The ranks of the honorary captains were extended by the addition of Rüdiger Vollborn and Stefan Kießling in the summer of 2019. Bayer04.de is using the current period without games to say a big thank you to these Werkself legends every Friday over the next few weeks. The six-part series starts with Carsten Ramelow, who celebrates his 46th birthday today. Happy birthday, Calle!
Given the current health situation, a big birthday party is not possible at the moment with only the immediate family circle taking part and his son Julian, who is currently studying biomedicine in the USA, will join in via Skype. "So we'll have a very quiet time," said Calle. That doesn't really bother him. For 18 years he's been living the quiet life at his home in the hills. His house is right at the end of a cul-de-sac in Kürten-Bechen and after that there are fields, a fir tree nursery and woods. Sometimes, deer come right up to his property, buzzards circle the fields in search of voles while goats graze in the farmer's field next door. Wild boar have also been seen in the area. And here foxes and hares can say good night to each other. And the Waltons. "When people from Berlin come to visit they are always amazed how much the nature reminds them of holiday," said Carsten Ramelow.
"I've always needed this safe haven as compensation." Calle lives here far away from the noise of the city with his wife Steffi, daughter Melina and numerous animals.
Duke, the family’s white German Shepherd, is a 12-year-old male. "We always wanted to have a dog when I retired. It wasn't the right time before as I was always on the road as a player." In 2008, after the end of his long career, Duke arrived "as a little polar bear whelp," as Calle noted with a smile.
Duke is the boss of all the animals in the Ramelow family. The other housemates live in the extensive garden. Koi carp and turtles swim in the pond with the surface secured with netting. Birds of prey and herons are not far away. A couple of metres further on under protective netting is a coop housing serama chickens, the smallest chicken breed. Close by there are bricks with beehives buzzing with activity. There are several bee colonies here. Steffi and son Julian qualified as beekeepers a number of years ago with the training over nine months at weekends. The Ramelow household produce 60 kg of honey per year.
"Now, we’re smallholders and real country bumpkins and I would never have dreamed of that in the past," said Carsten. He grew up at the other extreme in a 17-storey block of flats in Neukölln-Buckow in Berlin. "But I always liked being outdoors as a lad and I climbed trees so I've always been close to nature." He definitely has enough of that now.
Calle also has enough work to do. He's a shareholder and partner of Booker GmbH, a successful nationwide service provider in the area of ticketing and event marketing with its HQ in Hürth. "But I don't have to go to the office every day and I can arrange everything as I like. Normal office hours are no good to me as I'm often travelling around Germany on business and I like being in contact with people," said Ramelow who was always the opposite of an aloof football star: down-to-earth and grounded, interested and committed, with deep roots in the rural community.
Here, he's right in the thick of it and not just a spectator – and he loves and enjoys it. When Dimitrios and Antonios, the Greek owners of the Taverna Kalyva, the first restaurant on the square in Kürten-Bechen, celebrated their 22nd anniversary in the village, Ramelow organised a surprise party. "Because they are two great people who you're happy to give something back to." He organised everybody in the area, fire brigade, theatre group and the big carnival society and convince them of the idea. And he took mischievous pleasure in knowing that the Greek hosts knew nothing about the whole idea. 170 people came together – and the noisy party ended in the early hours with everybody dancing round the roundabout in Bechen, which put a stop to the night-time traffic. Flash mobs can be fun.
That is just one example for the lively neighbourhood around the family Ramelow. "When it's about the community, I'm up for it straightaway. If everybody contributes a little bit then you can achieve big things." As with the local football club SV Bechen 1930 whose first team are in the depths of the eighth tier of German football. Ramelow did a lot to ensure the cinder pitch was replaced by a grass pitch, brought in sponsors, drummed up donations and organised a great opening event. In the inaugural match in 2014, Klaus Toppmöller, Hans Sarpei and Ulf Kirsten formed the coaching trio, Jens Nowotny, who does not live far away, heeded the call from his old mate Calle, Boris Zivkovic flew in from Croatia, Thomas Häßler was there and Dieter Trzolek was on the sidelines as physio to look after muscles and legs.
At a carnival parade in Bechen a few years ago, 50 people went through the streets in home-made bee costumes. Carsten Ramelow, the lad from Berlin familiar with the Rhineland customs for a long time, purchased Maja and Willi bees as giant figures made of papier-mâché at an auction and had them driven round on a trailer. He is and remains a team player. Calle, the troubleshooter. When the neighbouring farmer is bringing in the hay crop, he joins in and is happy to take a pitchfork in his hand. "Here, it's simply a matter of everyone getting on, with everybody helping and happy to help. I always believed in getting stuck in and also like doing the donkey work for others." A characteristic that made him stand out on the pitch. The fans loved him for it and they were not averse to calling out "Carsten Ramelow football god".
These days he doesn't play as much but does occasionally wear the shirt of the Bayer 04 A veterans team. "But that's more a rarity," he said, "I always have to see what the body says." Eight knee operations, four on each side, cannot be ignored. "But I can't complain," said Calle, "I can go jogging and also do all the work in the garden. And then you don't need to do any more weight training."
