Zingler invited the staff of the club to watch the draw in the stadium. So, a bar was opened, and maybe 30 or 40 people - from the men and women who clean the concrete terraces to those who clean the toilets, to the president, himself - sat in the main stand to see what awaited them.
Admittedly, it didn’t look that much like a grand occasion. Few places are as disconnected from reality as an empty football stadium, but this one especially so. When devoid of its people, the Alte Försterei sits as cold and bloody lonesome as a Hank Williams cast-off.
The people there chattered. Some wanted Juventus, Manchester United, Roma. Everyone agreed they should avoid Feyenoord, with whom Union had developed a new and unexpected enmity since the previous year.
Michael Parensen was at the draw itself. Union’s technical director - who played 249 times for the club and is as embedded into the Alte Försterei’s mythology as the trees are into the ground that flanks it to the north had flown to Istanbul to join the great and the good of European football, from the president of PSG, to his bodyguards.
“What was important,” he says, “was to get out of the group.” Who was in it, was not. “It was a bit different to last year, when you hoped for the bigger names.”
He wasn’t alone. Many others in the Alte Försterei did not want to be there to make up the numbers, to become another notch on Jose Mourinho’s worn out bedpost.
It was only when he sat down that Parensen says he felt nervous, caught up in the possibilities of what could happen, of who could come.
Hoffmann, meanwhile, paid it no real mind. “You cannot try and affect things you have no influence over,” he says, wisely, a philosophy that would come in more than helpful later on.
The former Hungarian international, Zoltan Gera, rummaged around in a goldfish bowl, and the people in the stadium cheered when Parensen appeared briefly up on the screen.
But eventually there they were, four small pieces of paper with black and orange UEFA branding and two folds across the middle.
SC Braga. Malmö FF. Royale Union Saint-Gilloise. 1. FC Union Berlin.
Later, Union’s captain, Christopher Trimmel, was asked for his reaction. He smiled conspiratorially when he talked of Malmö. He said they would be “interesting... I mean, everyone knows their fans are connected to Hertha.”
There was also talk of Saint-Gilles. Of how they had just come up from the second division, how they came from a district on the edge of Brussels called Forest, how they weren’t allowed to use their own stadium because UEFA didn’t deem it up to standard to host their competitions. How they were called Union, for God’s sake.
Parensen spoke to the press, and the people in the stadium drifted back off to their offices in the belly of the stand, or in the Foresters Lodge from where the stadium gets its name, or in the old containers that once upon a time hosted the press conferences for games against the likes of Falkensee-Finkenkrug - to chatter away about flights and hotels, and the lightness or difficulties of the task now at hand. The players got themselves together for that afternoon's trip to Gelsenkirchen, and their coaches put the whole thing to the very back of their minds.
And then a bank of bruised purple and black clouds moved malevolently over Köpenick. Lightning lit up the sky, thunder clapped and a torrential storm opened out onto the forest.