Donnerstag, 28. Oktober 2010
Berlin’s Polar Bears – the Eisbären – are one of the capital’s best kept secrets, as far as European visitors are concerned. Brits, Spaniards and Danish tourists come here for galleries, clubs and culture, to dine and dance, but almost all of them miss out on the city’s world class ice hockey. Unlike the Canadians in the capital.
Last Friday evening I took my eight-year-old son Maus to see the Eisbären play at o2 World, a fantastic, multi-function arena, and the show put on by the organizers, players and fans was pure theatre. High-volume music, light shows and even an indoor fireworks display heralded the team’s entrance. One-by-one the Eisbären skated out of the mouth of a vast, inflated polar bear and onto the ice. The supporters called out each player’s name, waved vast blue-white-red flags and pounded big bass drums. By contrast the visiting team ERC Inglostadt stole onto the ice when no one was looking. They didn’t seem to stand a chance.
I’m a Canadian so a passion for hockey runs in my veins. I grew up with the hiss of blades on ice and the thrill of breakaways. According to the latest figures, there are more hockey players registered in Canada than in any other country in the world (545,363 players, or 1.75% of the population). In fact, as far as I know any Canadian who hasn’t memorised Wayne Gretzky’s stats, thinks the Stanley Cup is an festive Scottish drink and assumes that puck is a typographical error, is automatically expelled from the country and sent to live in an uncultured backwater, like southern California.
Germany may boast cultural icons greater than the slapshot but nevertheless hockey does have a place here. The first recorded game was played on Halensee in Berlin in 1897. A dozen years later Germany participated in the first European Ice Hockey Championship. The Eisbären – originally known as SC Dynamo Berlin -- were once half of the two team East German league (then the smallest league in the world). Since the fall of the Wall, the Eisbären have risen to the top of their sport, becoming the German hockey team of the decade, winning the 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009 DEL championships (today there are 15 clubs in the league).
Canucks have played a part in that success, among them the softly-spoken and powerful centre-forward TJ Mulock (one of 7 Canadians on the team). A Vancouver-born star of Canadian junior hockey, Mulock moved to Germany five years ago, playing first in the lower tier Oberliga before joining the elite Deutsche Eishockey Liga. Earlier this year, in a highlight of his impressive career, he was selected to play for the German national team at the 2010 Winter Olympics – in his home town.
‘That was definitely a different feeling,’ he told me and Maus when we met during the second intermission. ‘I remember sitting at the opening ceremony in Vancouver, watching all the wonderful stuff about Canada, and feeling so proud, while at the same time feeling proud to be wearing my German team uniform.’
He went on, laughing, ‘When we played Team Canada in the qualification playoffs, my old friend Brent Seabrook – who also hails from British Columbia and now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks – looked up and saw me and said, “What are you doing on that side?”’
As a Canadian, Mulock was eligible to compete with the national German team as he holds dual Canadian/German citizenship and had played exclusively in Germany for over two seasons.
‘Overall, I can’t say enough good about Berlin and the Eisbären,’ he added. ‘They are a great team, and so family-friendly. I’m really happy here.’
On Friday evening the Eisbären played well but were plagued by bad luck. At least a dozen shots on goal were missed and the visitors – who had a tendency to lie down on the ice to block the puck -- won 2:0. It wasn’t the outcome I, Maus or the sell-out crowd of 14,000 fans welcomed, nevertheless – as half-a-dozen Canucks also play for Inglostadt -- it remained a hugely exciting evening for Canadians and Germans alike.
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