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Hertha blankets Berlin with 60,000 flags before derby

After sticker wars dominated the buildup to the last derby, Hertha Berlin decided on flags as its weapon of choice this time.

Hertha used the cover of darkness to plant about 60,000 flags around the German capital’s 12 districts ahead of Friday’s Bundesliga game against Union Berlin.

But Monday’s plan backfired the next day when the local Ordnungsamt — the regulatory body responsible for enforcing civic rules and order — said it was taking action.

“I understand that people want to be creative in times when fans cannot go to the stadium,” Ordnungsamt official Arne Herz told Die Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Herz criticized the flag-sharing action on the basis of producing trash and potentially causing a traffic hazard, and said it was a matter of principal to start procedures against the club.

“If we don’t do anything about Hertha, then perhaps Coca-Cola will come with its Christmas truck next week,“ Herz said.

Hertha defended its action on Wednesday. Spokesman Marcus Jung said the idea was that fans would take the flags home and wave them in front of their TV sets on Friday.

No supporters will be allowed at the derby in Hertha’s 75,000-capacity Olympiastadion because of measures against the coronavirus.

“We managed to give a little happiness to many Hertha fans in these melancholy times,” Jung said.

There was an amused reaction in the eastern borough of Köpenick, where Union coach Urs Fischer said he hadn’t seen any blue and white flags near his house and Union spokesman Christian Arbeit said he had only seen them in media reports.

“Interesting,” said Arbeit, continuing Union’s tradition of needling its richer and more ambitious city rival.

Union was promoted to the Bundesliga in 2019 and is targeting survival again in its second season.

Hertha’s flag-sharing exercise is symbolic of its general struggle to achieve backer Lars Windhorst’s target of becoming a “big city club.”

Windhorst has invested 374 million euros ($450 million) in the club since June 2019. Hertha splashed out an estimated $83 million on player signings in January 2020 — more than any other team in the world.

Signings in the offseason were complicated by the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic, but Hertha still bolstered its squad with the arrivals of goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow, defenders Omar Alderete and Deyovaisio Zeefuik, midfielder Matteo Guendouzi (on loan from Arsenal), and forward Jhon Cordoba. French midfielder Lucas Tousart had already agreed to join in January.

So far, they’ve only shown glimpses of their potential. Hertha is languishing in the bottom half of the standings with five losses in its opening nine games.

The club’s poor results are being brought into focus by Union’s good start. Fischer’s team is surprising many in sixth place, with twice as many points as Hertha.

“We are the bigger club here, we’re Hertha Berlin, and our expectation is, nothing but a win on Friday,” Hertha sporting director Arne Friedrich said in a video call with journalists on Wednesday. “I think in general we have the better team, we have the better players. We just have to show it.”

Friedrich pointed to encouraging periods of play in Hertha’s losses to Leipzig (2-1), Bayern Munich (4-3) and Borussia Dortmund (5-2).

“Everything takes a little while, but it’s definitely on us to start winning games,” the former Germany defender said. “Union Berlin comes with very wide shoulders. They did very well so far. They don’t really have anything to lose in this game. The pressure is on us.”

Friedrich said there would be no extra pressure from Windhorst if the club again failed to secure European qualification this season. Hertha was flirting with a relegation battle last season before Bruno Labbadia took over as its fourth coach of the season and managed to steady the team.

This season started with Hertha getting knocked out of the German Cup by second-division club Eintracht Braunschweig and hasn’t really picked up.

If Union were to inflict a sixth league loss on Hertha and become “Stadtmeister” (city champion) on Friday, it would make Labbadia’s job even harder.

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP