In the end it was also a question of passion and will. When the ball flew from the right to FC Hansa Rostock’s six-yard box, it was a whole knot of players in red that rose into the air. Three Hamburgers fought for the ball, and in the end it was their captain Sebastian Schonlau who headed in 15 minutes to make it 2-1, paving the way for HSV to be relegated to Hertha BSC.

“It was symptomatic of our season,” said center forward Robert Glatzel, who had made it 1-1 with his 22nd goal of the season. “We kept falling down and getting up again and again.” It was the same in the final act on Sunday. At 3.30 p.m. the last matchday of the second division kicked off. At 3:32 p.m. Hamburger SV slipped from third to fourth place because Darmstadt 98 took the lead in the parallel game against Paderborn – and it stayed that way until 5:05 p.m. Until Schonlau made it 2-1. Only then did around 3,000 HSV fans sing in the Ostseestadion: “Berlin, Berlin, we’re going to Berlin.”

Not only Hertha can do drama, HSV can do drama too. “Of course we always make it a bit exciting,” said Captain Schonlau on Sky. Even after Mikkel Kaufmann’s apparently reassuring 3-1 five minutes before the end, things got dicey because Hansa reduced the score to 2-3 in added time. But that was enough for HSV to claim third place.

Never before since relegation four years ago has the once eternal first division side come so close to returning to the Bundesliga. But the last day of play looked like a decal of the entire season. “We overcame a lot of resistance,” said sports director Jonas Boldt. Five weeks ago, after the defeat against Holstein Kiel on matchday 29, things seemed to have been settled. They were seven points behind third place. But with five wins from the last five games, coach Tim Walter’s team still secured a place in the relegation – and thus a duel with an HSV legend.

Felix Magath, the trainer at Hertha BSC, was a player, manager and trainer at Hamburger SV – and of course he knew when he took office in Berlin that this explosive situation would arise. The day before, after Hertha’s defeat in Dortmund, Magath had said with regard to the decision in the second division: “I don’t know what to hope for, what I wish for, what I should think. If it’s HSV then it will obviously be a difficult game for me.”

The same applies vice versa. Even if HSV is very euphoric about the successful final spurt when it comes to dealing with the Berliners: Hertha is still the favorite when it comes to filling the squad. The years in the second division have also left their mark on Hamburg, the personnel budget has been significantly reduced. But when it comes to extremes, none of that should matter. “I have no idea how they play,” said captain Schonlau about relegation opponents Hertha. “I think there’s something going on.”