DRESDEN, Germany — Countless bodies packed into the tram heading towards Glückgas Stadion, so many that it seemed as if everyone had to suck in their guts in order to fit properly, and still many were pressed up against the glass like pigs in an overcrowded pen.
The transport stopped and a sea of yellow and red exploded out into the police-lined street.
Grown men covered in tattoos deposited their empty beer bottles into the recycling receptacles across the street from the lush park that the Allies turned into a fireball 70 years ago next February.
The first thing I noticed when I got off the train in Dresden was the innate beauty of the “old” buildings in the city center combined with the vast amount of trees, all surrounding the river Elbe.
The second thing I noticed was that it seemed like every street corner was decorated yellow with graffiti of the word “Dynamo.”
Founded in 1953, SG Dynamo Dresden isn’t just the soccer team in the Florence of the Elbe. Dynamo is the city.
During the time of East Germany, the club was one of the most successful in Europe, winning eight East German titles and becoming a major force in European competition.
The name “Dynamo” signified that the team was a part of a loosely connected communist sports society that was sponsored by the secret police in each country that there was a Dynamo team.
During the Cold War, all the best players just happened to play for Dynamo teams and the influence of secret police members assured that many games were won on 93rd-minute penalties.
After German reunification, the team was slotted into the Bundesliga, the top division of German soccer.
However, like most teams from the former East Germany, the club fell on hard times due to the economic depression that succeeded communism.
The team spent just four seasons in the top division before poor results relegated them to the 2. Bundesliga. They have spent every season since 1995 bouncing around the lower divisions of German soccer.
And yet, people still come out and support the team like their lives depend on it.
In all, 22,344 fans, more than MLS’ average attendance, packed the stadium last Saturday, turning the normally silent city into a parade of organized noise that deafened the ears to those, like me, sitting in the open-air press box.
In the 22nd minute, Dutch forward Sylvano Comvalius intercepted a back pass, controlled the ball in the box, and cheekily lifted the ball over the opposing goalkeeper to open the scoring in the game.
I was at Arco (yes, Arco) the night that Kings fans broke the record for loudest indoor arena in the world — and the sound the crowd made for the Dynamo goal didn’t even compare. It was much louder.
In fact, the fans stood and sung, danced and jumped, chanted and whistled for the entire 90 minutes.
For a third-division team.
In a city best that is best known for its unnecessary bombing in World War II, captured in the classic Kurt Vonnegut novel, “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
“The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it,” Vonnegut wrote in an introduction to a later copy of the book. “I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I’m in.”
After suffering through that atrocity, the people of Dresden endured 45 years of communism and oppression, creating a culture where strangers don’t smile back at you when you smile at them.
Perhaps Dynamo is their only escape from the monotony of East Germany. Perhaps the team’s struggles symbolize the struggles of the last 50-plus years of the East German people. Perhaps they just really like soccer.
One thing is for sure. For 90 minutes, a few times a year, the city is united in a wall of yellow in the stadium that originally closed due to the bombings on those days in February of 1945.
And that is something that we, as Americans, can never come close to comprehending.
— Evan Ream is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam