Union Berlin are the 56th and newest club to play in the Bundesliga, but they will quickly become one of its most charismatic as the team from East Germany finally get their chance at the big time.
1. FC Union Berlin traces its history back 1906 when FC Olympia 06 Oberschöneweide formed from an amalgamation of three local clubs. A partnership and friendly divorce with former German champions BTuFC Union 1892 saw the club rename as Union Oberschönewiede in 1909 as they decided to go it alone. Within five years they were in the top local division and by 1920 moved into the Sportanlage Sadowa, now known as the Stadion An der Alten Försterei – still their home today.
The club would go on to reach the German Championship final in 1923, where it lost 3-0 to Hamburg, but regional success continued to follow until falling behind Berlin’s financial powerhouses Hertha and Tennis Borussia and the club’s steady footballing decline. It was during that period that the fans’ chant of “Eisern Union” (Iron Union) came about, reportedly in a match against Hertha, and references the club’s overwhelmingly working-class background.
After a slow start following World War II, the club began to rise from the ruins. It won the Berlin Cup in 1946/47 as a second-tier side before winning the league the following year and defending their cup. Things again changed quickly as Germany was divided following the war. The club was renamed BSG Motor Oberschönewiede when the East German government incorporated it into a factory, changing the colours from blue and white to the red and white still seen today. Not unusual for the times, the club underwent further mergers with clubs and industrial companies. By the time the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, the team found itself in the third tier of East German football as it splintered between the east and west of the city.
In 1966, however, they were back in the top flight and with a new name: 1. FC Union Berlin. It was a club intended for the people, in contrast to BFC Dynamo and Vorwärts Berlin which were the clubs of the East German security agencies and the army respectively. In 1968 Union claimed its only major honour with the FDGB Cup – the East German Cup – by beating league champions Carl Zeiss Jena 2-1 in the final. It propelled the likes of “Jimmy” Hoge, “Ate” Wruck and “Mäcki” Lauck to cult status amongst fans even today.
Union would yo-yo in the following 20 years until German Reunification in 1989, which for the club began with a first match against Hertha in almost three decades that became a party inside the Olympiastadion. As German football sought to integrate teams from east and west, Union found themselves in the third tier but pushing for promotion. Yet play-off disappointment and financial issues left Die Eisernen going nowhere.
That changed with the new millennium though as they finished top of the Regionalliga Nord in 2000/01 to reach Bundesliga 2 for the first time. Union also made history in the DFB Cup by reaching the final. They may have lost to Schalke but their appearance alone saw them qualify for a maiden UEFA Cup campaign – the first and so far only third-tier club ever to do so. Back-to-back relegations followed in 2004 and 2005 though before a return to the second tier in 2009, where Union would remain in mid-table for a decade until a third-place finish in 2018/19 saw them set up a play-off clash with VfB Stuttgart, who they beat on away goals to secure a maiden Bundesliga promotion.
Third division (2009)
FDGB Cup (1968)
5x Berlin Cup (1947, 1948, 1994, 2007, 2009)
2x Berlin/Brandenburg Championship (1920, 1923)
Gauliga Berlin-Brandenburg (1940)
Oberliga Berlin (1948)
A two-time Swiss champion with Basel, Urs Fischer took over at Union for the start of the 2018/19 Bundesliga 2 season. It was the former Switzerland international’s first job outside of his homeland but it proved to be a great decision for both club and coach as Union achieved a first-ever promotion to the Bundesliga in Fischer’s first season in charge.
In a team that is very much a unit it’s difficult to pick out one star performer. Sebastian Andersson finished as top scorer with 12 goals, while Felix Kroos carries a big name in midfield, but the performances of goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz were certainly headline-grabbing. As well as pulling off key saves in Union’s notoriously tight games, he also played his part at the other end and was the only goalkeeper in Bundesliga 2 to record a goal (vs. Heidenheim) and an assist (vs. Duisburg) in 2018/19 – both providing injury-time equalisers for the team that finished just a point ahead of Hamburg in fourth.
Watch: Gikiewicz's last-gasp equaliser
Some would call Union the draw specialists, others tough to beat. They drew a Bundesliga 2 record 15 matches in 2018/19 as they finished third behind Cologne and Paderborn. It wasn’t until Matchday 18 against Erzgebirge Aue that Die Eisernen finally suffered defeat in the league, while they were only beaten in extra-time by Borussia Dortmund in the second round of the DFB Cup. Rarely outside of the top four, it was perhaps fitting that two draws in the play-off against Stuttgart would see Union into the Bundesliga. With the first leg ending 2-2, Berlin secured a goalless draw at home in the return fixture to claim a spot in the top flight on away goals.
The Stadion An der Alten Försterei (Stadium at the old forester’s house) has been the home of Union and its predecessor clubs since 1920. It is located in the southeast of Berlin in the district of Köpenick and currently holds 22,012 spectators. It also plays host to an annual Christmas carol event on 23 December for fans and friends of the club which sees almost 30,000 in attendance. It is now seen as an important part of the club’s identity and has been copied in various cities around Germany.
Watch: Union secure Bundesliga promotion at the Alte Försterei
The capital of Germany, Berlin is the nation’s largest city and one of its most diverse. It therefore has a little something for all the 30+ million tourists who visit each year.
An icon of the city and Germany itself, the Brandenburg Gate is the place to have your selfie to make sure your friends know you were in Berlin. The 220 ft tall Siegesäule Victory Column sits opposite the iconic Reichstag (Germany’s parliament), while the 4.7-acre Holocaust Memorial is also just around the corner.
While most of the Berlin Wall was torn down with reunification in the 1990s, small sections do still exist, and guided tours are an excellent way to see those remnants and understand the political struggle it represented.
On lighter notes, the Rathaus Schöneberg is the site of John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, while the “KaDeWe” is the largest department store in continental Europe.
Berlin’s nightlife and music scene are also legendary, so it’s always well worth checking out in advance what’s on during your visit. For those who prefer a quieter time, the city has vast expanses of greenspace, with the Tiergarten being one of the largest and most popular. The Zoologischer Garten also dates back to 1844 and is Europe’s most visited zoo.
Berlin is simply a city for everyone. Take the time to research exactly what interests you most – Berlin will have something for you.
Despite its status as Germany’s capital and largest city, Berlin has few intercontinental flights. Tegel and Schönefeld airports serve the capital, but they are primarily hubs for low-cost European airlines. United Airlines are currently the only US carrier to offer direct year-round flights to Berlin from Newark. Frequent and cheap flights, however, make connections in Europe simple for distant travellers. Berlin Brandenburg Airport will soon open as the city’s sole airport, with intercontinental flights expected to increase. Berlin is also connected to Munich and Frankfurt, Germany’s main international airports, by regular high-speed ICE train services.
Getting to the Stadion An der Alten Försterei
The closest train station to the ground is Köpenick, which is a 10-15-minute walk away and served by the S3 line. The other side of the stadium can also be reached from the tram stop Alte Försterei using lines 27, 60,61, 67, 68 or M17
Union matches are almost always sold out, but tickets can still be bought via the official club website HERE.
Watch on TV
If you can’t make it to the stadium, Bundesliga matches are broadcast around the world. FOX Sports and Univision provide coverage in the United States, while BT Sports are the exclusive broadcaster in the United Kingdom. In Germany, Sky Sports show the majority of matches, with Eurosport hosting one match per week.
Buying the kit
You can get your own Union jersey from the official club shop.