Every season the Bundesliga takes a break in the middle of winter – rather obviously called the winter break – where the league shuts up shop for several weeks and fans long for the return of their weekly Bundesliga fix.
There are, however, good reasons for what the Germans call die Winterpause. It allows players and staff a chance to recharge their batteries before getting back to the daily grind of winning games.
Perhaps in a more practical sense, though, it also comes down to the simple fact of the weather. With average January temperatures below freezing across Germany, it makes sense to take a breather when snowballs are easier to kick than footballs, and to stage games might require ice skates rather than studs, not just for the players — undersoil heating in Germany's stadia usually helps them out with that — but for fans hoping to see their heroes in action.
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When is the winter break?
The break traditionally comes at the midpoint of the season once 17 rounds of games have been played. This provides an easy demarcation between what’s known as the Hinrunde and the Rückrunde – better explained in English as the first and second half of the season.
On occasions, though, that hasn’t been the case. In 2016/17, for example, a late start to the season because of the Rio Olympics and the fact that Christmas fell on a weekend meant that only 16 rounds of games were possible before the break, with the last matchday taking place during the week and 18 games coming in the new year.
Essentially, the Bundesliga plays as close up to Christmas as possible before putting its feet up for a number of weeks.
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Now, how long that period lasts is just as flexible. The Bundesliga has at times in the past taken up to six weeks off and not returned until February. More recently, it’s been about four weeks. Sometimes that’s less when the league needs to start late or finish early because of an international tournament in the summer.
In 2019/20, the winter break lasts from Paderborn’s match against Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday, 22 December until Schalke and Borussia Mönchengladbach get the action going again on Friday, 17 January. The previous year it went from 23 December to 18 January, so the same length. In that unusual 2016/17 campaign it was 21 December to 20 January, so slightly longer.
What do the teams do?
Usually, Winterpause rhymes with 'sun, sand and sweat' in post-Christmas training camps dotted around southern Europe, beginning in early January.
"We see it as a big advantage if the team is together for a few days to focus ourselves on the Rückrunde," explained Augsburg sporting director Stefan Reuter in 2018. "And the climatic conditions in Tenerife are simply the best."
Many teams, though, opt to brave the German winter and avoid the unnecessary travelling by simply training at home. Club facilities now are so advanced that it takes the heaviest snowfall to prevent them working.
What's it like in other countries?
The Bundesliga stars are not alone in getting the chance to put their feet up for a few days over the festive period.
France, Spain and Italy all have brief sojourns at various times, normally lasting a couple of weeks as those leagues have more teams and therefore more matchdays to squeeze in.
Leagues in eastern Europe have much longer winter breaks, sometimes up to three months in countries like Russia.
At the other end of the scale, the English Premier League has never had a winter break. However, they are introducing a one-week mid-season break in February.
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