After his side defeated Ajax 3-1 to qualify for the Europa League last 16 on Thursday, a smiling Union Berlin boss Urs Fischer said simply “the insanity goes on”.
The next stop on Union’s ‘insane’ journey? German powerhouse Bayern Munich on Sunday.
Union sits alongside Bayern and fellow powerhouse Borussia Dortmund atop the Bundesliga, separated only by goal difference - a pre-season outcome likely beyond the dreams of even the most ambitious Unioner.
Shortly after beating Ajax on Thursday, with Union’s players dancing in front of the all-standing terraces, the fans began a chant, promising to “pull the Lederhosen off the Bavarians”.
Unlike Bayern, which has won the Bundesliga more than the rest of the German clubs combined, Union’s trophy cabinet is relatively empty, meaning fans have a different understanding of what ‘success’ really means.
‘Don’t care about result’
American striker Jordan Siebatcheu has fitted right in after arriving in summer, scoring three goals and laying on two assists in his first six games.
He told AFP “clear communication plus the nice group of guys helped me to adapt to the system early and improve myself.”
“The fans are amazing. They don’t care about the result.
“Doesn’t matter if German Cup, Bundesliga or friendlies, they are there.
“Therefore, we need to keep going for the fans.”
Siebatcheu is confident the occasion will not get to the visitors on Sunday.
“We don’t care if we play against Schalke or Munich.
‘Do a Leicester’
Englishman John Richter’s love for the club is so strong that after flying to Berlin for dozens of matches a year, he decided to move to Germany in the summer “because of Union.”
Richter, 58, told AFP he decided while standing on the grass of Union’s Alte Foersterei stadium after the club had secured promotion to the top division in 2019.
“The playoff against Stuttgart, when we were celebrating on the pitch, that night was one of the greatest nights of my life.
“I just thought I need to get to more matches and I need to be in Berlin more often.”
For former Liverpool fan Richter, who received a German passport through his father, supporting Union provides a connection to a less commercial game with a purer fan culture.
“Standing on a terrace” at Union, Richter said “I recaptured my youth.”
Oliver Jauer, who contributes to Union blog and podcast Textilvergehen, came with his dad as a two-year-old and has stood with the club since.
“I’m thankful I didn’t rebel against my father” Jauer, now 41, told AFP.
When it comes to titles, Jauer echoes the stoic pragmatism of manager Fischer, but admits “I think I’m one of the few people I know who actively tries to allow himself to dream.”
“I’m trying to visualise how it would feel to actually do a Leicester (who surprisingly won the English title in 2016), but every part of me is screaming that there’s still maybe like a one percent chance.”
For lifelong Union fan Jan Grobi, 54, who has been to “pretty much every game” since 1983, an unlikely title win may have consequences.
“Before the season I said the words ‘if we become German champions, I’d walk naked through the Alte Foersterei.’
“A few people are already trying to hold me to that, saying ‘Hey Grobi, you promised!’
“Since then, we agreed it’d be more like the Borat swimsuit, so that the ugly bits are covered,” he added in reference to ‘mankini’ made famous by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s hit movie about a crude fictional TV reporter from Kazakhstan.
A crazy ride
Union has never beaten Bayern, with four losses and three draws, all by a 1-1 scoreline, including earlier this season in Berlin.
Whether the club win, lose or draw on Sunday and whether it can sustain a push for the Champions League or an unlikely title, Jauer hints that success means something very different for Union fans.
“There is still a lot of gratitude for the crazy ride - we are secure in the Bundesliga for the fourth year.
“I think that if we would somehow miss out on Europe on the last day, no-one would be really disappointed.”
“Anything else that comes is a bonus.”
“But if we should actually play in the Champions League,” Grobi ponders, “I’ve heard the anthem probably 1,000 times, but to hear it in the Alte Foersterei, well that would be great.”
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