Mainz, Wiesbaden and a Non-existent Rivalry

German football is teeming with rivalries. At every level of the pyramid, someone hates someone. The most common reason for friction is, of course, geography. Thus, when looking at a map of Germany, you would be forgiven to think that Mainz and Wiesbaden are no different, after all, the two are only separated by a river.

While there is certainly a high degree of competition between the two cities – Mainz boasting a rich history dating back to Roman times and being a center for Carnival celebrations, whereas Wiesbaden is one of Germany’s most economically prosperous cities – the rivalry is yet to manifest on the football pitch; in fact, Mainz 05 and Wehen Wiesbaden are worlds apart.

Geographically, the only divide between the two cities is the Rhine River. Mainz is located south of a bend on its west bank, while Wiesbaden sits immediately to the north on the other side – the “wrong side”, according to the Mainzer locals, with Wiesbadeners claiming the inverse, naturally. It’s perhaps not a stretch to say that if it weren’t for the natural barrier, there would have been little in the way of the two urban areas converging. Indeed, before World War II, Mainz did actually have suburbs sprawling beyond the aqueous boundary, but after the arrival of the Allies, the Rhine served as a physical border between occupational zones, and those outskirts were consequently administered to Wiesbaden after the war, further stoking mutual resentment.

Presently, only a few hundred meters separate the two and the stadia of the cities’ respective clubs are merely ten kilometers apart as the crow flies. All the prerequisites for a fiery derby are seemingly in place and yet, there is barely a football rivalry to speak of.

Mainz (left) and its former suburbs (right), with Wiesbaden proper off in the distance to the north (Source)

There are several causes for this weird phenomenon, one of the less relevant ones simply being the fact that despite the intimate proximity, the settlements are divided by state lines. As a matter of fact, both are the capital of their particular Bundesland; Mainz being the center of Rhineland-Palatinate, whereas Wiesbaden is its Hessian counterpart. As a result, football teams in these parts fall under the jurisdiction of different governing bodies and rarely come into contact with each other.

But the infinitely more striking reason is that Wiesbaden, for all its importance as a city, perplexingly did not have a professional football team until 2007. Of course, there have always been clubs in Wiesbaden, but none have ever reached the upper echelons of German football – and even when a team did finally show up, it wasn’t without controversy.

Wehen Wiesbaden is not a conventional club in the traditional sense. Like Hoffenheim, they are – or were – a Dorfverein (village club) bankrolled by a rich businessman. However, unlike the Dietmar Hopp-funded club from the Kraichgau, Wehen eventually ventured outside of their humble abode to a more distinguished location – because, well, they had to. The name Wehen even refers to their former residence; it’s not some weird allusion to pregnancy – Wehen is the German word for contractions – but the name of the tiny town the club originally called home. Positioned some ten kilometers outside of Wiesbaden, Wehen is one of ten neighborhoods that make up the larger municipality of Taunusstein.

The parallels to Hoffenheim don’t stop at the club’s historical insignificance either. Both teams were promoted to the 2. Bundesliga in the same season; Wehen finished top of the Regionalliga Südwest in 2006/07, a whopping 19 points ahead of third, with Hoffenheim coming in second. So, who was the man behind Wehen’s sudden rise to prominence?

His name was Heinz Hankammer, founder of Brita, a company that produces water filters among a host of other things – the business is actually named after his daughter. Hankammer had been siphoning money into local club SV Wehen since 1979, but he passed away in 2016. Funnily enough, the players that were signed when the club was still playing amateur football also doubled up as new Brita employees.

Despite a minuscule population that doesn’t even crack the seven thousand mark, SV Wehen games regularly attracted a thousand or more spectators. When the club eventually reached the dizzying heights of the Regionalliga (back then the third tier) and subsequently started challenging for promotion to the professional 2. Bundesliga, Hankammer, who by that point was the club’s president, realized that little old Wehen can’t really sustain a second-division club. Relocating just down the road to Wiesbaden was the most obvious solution to the problem.

There were some obstacles, though. First of all, it’s not a stretch to say that having never hosted a professional team had rendered the inhabitants of Wiesbaden pretty apathetic towards football – Hesse’s capital has at times been dubbed Germany’s least enthusiastic city about the sport. Secondly, the new adopted home ground, the Stadion an der Berliner Straße, had long since fallen into disrepair and required renovation and modernization at a cost of €8.5 million. Even with a sugar daddy, that is not a trifling amount for a club that only attracted 100 away fans to the game that ultimately sealed promotion.

