Pilgrimage to the Millerntor – Nordamerika-style

It’s a journey every North American FC St. Pauli supporter should make at least once a season – visiting the beloved Stadion Millerntor to watch the Boys in Brown fight for three points in what is arguably the best environment in sport.

Visiting Hamburg is no easy, 50-Euro hop on Ryanair for us here in North America. Our odyssey requires more resources and planning than our sister clubs in Europe in order to maximize the trip. Here’s a guide to make the very best of your pilgrimage to St. Pauli.

Choose your travel window wisely

On my recent trip I chose a three-match week with two Saturday matches and a weekday fixture. It helped that the away match was in Kiel – an hour train ride from Hamburg. Catching three matches was surreal. Watching from the Sudkurve; the away section in Kiel; and the Gegengerade gives you a multi-dimensional appreciation of the amazing enthusiasm for this club.

Contact the Fanladen early

Tickets are never guaranteed, especially for high-demand matches, but your chances increase if you contact them early, tell them where you’re coming from, and you’re not fussy from where you watch the match. Fanladen are very good about getting back to you. Different people co-ordinate home and away tickets, so don’t worry if you only hear from one initially if you are co-ordinating home and away tickets.

Pick up your tickets early

Match days are crazy, and you have the option of picking up tickets the day before after 3 p.m. So visit the Fanladen, put up some stickers on the wall and in the Fan Shop. Grab some gear, take in a Millerntor tour, then grab an Astra at the Jolly Roger when it’s possible to actually get in.

Get to the match early

Match day is more than the match. It’s great to take in the scene outside the Millerntor before the match. Whether you hang in the courtyard on the south side or near the Fanladen on the Gegengerade side, you’ll meet many interesting, friendly fans curious about your Toronto/Buffalo/NYC/Calgary T-shirt. Bring lots of stickers. The folks from De Brune Pandaer have a great system for stickers…wrapping them in packages with elastics ready to hand out.

If you plan to meet other international fan clubs, use What’s App or a Twitter group to communicate the where and when to meet before and after the match. It worked well for us, with over 10 clubs meeting for the two home matches.

Enjoy the match

Watching an FCSP match is an experience to remember. Whether in the Ultras section in the Sudkurve or the standing section of the Gegengerade, every moment is filled with cheer, song and excitement. There’s nothing like it. You’ll likely not have a voice at the end, especially if St. Pauli is winning. Unlike North American events, don’t dash for the exits after the match. Take the time to mingle with other fans. Your Ts will invite conversation and you can also freely put up your stickers on the rails in the standing sections.

On the Road

As much as a match at the Millerntor is mind-blowing, an away game is an equally fascinating adventure. Not all away visits can be as friendly as a Union Berlin match, and on my trip to see St. Pauli play Holstein Kiel just an hour away by train, the tension between the fans of both clubs was palpable. It was rumoured that a week before the match an HK flag was stolen by a St. Pauli supporter. And as the players warmed up, some HK ultras stormed the pitch towards the St. Pauli end and ripped three flags from the fences after throwing a flare into the crowd. The St. Pauli players retrieved the flags and brought back the flags to our section. It was thrilling to behold. I was told by other fans this hadn’t happened before and the media across Europe covering the events confirmed this. I didn’t need this to know my first away game was awesome and will never be forgotten. Take in an away game. You’ll never know what to expect.

Après match

After watching a home match, the first inclination is grab a pint with your newfound friends. Having everyone on WhatsApp or Twitter helps to plan your post match, extracurricular activities. The first thought is always to hit the Jolly Roger across the way from the Millerntor. It’s usually overrun post match but it’s worth a try. Other options include the St. Pauli Eck, the Zoo Bar and the Zum Silbersack. After the Ingolstadt match – a 0-4 drubbing – I joined a group from Itzehoe, Norway, Yorkshire, London, Leningrad and Sweden at the Jolly Roger. It is a truly remarkable place, with its vibe, decoration and colourful souls.

All things St. Pauli

On the Ingolstadt match day we learned there were St. Pauli men’s and women’s handball matches taking place at the Turnhalle next to the Millerntor so I joined the Norwegians and Swedes in our group to take in both matches. Both matches were physical, intense affairs and after the rules were explained I was hooked.

A few days later, after the Boys in Brown had recovered from the sting of the Ingolstadt loss, they took to the practice fields at Die Techniker-Werft, just a 10-minute bus ride on the No.5 from Hoheluftbrücke station on the U3. Be sure to walk around to the entrance by the parking lot. If you go to the first open practice after a match you’ll likely see the bench and injured players practice. A second open practice will usually allow you to watch the entire team practicing. This remarkably open facility gives you access to players and coaching staff for autographs and a chance to talk to other fans, some of whom have made this a ritual for a long time. All were curious about Toronto, and I quickly sold all my extra T-shirts and handed out numerous stickers. Everyone was so friendly, yet I was shocked at how few people were there. Seeing the players up close, going through their drills was thrilling.

FCSP Olaf Janssen
FC St. Pauli Toronto fan visits with FCSP trainer Olaf Janssen

Hamburg – a second home

Of course there’s so much more to see in this world-class city. The Reeperbahn of course, the city’s remarkable neighbourhoods, the Hafen City – all accessible by a transit system that puts Toronto’s to shame. I also timed my trip to coincide with the Reeperbahn Festival, taking in a concert by St. Pauli darlings Kettcar at Knust. Hamburg is a wonderful city to explore. If you can, make time for it.

Not goodbye – see you later

Immersing yourself in this club, this community first-hand is on par with nothing else for the FCSP fan. Take all your expectations, multiply them and you might come close to describing what a pilgrimage to the Millerntor is like. It will imprint your soul, reaffirm your beliefs, bring you new friendships and provide you memories that will sustain you easily until your next visit, if not for a lifetime.

Check out the Pilgrimage to the Millerntor video

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