I’ve been an attendee at the Odyssey Arena for five years, and a fan of the Belfast Giants a few weeks short of that. I’ve been in two arenas and three ‘barns’ to see British hockey played out. I’ve seen former NHL players play regularly, and taken part in interviews with some of the highest paid sportsmen in the world. The Giants have a great fan-base. A neutral and welcoming crowd. We, in Belfast, have a great arena, the best of its size (it’s not the biggest) in these islands. As a sporting product, the Giants are successful and have won more than their fair share of trophies.
Before the Iron Curtain there was SC Dynamo Berlin (the Stasi team) and a West Berlin team too. EHC Eisbären emerged, and the western team folded. The O2 Arena was built with 14,000 seats and the fans are diehards. Like football’s ultras but without the reported violence or intimidation to the guest.
I was encouraged to go to the Fankurve, the special tiered terrace section, carved out amidst the fine folding arena seats. I was concerned it might not be the best place for an out-of-towner, but I can assure you, any fears were unwarranted. Arriving early, the booming sound system was playing North American rock and German-friendly metal. Card noisemakers were perched in each seat and the disco lights gently washed the dark arena. No cold, dark, echoey barn here.
Sitting on the terrace, on the bare concrete floor. Clean. Why so clean? The venue is used for hockey and basketball as well as dozens of rock (and metal!) concerts. But I sat on the floor. Clean.
Drinks are served in hard plastic cups. You pay a €1 deposit (Similar at Olympiastadion, where you pay €2, the cup is a souvenir with a Hertha Berlin player), regardless of beverage. Nobody wants to waste their drink, nobody wants to waste a Euro, so the cups go back and the floor stays clean! Also, it was a Wednesday night so nobody was getting too crazy. Clean.
Warmups are done. The chants start early. The on ice MC slides around encouraging the fans to get engaged. It’s not cheesy, it’s not forced, they are preparing their voices. “Bully” the mascot Polar Bear skates around elegantly, despite standing 7 feet tall, and the lights and music rumble. A giant roaring polar bear’s head is put in place and inflated at the corner door. The referees arrive on the ice with their weird white and green Skoda helmets and blaze around to test the ice, faster than anyone I’ve seen at the Odyssey. The intro video plays, culminates in fireworks and music. The fans sing the words to the Eisbären song.
As the teams skate onto the ice, the announcer say “Rob,” the fans roar “Zepp!” And so on, and so on. It’s fearsome. Awesome.
Looking past the experience, the hockey is great, the home team win and the journey home is jolly and safe, despite an underpass, main road and dark train station. Germans are allowed to drink alcohol on the train (whether it’s officially allowed or not) but rarely seem intoxicated. Five nights of using U-bahn and S-bahn I saw about 3 or 4 people to some degree drunk, none of whom were loud; one poor girl scavenging for recyclables; a crazy lady who kept bashing a tall, earphoned and irritable man with her bicycle. She was entertaining.
Hockey fan or not, go to the O2, stand in the Fankurve, join in the chants if you can work them out. It’s a great experience.