Monday 15 April 2024

Looking for Leverkusen

On my first trip to Germany back in 2009, I spent a few days going round brewpubs in the Rhineland, some of which became favourite drinking spots that I would revisit numerous times in the following years. Catching a train from Düsseldorf to Cologne which passed through a rather anonymous looking town about halfway between them, I was surprised to see on a platform going past the carriage window a station sign for Leverkusen.

Like most non-Germans I suspect, I'd only heard of the place because of its football club Bayer Leverkusen, who won their first ever Bundesliga title this weekend, and had lazily assumed that it was somewhere in Bavaria (Bayer does mean someone from Bavaria, but is also a fairly common German surname, like London, York or Kent in English I suppose, and was that of the founder of the pharmaceutical company which owns the club,  who came from the nearby industrial town of Barmen, birthplace of fellow factory owner Friedrich Engels of Salford and Communist fame, which is now part of the linear city of Wuppertal that I would visit on a subsequent trip to the Rhineland).

Bayer Leverkusen are apparently not well liked in the rest of Germany, partly because of their corporate ownership in a country where at least a degree of fan control is the norm through membership schemes which give matchgoers a voice at board level. That seems a bit harsh given that they have played in the same town since their foundation as a works team sponsored by the company in 1904 and are not a recent creation for publicity purposes or part of a franchise chain like another Bundesliga club, RB Leipzig.

Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso celebrated the title win with a large glass of Bitburger, a mass market Pils that you see on sale throughout the Rhineland.

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