At 5am on a chilly November morning, Saffron and I set off for our flight to Cologne. The plan was to fly from Manchester Airport at eight, get to our AirBnB for about midday local time, have a quick snooze and then hop on a train to Dortmund for the Champions League match between Borussia and Spurs at quarter to nine that evening. If that feels like hassle, then I couldn’t agree more. But the prospect of seeing two heavyweight clubs in a stadium that’s been at the forefront of my travel wishlist for many years enticed me in thinking it would all be worth it. How wrong I would turn out to be.
Saff felt the warnings signs from the off. We got to MCR for just past seven, which gave us half an hour until the gate closed. We scampered over to Terminal 3 (Saff falling up the escalators in the process) and got to security. There, Saff’s boarding pass wouldn’t scan. She had to go back to Ryanair’s helpdesk to get an official ticket printed off. Time was ticking down but I wasn’t hugely worried at this point. In my experience, I’ve noticed that official gate closure times are usually when they open. However, I did think it would be just our luck if it closed on time for once. Thankfully, the security check was quick once Saff got through and we made our flight in good time.
There were a number of Spurs fans on the plane. The game started to feel real. I’d spent the days leading up to the encounter worrying that I’d get ill or something might go wrong that would prevent us going. Part of my anxiety, I guess. I never posted anything or really told anyone about my trip for fears of jinxing it. The anticipation of finally being at the gigantic Westfalenstadion – for a Champions League clash too – was so intense. I figured I wouldn’t hype myself up too much until I was in the stadium.
We arrived at Cologne Airport safely and tried to buy a train ticket to cover our trip to the city centre, as well as our commute to Dortmund later that day. A lady behind us gave us some help in choosing a ‘SchonerTag Ticket NRW’ which enabled us both to travel across the whole north-west region of Germany all day until 3am the next morning. The price was €44 and was cheaper than getting two single return tickets to Dortmund later on.
When we got our ticket, more impending signs of doom occurred as the nice, helpful lady demanded payment for her services. Saff gave her the €2 which just came out of the machine and we felt like our Milan trip full of aggressive street cons was going to repeat itself. To be fair, we didn’t see any more behaviour of this sort for the rest of our time in Germany. And at least we actually got some good service for the money. This wouldn’t be the case a few hours later.
Once we checked in to our really nice top floor AirBnB gaff, we napped and then headed to Dortmund. This is where things escalated from minor annoyances to utter shambles. Cologne Central Station was big, busy and impressive. We found a train heading to Dortmund and got on with a load of boisterous Spurs fans. It looked really fancy on board. The second class carriages felt like first with a waiter coming down the aisles carrying drinks. We tried to keep travelling down to the cheaper seats but could only find a bar at the front of the train that the Spurs fans’ occupied. This must be German trains, we thought. Much better than UK ones. Things then became more clear once we gave our ticket to the inspector. Sort of.
I have to really control what I say here because this inspector seriously angered me. I’m getting quite livid just thinking about him. First he looked at our SchonerTag Ticket and said it wasn’t valid on that train, demanding we pay €18 on the spot. No explanation was given until I pressed him for answers. He seemed to think we knew what we were doing, like we were trying to get on a better train without being caught. I questioned him on many things but all he gave me were patronising responses. He told me not to buy a ticket if I don’t understand what’s written on it, asked why we’d bought such ‘cheap’ tickets and even asked me if I understood what a weekend ticket meant. I don’t know whether things got lost in translation but I know for a fact his tone was condescending and made me feel like an idiot.
It turns out we were on an ICE train which isn’t covered by the ticket we bought because it’s a national service and we could only get local trains. This wasn’t explained very clearly on the DB website when I researched the ticket. They said it was valid for ‘regional trains’ which I deemed as anything within the north-west area. Nothing was mentioned about not using ICE trains, which is why I had no idea what one was. I suppose some would argue that I was an idiot and the inspector was just doing his job. From my perspective, he could have been a bit more understanding.
Saff paid the €18, which I presumed was each for the trip to Dortmund but he told us to get off at Dusseldorf. ‘Come on, you have to get off here, boys’. Such condescension. He did try to help us find the right train from that point, in all fairness. But I felt he was just glad to get us off his train.
It took me a while to calm down after that. When we got on the correct RE train to Dortmund I went through everything he said in my head over and over. The further we got from Dusseldorf and the closer we were to the game, I relaxed a bit more and put it to one side. Saff was good at putting things into perspective. We were finally on our way.
