First game in Germany: Big helmets, long lines and sheer joy: Munich is ready for the NFL

It's Saturday morning, 6:50 a.

First game in Germany: Big helmets, long lines and sheer joy: Munich is ready for the NFL

It's Saturday morning, 6:50 a.m., platform 14 at Hamburg Central Station. It is unusually crowded for this time of the day on the platform, with numerous passengers waiting for the ICE heading south. People with New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots hats are standing on Platform 14. Some are wearing Kansas City Chiefs jerseys and others are wearing Seattle Seahawks sweaters. Your destination of the six-hour journey is clear: Munich. There, for the first time in the history of the North American NFL, a football game will take place on German soil on Sunday.

Football fever has settled over Munich. Instead of the jerseys of the Bundesliga champions FC Bayern Munich, it is a potpourri of jerseys from America. Oversized helmets from the 32 NFL clubs have been on the Odeonsplatz since Thursday, and there are also photo opportunities with the logos of the Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers around superstar Tom Brady, who will be playing the first game in Germany. Volker Reichmann also strolls across the square with his friend Markus Meyer, looking for the helmet of the Green Bay Packers – the two favorite club. And even Bailey, Reichmann's dog, wears a Packers shirt. That not the Packers, but two other clubs are guests in Germany? Doesn't matter. "You just grin from ear to ear and are happy that the time has finally come," said Reichmann.

The NFL discovered Europe as a market many years ago, but the first attempt failed years ago. With the offshoot "NFL Europe" and teams from all over the continent, the world's top-selling sports league tried to gain a foothold in the old world - the experiment with teams like Frankfurt Galaxy or the last champions, the Hamburg Sea Devils, ended in 2007. Instead, the NFL marketed the American professional teams, and since the end of 2007 one to three season games have always been held in London. But in recent years, sport has boomed in Germany. According to NFL data, there are now 3.3 million "enthusiastic fans" in Germany and 17 million occasional fans - significantly more than in Great Britain. The fact that the NFL is now expanding to Germany is tough marketing, because the potential is huge.

Why is sport booming here too? "The atmosphere is completely different. There is no such thing as friend or foe and it's a completely different experience," summarizes Reichmann and then adds "Football is simply better than soccer". He will follow the game itself on Sunday from the couch. 67,000 spectators will witness the kick-off in the sold-out Allianz Arena, the requests were many times higher. "Three million tickets could have been sold," said NFL Germany boss Alexander Steinforth recently. Another fan will later tell the star that he bought a ticket for 300 euros on a legal ticket exchange at short notice – the normal price was 110 euros.

Change of location, a sporting goods store less than a kilometer from Odeonsplatz. Hundreds of fans have gathered here, the police have to instruct them again and again to please clear the street. Marquise Goodwin and Noah Fant, wide receiver and tight end for the Seahawks, are scheduled to sign autographs in a few minutes. "Would you like to have an autograph?" Sascha Kunze is asked by his girlfriend. "No, but I would like to see the boys," replies the Munich native. He has been following the NFL since 2009, when he was still in school. Almost every Sunday a game flickers across the screen. In contrast to German professional sports, the NFL runs on free TV. ProSieben is still broadcasting the games this season, but RTL will hold the rights to the broadcast for the next season. "I never thought that the city would be so full, it's unique," says Bauer. You would have seen a lot of fans, you just have to take the experience with you.

Then a black van stops in the street, Goodwin and Fant get out, the fans join in an antiphon. Some sing "Sea", others reply "Hawks" - the battle cry can be heard all afternoon in the city centre. The two players pull out their cell phones, film the backdrop for their Instagram stories and disappear into the store. The autograph session will last an hour and a half, then the tickets are gone and numerous fans have waited in vain.

Things can get chaotic at times in the city where the NFL has leased five brewhouses for supporters of the Seahawks, Buccaneers, Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers - all but the Seahawks acquired marketing rights in the past year Germany secured. It is considered likely that the Chiefs, Patriots or Panthers will appear in the second Germany game in Frankfurt next year. Thousands of fans roam the city looking for sights and enjoying the event with other fans. In between, nothing works in front of the Augustiner parent company. Seahawks fans hope to be admitted to the tavern, a construction site is narrowing the sidewalk. The police have to move in and regulate pedestrian traffic by evening – but it will remain peaceful throughout.

In the evening, however, the program evens out, because it is the moment that the German Sea Hawkers have been working towards for months. With over 1700 members, the Sea Hawkers are the largest football fan club in Europe - and they need a lot of space. The tickets for the "home game" evening at the Schneier Bräuhaus went like hot cakes. 900 fans crowd tightly together in the bar and are always surprised. John Schneider, the general manager of the Seahawks, perhaps insists on greeting the fans because of the name of the venue. He actually only wanted to stay a few minutes, but in the end he was there for over half an hour. "Blitz", the mascot of the team from the Northwest of the USA, also comes by, heats up the fans and is ready for countless photos. "The mood at the London Games was more euphoric, here the fans are still holding back a bit," says Jens Kunze.

On Friday he traveled to Munich with his fiancée, the tickets for the game were an early wedding present from friends - for his girlfriend it is the first live game. "This is simply a historic experience for all sea hawkers, because we are one big family," adds Kunze's friend Christopher Mettken. Because not only members of the German fan club are on site, but also some from Great Britain, Florida and Alaska have made the long way to Munich to the inn. "I used to like watching football, but it's just become too toxic. When it comes to football, the fans celebrate the sport, not the color," says Kunze. This is also confirmed when you look into the Bräuhaus, where not only the colors of the Seahawks are represented, but also those of the Buccaneers, the Denver Broncos and many other clubs.

Meanwhile, Maximilian Längen is sitting on the first floor, taking a little breather. In 2014 he founded the German branch of the Sea Hawkers with some friends in a burger restaurant in Munich, was president until 2018, wrote a German chronicle of the NFL team and is now the contact person for the media. "We simply couldn't ask for a better game here," says Längen. He's been in town since the beginning of the week, and the mood lifted with the arrival of the Seahawks on Thursday and the Buccaneers on Friday. He has already seen games in Seattle five times and has also been to London once. "But this just crowns everything, I never thought that was possible." He also sees the awarding of the game to the Seahawks as a reward from the NFL. "You know that Seattle has one of the largest fan bases in Germany." Immediately after the pairing became known, the fan club would not have sought contact with the NFL team, but the other way around. "The Seahawks contacted us and involved us in the planning. That shows a lot of trust in us," says Längen proudly. He too is looking forward to the party in the Allianz Arena on Sunday. But he would love to see his favorite team win. "Despite all the friendship, it's also about getting into the playoffs."