I find myself in a former police van with football fans, punk-rock and political discussions about the upcoming elections in Austria. Мy friend and I hadn’t gotten seats in the fan bus and guys agreed to give us a ride in the ex cop wagon. We drive through the towns and villages of Saxony to Schildau, where the game of Roter Stern and TSV 1862 Schildau is scheduled. We drink beer and show «fuck you» signs from the window to the Nazis gathered together for the match.
If you’re into football (which isn’t exactly about me) and you’ve ever visited Leipzig, then you couldn’t help but notice people in black-red-white merch especially on Sundays. In Hamburg, you constantly bump into the skull and bones of St. Pauli, and here into the shield with the red star of Roter Stern. Actually, in translation from German Roter Stern means “Red Star”.
Lots of things have been shot and written about St. Pauli, but about Roter Stern (Red Star) it's hard to find information not in German. In contradistinction to «pirates», people from Leipzig do not play in large stadiums and do not collect thousands of fans on tribunes. But they are an example of a successful combination of sport and activism. And we have much to learn in this regard!
Roter Stern is not just a football team; it's a sports association. Their club was founded in 1999, according to Wikipedia, by «twenty brave, alternative, left-wing young people» and based in Leipzig’s southern districts Connewitz and Dölitz. It all has started with a small football team, and since then they became Leipzig’s club with the highest number of active players. The structure of the association includes six male teams, one female and seventeen teams for children of different ages – girls and boys. And it's all just football. Roter Stern also has teams for basketball, handball and volleyball and a roller-derby. Also they have departments on tennis, gymnastics, chess, triathlon, croquet, table tennis, climbing, badminton, darts, cycling and running.
But personally for me the main thing, of course, is not that the association has more than 1200 members and 16 divisions, and that it achieves some sport success. It's more important for me how they define themselves: "cultural and political sport project torn between normal football and left-radical politics".
Here's how the community concept on the Roter Stern website is described:
«Discussion, controversy and mediating different opinions, values and norms are important features of our self-conception. Nevertheless some basic values are non-negotiable in our club’s environment. We don’t care where people come from, if or which religious beliefs she or he holds and which sexual orientation or social status a person has. Moreover we are committed against racist, sexist or homophobic tendencies in sports and the whole society. We are not only trying to create an open atmosphere within our club, but beyond its borders. That is why we are organizing and participating in initiatives or activities reaching beyond football or sports.»
German football system has 11 leagues. Red Star began from the very bottom and in the fourth year of existence already played in the 8th league. Now the team is in the 7th league - this is the league of the district. The nationalist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) received more votes than any other party in Saxony at the last elections, and the "Red Star" often has to play in cities full of Nazis. Even the oppositional teams are often made up of Nazis. Therefore, the life of fans of the Leipzig club is full of challenges.
Schildau is one of those Saxon places, where you can easily come across some Nazis. And now "Red Star" is playing with a local team. In addition to passengers of our "police" van, an incredible number of real police cars and real cops in armored jackets. And here I am, wearing shorts and T-shirt, without any clue of what to expect, just enjoying a sunny day. At home games in Leipzig there are no policemen and no security check. But in Schildau we are fully examined and I was not allowed to take even plastic, training transparent bottle of water to the stadium. You are not allowed to bring liquids to the stadium. I got lucky that a lunch box with vegan sandwiches didn’t seem very interesting to police officers and now safely stays with me. Well done, because Roter Stern fans boycott local food and beer.
Besides my water-bottle, the stadium does not allow to bring anti-fascist stuff and even the drums. The fans of the Red Star wanted the team to appear on the field wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Nazi get away from the stadiums" before the match with Shildau. But the police and the football association have banned it, believing that this would provoke opposition fans. The club is often being accused of mixing football and politics. Do officials have a hunch about something?
We shout the well-known "Alerta! Alerta! Antifascista! ". The Nazis in the other corner of the stadium are straining in an attempt to shout over us. Someone of ours manages to drag through the police cordon an antifa-banner - we hang it out closer to the end of the game. The stadium's security service tears it off, but we do not allow it to be picked up. Opponents from the other side of the field are certainly furious, but they cannot do anything - their team blew 0:4, Red Star players appear on the field in those antifascist T-shirts. We leave Shildau in good spirits to the accompaniment of empty bottles and stones flying into our car line.
