Perhaps better known for its giant cathedral, its large number of pubs, and its Carnival celebration, Cologne is also home to Germany’s biggest female hockey club – the Cologne Brownies. With three teams (which is more than any other female club in the country that competes in a league) the Brownies are unique – and they have big plans to continue to pave the way for female players in the Cologne area.
By January 2017, the Brownies (a name which refers not to the dessert, but to the folkloric creature) aim to join with and compete under a new name – the Cologne Sharks. The Cologne Sharks is both a a big youth hockey club and a men’s team that plays in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL). This organizational and branding move would likely help the Brownies achieve their main goal – to have their first team promoted to Germany’s top women’s league, the Deutsche Frauen Eishockey Bundesliga.
The Brownies’ three teams are divided by skill level and compete in different regional leagues. The first team plays in the second highest women’s league in the area (Frauen 2. Liga Nord), the second team in the third highest (Frauen Landesliga NRW), and the third team in the fourth highest (Frauen Bezirksliga NRW).
“When you play in the first league most of the people are playing in the national team of Germany and … In each league in Germany, from league to league it’s always a big step,” said the Cologne Brownies’ head coach, René Nosper, who has coached with the club for ten years.
This means that not only could a move up to the top league be challenging, but that the range of skills levels within the Brownies organization is immense. The first team has two members of Germany’s U18 national team – Christina Schwamborn and Naemi Bär – while the third team has beginner players who have only been playing for a few months. The club is large, but a significant portion of the girls are on the third team.
“Most girls which are coming are beginners and they have to start in the third team,” explained Nosper, “and the teams that are one and two are going down, they are getting smaller. There’s 80 members in the club which are able to play in the leagues and that’s a lot, but mostly I go to the games with the first team and second team with 12 or 15 girls.”
While the increase in young girls and women from the Cologne area who are starting to play hockey does not necessarily help the first and second teams in the short term, the continued growth of the organization is still promising.
The biggest challenge by far for the Brownies however is the costs involved with playing on and running a team. Ice times and travel fees are expensive, with players paying at least 600 Euros each a season. This fee would likely increase if the Brownies had a team that was promoted to the top league, but at the same time, joining with the Cologne Sharks could help lessen their financial burdens.
“We have the [jerseys], maybe you get sponsors for the team, so it’s easier to get in the first league,” said Nosper of the possibilities that could arise from joining with the Sharks. “You have sponsors who give you a little bit of money for travelling.”
To join the Deutsche Frauen Eishockey Bundesliga, the Brownies’ first team must not only be able to afford it financially, but they must also finish at the top of their league, something they fell short of last season.
“Last year we were in the semifinals and the first game we won, I think 5-1 … and the second game we lost 6-1, so we went down. A lot of girls were ill, the goalie was injured,” said Nosper. “This year I want to get in the finals and maybe when we win the finals we have to look if we can go in the first league.”
The Brownies’ main competition as they fight for the top spot and the chance to be promoted is Düsseldorf, another club that is also looking to be join Germany’s top league. The Brownies have played Düsseldorf once already this season, beating them 2-1 in an intensely close game.
So what’s next? While the players continue to practice and play games in an effort to finish the season as the number one club, meetings have and will take place to take the steps necessary to make the shift from the Brownies to the Sharks. The Cologne Brownies, which already differs from other female hockey clubs not just in Germany, but in Europe, is a club to watch, as they continue to dream big and lead the way for female hockey in and around Cologne.