Reaching out to each other across the Atlantic seeking similar things, Minnesota United and German Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin on Wednesday will play the first international soccer friendly held at new Allianz Field.
Each team wants to expand its “brand” and network on foreign shores. Hertha Berlin — one of German soccer’s founding clubs, starting in 1892 — has come to the United States for a three-state, post-regular season tour with a 60-member traveling party and a message.
It says so in big letters on the side of luxury buses it will ride to exhibition games in St. Paul on Wednesday and Madison, Wis., on Friday:
Berlin Tears Down Walls.
It’s a message both literal and figurative for a team whose players, with only a few exceptions, weren’t yet born when American President Ronald Reagan went to Berlin in 1987. He stood then at the Brandenburg Gate — a divider that separated East from West Berlin, communism from democracy — and delivered a speech in which he famously told the Soviet Union’s leader, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Two years later it was so.
And 28 years after that, unified Berlin’s most famous soccer team has arrived in Minnesota seeking to make itself better known in America. It does so while also commemorating what Hertha Berlin executive board member Paul Keuter calls a “lucky fit:” The 30th anniversary this year of the Berlin Wall’s fall.
“We’re very thankful to the American people for your former president, who came up with that sentence,” Keuter said. “We’re obviously not big fans of walls.”
His club comes from a vibrant, diverse city carrying a message of inclusion while it plays these two games and makes appearances. It spent Tuesday interacting with students at the Twin Cities German Immersion School. Its 580-pupil enrollment, kindergarten through eighth grade, makes it the country’s biggest German-speaking school.
“It makes fun with the kids,” said Hertha Berlin’s Fabian Lustenberger, a Swiss-raised defender who has played for the club the last 12 seasons. “They’re from USA, but speak German very well already.”
Hertha’s trip finishes in Southern California, where it will hold a public training session in Santa Ana, visit Friendship Park on the U.S.-Mexico border and say farewell with an event in Santa Monica.
Two years ago, its players linked arms and took a knee before a game, a show of support for NFL players’ social-justice protests.
Those players only know a modern Berlin that Lustenberger calls a “really open city for everyone” and very little of a city once separated.
“It’s a new generation,” he said. “Younger players are not like us and the generations before. They don’t think so much of the wall and what was there in 1998.”
Keuter was 16 when the wall fell. He has lived the last 19 years in a growing Berlin, which now has 3.5 million people — many of the newcomers immigrants and refugees — and counting.
“We’re a city that’s a great example for integration, for diversity,” Keuter said. “So many cultures coming together, bringing that East and West together in the best way. And of course, freedom, which is a big message the city carries. That’s our core. That’s who we are. We’re bringing our brand and our club to the U.S. We’re bringing our values as well.”