I'd never heard anything like it before. Mind you, I've been to USMNT World Cup Qualifiers, I've been to MLS playoff matches, and can talk to you for at least 4 hours straight about growing up watching the playoff run of the Jordan-era Chicago Bulls in person.
None of those games sounded anything like this.
Before I get into the game, a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Borussia Dortmund, some context.
It started back in December. Internet rumblings of a Bayern Munich tour stateside began to swell. Within a few short days, the confirmation was in, thanks to a charming Bastian Schweinsteiger video announcing the club's match against the MLS All-Stars in July. Before that video ended, I had the thought: How cool would it be to head out to Portland to see Bayern Munich (my favorite non-MLS team) at then Jeld-Wen Field. I've never been to Jeld-Wen, and anyone who follows soccer in the states (and doesn't live under a rock) can tell you that, as far as soccer atmosphere goes, few compare to Portland in the US.
So that decision was easy. I've done plenty of MLS roadtrips. I know the drill. You drive/fly/hitchhike/waddle to said destination, you go to the game, you return home, sometimes immediately upon hearing the final whistle. I had decided I would fly out the day before, stay overnight, go to the game, then catch a flight post-game to get me back with minimal time away from my wife and three kids. As I priced out different possibilities, what I was told later would become quickly apparent: traveling to Portland inside the continental USA is not. cheap. I'm fairly certain my lamenting of said point on Twitter began what would ultimately lead me to find myself at that game in Bavaria on a perfect April evening.
Joe, a friend of mine and Sporting KC fan studying abroad in Germany, hit me up in response to my whining. "If you're going to see Bayern play, you need to come out to Germany to watch them at Allianz."
Ok guy. Do you know how expensive it is to travel to Germany? Oh wait, you do.
Off to my airline of choice I went, wondering just how crazy of an idea this was to even entertain. At no point early on did I have any serious consideration that this was going to actually happen, but what the hell. First I had to pick a game to center the trip around. I've known for years the rivlary that is FC Bayern and Dortmund. That was my go-to choice. Other games would suit me just fine, but *that* match? Oh, that would be something.
I pulled up Bayern's schedule. Mid-April. Hmmm.....the financial/tax advisor side of me cringed a little. The game was scheduled for April 12th. Tax day is April 15th, and it's right in my wheelhouse of "busiest times of the year." Still, I knew I could probably front load my month and make it work. I hesitated for approximately 30 seconds before entering my details to get pricing on how badly I was going to end up in the doghouse with my wife to make this happen.
I pressed enter, and waited. The trip total popped up. I blinked, then blinked again. "Hey, uh....honey?" I called, using the most loving, we've-been-married-18-years-I-hope-she-goes-for-this voice I could muster. She walked into the room, and I explained the situation.
I only doted on her beauty for a few minutes before launching into my dissertation. I could travel to Portland (awesome) overnight (meh...ok), and see Bayern play on turf (cool, but not optimal), OR, for only $300 more, I could knock 3 things off my bucket list: 1) Go to Allianz Arena 2) to see my favorite team in the world play 3) in my family's country of birth.
"Well, duh.....you need to go to Germany, babe."
I sat there in disbelief. I really was going to go to Germany. It probably helps that my wife's passion and enjoyment of the beautiful game is equal to mine. Last year, she chose our Chicago Fire season ticket seats on Row 1, right at the top of the 18, so she could easily....communicate with the Assistant Referee. But I digress. Her blessing was there, so plans were solidified and tickets booked.
I would fly into Frankfurt the Wednesday before, landing at 8:30am Thursday morning, and spend time while in Germany between Frankfurt, Mainz, and Munich, before flying out the following Monday. This space is saved for all things Bayern Munich, but I will simply say this; if ever given the opportunity to go to Germany, missing out on that chance will be a regret for life. Its people are kind and warm, its architecture stunning, its history a joy to soak in and experience, despite its dark past.
Game day found us arriving in Munich around 2pm, thanks to a ride-share with a kind German with perfect English named Christian. We arranged where to meet after the match, and he dropped us off in the city center, where we had time to wander the city for a few hours before heading north to the stadium via the U-Bahn. Joe knew this territory fairly well, so I spent the majority of the afternoon following him like a submissive pet as I stared at everything Munich had to offer.
Even early in the afternoon, BVB fans were gathering in the city center, as well as on the U-Bahn. One particularly vocal group of BVB fans in our train car spent the 20 minute ride chanting anti-Bayern songs. Every once in a while, Joe would chuckle as he translated for me the songs in English. Bayern Munich fans, basking in the glow of an already clinched Bundesliga title, looked on at the BVB fans as if to patronize them with a "oh, how cute" pat on the head.
As we arrived at the stadium and emerged from the train stop, I could see Allianz in the distance. Instantly, I found myself recognizing the perspective from stadium pictures I'd seen previous to heading out there. We sat in the parking lot, drinking a few of Germany's finest ales and enjoying the pregame festivities until about 45 minutes until kickoff. Then it was time to go in.
My ticket for the game was thanks to a season ticket holder in the Nordkurven who was not attending the day's fixture. Of course, as I entered the stadium, I didn't realize I was going to be in the Nordkurven. I asked another Bayern supporter about the row and seat. After some lighthearted banter ("Ah.....AMERICAN. Me farmboy. No English."), I took up my spot in the general admission north end of the stadium.
I'll be honest here, I don't know many Bayern chants. What I knew, I sang. What I didn't, I got by as well as I could. But the aura of Allianz Arena, as a lifelong soccer fan and a fan of Bayern Munich since just after the 2006 World Cup, was unbelievable. I can't even imagine it for someone who's been a fan of Bayern in the states for decades (if that person exists). On top of that, to be a fan of soccer in the Unites States, and to be a fan of soccer abroad, are completely different worlds. What we see as Americans on tv here in the states does little to truly prepare you for the intensity of attending a match of that magnitude in an atmosphere like that.
What baffled me time after time throughout the experience was the sense of wonder I had, while also knowing that for people like Christian, our ride share driver who's had season tickets for 15+ years, this is everyday life. I'd be lying if I didn't say I have trouble wrapping my mind around that. Like I said at the outset; I witnessed the Jordan/Pippen years of the Chicago Bulls firsthand. I was in the stadium for the Bulls/Knicks series when Jordan took over the game, rallied his team back, and beat their hated rivals in the old Chicago Stadium. Those games, as amazing as they were as a kid, were swallowed up by the intensity of a league fixture in regular season against a hated rival in Bundesliga.
I also have to be honest in my assessment of the match result. A friend stateside, also watching the game from Chicago while I watched in Munich, tweeted to me that it must have been tough to finally see Bayern play, and watch them not only lose, but get completely outplayed, Manuel Neuer injured, and held goal-less. Don't misunderstand this, but I really. didn't. care.
Would a win have been a perfect cap to the trip? No doubt. But in that stadium, at that moment, in the country that bore my family name, I really didn't care about the result. The experience of everything that surrounded it (including getting lost in Frankfurt at 2am later that evening with 5 Euros and a dead cell phone on me), far outweighed a result on the pitch.
Because sometimes, if you have the chance to go to Portland, you just need to go to Germany instead.