Saturday December 20, 2003. 21:25.
A forum post concluded, “A little singing party?”
This was the start of a 1. FC Union Berlin tradition, which stands to this day.
Weihnachtssingen, which translates to Christmas carols in English, have become something of a legend at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei, home of 1. FC Union Berlin. This year, on Sunday December 23, 28,500 supporters will attend the event, which has now been running for 16 successive years. It is another world from the first event, when 89 supporters climbed over the club gates during the night, stood on the terraces and sang Christmas songs together. It now shares international fame, and has since been replicated at several Bundesliga clubs, including Borussia Dortmund.
On the night of 23 December 2003, Union fans met for the first time in the stadium and sang Christmas songs together. The proposal had been posted on an old Union internet forum, just a few days before. The user, who went by the moniker “EisernTorsten”, had no idea what would actually happen, never mind the place the events holds in Union folklore more than a decade on.
What began as a pleasant get-together, a little bit Union-daft and archaic, has since become a fixture in the club’s calendar. Its popularity has soared from year-to-year and into the second decade, the numbers have steadily moved from three-digits to five — now a capacity audience of 28,500 attend the event, with the ticket sale process lasting just hours. As recently as 2012, the crowd stretched to around 17,000. The phenomenon continues to grow.
When the group of fans breached the stadium gates, it could have caused some frowning on the part of those responsible at Union Berlin. At the time, the club had some financial problems and was in danger of relegation from the second division. Understandably, the management team had bigger things on their mind during the festive season. "Oskar Kosche, then the club's managing director, had nothing against it. But 'officially' he preferred not to act," explained Torsten, who made the initial forum post.
In the 10-year anniversary book 23.12 — Neunzehn Uhr, Torsten recalls: "After the tough Hinrunde, the atmosphere in those days was melancholic. I thought, it can't go like this into the new year. And because we have a long tradition of singing old Union songs half an hour before kick-off on the opposite stand at the centre circle, I wondered, why not have such a meeting of singers at the end of the year?"
The second meeting at 19:00 on 23 December 2004 was even more chaotic. More than 300 supporters joined the pack, including a reporter and photographer from a Berlin-based newspaper. "We understood: without a proper PA system, the next time it wouldn't work. It was too confusing," recalled Torsten. Though it was Christmas Eve, fans returned in the morning to collect the garbage and clean up the stadium.
Weihnachtssingen became more like the modern-day event in 2005. Torsten and other members approached the newly-formed Fan and Member Department at 1. FC Union Berlin and requested some assistance. Men, women, children and families wanted to participate. From then, they have been supported by the club and the Emmy-Noether-Gymnasium choir, who have brought a harmony and ambience that keeps everybody on track.
Over the years, some of the festivities have remained the same. Our club anthem "Eisern Union" opens the event at 7pm and is combined with familiar Christmas carols, such as, "Silent Night" and "O Tannenbaum". The atmosphere is set under the lights of candles by a brass band and the choir. Last year, Minister Peter Müller told the Christmas story for the last time at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei, passing over responsibilities to Minister Ulrich Kastner.
Other elements of the event have changed: bratwursts and glühwein are well-stocked like a traditional weekend league game and souvenirs are created for supporters who want to add to their Union collections. In 2013, the club published 23.12. — Neunzehn Uhr, a book which assembles perspectives from lifelong Union supporters, young and old. It's still one of our most popular items in the Weihnachtssingen collection.
Those, who are unable to attend the event on December 23 this year can watch the event on AFTV, our club TV channel, with the stream provided by RBB, the regional broadcaster of Berlin and Brandenburg. This service is also available on the 1. FC Union Berlin Facebook page.
The Guardian (UK) — https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2012/dec/20/union-berlin-christmas-tradition
BBC World Service (UK) — https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05rvjhw
Bundesliga in English — https://www.bundesliga.com/en/news/Bundesliga/union-berlin-mark-festive-season-with-carol-tradition-467457.jsp
Goethe-Institut (English) — https://www.goethe.de/en/kul/mol/20883471.html
New York Times (USA) — https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/23/sports/soccer/fc-union-berlin-christmas-carols.html
Yahoo Sport (USA) — https://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/soccer-dirty-tackle/fc-union-berlin-fill-stadium-annual-christmas-carol-002509326--sow.html?guccounter=1