Germany’s Bundesliga officially returns May 16, and will be the only soccer we get to see for the foreseeable future. If you don’t watch, the Bundesliga is absolutely one of the most enjoyable leagues in the world for a few reasons. One, the fans are ridiculous. We obviously won’t see them this spring with games being played in empty stadiums, but German fan culture is second to none.
Second, German clubs actually play the young guys. Christian Pulisic famously starred at Borussia Dortmund before moving to Chelsea, Giovanni Reyna just broke through at BVB as a first team star, Tyler Adams is dominating at Red Bull Leipzig, and Alphonso Davies has become one of Bayern Munich’s best players. I’ve always found it ridiculous that young Americans are probably more likely to get playing time in the Bundesliga than in MLS.
Finally, Germany has something called the 50+1 rule, which for the most part prevents billionaires from buying controlling stakes in clubs. The rule means that 50 percent of the shares—plus one—need to be controlled by the fans. There are a few exceptions, but Germans really believe in this rule, and it helps fans feel more connected to their clubs.
So, if you’re a Chicago fan who plans on watching the Bundesliga for the first time, I’ve made the case for several clubs you might want to support.
The case for Bayern Munich
The Fire and Bayern don’t have much in common. One has had losing records for most of the last decade, and the other is vying for its eighth league title in a row. After “struggling” through a “bad season,” Bayern currently sits four points clear of Dortmund at the top of the table.
Of course, there’s the Bastian Schweinsteiger connection. So if you want to cheer for a frontrunner, and you want to make Basti happy, go with Bayern. If you’re Canadian, your country’s best player, Alphonso Davies, is a regular Bayern starter. If you’re Polish, and in Chicago chances are you might well be, Robert Lewandowski is Bayern’s goal-machine No. 9. An added bonus: the Allianz Arena is beautiful. If you choose Bayern you might feel guilty, but you likely won’t feel sad.
The case for Red Bull Leipzig
Rasenballsport’s manager, Julian Nagelsmann, is one of the hottest managerial prospects in the world, and he’s rumored to be the preferred target of the Saudis who are trying to take over Newcastle. Who’s next in line? There’s a good chance it’s the manager at Red Bull Salzburg, Racine’s own Jesse Marsch. Pulling for Red Bull seems hard, but pulling for Jesse Marsch? That’s a no brainer. If you’re looking for a U.S. connection on the current squad, Tyler Adams is a star for Leipzig.
The case for Hertha Berlin
If you feel a strong attachment to Soldier Field, with its historic exterior and its modern, spaceship interior, perhaps Hertha Berlin is your club. They play in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, which was built by Hitler for the 1936 Olympics, but has since been modernized for the 2006 World Cup with a fancy new roof. Despite the horrible Hitler connection, the Olympiastadion has been the site of some pretty great sporting moments—Jesse Owens’ four gold medals, Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt on Marco Materazzi, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s 76 day, crash and burn job as Hertha Berlin manager. There’s a chance Hertha gets relegated after this season, so every match will be crucial.
The case for Union Berlin
Let’s move across the city to East Berlin. Do you like clubs where fans get involved? Look no further than Union. When the club was promoted to the 2. Bundesliga a decade ago, there was one problem—the stadium was too small and outdated. So, Union fans built a new one. Like, they all chipped in and did the work themselves. It’s a great story.
Union was just promoted to the top flight for the first time this season, and they currently sit 11th, so they’re probably sticking around. It’s a great choice, and one you’ll likely feel good making.
The case for Borussia Dortmund
Red Stars fans, tell me if this feels familiar: BVB finishes second, third or fourth all the time, but can’t seem to ever break through and with the league title (they haven’t since 2011-12). They play in a stadium with perhaps the greatest fans in the world sitting behind the goal. And, they’re so incredibly well run that they always seem two or three steps ahead of other clubs when making deals.
For me, BVB and the Chicago Red Stars are the perfect pair. With BVB, you get to win and watch attractive soccer, without feeling the guilt of supporting Bayern Munich. As an added bonus, you get to cheer for American star Gio Reyna, who Fire coach Raphael Wicky told me was the best U-17 player he had ever coached: “I think in this age group, I have never trained a player of this ability, with this technical and tactical ability,” he said.
The case for FC Köln
Watch this video of when Köln visited London for a Europa League match against Arsenal a few years ago:
I really don’t think I need to explain this any further. You want that? Support Köln. The club is back in the top flight after winning the 2. Bundesliga last season, and they currently sit 10th.
The case for Werder Bremen
O’Fallon, Missouri’s ginger striker Josh Sargent plays for Bremen, as did Raphael Wicky at the beginning of his Bundesliga career. But, Juventus is rumored to be interested in making a move for Sargent, and the club is in the thick of the relegation battle, so there’s a solid chance they go down. But, if you want to support a club that desperately needs your help right now, Bremen is a good call.
Who’s your favorite German club? And, since we didn’t list everyone, who needs to make the list? Let us know in the comments. Prost!