How the “Betze” started to burn – The History Of The Fritz Walter Stadium
Germany’s highest soccer hill is also the most atmospheric and impressive one. "There is no other stadium where you feel the crowd as intensely as in Kaiserslautern", referee Hans-Joachim Weyland knew already in the 70ies. Today as yesterday, the "Betze" just brims with energy.
But what about the day before yesterday? It all starts in 1919, when FV 1900 makes accessible the drafty area high above the city. On March the 13th in 1920, the stadium is finally inaugurated with the match versus FC Pfalz Ludwigshafen. With only one small wooden stand looking onto a pitch with a clay soil – the modest surrounding does not arouse the feeling of being in "hell" at all.
Nonetheless, the "myth Betzenberg" takes shape step by step: In 1926, a turf pitch is cultivated and in 1932 – contemporaneously with the renaming of the affiliated FV and Phönix - the first proper stadium with four stands and a holding capacity of 18,000 spectators is built. The former stand made of wood had been destroyed two years earlier by a hurricane.
After the war, the whole Sports Park Betzenberg was even seized. French occupying forces confiscate the facilities and rename it after General Goislard de Monsabert, their commander, christening it "Stade Monsabert". In the years to follow, the Betzenberg has nothing to do with sports anymore. The French use the area as a place for maintenance and repair for heavy military vans before they hand back the Betzenberg in desolate condition during the winter of 1945/46.
The members of FCK, however, fix and remake their "Betze" and, by 1948, they have created a real jewel box. Only the size remains a problem. Therefore, the team from Kaiserslautern has to celebrate the first national championship titles in 1951 and 1953 in the South-West Stadium at Ludwigshafen.
It takes a few years before the holding capacity matches sporting success. In time with the birth of the Bundesliga in 1963, the stadium capacity rises to 34,000 thanks to the great support of the US forces. On December 18, 1963, the new floodlights are inaugurated on occasion of the game versus Wormatia Worms. The referee has to interrupt the match when alleged opponents of the 400 lux system put up smokescreens in the nearby stone quarry.
Bengal lights are to come in later and with them the incomparable atmosphere that intimidates any opponent. While different stands come and go, the unique atmosphere at the "Betze" always remains throughout. Since November 2nd in 1985, the stadium has been called the Fritz Walter Stadium. The rainy weather on the day of inauguration was no problem at all for the spectators because the magnificent building is completely roofed.
The huge investments, however, are causing FCK trouble. Therefore, the stadium and the young talents’ high performance center are assigned to a re-established property company under the auspices of the city of Kaiserslautern for the amount of 57.9 million euros in 2003. Now, the road is paved for further modernization and extension that bestows five World Cup matches upon the Palatinate as well as a new record audience upon FCK. On May 6, 2006, 50.574 spectators turn out to watch the match against Bayern Munich at the Fritz Walter Stadium. Over 30 years later, Referee Weyland’s words are still true.