy it, for sure. I can't quite believe what the club has achieved here."
At the final whistle, the television cameras homed in on a visibly emotional Streich, who wiped tears from his eyes before heading onto the pitch to congratulate his players. After a rousing rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone, the coach was cheered at length by the fans - cue more tears - before joining them up in the stands to say a final, communal farewell to one of the most unique stadiums in Germany.
"There's nothing better than looking around here and seeing all the players and fans singing You'll Never Walk Alone," said Grifo, the last man to score a top-flight goal at the Dreisamstadion. "It's been very emotional, especially for our coach, who has spent many years here."
"I don't belong in the terraces," Streich insisted. "I'm just the coach. The people in the stands come for the players. But I had to do it, or everyone would have been disappointed! It was great to be involved. The players have done it before, but I hadn't. It was nice to be in the stands and get a sense of what they were saying. I'm delighted the fans were here for this. Now they have to bring this energy to the new stadium."
The state-of-the-art Europa-Park Stadion will host its first game on 7 October, during the international break, when Freiburg entertain Bundesliga 2 side St. Pauli in a friendly. The team's first competitive outing at their new home will be against RB Leipzig on Saturday 16 October, when the Bundesliga resumes.
Freiburg have been planning a move away from the Dreisamstadion for some time, partly due to the imperfections that have made it such a quirky Bundesliga venue. Not only is it a small stadium, but the pitch is technically undersized as well, with dimensions of just 100.5 x 68 metres ("It feels like playing on a square!" Thomas Tuchel, the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund coach, once quipped). It isn't quite flat, either: the goal at the south end is 98cm higher than the goal at the north end, with the pitch sloping down towards the Dreisam river which gives the stadium its name. Freiburg have actually had to be given special exemption by the DFL every year in order to play their Bundesliga games there.
Ultimately, the stadium was never designed to host top-flight football. After many decades in Germany's lower leagues, the plucky Black Forest club unexpectedly worked their way up the ladder and won promotion to the Bundesliga in 1993. Their coach at the time was another legendary figure, Volker Finke, who oversaw some of the biggest moments in Freiburg's history during a remarkable 16-year tenure (1991-2007, the longest in German managerial history). Fittingly, the 73-year-old was invited along to his old stomping ground for the swansong victory over Augsburg.
"We had no floodlights at all at the beginning," Finke recalled of his early days at the Dreisamstadion. "And some of the players would go home to shower because there was no warm water!"
Historically - and no doubt because of its rather unusual characteristics - the Dreisamstadion has proven a daunting place to visit, even for Germany's biggest clubs. When the mighty Bayern first turned up in November 1993, they suffered a shock 3-1 defeat to the Bundesliga debutants. Uwe Wassmer, who had just won the Swiss league title with Aarau, guaranteed himself a place in Freiburg folklore by scoring a hat-trick against the record champions. He was also on target in a 4-1 victory over Dortmund a few weeks later.
Bayern returned to the Dreisamstadion the following August with a team containing Oliver Kahn, Lothar Matthäus, Mehmet Scholl and Jean-Pierre Papin, and yet the punishment was even more severe: a 5-1 (!) drubbing at the hands of Finke's men, who would be dubbed the 'Breisgau Brazilians' during that remarkable 1994/95 season. Playing some sensational football and with a reliable goalscorer in Rodolfo Cardoso - the Argentine struck 16 times in the Bundesliga - Freiburg came third behind Dortmund and Werder Bremen. It was a phenomenal achievement and secured the club a historic first qualification to the UEFA Cup. It remains their best ever Bundesliga finish to this day.
European football, therefore, came to the Dreisamstadion for the first time in 1995/96 - a narrow 2-1 loss to Slavia Prague - and again in 2001/02, with MSK Puchov, St. Gallen and future winners Feyenoord visiting the Black Forest. In the Streich era, Freiburg qualified for the group stage of the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League, facing Sevilla, Estoril and Slovan Liberec, while they were knocked out by Domzale in the 2017/18 qualifying rounds. They could hardly be called European regulars, but Freiburg have still had the opportunity to test themselves against some big continental clubs, and invite foreign fans to discover the special atmosphere of their stadium.
"There have been hundreds of memorable moments here," Streich admitted before facing Augsburg. "Looking back, the majority were very happy moments, with a real feeling of togetherness. This stadium represents an incredible history. Nobody could have predicted that we would play in the Bundesliga for so many years."
