Euro Postcard from the east of Germany – From Zentralstadion to Red Bull Arena

The UEFA EURO 2024 Trophy is displayed outside the Leipzig Stadium

The UEFA EURO 2024 Trophy is displayed outside the Leipzig Stadium Credit: Photo by Maja Hitij - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Euro Postcard from the east of Germany – From Zentralstadion to Red Bull Arena

Macdara Ferris reports from Leipzig

I’ve been shuttling around the east of Germany during my time at EURO 2024 spending time in Leipzig and Berlin and I’m back in Leipzig for Tuesday’s Austria and Türkiye match which is the final last 16 tie.

Leipzig is located in the former East Germany and its past, both more recent and historic, is visible in the city’s sights and also in the city’s football stadium.

Located in the north of the city is the Völkerschlachtdenkmal – the Monument to the Battle of the Nations  - which remembers the dead from the defeat of Napoleon’s army in 1813. At 91m and 500 steps above ground it provides a brilliant vantage point to look across the city.

More recent history can be viewed in the Stasi Museum where you can wander around the former headquarters in the city for East Germany’s secret service.

The building and its contents are laid out as it was in 1989 – with the secret cameras, disguises and detailed reports on the countries citizens on display.

In Autumn 1989, the Montagsdemonstrationen or ‘Monday demonstrations’ outside the building took place with up to 120,000 marching against the regime.

These proved pivitol in putting pressure on the government leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the ending of the communist regime in East Germany.

From Zentral to Red Bull

The Leipzig stadium is a few stops on the tram system west of city’s main square Augustusplatz.

During the tournament the square, previously known during the communist era as as Karl-Marx-Platz, is the location for Leipzig’s fanzone for the tournament. I watched the Germany v Switzerland game on the big screens there.

The RB Leipzig stadium was constructed in the early 2000s inside the shell of old Zentralstadion - the biggest stadium in the former East Germany. The original venue was a classic massive eastern block stadium with an open bowl that could accommodate over 100,000 spectators.

The German Football Association (DFB) was founded in Leipzig back in 1900 - with their headquarters now in the Frankfurt. VfB Leipzig became the first champions of Germany back in 1903. 

The stadium was constructed out of 1.5 million cubic metres of debris from the World War II bombing of Leipzig and opened in 1956.

Over its history it hosted 43 East German matches – an Irish connection was that League of Ireland referee John Carpenter took charge of the home team’s 2-1 defeat to Belgium in a EURO 1984 qualifier in March 1983 in front of over 75,000 spectators.

Austria played in the final East Germany game in the venue which was a 1-1 draw in May 1989 with Toni Polster scoring for the visitors.

The modern stadium opened in 2004 staging three matches during the Confederations Cup in 2005 and four group games and a last 16 tie in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

For this European Championship, it is hosting four matches, with this round of 16 match being its final game of the Euros  and the third one I’ve been at this tournament in the venue.

It really is a stunning stadium with the new 40,000+ capacity stadium sitting inside the raking slopes of the old terraces which are still visible. Also retained is the art deco facade of the entrance gates, an admin building where the Media Hub is and the imposing statues of sportsmen that are dotted around the perimeter. 

Walking around from the Media Hub to the press box on match night, you walk below the new stands and inside the old terrace slope. Ahead of the Croatia v Italy game, I made sure to walk up and across the bridges that take the spectators from the new to the old stadium perimeter.

The UEFA blurb notes that ‘the arena also features a state-of-the-art roof which was designed to provide superior acoustics. As a result, it is a popular venue for concerts, with the late Tina Turner, AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen all experiencing the excellent sound it offers.’

Having experienced the acoustics at a couple of games already, I wouldn’t dismiss the hyperbole.  

A Red Bull return

The venue has a familiar feel to me now but not as familiar as Austrian manager, and former Leipzig coach, Ralf Rangnick or to a number of his squad who play or have played for RB Leipzig.

Marcel Sabitzer, who got the winner against the Dutch in Austria’s last group game is one of those making a return to the venue.

He enjoyed his time in Leipzig and speaking ahead of the match said he was looking forward to a return but is expecting a better reception than his more recent visits when playing with Borussia Dortmund. 

“The last few times I was booed by the fans and that hurt me,” said Sabitzer. “I was captain and played there for a good few years so I was disappointed but there will be a lot of Austrians so that will be more positive.”

Safe to say Sabizer will be roundly booed by the Turkish fans who will pack into the arena on Tuesday night.