On the death of Kay Bernstein: German football is losing a voice of humanity

On the death of Kay Bernstein
German football is losing a voice of humanity

By Stephan Uersfeld

The sudden death of Hertha President Kay Bernstein shocks Berlin and German football. The 43-year-old leaves behind a tremendous legacy. His vision of a new football was not just aimed at Hertha BSC. Professional sport is losing an important voice.

Kay Bernstein is dead. The president of Hertha BSC died at the age of just 43. He leaves behind a wife and a child. His death leaves a gaping wound in the world of football, far beyond Berlin. Bernstein, who was elected president in May 2022, managed to bring Hertha BSC back to the people after turbulent years in the short months of his term in office. In a very short time he had become a defining figure in football. He was rarely seen without his trademark, his blue Hertha training jacket. Hertha BSC never let go of him, who they called “Kay from the curve” last year. The capital city club had shaped his life.

His election as club president in May 2022 was surprising and yet a logical development. At that time he prevailed against the establishment candidate, Frank Steffel. The Berliners had enough of the chaotic years and chose a completely new beginning. Bernstein had clearly positioned himself in the run-up to the election. He cared about his club and also wanted to show football new perspectives. That was important to him. Because he believed in the power of football as a cultural asset.

When people left the club after his election, he wanted to know why the fans wanted to cancel their membership. Bernstein was inspired by the idea of ​​a big Hertha family and knew that other opinions also had to be tolerated. By listening to people, taking them seriously and treating them as equals, he won many hearts. It wasn’t important to him where people came from and what use they could have for him. Bernstein believed in the good in people. That’s what he, who co-founded the Berlin ultra group Harlekins in 1998, wanted to get out of them.

With the ultra scene the monkey noises were driven out of the stadium

His time on the curve was a huge adventure playground for him. There he tried it out. The trained electrician and industrial mechanic donated blood on Fridays to finance his trips to Hertha’s away games. The purpose of his life back then was “away trips, training camps, choreos, the group,” he told ntv.de last July. Bernstein belongs to the first generation of ultras. He was proud that with the ultra scene he had driven the monkey noises out of the stadium and the NPD from the stadium forecourt. They had simply started, without a plan, but with a sense of what had to happen now.

Back in 2012, when he was still an active fan, he organized the fan congress in Berlin. Representatives from all fan scenes in the country, but also Hanover President Martin Kind, representatives from Sky and DFB were there to discuss the future of German football from the fans’ perspective. It was the best attempt to bring divided camps together. “We should just ask who actually owns football. What responsibility do we have for the game,” said Bernstein in the summer of 2023, when, after Hertha’s relegation, he spoke remarkably openly about the football system, which was partly for him was corrupt.

He has to put out fires again and again

Hertha itself was the best example of the wrong paths of professional football. The effects of the turbulent years accompanied Hertha through Bernstein’s short term in office. The end of the connection with the omnipresent investor Lars Windhorst, the massive cuts in the office, the legal disputes with former employees, the entry of the new, also controversial investor 777 Partners, the relegation to the second Bundesliga, the fears about the license and the Affair about goalkeeper Marius Gersbeck. His first year as president felt like three years, Bernstein said in the summer of 2023. The first few months in the second division must have felt like a year. There was always something going on, there was always a fire to put out. Added to this were the grueling attacks from the tabloids, which were also directed against him personally.

Bernstein didn’t give up, the atmosphere around the club got better and better and the Berlin path became more successful with a full focus on young talent from its own offspring. Not only the eternal coach Pal Dardai had returned, but also the current sports director Benjamin Weber and the club legend Zecke Neuendorf. They began to implement his vision. In October, Bernstein missed the general meeting after an accident. He reported from the hospital.

Last week he visited the professional team at their training camp in Spain and was, as always, optimistic. Like everyone in the club, Bernstein also dreamed of the big sensation in the DFB Cup. Hertha will host league rivals 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the quarterfinals at the end of the month. The final in the Olympic Stadium was his big dream. No Hertha professional team had ever achieved that. What joy it would be to emulate the Hertha boys from 1993 in the year after relegation. The second team had sensationally reached the cup final and lost against Bayer Leverkusen.

Bernstein gives Hertha a new identity

But those were dreams. The 43-year-old also saw Hertha on the right track. The club was able to recover in the first half of the second division. They were no longer in the spotlight, they could take a breather. In the coming months, Bernstein, who was elected until October 2024, hoped that the club would have overcome the worst problems, even if the road to financial recovery was and is still a difficult one. The path continues through controversial investors and jersey sponsors. He was aware of all of this.

With Kay Bernstein, German football is losing someone who hadn’t even started yet. He is losing a great personality who knew about the power of football and who was willing to fight against the ever wilder excesses. The balance of his time at Hertha BSC proves that Bernstein was capable of this. Initially ridiculed, he gave Hertha a new identity with his revolution of humanity. It is no longer just defined by sporting success, but by what a football club is in 2024: a place where people meet and create shared memories. A large adventure playground where so much more is re-enacted than what happens down on the field.

“The people,” said Bernstein, “love this game, for them the stadium is home. Football needs to be treated responsibly towards the people who make this game, the fans.” Bernstein, who grew up in Berlin-Marzahn, passed on this original love for football. His big dream was a “book of generations”. It should be a book in which each generation of fans tells the next what the starting point was and what was achieved. “A book in which is recorded what should be preserved.” Bernstein has not only left his mark in this book, which has not yet been written.

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