And all their events are highly politicized. In any incomprehensible situation Roter Stern promotes an anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist agenda to the masses. For example, at one home game, captain of the team ran around with a rainbow captain's band. And in September the union organized an open anti-fascist bike race.
Roter Stern anti-racists in both word and action. To overcome the isolation of refugees, they organized a place where anyone is free to join to play football in a casual and relaxed atmosphere. The project got name "Zocktreff". Many people joined the initiative and so they decided to include the team in the structure of the association. The idea is not to isolate the migrants in a separate yard, but to involve them in the community. Therefore, team No. 4 have never been a team specifically for refugees, although refugees are prevalent in it.
If you ask someone here "Where is Jens?", No one will specify exactly which Jens. Everybody knows him. When he comes to the bar Tante Rosi, where all insiders are, he is immediately being served with beer of a certain type. If he writes to me "How about one beer at Mike?", I know it will be at least three. Jens laughs very incendiary and I can recognize him even with my eyes closed - just by laugh. The last few years he is one of the spokespersons of Roter Stern Leipzig (RSL). In addition, Jens plays in the senior men’s soccer team, and is considered there as one of the youngest players (at his 36). Also he is one of the founders of the steeldarts-department. I decided to ask him about the "Red Star" and people in it.
- Tell your story. How did you came to Roter Stern? Why Roter Stern? And what keeps you there?
I joined Roter Stern Leipzig in 2007. I’ve been playing football my whole life. From childhood to 23 years, I played for an ordinary East German football club. But along with my political socialization in the left scene, I started to realize that playing football without racists and fascists in East German football clubs is impossible. Then I learned about Roter Stern.
It still is a statement to publicly announce: „We are an antifascist football club“in East Germany. So it’s part of my political activism. We’re a big football club now, our voice will be heard.
- It was a very small project in the beginning, what do you think was a secret of Roter Stern success? If you think that it is a successful story.
Roter Stern always had a DIY and punkrock-attitude. From the beginning, there were a lot of people not just playing football, but being part of the left-wing scene in Leipzig, organizing cultural events, joining demonstrations, supporting political campaigns, and so on. It’s „More than Soccer“, like our slogan. In the beginning, 1999, there were 20 people. When I joined Roter Stern in 2007, there were 150 members. At that time, some RSL activists found youth- and children teams. So Roter Stern also became interesting for people with children. And slowly, we developed from a football club with punkrock-attitude to a club for social and ecological green and left, urban attitudes. Now, in 2017, it’s 1.200 members, and the number is still growing.
Everything, from the beginning, is discussed in a plenum – that still is our aspiration. So we had to develop: now there are several work groups besides the plenum with autonomy for their decisions, also lot of autonomy for the several sports departments. And we employed five people - the greenkeepers and one administrator (who are payed for their work).
In 2017, we got a third sports venue from the city administration, it’s located in the Teichstraße - and so we call it. The former sports club there did nearly nothing to maintain the venue, so it‘s quite run-down – but there is this spirit of DIY again, a lot of people, who help and improve the situation, make VoKü* and so on.
(*VolxKuche / VolxKüche (VoKü) - in the left alternative scene, the regular collective cooking, usually vegan, food that is sold at cost or even lower)
Roter Stern often feels like one step forward and then two steps back, I think, for everyone in the club. There‘s always a lot of disappointment. But when you look back at what happened, I think, it‘s more like two steps forward and one step back.
- What are the most popular sports in club besides football?
In the last years several new sections were established. It’s mostly popular sports in Germany, like Handball and Volleyball, also Basketball and cycling, table tennis.
In the summer, the Riot Rocketz started their season in the third Roller-Derby-division. Roller Derby is a full contact discipline on roller skates, coming from the Riot-Grrrl-movement, so this sport played by women, and including a feminist attitude. The Riot Rocketz played for another club in Leipzig before and joined Roter Stern recently. At their first match there were like 300 people, the gym was completely filled with old and new Roller Derby Fans. I hope it becomes popular!
At the same time, a F*empowerment-group was established, with their own plenum – and a lot of discussions started about feminism and sexism in Roter Stern Leipzig, not all of them intended by the F*empowerment-group, and not all of them emancipatory, I‘d say. So: another step forward, and another step back, maybe. But the foundation of the F*empowerment-group should be a lasting development and the non-emancipatory discussions should not, so it might also be two steps forward, if we look back in some years.