Dortmund Central Station was a hive of activity. Black and yellow BVB scarves, shirts and hats dominated the area. Saff and I got some information about our return train home to make sure it was a regional service and then headed to the stadium. The Spurs fans were outnumbered but so much more vocal. They seemed to be really enjoying themselves on the train to the ground, singing Harry Kane chants and prompting Dortmund fans to give them a song. It made it hard to not want them to win.
I was expecting to feel a buzz when I saw the Signal Iduna Park for the first time. However, when we got off the train I didn’t get it. I figured that it would kick in once we got closer but I still didn’t feel excited. It was like my mind knew what was going to happen next.
After the security searches, we reached the barriers and our tickets wouldn’t scan. Saff’s boarding passes didn’t work at the airport so I wasn’t worried. We were told to visit a little booth near the barriers where we’d get cleared for entry. But as you can probably guess from this terrible day, that didn’t happen. The man in the booth asked where we’d purchased the tickets from. They were print at home tickets from Viagogo, a site I’ve had issues with before but only for their often extreme fees. When I’ve used the site, I’ve never had my ticket declared as a fake.
The man in the booth adopted a similar condescending tone to the train inspector. He said we should only buy tickets from official Borussia Dortmund sources. This rattled me on the way out as so many touts were selling tickets outside of the ground. A part of me wanted to buy a ticket from them having come so far but I knew I wouldn’t enjoy myself anymore. Plus I couldn’t guarantee entry off them with the day being so shocking. I became disillusioned with the whole event. Football seemed to belong to the scammers.
Due to the sheer disappointment that took hold of me, I forgot to display my High Stress Therapy banner outside the ground. Although, in hindsight, it would have been ironic to show such a thing when all we’d got was stress from trying to see football.
I guess after all that happened, people can look at things in two ways. Some will side with me that we were hard done by despite honest intentions, whilst others will say we got what we deserved for not planning better. At the very least, I hope our story can be used as a tale of caution to fans in the future, whichever view you choose to take.
Viagogo refunded us in full and gave us a €29 voucher to spend in the next year. I’ve also contacted Deutsche Bahn trains as it turns out we were charged €30,50 each for our trip on the ICE instead of the €18 we were told to pay. I’ve yet to hear a response.
UPDATE – DB replied a week after my initial email to tell me exactly what I already knew – we were on the wrong train. They said buying a ticket on board a train is an extra €12,50, which is why we had to pay more than the €18, and that no refund would be given.
With regards to the train conductor, they were sorry that I ‘felt’ he was sarcastic to me. Not for him actually being sarcastic. While they also hoped my experiences with their company ‘will take a more positive course in the future’.
Best Of The Rest
After a day of chaos, we decided to avoid travelling as much as we could on our only day in Cologne. I had desires to see the RheinEnergieStadion on the outskirts of the city – where Spurs’ north London rivals Arsenal would play FC Koln the following evening – but neither of us wanted to spend much more on transport. Instead, we took things a little more easy and strolled through the city on foot.
From our AirBnB, we walked through a renovated medieval gate called the Eigelstein-Torburg towards the grand cathedral in the heart of Cologne. It’s not a surprise why its two towers are a symbol of the city, they dominate the skyline and look impressive from whichever angle you view them. Inside is also worth checking out. And it’s free!
Next to the cathedral is the Ludwig Museum, a modern art gallery featuring the world’s biggest collection of Pop Art outside the United States. Artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and David Hockney have work on display while there’s an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the source material for James Rosenquist’s creations.
The entrance fee is €13, which I thought was pretty steep. But you can easily get lost for hours in the maze of art and there are so many different styles too. I particularly enjoyed seeing Lichtenstein’s pieces. I think he’s my favourite artist. I just love the vibrancy in his work. Rene Magritte’s intricate surrealist style impressed me as well.
We spent the rest of the evening watching the sun set over the Hohenzollern Bridge, which didn’t disappoint me from the photos I’d seen beforehand. The whole riverside walk by the Rhine is so picturesque and I swear it’s the most photogenic place I’ve been to. You can get a stunning photo from any vantage point, helped again by the magnificent cathedral backdrop.
When looking into what there was to do in Cologne before our visit, we couldn’t find a lot of material. However, I found myself disappointed that we didn’t have more time there because it’s a beautiful city to walk around, both during the day and night. There were other museums we could have looked around, such as the Olympic museum, while that bridge and cathedral never lost their impact on the eye.
Whilst leaving, I thought of coming back to north-west Germany again to see all of the stadia that situate in neighbouring dwellings like Leverkusen, Monchengladbach, Gelsenkirchen and Dusseldorf. As well as finally seeing the RheinEnergieStadion and visiting Signal Iduna Park again. Cologne would certainly make an excellent base. Especially after all the training it gave me.