Germany flagThere is one police officer for every twenty citizens, plus more manning water cannons. A crowd of many thousands is involved in serious violent disorder, in defiance of all efforts by the authorities to keep the peace. Newspapers predicting dire events a day in advance, despairingly reporting even worse problems a day later.

This is not the latest demonstration in Tahrir Square, or a political rally in Tripoli. This is a football match in the German second division, barely an hour’s flight from London. This is the “fear-derby”; Germany’s most vitriolic, hate-filled tie of all: Hansa Rostock versus St Pauli.

Newspaper reports preceding this year’s tie, on 19th November, recalled the English press at the height of 1970s hooliganism. “Four questions for the Fear-Derby”, “How can the police maintain order?” “St Pauli prepare to face hell”, “Whatever happened to football?” No one in the German press held out any hope that the game might pass off peacefully. The only matter in doubt was the scale of the disorder, the extent of the damage.

Rostock is a small city linked to Germany’s Baltic coast by the cold, choppy river Warnow. It occupied a key trading position in the heyday of the Hanseatic League, or Hansa, from where, today, the football team takes its name. It is a chilly, windswept sort of place, being appropriately twinned with the likes of Gothenburg, Bergen and Dunkirk. It has a pretty market square in which, on rare sunny days, one can sip a Rostocker Dunkel and people watch. It is also a thriving centre of Neo-Nazism. This might seem odd for a city so traditionally outward-looking, used to a mercantile economy dependent on trade with others. The roots of the insular, far right politics of a sizable minority in Rostock can be traced to the fall of the East German state, the DDR.

In the former East Germany, Rostock enjoyed a privileged position. It became the key port of the state, seen as a point of contact with the rest of Europe, and was heavily industrialised. State funds were shifted north to reconstruct the historic centre, which had sustained heavy damage in the war. The grace and favour of the DDR government even extended to the city’s football team. In 1954, it was decided that the prime port of the nation needed a competitive football team, something it simply did not possess. Rather than attempt to build one from scratch with comparatively scarce resources, the government simply decided to ship one in from elsewhere.

The unlucky club was Empor Lauter, of Lower Saxony. Plenty of adequate clubs existed in the region, went the theory, so the loss of one would be no great blow. The entire Lauter staff moved en masse to Rostock for the 1954/55 season. In 1965, the club became one of eleven teams designated a ‘focus club’ by the sporting authorities, intended to provide a nucleus of excellence and foster a strong national side.

The team never truly excelled, its diverted resources never quite matching those of the twin Dynamos, Dresden and Berlin. Perhaps Rostock’s finest side developed just as the Berlin Wall fell. They were national champions for the first time in the very last season of East German football, and also won a truncated DDR Cup. This success enabled them to join Dresden as the East German representatives in the newly unified Bundesliga. Left adrift in the market economy of the united Germany, however, both club and city began to struggle.

Rostock was now only one port of many in Germany, and its once-gleaming facilities now looked outdated compared to its western rivals. Investment became scarce, unemployment began to rise. The team were immediately relegated to the second division. People in Rostock began to look for a scapegoat. It was against this background that the notorious riots of August 1992 took place. Over a period of days, right wing youths attacked a number of centres housing immigrants from Vietnam and Romania.

Trouble was exacerbated by a xenophobic local press egging on the rioters, and a sympathetic police response. It is estimated that between three and five thousand citizens took to the streets to support the rioters, and it remains a miracle that, amongst the petrol bombs and baseball bats, no one was killed.

Into all of this came St Pauli, visiting Hansa for the first time. Their left wing, anti-fascist ethos went down like a lead balloon in the maelstrom of Rostock. Violent clashes bedevilled this first tie, and have continued ever since.

This season, St Pauli fans travelled to Rostock reeling from the news that their home games would no longer be livened by the delights of Suzie’s Show Girls, performers from the local Reeperbahn.

“Any presentation of scantily clad women in the stadium will be prohibited with immediate effect,” ran a club statement.

On arrival at Rostock, the fans were presented with more immediate concerns. A wall of police herded them from station to ground, as fans of both clubs threw whatever detritus they could lay their hands on at each other. St Pauli ultras stormed the ticket gates.

Inside the sold out stadium, the air sizzled with hatred. Bananas rained down upon St Pauli goalkeeper Philipp Tschauner. A middle-aged man hung a St Pauli shirt doused in petrol from a fishing rod, and set it alight. Worse was to follow when St Pauli, much the better side, took the lead. Flares were fired from the Rostock stands directly into the St Pauli supporters in the north western corner of the ground. The lit flames, red, green and white, flew indiscriminately into the tightly packed supporters, who dived for cover as much of the home crowd cheered. Amazingly, no-one was seriously hurt. Riots after the game left ten people injured, including eight police officers.

The scenes brought widespread condemnation, though accompanied by a resigned shrug of inevitability. This is the fear derby, after all. “You could hand out a ten million euro fine,” bemoaned Hansa coach Peter Vollman. “It changes nothing. It is hopeless.”

St Pauli coach Andre Schubert was evidently shocked: “I’ve never seen so much hatred in people’s eyes.”

Recriminations will follow, there will be fines, stadium bans, draconian punishment for all involved. But, when the teams renew acquaintance in Hamburg in April, the same problems will rear once more. This, above all others, is the derby that defines the political gulf between East and West Germany, and the authorities in one of Europe’s leading nations seem powerless to stop the chaos.

By Tom Clover

This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona