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The Bundesliga is one of the most popular soccer leagues in the world. Unlike in England, Italy, Spain, and France, all of whom have 20 teams in their first division, Germany’s top flight contains only 18 sides. That makes it a little bit easier to decide which of those you should follow.
Yet within the Bundesliga, there is a wide variety of different types of clubs. Some will favor a side likely to win trophies, while others tend to value outsiders and underdogs. Certain fans might be interested in fan culture, and others are drawn to the idea of a sleeping giant.
So, without further ado, which Bundesliga team should you support? Follow our guide and make your pick, but remember – a Bundesliga team is for life, not just for Christmas.
Bayern Munich are by far the biggest and most successful club in the Bundesliga. Since the league was launched in 1962, the Bavarian giants have won the title 30 times – more than every other team put together. They have been particularly dominant over the last decade and are currently targeting their ninth championship crown in a row.
Bayern are also the only German team that starts each season as one of the favorites to win the Champions League. They have claimed Europe’s biggest prize on six occasions, a tally bettered only by AC Milan and Real Madrid. If you want a guarantee of trophies, Bayern are the team for you.
Some fans will be turned off by Bayern’s relentless habit of winning silverware. Sure, trophies are the ultimate goal of any soccer team in the world, but Bayern have the financial odds stacked in their favor. Borussia Dortmund would be a more rewarding choice for the type of supporter who prefers hard-earned success.
Dortmund won the Champions League in 1997 and were back-to-back Bundesliga champions in 2011 and 2012. BVB have several exciting young players in their squad, but they have struggled to keep pace with Bayern in recent years. From an entertainment perspective, though, they are probably more fun to follow.
RB Leipzig are the up-and-coming force in German soccer. Founded in 2009, they won a promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2016 and are close to securing a fourth top-three finish since then. With a smart recruitment model and a distinct playing style, Leipzig hope to one day compete with Bayern season in, season out.
Owned by Red Bull, Leipzig are the most hated club in the Bundesliga because of their commercial connections. That may well appeal to supporters who enjoy adopting an us-against-the-world mentality, although do not expect many German fans to be sympathetic to your cause.
Bayer Leverkusen also have ties to a commercial entity, in their case the pharmaceutical company Bayer AG. However, they attract less ire from fellow Bundesliga fans because they were founded way back in 1904 and were initially a club for the firm’s workers.
Leverkusen have never won the Bundesliga title, although they have finished as runners-up on five occasions – in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2011. They can usually be found competing at the top end of the division, and have participated in European competition in 10 of the last 11 campaigns. If that is your bag, you could do far worse than Bayer Leverkusen.
Only Bayern Munich have more Bundesliga titles to their name than Borussia Monchengladbach, who finished on top of the pile in 1970, 1971, 1975, 1976 and 1977 (Dortmund have also Triumphed five times). It is fair to say the 1970s were Gladbach’s glory years, but they have also enjoyed relative success more recently.
At the start of every season, Gladbach are expected to be challenging for the top four. If you are looking for a historic club capable of competing near the top of the Bundesliga, consider die Fohlen.
Wolfsburg are not as big a club as Gladbach, but they too are serial contenders for the European qualification spots. The Wolves won the Bundesliga in 2009 and were runners-up in 2015, but they have usually finished a little lower down the standings.
Wolfsburg are a fun team to follow. The club has an interesting backstory – it was originally a team for Volkswagen employees – and has often played attractive, attacking soccer, even if that has not always been the case in the 2020/21 campaign.
We should make it clear from the outset that Hoffenheim did not break any of the rules of German soccer, nor are they the only club to have been accused of buying success. However, long before RB Leipzig came along, Hoffenheim were charged with sullying the reputation of German soccer because of their commercial links.
Hoffenheim are a club from a village who were down in the fifth division in 2000. Subsequently bankrolled by software mogul Dietmar Hopp, they climbed all the way up to the Bundesliga and have become part of the top-flight furniture. Hopp and Hoffenheim are not particularly popular among fans of other clubs, but that makes them more attractive to some.
A word of warning: Arminia Bielefeld might not be a Bundesliga team in a few months’ time. They are 16th in the table at the time of writing, and their poor form suggests they could soon slip into the bottom two. However, that is not necessarily a reason to reject Arminia out of hand.
When supporting a club of their size, low points are inevitable – but they do serve to make the highs even more enjoyable. Arminia has a rich history and a loyal fan base, and their current struggles should be put into perspective given they were in the third division a few years ago.