But he still maintains his connection with football. That is also down to his long-term voluntary activity as vice president of the VDV, the German professional footballers association, a players trade union, that supports its 1,300 plus membership with professional services in the areas of pensions, law, education, careers, medicine, sports psychology, media training, competitive integrity and out of contract training. Once a year, the VDV holds a big professional camp in Duisburg-Wedau with training sessions and friendly matches, "as a platform for lads out of contract to be able to show what they can do to new clubs."
He had the Midas touch in his career when he left Hertha Berlin in the winter of 1995 to join Bayer 04 after having faced the Werkself two years before playing for the Hertha Amateurs in the cup final. In his third Bundesliga game for the Black and Reds, Calle appeared on the scoresheet as an exception. He scored both goals in the 2-0 win against Hansa Rostock on 19 March 1996, one day before his 22nd birthday – that was his one and only brace for Bayer 04.
13 years in the first team squad at Leverkusen with over 400 appearances for the Werkself including 333 in the Bundesliga, a total of eight runners-up finishes (see interview and personal details): Carsten Ramelow's record is impressive. The farewell in 2008 when his knee finally gave up and time was over with the U23s under Ulf Kirsten did have an effect on him. "The change is difficult and you have to find new tasks in life." A long time ago, he sorted things out with the right mix of work and time to himself. As described, it is rare that he does nothing at all.
Ramelow is not a regular visitor to the BayArena. "I always like going there but it's got less and less over the years. I do have contact with Kieß from time to time and we're on the same wavelength," said Calle
In the following interview, the honorary captain recalls the really special season of 2001/02:
"The experiences are more important the medals"
Carsten, four days ahead of the final in Glasgow, you lost to Schalke in the cup final in Berlin and had to watch Schalke celebrate in a shower of confetti. You had to experience the same scenario after defeat against Real Madrid on 15 May 2002. What went through your mind at the time?
Ramelow: I recently read a good quote from Diego Simeone who was often lost the final as the coach of Atlético Madrid: you always have to be aware that you can lose a final. I always had that attitude. I was never really dejected, never cried or fell really down. During my career, to put it bluntly, I got a slap in the face so often that I learnt to deal with defeats. Obviously defeats aren't great. But after two or three days of mourning you have to be ready for the next final.
Who did you think you had a better chance of winning a title against, Schalke 04 or Real Madrid?
Ramelow: That season we had a very, very good team and lots of confidence because of that. We didn't need to fear Schalke 04 or Real Madrid. Of course, everybody knew about the quality of the Spaniards but they were beatable on a good day. But we knew about our qualities and knew that we were good as a team.
How did the coach Klaus Toppmöller set you up for the game in Glasgow? You had to get over the cup defeat first. Can you still remember?
Ramelow: To be honest, not that accurately anymore. I can't remember every form of words. But he was always good at motivating others with his relaxed approach. He told us we had to make as few mistakes as possible as a great team like Real Madrid will punish you straightaway. We did well and didn't actually make many mistakes.
Even now, many pundits say Bayer 04 could have won the game if Madrid hadn't changed goalkeepers. That was also the perception of the management at Real Madrid. Do you see it like that?
Ramelow: There's never proof to the contrary in football. I think we got Iker Casillas, who was a really young keeper back then, warmed up. He was able to impress several times and he became more and more confident. Unfortunately on that day he showed the qualities he had. That's why he had such a good career. We had our chances in Glasgow but unfortunately weren’t able to take them. Was it because of the change of goalkeeper? Who can give a definitive answer to that question today?
After Lucio levelled at 1-1, you were on equal terms and perhaps even the better team. Did that send a jolt through the team? What do you think at that moment?
Ramelow: I just thought: Look, they can be got at as well and Real Madrid can actually be beaten. Unfortunately, there was the wonder goal from Zidane to make it 2-1. He made the difference in the end. We didn't have a player like that in our team. We got stuck in even more, created chances but just couldn't turn them into goals. Looking back, I just maintain: Somebody like Zidane in our team would definitely have had the opportunity to take one or the other chance. Of course, that's pure speculation.
Shortly after that in the World Cup final against Brazil in Yokohama, you were in our national team – and again it was the opposition who celebrated.
Ramelow: I picked up eight silver medals in my career. Of course, it would have been good to have one or other in gold. But that definitely wouldn't have changed me as a person. In one season, runners-up in the league, runners-up in the cup, runners-up in the Champions League and runners-up at the World Cup – four times runners-up. That had never happened before and definitely won't happen again. I was there and nobody can take away the experiences I had and they are more important the medals.
Date and place of birth:
20 March 1974 in Berlin
Tasmania Neukölln, Tennis Borussia Berlin, Hertha Zehlendorf, SC Siemensstadt, Hertha BSC, Bayer 04
46 international caps for Germany, World Cup runner-up 2002, Champions League runner-up 2002, DFB Cup runner-up 1993 and 2002, Bundesliga runner-up 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002