Munich - In welcoming Eintracht Braunschweig back into the fold following a 28-year absence, the Bundesliga will also be marking a first in its 50-year history: Never before has the federal state of Lower Saxony had three representatives in Germany's top flight.
Lieberknecht - "Bundesliga is a gift"
The Lions' surprise second-place finish in Bundesliga 2 last season means fans in Germany's fourth most populous Bundesland have an extra couple of rounds of derby action to look forward to in the campaign ahead. Braunschweig and Hannover 96 are well acquainted from days of yore, but Eintracht have yet to face their other regional rivals, VfL Wolfsburg, at this level.
Hannover head coach Mirko Slomka, for one, is "looking forward to some thrilling meetings" and the first of them comes right at the start of the season at home to Wolfsburg in the freshly renamed HDI Arena, with the 96ers then rekindling their historically volatile rivalry with Braunschweig on Matchday 12. Over and above that, however, could this perhaps be the beginning of an unprecedented era of football success for the region as a whole? It may be a tad premature for such a sweeping prediction, but there are certainly grounds enough for cautious optimism.
Following standard procedure for newly-promoted sides, survival is the name of the game for Eintracht in their first season back. A of the Bundesliga in 1963 and unexpected title-winners four years later, the club is certainly not short of either history or well-wishers, but nostalgia will count for nothing once the action gets underway. Head coach Coach Torsten Lieberknecht knows that better than anyone. "Staying up would be even more of a surprise than earning promotion was. We're approaching it with a mixture of excitement and humility - for Eintracht, being in the Bundesliga is a gift," he told German sports magazine kicker.
Hannover hungry for Europe
A gift they fully intend to hang onto, of course, all due humility notwithstanding. Their more established neighbours, meanwhile, have their respective sights set somewhat higher. Hannover's rise under Slomka has been remarkable - a last-gasp escape from relegation in his first half-season in charge in 2010, followed by qualification for the UEFA Europa League two years running. The Reds were unable to complete a Euro hat-trick last time out, finishing ninth, but a top-half finish was still greeted with no little disappointment.
Slomka has some restructuring to do over the summer, with influential midfielder Sergio da Silva Pinto (UD Levante) and attacking duo Mohammed Abdellaoue and Konstantin Rausch (both VfB Stuttgart) having taken their leave, but in Leonardo Bittencourt and Edgar Prib he already has two new creative talents in the mix. Reflecting on the "great experience" of those two Europa League campaigns, the coach makes no bones about being hungry for a repeat, saying he and his charges "have an international place in our sights".
Wolves keeping it low-key
So, too, do VfL Wolfsburg, but this time around - in stark contrast to last season, Ivica Olic and Co are not getting overly vocal about it. The Wolves, whose rise to the top of the German game overlapped with Braunschweig's ongoing drift in the opposite direction, are a club who have never been short on ambition. It was well sated in their storming title triumph of 2008/09 under Felix Magath, but VfL have laboured in the shadow of that success ever since. The past few seasons have largely been a tale of underachievement, not least in 2010/11 when, with Magath reinstated at the helm, they only secured their continued top-flight status on the final matchday of the campaign.
Now, with the new team of head coach Dieter Hecking and sporting director Klaus Allofs starting their first full season together, Wolfsburg are anticipating more rewarding times ahead with their typically talent-packed squad. However coy they may be about naming a concrete season goal at the moment, the Volkswagen-owned club certainly have no inclination to see Hannover, or Braunschweig for that matter, setting the Bundesliga pace once again in Lower Saxony.