But the most popular discipline should be the steel darts-section, for sure.
- Tell me a couple of stories - the funniest and the scariest one - that happened to RS?
In 2009, the first year when our 1st men’s football team played in the districts league, outside of Leipzig, we were attacked by 50 fascists in the small town Brandis, where our team was supposed to play against the local team. The fascist were organized and prepared, they had wooden and iron sticks. Two older police officers from the local police department were not able to deal with the situation at all. So it was a big luck that some of our fans and also players defended the attack and that no one was badly harmed. But when the fascists left, they threw a glass bottle backwards over a fence and one of our fans lost the vision in one of his eyes. This violent fascist attack was a shock for everyone, everyone who was there and all others. There was no other topic for months.
This incident has changed a lot, and we are still dealing with the consequences today. From that day our matches are always secured by a big number of police officers. At once, there was public interest. Because someone made good photos, the public discussion was not about hooliganism or confrontation between youths, but about fascist violence. At once we had to deal with the media. And so on.
In some way it was the end of our light-heartedness, I think. In some way I miss the old times, this punk-rock attitude, when we arrived at the game already drunken, not caring about anything.
It was the 14th of June in 2008, our first men’s team played the local cup final. Our opponent was the second team of Lokomotive Leipzig. Lok is one of the big teams in Leipzig with a long history beginning in the GDR times. Since the end of the 80s, Lok has been attracting fascists and hooligan-fan scene. Roter Stern was founded by fans of Chemie Leipzig, the other big club in Leipzig, where small leftwing fan scene developed in the late 90s. Always in the history of both clubs, the match between them was the most important derby. So it was for us. About 1.000 people came to see the cup final. And we broadcasted the cup final for the local community radio station. It was a very special day for everyone connected to Roter Stern Leipzig.
Lok scored the first goal, but we equaled. It was one goal to one when the regular time ended. And in the extra time, we scored the second goal, Lok didn’t manage to equal again. The last fifteen minutes were exciting, fascinating, thrilling, but the end of the match… I don’t know how to describe it better: it felt like a public collective orgasm. Crying, stupid, disarranged people everywhere, chaotically running in all directions, sitting and lying. Everyone was incredibly happy. Crazy moment. And later it was a spontaneous party in Connewitz, in the pubs, in the Fischladen, which is our club’s location for members and guests, but first of all on the street. We occupied the whole district for that night. Unforgettable.
- What are your future plans? The first league? What activities do you plan?
We are amateurs. We don’t want to pay players for playing football. The 7th division, where our first men’s team is playing, seems to be the highest league we can achieve. Our team should be the only one where no one gains money for football in this division.
Right now, we have nine senior football teams and seventeen children- and youth teams. So our main focus is to improve and maintain the infrastructure for them. That’s already a lot. But it’s not just an infrastructure. It’s also about dealing with 1200 members: finding decisions, discussing the important questions, staying open minded for different ideas.
I can’t name all the activities that we have. Teichstraße. Our fans do a lot, support, solidarity activities, linking and networking with other fan groups, participating in political activities. And we have a lot of anniversaries in the next two years: 10 years of winning the cup in 2018. And in 2019 Roter Stern Leipzig will become 20 years old, but it’s also 10 years of Brandis. It should be the right time to focus at what we achieved, maybe what Roter Stern is exactly today, gaining some ideas for the future. And for a lot of party!
- Roter Stern for you is first of all sport or politics?
I feel that sports and politics cannot be divided. Sport and football are part of society. You can try to pretend it is not. But every time, people say: „leave politics out of sports“, it’s already political. And it’s an offence against us. Because of that, we have to deal with all the instances and actors in sports and administration; we became civil society actors on our own. Everything got more complicated, but our main slogan hasn’t changed: „Love Football / Hate Fascism“.
Getting to the game of Red Star isn’t difficult, the entrance is not expensive, and the annual season ticket costs about 30 euro. At the home stadium there are always alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, vegan and meat food, distro and donations collection. The last time I was at the game they collected money for getting new tires for the team captain’s car, which were punctured by right-wing opposition fans.