ARLINGTON, Va. — James Rodriguez opened the scoring for Bayern Munich against RB Leipzig on Saturday. Immediately following the goal, a booming voice announces the goal-scorer with a call: “James!”
A massive response follows from the crowd: “Rodriguez!”
The atmosphere feels a bit like the Allianz Arena, but in actuality we are inside Summers Restaurant in Arlington, Va. Though we’re more than 4,000 miles away, coming to Summers for Bayern matches is just about as close as you can get to the Allianz without buying a ticket.
The bar and restaurant just outside of Washington D.C. is the home to Bayern Munich’s official Washington fan club – the largest Bayern supporters group in the United States.
On this particular Saturday, much like most Bayern matches, a healthy crowd has gathered in Summers’ back room to watch their favorite team. Red jerseys, steins of beer and, yes, even lederhosen abound. Oktoberfest may have ended weeks ago, but you wouldn’t know that by the atmosphere in here.
The man with the booming voice who called out, “James!” is largely responsible for these weekly festivities. His name is Michael Faehnle-Hedge, the Bayern fan club’s founder and president.
Faehnle-Hedge was born in Bavaria, came to the Washington area to study in 1998 and has never left.
“In the 2000s I’d come here [Summers] for Champions League matches,” Faehnle-Hedge recalls just after showing me a recently snapped picture of his infant child sitting in the Champions League trophy.
“I’d come out here in a Bayern jersey and I’d be the only guy — maybe one other old German who was living here would come in — and I was like, ‘You know [what] would be awesome? To not watch matches by myself.’”
And so Faehnle-Hedge decided to found one of the USA’s first Bayern Munich supporters groups.
“By 2007, 2008 we’d have maybe 10 guys who would get together,” Faehnle-Hedge said. “By 2011 we had reached the threshold which was required by Bayern at the time of 25 people to form an official fan club.”
At the time, reaching 25 was a significant achievement. Now, though, that number seems rather quaint. On Saturday, the D.C. chapter of Bayern Munich’s fan club signed up its 600th member.
Attending the event at Summers were three Bayern Munich employees based in the club’s New York office. Bayern’s commitment to the U.S. market could be seen at the event, as several of the club’s major trophies and team mascot Berni accompanied the team employees to Summers.
“The club opened the U.S. office in 2014 in order to better connect with fans, build the brand and form mutually beneficial partnerships,” Rudolf Vidal, president of the Americas for Bayern Munich, said.
“Without this presence we wouldn't be able to build the relationships we have with our fan clubs and undertake our roadshow, taking our trophies, Berni the mascot and raffle prizes to our fan club watch parties.”
When Bayern Munich opened its New York office in 2014, there were eight official fan clubs in the United States. Today there are 127, spread across 38 states.
None of those clubs likely generates an environment quite like the D.C. chapter does at Summers. It's an atmosphere that keeps fans coming back, and even inspires unaffiliated ones to join the party.
"We’re 4,000 miles away from Munich but when you’re in there for a big match, you kind of get that stadium arena feeling," Faehnle-Hedge said.
"You create an atmosphere where even if you’re not a fan, we’ve actually converted a lot of people. Because they come in and they’re like, ‘This is an awesome atmosphere.'"
“We are very aware that not all of our fans are able to get to the Allianz Arena in Munich,” Vidal said, “so it is important for us to take the club to them.”