MANY of us have a city we just can’t get enough of. In my case, it’s Berlin. I’ve lost count of the number of visits since student days in the 1980s but every trip provides positive, novel experiences and at the same time, echoes of the past.

The contrarian and nostalgist in me demands that I set up camp, not in fashionable Mitte where most tourists end up, but in the grittier western part of the capital. I confess to still having as the Germans say, “die Grenze im Kopf” – the border in my head. It probably explains the attraction of staying in the west, allowing for that special feeling of sneaking into the eastern sector, something that on early Berlin sojourns was impossible.

My mission last Wednesday was to travel to Babelsberg, a small town just 15 miles and 20 minutes from my West Berlin base. Something of a political and polemical football story has emerged there in the last year and I was determined to live a bit of it first hand.

Last spring, Babelsberg hosted a fourth division match against Energie Cottbus, a club with a notorious extreme right element. Home fans didn’t take kindly to Nazi salutes and racist and discriminatory chants by some of their guests, many of whom were masked.

The Babelsberg vocal response was an emphatic “Nazischweine raus” (“Nazi pigs out”).

Cottbus ultras also let off fireworks and attempted to invade the pitch, leading to numerous police investigations.

However, what raised eyebrows was the decision by the local FA, the NOFV, to turn a blind eye to Cottbus fans’ racist chanting and Nazi gestures, while financially penalising Babelsberg €7000 due to one supporter with a red punk haircut, shouting “Nazischweine raus”.

Babelsberg initially refused to fork out for the fine and missed numerous payment deadlines. It was finally agreed that half the money would go towards the club’s fund to fight racism, discrimination and right-wing extremism, while the other half would be used by the NOFV on a similar basis.

But rather than let the matter end there, Babelsberg, ably led by their indefatigable chairman Archibald Horlitz, quickly became the poster children for the fight against the far right and discrimination in society. They now view themselves as role models for lower-tier sides trying to overcome such societal problems. Many across Germany got onside with their campaign.

Bigger clubs have taken notice in places such as Dortmund and Bremen, who have had first-hand experience of right-wing fringes.

Babelsberg had rearranged a previously postponed game against Viktoria Berlin for Wednesday. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.

The S7 local train takes you from West Berlin to Babelsberg in what seems like no time at all. I was half expecting a grey, forgotten place. Instead, walking out of the railway station, it was hard not to be charmed. Pleasant shop fronts, an abundance of restaurants and outdoor cafes, smiling locals. The Karl-Liebknecht-Stadion (better known in town as the KarLi) is impossible to miss and named after the former left-wing political leader who opposed World War I in the Reichstag.

How intensely political an experience would it be? The message outside the stadium made it clear refugees were most welcome indeed. A popular item in the club shop was the now iconic t-shirt emblazoned with the words “Nazis raus aus dem Stadien” (Nazis get out of the grounds).

Meanwhile there was, almost comically, a Scottish theme. Outside the fan shop, I had to do a double take as Scotland, Dundee United and Motherwell scarves were sold.

“We like Scots here, good people” the man behind the desk told me with a big grin. The Tangerine connection was Babelsberg’s Andis Shala, a man I once commentated on playing for United at Tannadice. Where Motherwell come in, no one quite seemed to know.

Inside the stadium, I was reminded of the type of venue from 30-plus years ago studying in Germany.

A small, pleasant main stand and then just old fashioned terrace sweeping around the far side and goals.

On the opposite side stood the ultras, the Filmstadt Inferno 99, who did their thing for 90 minutes. Loud, rhythmic and fronted by a banner confirming their dislike of homophobia in society. The rest of the ground, full of families, watched more quietly but revelled in a 3-1 win for the home side.

A political experience at a football match? Hardly. The principles Babelsberg stand up for are humanist values of decency. There was no singing about battles of their ancestors.

Babelsberg fans already have a strong relationship with like-minded second division St Pauli and the club are hopeful they can stage an annual tournament involving a Bundesliga club to keep attention focused on their anti-racism and discrimination message.

On the way out of the KarLi, the pull to buy a Babelsberg shirt was impossible to resist. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening in a passionate atmosphere of civility and will certainly be back.

IT is written on social media from time to time that the Champions League has become stale and dull as though it were fact rather than opinion. Too many of the same super clubs dominating the competition apparently.

For starters, Liverpool and Roma have been anything but usual suspects in recent years but never mind.

Make it just for domestic champions like the old days and we will get real excitement, so say the Champions League’s detractors.

Sorry but that horse bolted long ago.

The Real Madrid v Bayern semi-final second leg in particular, was gripping in the extreme. I struggle to see how it could have failed to move anyone who loves top-level football.

That Real Madrid prevailed again on aggregate to stay on course for a third successive triumph and a 13th trophy, somehow defies explanation. Bayern who outplayed los merengues, hurt themselves with two horrific individual mistakes in as many games, by Rafinha and Sven Ulreich respectively.

Liverpool made an adventure out of their return leg in Rome but saw it through despite a twitchy ending.

Much as I admire what Jurgen Klopp has done, I don’t think they or Real Madrid are close to the best the Champions League has seen. There are flaws, particularly defensively, which the other team in Kiev on May 26 can exploit.

But that is one of many reasons why this final could be great fun, just as this season’s knock-out stage has been one of the most enthralling for a long time. To those for whom the Champions League is too “elitist”, you are missing out.