Leipzig and the rise of the city’s football club

Stuart Forster explores Leipzig and the rise of the city’s football club.

Saxony’s most populous urban hub has the dynamic vibe of a place on the up and Leipzig’s football club is helping give the German city wings.

RasenBallsport Leipzig finished the 2016-17 Bundesliga season as runners-up to Bayern Munich. That meant the club qualified for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League, playing ties against Monaco, Porto and Beşiktaş.

Sign pointing visitors to tourism attractions and landmarks in central Leipzig.
Sign pointing visitors to tourism attractions and landmarks in central Leipzig.

The origins of RasenBallsport Leipzig

Roll back the clock 10 years and the club, in its current form, did not exist. Its previous incarnation, SSV Markranstädt, was playing fixtures in the fifth tier of German football against regional rivals such as FC Gera 03 and VFC Plauen.

The club’s rapid rise towards the pinnacle of German football has made it unpopular among supporters of rival teams. Jealousy? There may be an element. But many fans from elsewhere in Germany voice resentment at the idea of a club becoming a marketing tool, a vehicle for advertising.

The skyscraper known as Panorama Tower in central Leipzig.
Panorama Tower in central Leipzig.

Playing at Red Bull Arena

Translated literally, the first part of the club’s name, RasenBallsport, means ‘lawn ball sport’. It’s frequently shortened to RB. Two familiar looking charging, red-coloured beasts adorn the Leipzig club badge. The club’s nickname is Die Roten Bullen, which translates to ‘The Red Bulls’. The team plays home games at the 42,558-capacity Red Bull Arena. Grab yourself an energy drink and take a moment if you haven’t already guessed which company has, effectively, controlled the club since 2009.

Rival fans may not like RasenBallsport Leipzig but the club’s success over the past few years speaks for itself: four promotions and two cup wins (admittedly, this was in the Saxony Cup, a regional competition for lower league clubs).

Architecture in the city of Leipzig, Germany
Architecture in central Leipzig.

Leipzig during bygone times

It’s been a long time since a Leipzig team enjoyed success: Chemie Leipzig won the DDR-Oberliga, East Germany’s top division, in 1964. During that era the Leipzig had a reputation for being a grim shell of its former self. Allies bombs destroyed around 50 per cent of the city centre during World War Two. Many surviving buildings looked uninviting.

Yet prior to the war, Leipzig was bigger than Frankfurt am Main, whose principal football club, Eintracht Frankfurt, finished two places below The Red Bulls in the 2017-18 Bundesliga.

Modern architecture in central Leipzig.
Modern architecture in central Leipzig.

Germany’s fastest growing city

In recent years Leipzig has been the fastest growing major city in Germany, surpassing Dresden’s population. Many young people are migrating to the city. After Heidelberg, Leipzig University — which has 35,000 students — is the oldest in Germany. The institution’s main building, at Augustusplatz, was opened in 2012.

The headquarters of Leipzig University, one of the biggest in Germany, at Augusyusplatz.
Leipzig University at Augustusplatz.

The striking, church-like façade stands a couple of kilometres from the all-seater Red Bull Arena. The average attendance during the 2017-18 campaign, which saw Leipzig finish sixth in the Bundesliga, was well over 39,000.

Overhauling Bayern Munich, who finished the 2017-18 season 21 points ahead of their nearest challenger, may still be a distant dream for Leipzig fans. But the result of their league meeting at the Red Bull Arena was a 2-1 victory for Leipzig.

Investment following Germany’s reunification has been integral to transforming the city that was last home to the football champions of the united nation in 1913. Perhaps RasenBallsport Leipzig can emulate that in coming seasons?

A traditional German bar in central Leipzig
A place for a post-match beer? A traditional bar in central Leipzig,

Further information

Find out more about the city of Leipzig by visiting the Leipzig Tourism website.

To purchase tickets for RasenBallsport Leipzig home games, visit the online ticket shop on Die Roten Bullen website.

For more about the surrounding region, see the Cultural Heart of Germany and Germany Travel websites.

Enjoy this article about Leipzig and the rise of the city’s football club? If you’re in the city and fancy a beer, check out the brewery at the Bayerischer Bahnhof.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography which specialises in food, portraiture and travel photography, and is available for commissions.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, speaks fluent German and is an award-winning travel writer. He can be commissioned to write features from destinations in Germany and German-speaking nations.

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