Since their first promotion to the Bundesliga in 1993, Freiburg have bounced between Germany's top two divisions, going down in 1997 and 2002 but coming straight back up. They spent four seasons in Bundesliga 2 as Finke's long reign came to an end, with Robin Dutt bringing them back to the top flight in 2009. Streich has been head coach since the start of 2012, finishing 5th in his first full season, getting relegated in his third and promoted again in his fourth. But even in periods of turbulence, the club has tended to keep faith with the man in charge; there have only been four head coaches since they first started playing in the Bundesliga. Compare that to 16 at Bayern over the same period.
The same loyalty characterises the fans, who have played a big part in making the Dreisamstadion such an iconic venue. They have given the team full-blooded support through thick and thin, often inspiring Freiburg to become greater than the sum of its parts. At full capacity the stadium only holds 24,000 people - currently the third-smallest total in the Bundesliga, and fewer than the famous Südtribüne (or Yellow Wall) at Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park - but they have helped to create a similarly intimidating atmosphere in the Black Forest cauldron. As Der Spiegel put it when BVB lost at the Dreisamstadion on Matchday 2 of the 2021/22 campaign: "It's never easy to play in Freiburg".
"I used to hate Freiburg!" echoed Petersen, the club's record goalscorer, who joined in 2015. "You fly to the middle of nowhere, then you have to drive forever, it feels like you've left Germany. And you end up playing in this small stadium that's half uphill, half downhill!"
Watch: Freiburg have enjoyed many memorable wins, including beating BVB this season!
Petersen may not have enjoyed the Dreisamstadion experience in his Energie Cottbus, Bayern and Bremen days, but he could hardly have made a better start to life there with Freiburg. On his home debut, the two-time Germany international scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, becoming an instant fan favourite. He would go on to surpass club legend and former Germany coach Joachim Löw as Freiburg's all-time leading scorer in early 2020, scoring his 84th goal in a 2-1 win at Mainz.
In a curious twist of fate, there was another historic moment only the day after Petersen's headline-grabbing hat-trick against the Eagles. On 1 February 2015, Freiburg residents voted in favour of building the new stadium in the Wolfswinkel district of their city, paving the way for the city's next footballing chapter.
And so after 149 wins, 116 draws and 95 defeats in the Bundesliga, the Freiburg first team now leave the Dreisamstadion behind, although it will remain a part of the club: the reserves will continue to play their third-division matches there, and they will soon be joined by the women's team.
The stadium was first inaugurated as SC-Platz in 1955, and has gone through a series of name changes: Dreisamstadion, Badenova-Stadion, Mage Solar Stadion, Schwarzwald-Stadion and back to Dreisamstadion at the start of the 2021/22 season, to the delight of many supporters. It has hosted four Germany friendlies - with Die Mannschaft hitting at least 7 goals on each visit - plus a Germany women's international friendly against China in 2008. The Dutch national team also trained there ahead of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Watch: A birds-eye view of the Dreisamstadion
There were plenty of highs - the giant killings of teams like Bayern, who suffered another loss in Freiburg during the Pep Guardiola era, and no fewer than five promotions from the second division. Hosting Gladbach has also become a favourite pastime in the Black Forest: the Foals have only won one of their 19 Bundesliga trips to the Dreisamstadion, and that was back in March 2002. Their current winless streak stands at 13 games.
There were also lows - Bayern and Germany goalkeeper Kahn was left bloodied after being struck by a golf ball in April 2000, with contrite Freiburg fans holding up 'Sorry Oli' signs on his next visit in November. There was also David Abraham's infamous barge on Streich in late 2019, which resulted in red cards for the Frankfurt captain and a furious Grifo. The club also mourned their long-serving president Achim Stocker in late 2009, when he died of a heart attack after 37 years in charge. The road where the new Europa-Park Stadion stands has been named Achim-Stocker-Straße in his honour.
"When you see how the fans live their football here, I'm not at all worried about moving to the new stadium," declared Günter. "We need to hit the ground running on the pitch and make it our home."
"When something is beautiful, it's hard to let go, but all good things must come to an end," Streich concluded. "And I can't pretend we've all been thinking, 'Oh no!' Something new is coming, something positive, a great new stadium which we've all been working towards. Nobody has gifted it to us. So it's farewell, but it's also a new start."
And it will be quite the baptism of fire, with European hopefuls Leipzig making the first official visit to the Europa-Park Stadion. But you get the sense that, just like in their final outing at the Dreisamstadion, players and fans alike will bring the energy and passion required to make a fortress of their new stadium. After all, it's never easy to play in Freiburg.