The whole thing soon became a drawn-out ordeal that involved much deliberation from the people in charge of the city. After a while, the club even threatened to choose a different destination (Mainz) should Wehen not be granted admission into Wiesbaden. Despite protests from some residents who wanted no part in the ‘plastic club’, the authorities eventually embraced Hankammer and his entourage with open arms but also a healthy dose of suspicion and skepticism; thus, SV Wehen Wiesbaden was born.

The 2006/07 campaign also marked the third year of Mainz’s first-ever Bundesliga tenure, at the end of which, relegation beckoned. This meant that Mainz and Wehen would convene in the same league the following season – surely just what was needed to kickstart this rivalry. Indeed, Wehen received a remarkable 30,000 ticket applications for the inaugural ‘derby’ – the Brita-Arena has a capacity of less than half of that, mind – and the excitement was palpable.

When derby day finally arrived on October 21, 2007, it was bound to be a historic occasion for several reasons: it was the first league meeting between teams from these two cities since 1936; it was the opening (competitive) game at the refurbished Brita-Arena; and it was supposed to be a seminal moment in the coming-of-age of one of Germany’s newest rivalries. While it was certainly a day of celebration – after all, the sport, in a professional capacity, was still in its infancy in Wiesbaden – it hardly felt like a proper derby. In reality, it was more a reunion of sorts, not least because of the team captains, Sandro Schwarz and Marco Rose.

Schwarz (left) and Rose (right) before their first meeting as opponents (Martin Hoffmann/imago images)

Schwarz and Rose are famed for having one of German football’s most close-knit friendships. Schwarz is the godfather of Rose’s children and vice versa, the latter was also the best man at Schwarz’s wedding. Furthermore, the two were part of Jürgen Klopp’s Mainz squad that achieved promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in the club’s history and they even lived together at the time. After a year apart, with Schwarz plying his trade in Essen for a while, the two were reunited in 2005 when he signed for Wiesbaden.

After exchanging pleasantries and giving each other a quick peck on the cheek before the game, the self-described brothers went to do battle; Mainz captain Rose, who is two years Schwarz’s senior, came out on top, winning 3-1. Following the obligatory swapping of shirts, Rose stated in a post-match interview that the experience was “something special”.

Schwarz would later go on to coach his hometown club Mainz before moving on to Dynamo Moscow, while Leipzig native Rose is currently helming Borussia Mönchengladbach. Back in 2007, however, it was Rose who was still with the Karnivalsklub, and his team was fixed on getting back into the top flight. By the time the return fixture was due to be played, Rose and his coterie were only sitting in fourth, so nothing less than victory sufficed. On April 6, 2008, history repeated itself, as Mainz scored three goals. Only this time around, Wiesbaden couldn’t even muster a whiff of a late fightback like they did back in October; Schwarz’s side went home goalless and empty-handed.

Mainz temporarily climbed up to third – the relegation playoff spot – but come May 18, they had slipped back into fourth and subsequently missed out on promotion, despite boasting the best home record in the league. A 5-1 beatdown of St. Pauli was Jürgen Klopp’s last match in charge. It was the end of an era and the man tasked with the unenviable job of filling the enormous shoes of his predecessor was Jørn Andersen. At the time, it certainly seemed like an uninspiring hire all things considered – he had just been relegated with Kickers Offenbach – but he got the job done and Mainz returned to the Bundesliga the following year.

Wiesbaden, on the other hand, finished the 07/08 season smack dab in mid-table. Any hopes they harbored of turning their derby fortunes around soon dissipated when they were thoroughly outclassed and comprehensively demolished 5-0 by Andersen’s Mainz on matchday seven of the 08/09 campaign; the return leg ended 2-0 in their rivals’ favor as well. This one-sidedness and Mainz’s unequivocal superiority did little to improve the lack of derby atmosphere. As the Nullfünfer celebrated their return to the elite, Wehen players were left in tears having just finished rock bottom of the 2. Bundesliga. Their paths have not crossed since.

Under the tutelage of Thomas Tuchel, Mainz experienced a second golden age and established themselves as a Bundesliga side, even getting into Europe. Wiesbaden, meanwhile, were left miring in the 3. Liga, only returning to the second tier for a brief stint last season. At the moment, mediocrity is the order of the day for both sides. Mainz’s renaissance has long since passed and 2021 may very well be the year that they finally succumb to their wearisome incompetence. Equally, it looks highly unlikely that Wehen will bounce back from last season’s relegation. Mathematically, everything is still within the realm of possibility, of course, but Rüdiger Rehm’s side is simply too inconsistent to mount a serious promotion challenge.

A reunion in the 2. Bundesliga remains an unlikely prospect for the foreseeable future. The rivalry that never was a real rivalry to begin with will have to wait a bit longer before it can get another chance at obtaining actualization.

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