When the day goes by, the area at Mercedes-Platz in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg becomes more colorful. An illuminated concrete desert glistens more even in artificial light than in the sun. Artificial likes artificial. The Mercedes-Benz Arena slumbers on the edge of the retort center; pushed away by the ever-growing skyscrapers, as one calls somewhat higher buildings in Berlin (in Frankfurt am Main they would laugh). A small group of people is standing in front of side entrance 2 and waiting to be let in – the Eisbären Berlin will be playing in the hall in just under an hour.
Eisbären home games in the German Ice Hockey League were always big parties. No other club in Berlin has drawn as many people into one hall as the polar bears for over a decade. It’s been a long time, almost a year: The hut was last full on March 8, 2020, 14,200 spectators saw the polar bears against the Fischtown Pinguins Bremerhaven. This season there were fewer people in the arena in all eight home games combined. There are exactly 130 per game, half of which is distributed among the players on the ice, plus hall and security staff as well as journalists.
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Ghost games are an essential sign of the crisis for the operator and the polar bears. Moritz Hillebrand, spokesman for the hall and club owner Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) says: “Strategically, it is important that ice hockey is played.” As far as the proceeds are concerned, it looks different. Like the Schmeling-Halle in Prenzlauer Berg, the arena is not in public hands. “It is logical that an ice hockey game makes no economic sense under these circumstances,” says Ole Hertel, General Manager of the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
No proceeds from ticket sales, there are no drinks stands open in the hall. The woman who stands at the elevator on the fourth floor and makes sure that the journalists can go up and down has a quiet evening. The question of where to go to the smoking balcony has not been asked her for almost a year. It’s a bit boring, she says, laughs and points to a screen. “I can’t even see the game from here.” The screens are off and from the hall there is only now and then something acoustically into the deserted corridors when the music is playing.
“We long for fans in the stadium”
But at least, says the employee at the elevator, she is here. Work. “Our employees and service providers are happy about the distraction and variety,” says hall manager Hertel. However, it is not the case that they would throw work orders or tickets around in the office of the hall and club owner AEG. Hillebrand says: “The concept is that only people who are actually needed are allowed in.” He has therefore not seen a single home game of the polar bears or the Alba basketball players, who also play in the hall – which of course for him hurt. But be careful.
The polar bear players do not have this problem, they have complete freedom on the ice. Attacker Marcel Noebels says about the atmosphere: “It certainly doesn’t feel normal and thank God it’s just a matter. We hope for the best, because we long for our fans in the stadium. ”But the team still feels at home in the hall. Playing ziu in Iserlohn is always something else.
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The upper tier is suspended except for the straight for television and press. The standing curve, on which the fans used to rabatz, has not even taken off. There is no noise, there is no sweating people, the smell of beer and fast food – which, however, is hardly noticeable in the hall with the mega-ventilation system when it is full of people. But the thunder in front of the grandstands is missing and of course the folklore part with the intoned “East-East-East Berlin”, which has otherwise been intoned by the standing room curve for years after 30 minutes in view of the GDR past of the club. Of course, the few spectators with work assignments in the hall are not there for such a joke this season. “It sucks, the battle cry,” says a colleague from the “Eis-Dynamo”, polar bear cult fanzine.
The game alone produces the background noise. The scratching of the skates, the screams of the players, the puck popping, the checks on the boards, and in between, announcements or music boom through the almost empty oval with the fan banners on the seats and two banners in the curve. “Fans – we miss you,” it says on them.
When stadium announcer Uwe Schumann announces the number of spectators in the last third of an ice hockey game, the well-known ritual deteriorates into agony: First Schumann thanks “15 press representatives and five photographers”, then he says: “We miss 14,200.” Whether they come back so quickly, the 14 200? It would be better, says Hillebrand, because the concept of such an arena is that of a full arena and not that of a hall in which “4,000 spectators visit a major event”. It’s never worth it.
Ice hockey fans are out and about in the virtual ice hockey room this season. “Magentasport” broadcasts all games live. The television viewer is well served. The job has many pitfalls for journalists. In the polar bears’ hygiene concept, the grandstands are separated from the rest of the event, and no one who has a ticket for the press stand can approach the actors on the ice. The doors in the corridors are closed, the press conference flickers over zoom and video cubes. The reporters receive the votes of the players later as recordings from the club – mostly they are irrelevant everyday statements. But that’s not much different in other sports at the moment.
As soon as the video cube is switched off, the few visitors disappear after two and a half hours of ice hockey evening on the deserted paths around the hall. And they go with the certainty that ice hockey works as a quiet hockey, but offers little fun. Above all, it is a mock slogan to hold out.
On Tuesday there is part nine of it, in the ninth Haunted House game, the polar bears receive the Wolfsburg grizzlies. In front of 20 spectators in the press box.