Germany is one of Europe’s most popular destinations for international students. An important part of studying abroad is to immerse yourself in the local culture. In Germany, there is one national pastime that offers a glimpse into the German soul: Fußball. Football, or soccer, is the most popular sport in the country. When you study in Germany, there is no way to get around it. Instead, embrace it - with our little guide about the football clubs in Germany’s large university cities, from North to South:
Hamburg is a great spot to study if you’re also interested in football. There is a fierce rivalry between the city’s two major clubs: Hamburger Sport-Verein (HSV) and 1. FC St. Pauli. HSV has historically enjoyed greater successes; it used to be called the “Bundesliga dinosaur”, being the only club that had consistently played in the German premier league since the league was established in 1963 - that is, until HSV got relegated to the second league in 2018, after a long decline in performance.
In contrast, St. Pauli has been the local football underdog. Its fan base is known to be supportive of a politically left agenda and skeptical of commercialised football. Ironically, that has made the club so popular, even with football abstainers, that St. Pauli branded merchandise is among the best-selling football fan merchandise in Germany.
Bremen is one of Germany’s “hidden champions” among student cities, and among the favourites for international students: There are great universities to choose from; the city is not too small, but not too large, with a sizeable student population; and it is relatively affordable.
Its local football club, Werder Bremen, is one of Germany’s most popular clubs, and another fierce rival of Hamburg’s HSV. Matches between the two are often spectacular, but unfortunately sometimes violent.
Look at other European football leagues like in England, Spain, or France, and you quickly realise that clubs from the capital cities are pretty dominant in their leagues. Oddly, that is not at all the case in Germany. Berlin’s most successful club Hertha BSC has been struggling in recent years - at the bottom of the first or the top of the second league. Its fans thus reflect typical Berlin traits: complaining loudly while still somehow settling for what they can get.
The city’s second club, FC Union Berlin, has only recently made it into the first Bundesliga, after years in the third and second leagues.
Just an hour North of Cologne (see below), Dortmund has a reputation as a (former) coal mining and industrial city in the Rhine-Ruhr region. Many residents live for their club, Borussia Dortmund (or BVB), which in recent years was one of the few consistently strong opponents of FC Bayern München when it came to the Bundesliga championship.
Leipzig didn’t use to play a big role in German football - until Red Bull (the energy drink brand) founded the club RB Leipzig and supported its impressive rise to the German Bundesliga, where it has played since 2016 - and scored among the top teams, too.
Leipzig is a great choice for international students as it is - with Leipzig University, HHL (which is close to the stadium), the newly opened Lancaster University Leipzig and a few other institutions - and going to local football matches with friends will nicely round out your time there!
Fans of Cologne’s prime club, 1. FC Köln, have endured quite a rollercoaster ride of emotions in the past two decades - the club was relegated from, or promoted to, the premier Bundesliga a total of twelve times.
Many German football fans agree that Köln’s fans not only have the highest threshold for pain, but also are the most passionate about their club. So if you do study in Cologne, go see at least one match - or regardless of where you study in Germany, go see a match of that local club versus 1. FC Köln. It’s an experience not to miss!
While the city’s best-known club is the quite successful Eintracht Frankfurt, the real local champion is 1. FFC Frankfurt - the women’s football club. Since its founding in 1998, it won the Frauen-Bundesliga (women’s federal league) a total of seven times.
Here’s a football club that has not yet grown tired of winning: FC Bayern München is without doubt the most successful German football club - now and ever. They have won the Bundesliga title more often than any other club - over 25 times in less than 60 years of the league’s existence! Of course, success brings envy, and thus FC Bayern is both one of the most popular and one of the most hated clubs in Germany. As a foreign student, if you want to make friends in Munich, it’s best not to have a too strong opinion about the club either way. But if pressed on the issue, just say that FC Bayern München play football very well - that, at least, is a statement no one can reasonably contest.