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We paid a visit to VfB Stuttgart – a real Bundesliga giant looking to rekindle their glory days of league titles and European adventures.
It seemed only right and proper to arrive at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in a Mercedes-Benz taxi.
Wanting to check out the stadium properly we skipped the 30-minute walk from Bad Cannstatt train station and hailed down the nearest cab for the five-minute ride to the ground.
The link between VfB Stuttgart’s home and Mercedes-Benz is no mere local branding. The Mercedes-Benz Museum, charting the company’s history from when Carl Benz designed his first car, is less than half a mile down the road and the company’s buildings and headquarters sprawl around the area.
Mercedes Benz are giants of the motor industry and VfB Stuttgart regularly pack out their impressive arena.
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Mercedes Benz Arena
The sweeping curved roof of the Mercedes Benz Arena is easily spotted on the Stuttgart skyline.
It was in the early 1990s that the arena we see around us now started to take shape. The main stand was rebuilt, and the iconic roof with textile membrane was installed ahead of the World Athletics championships. Much standing was converted to seating, leaving a fairly modest 6,000 terrace places in a capacity of 53,400.
Inside the arena was, for decades, a bowl that could host athletics too, giving fans at both end the ‘luxury’ of looking across 20 yards of wasteland between them and the pitch.
However, following the World Cup, the club took the decision to bring their supporters much closer to the action. Each end, in turn, was carefully and cleverly rebuilt to remove the wasted space at each end and convert the stadium to sole football use. It was an expensive business, and the capacity was increased to 60,449, including almost doubling the terrace spaces to 11,225, but the main goal was to create a better fan experience.
Certainly the atmosphere for our visit was decent, generated by the 8,200 capacity home terrace – Cannstatter Kurve. With season tickets there working out at around 10 euros a game it’s no surprise it’s packed and there’s a fantastic atmosphere once the fans have marched in from the pre-match party at Bad Cannstatt.
VfB Stuttgart history
VfB have a proud history. Back in the fifties they established their pedigree with two national championships and two DFB-Pokal titles and this earned them a place in the fledgling Bundesliga.
They settled into mid table finishes for a decade, and a sixth place saw them scrape into the 1973-74 UEFA Cup. VfB took to European football like a duck to water. In the quarter finals they edged past Vitória FC but Feyenoord proved just too strong in the semi-finals. Maybe a bullet was dodged there – there was infamous rioting by Spurs fans in Rotterdam after the final’s second leg.
A first Bundesliga crown arrived in 1984 but boy, was it close – the top three all finished on 48 points and Stuttgart edged it on goal difference, their miserly 33 goals conceded in 34 games being the deciding factor. The second title in 1992 was just as tight, once again secured on goal difference.
Stuttgart European finals
In between there was a UEFA Cup final when a Diego Maradona-led Napoli triumphed.
Another European final beckoned in 1998 under the leadership of future German coach Joachim Löw. They were pitched up against Chelsea in the Cup Winners’ Cup in Stockholm, and a Gianfranco Zola goal proved to be the difference.
Stuttgart’s most recent silverware came with a league title in 2007 and it was somewhat of a surprise.
Armin Veh’s clutch of little known players won their final eight games, including coming from behind to win at Energie Cottbus in the final game and ensure rivals Schalke’s search for a Bundesliga title continued.
What’s clear from a visit to the Mercedes Benz Arena is that VfB have garnered huge support from the city and Swabian region.
When they went down two seasons ago, it hurt and hurt badly. When times are good, such as their most recent title victory, more than a quarter of a million took to the streets to celebrate.
The people of Stuttgart love their wine. Statistics suggest they historically drink significantly higher quantities of wine than the average German does.
Just a short distance from the heart of the city, small vineyards cling to the steep sides of the hills. You can explore the vineyards and enjoy views over the city by strolling the Stuttgart Wine Trail.
Maybe it’s the wine, perhaps it’s the sweeping valley, but it soon becomes apparent that daily life in Stuttgart is more laid-back than you may find is the case in other German cities.
Sitting enjoying a drink on a bar terrace in the Schlossplatz, the city’s grand open square, you can admire the 19th Century baroque palace while watching the world go by – or sunbathe on the grass, as many do in the summer. Off to the side of the square is King Wilhelm’s Palace while directly opposite is the complete contrast, the suitably stylish and dynamic glass building housing the Kunstmuseum, or art museum.
This square sits on Königstrasse, the pedestrian boulevard that stretches nearly a mile through central Stuttgart making it the longest anywhere in Germany. It’s lined with many High Street brands but the further south you go, the further north you head price-wise in the many classy high-end boutiques.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum, just half a mile from VfB Stuttgart’s home, attracts hordes of visitors who marvel at the vehicles from through the decades and look at the diversity of the iconic brand.
Stuttgart is an affluent destination. Life seems fairly chilled for the people here who are happy to share their gem of a city with visitors. There’s more than enough to see and do to occupy a long weekend.
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This is an edited version of an article that appeared in Football Weekends magazine. To order a copy visit www.footballweekends.co.uk