At one point Freiburg were to German soccer what Norwich City were to the English game: the ultimate yo-yo club. For several reasons they bounced between the top flight and the second division, often appearing to be too good for the 2. Bundesliga but not quite good enough for the Bundesliga.
More recently, Freiburg have established itself as a top-tier club. They can never take anything for granted, though, and are usually considered among the relegation candidates at the start of a season.
Augsburg are also Bundesliga regulars these days, having been in the division without interruption since the 2011/12 campaign. Yet given they had never participated in the top flight before then, they are still seen as underdogs compared to others in the Bundesliga.
Indeed, the Fuggerstadter have tended to finish in the bottom half in recent seasons, and their flirtations with relegation have been too close for comfort at times. So far, though, they have always steered clear of the drop, but potential new supporters should be aware that they could easily succumb to demotion one day.
Whereas Augsburg fans know what to expect when a season begins, Werder Bremen supporters are afforded no such luxury. While Werder has been in the Bundesliga since the early 1980s, in recent years they have not been the model of consistency that such a record might suggest.
Werder have alternated between pushing for Europe and battling relegation over the last few seasons. At times they have gone deep into the DFB-Pokal; on other occasions, they have been knocked out by lower-league opposition in an embarrassing fashion. Supporting Werder is full of surprises.
Stuttgart have three Bundesliga titles to their name, and they also won the league twice before it became a national, professionalized competition in 1962. They have not come close to replicating that feat over the last decade, though, with their most recent title triumph coming in 2007.
It has been an eventful few years since then, with Stuttgart experiencing some memorable highs (a third-place finish) and some dismal lows (two relegations to the 2. Bundesliga). There is always something going on at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, and that makes Stuttgart an ideal fit for fans who relish excitement and uncertainty.
Some people do not like rollercoasters. There is nothing wrong with preferring stability and continuity, and with a club like Mainz at least you know where you stand. Just do not expect a European push any time soon.
A list of Mainz’s final positions in the last few seasons reads 13th, 12th, 14th, and 15th. The club’s fans have come to expect bottom-half finishes – that might not sound particularly exciting, but successful relegation battles can be enjoyable (at least in hindsight).
For a long time Hertha Berlin were the only Bundesliga team from the capital of Germany, but Union joined their rivals in the top flight in 2019. After avoiding relegation in their first season at the top table, they are currently mounting a surprise push for European soccer.
Union have a strong working-class identity, and their fan base is one of the most passionate and dedicated in the country. When Union needed to raise money to redevelop their stadium, large groups of supporters donated blood and then passed their fee onto the club.
Koln have been champion of Germany on three occasions, and they also reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in the late 1970s. Success has been harder to come by in the modern era, but they are a likeable club with supporters who can produce a raucous atmosphere.
An incredible 20,000 fans turned up at the Emirates Stadium when Koln faced Arsenal in 2017. Not all of those were let into the ground, but those that did made an almighty din. If that sounds like something you are into, consider Koln as your Bundesliga team.
Eintracht Frankfurt is a founding member of the Bundesliga and have only missed six seasons since its launch in 1962. They are a club on the up too, having finished in the top half in each of the last three full campaigns before mounting a push for Champions League qualification in 2020/21.
Frankfurt are another club with a passionate fan base, and those supporters are not afraid to protest when things are going badly. When the team is on a roll, though, their fans’ vocal backing is a major asset. You are always guaranteed a good atmosphere at the Commerzbank-Arena.
While clubs from London, Madrid, Rome, Paris and even Washington D.C. have won their respective leagues, Berlin has never produced a Bundesliga winner. Hertha were one of the original members of the league back in 1962/63, yet they are still awaiting their first title. The way things are going, they might never win one.
Hertha certainly have potential, particularly as their Olympiastadion home can house 74,649 spectators. Perhaps one day they will get things right and finally join the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Roma, PSG, and DC United in being national champions from the capital city. If you want to be part of that potential journey, make Hertha Berlin your Bundesliga team.
A word of warning: Schalke will not be a Bundesliga team for too much longer. Cut adrift at the bottom of the division with just one win from their first 24 matches of the season, it is only a matter of time before the Royal Blues’ relegation to the second tier is confirmed.
Schalke will be back, though, and they may actually be in a stronger position upon their return if their current situation prompts a major overhaul at the club. Schalke won the German title seven times in the pre-Bundesliga era, and they will hope to challenge again at the top of the division at some point in the future.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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