German fans cheer for Litvinov - or is it Oberleutensdorf?

German fans of Litvinov

The Czech-German border is one of history's fault lines, for centuries a place of tension between the German and the Slav worlds. For many people the events of 1938, when Hitler annexed the Czech border regions are still in living memory, and after the war almost the entire German minority of Czechoslovakia was forcibly expelled. But although we often hear about Czech-German tensions, on the ground things today are very different. Once closely guarded borders are open and cross-border relations are friendly and for the most part break the stereotype. A case in point is in the northern Czech industrial town of Litvinov - once known in German as Oberleutensdorf - famous for its chemical works and its ice-hockey team, and just ten kilometres from the border. David Vaughan went along to the Ivan Hlinka Hockey Stadium, to meet some rather unusual Litvinov fans.

German fans of Litvinov
It's Friday night and I'm at the ice hockey stadium in the North Bohemian town of Litvinov, for a game between two top-league teams, Sparta Prague and Litvinov.

The game has just finished, featuring some of the league's top players, some of them well-known from their days in North America's NHL. The Litvinov fans have good reason to celebrate with a rare 4-1 win over Sparta, and I've now moved on with a group of fans, decked up in full Litvinov kit, to their favourite local pub. What makes these fans different is that they come from across the border; they live just over the densely wooded hills behind Litvinov in the Saxon town Olbernhau. As we sit here enjoying our beer, one of them, who speaks English, is gong to tell me all about their passion for Litvinov.

"My name is Sören Hildebrand. I'm from Olbernhau and I'm 19 years old. At the moment I study in Dresden. I try to come most times to Litvinov, to the games, and not to miss any game."

What is it that makes you want to come to Litvinov?

"First it is the ice-hockey - the game - which is much more important for me than football. On the German side there is no ice-hockey team within 50 kilometres, but we can be in Litvinov by car within 30 minutes. So it's much easier to come over the border and watch the games here in Litvinov. Secondly I think that ice-hockey here in the Czech Republic is on a much higher level than in Germany."

In the old days it wasn't actually possible to come straight from Olbernhau to Litvinov, was it? It's only fairly recently that the border has been opened here.

"It's been open for one year. Before that we had to drive via Most, and it's too far."

German fans of Litvinov
Have you learned a few Czech words so that you can join in with the Czech fans?

"Most words we know well - like 'Litvinov Chemopetrol' [the club's full name] or 'Hosi, dame gol!' [Let's have a goal, lads!], but when they start singing their songs we don't understand. But I think it's no problem because the atmosphere is very good and that's important."

You live just a few kilometers away, so do you feel a sense of local patriotism here?

"Yes, we feel local patriotism because it's very near and all the fans here in Litvinov feel good about us, that we are fans. That fact that we are from Germany, I think, is no problem for them. I think it's more of a problem for the German people. If we come to the Czech Republic they think we are crazy and they can't understand why we don't support our German teams. So for the Czech people, I think, it's no problem. I hope so."