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20.03.2017Bayer 04

Happy birthday, Calle

He was a favourite of the fans who often liked to call him 'Carsten Ramelow football god': On the occasion of his 43rd birthday, we bring you his story from the first Werks11 magazine when we visited the honorary Werkself skipper, who ended a successful career in 2008, at his home in the country.
© Bayer 04 Leverkusen Fussball GmbH

You have to slow down on the way to his house. The roads get narrower and narrower as they wind their way through verdant meadows. A pleasure for the eyes as far as you can see. "When people from Berlin visit they're always surprised to see how wonderful the nature is round here," said Carson Ramelow.

A visit to the Werkself honorary skipper in Kürten-Bechen. His house is right at the end of a cul-de-sac, with just another field, pine tree plantation and wood behind it. Sometimes, deer come up to his property, buzzards circle over the fields in search of voles and goats graze in the next-door farmer’s field. There are also wild boar in the area. And here foxes and hares can say good night to each other. Or the Waltons. An unhurried and peaceful world away from the noise of the big city.

Polar bear with a flat leather ball

"I've always needed this retreat as a balance," said the householder when he greeted us at the garden gate. Closely followed by Duke, the Ramelow family's white Alsatian. An eight-year-old male weighing 40 kg with an impressive stature but, at the same time, very gentle and with a predilection for carrying round a flat, old leather ball. The 43-year-old has lived here for 15 years with his wife Steffi and children Julian and Melina. Duke arrived in 2008 when Ramelow ended his professional career, "looking like a small polar bear," as Calle said with a smile. "We always wanted to have a dog when I stopped playing. Before that, it wasn't really the right time as I was away from home a lot as a player."

Duke is the boss of the animal section of the Ramelow family. The others live in the spacious garden. The two guinea pigs Toffee and Curly. A pond is home to Koi carp and turtles protected by nets on the surface of the water. Birds of prey and herons are always round and about.

Carsten, the beekeeper

A few metres further on, there’s an electrified fence surrounding a coop with six Serama chickens, the smallest bred of chicken there is. One cockerel and five hens, looking cute with their dark-spotted plumage but they have problems going out into the run. “They don’t really want to go out into the open air of their own accord. There’s no older bird to show them the way,” said Steffi Ramelow. They have to tempt them out. The eggs they lay are also cute - not much bigger than a table tennis ball.A couple of metres after that, there are bricks on beehives full of life inside. There are three bee colonies here. There used to be six. The other three succumbed to aggressive wasps. They simply entered the hives and set about destroying them. “Perhaps I should have made the entrance smaller then the bees would have had more of a chance of keeping the wasps out,” said Steffi Ramelow. It’s a matter of learning for next time.

"I've always been close to nature"

Steffi and their son Julian both have beekeeping certificates gained after nine months learning at weekends. When Calle lifts up the roof of a beehive to get a look at the honeycombs he puts on his bee suit. Julian and him have both been stung on the head so extreme care is the order of the day. The Ramelow household produced 60 kilos of honey at the last harvest. "Now we are smallholders and real country folk and I never could have dreamed of that earlier on in life," said Carsten. He grew up in a completely opposite environment in a 17-storey Berlin apartment block in Neukölln-Buckow. "But I always wanted to be outside and I climbed trees as a boy. I've always been close to nature." He's certainly not short of that now.

He gets up in the morning at 5:45, makes breakfast for the family and looks out in the dawn light for deer and other animal guests. Then he's usually off to work. Ramelow is a shareholder and joint owner of Booker GmbH, a nationally successful provider of ticketing and event marketing based in Hürth. The company has a box at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne – the Circle Lounge with an area of 130 m². "But I don't have to go to the office every day and I can sort out what I do. Just being in an office would be no good to me, I'm often on the road in Germany and I enjoy having contact with people," said Ramelow.

Getting to know people

That is evident straightaway when we go for a coffee with him in the village. He received a warm welcome from the staff at the Bauer bakery: How's it going?" He replies, "Very well thank you." They chat to each other on equal terms as Ramelow is the exact opposite to an aloof football star with his feet firmly on the ground, interested and approachable, complete with firm roots in the village community. He's in the middle of it all here and he loves and enjoys it. When Demetrios and Antonios, the Greek owners of the Taverna Kalyva, the first restaurant on the square, celebrated their 22nd year in the village, Ramelow secretly organised a surprise party. "Because they're two great people who we wanted to give something back to." He got everybody in the area to support the idea including the fire brigade, theatre group and the big carnival committee. And it was great fun that the Greek hosts knew nothing about it at all beforehand. 170 people came along – and the tremendous party ended in the early hours with people dancing on the roundabout blocking the traffic. A friendly mob indeed.

That is just one example of the lively neighbourhood around the Ramelow family. "You can always count me in when it's about the community. If everybody does their little bit then you can achieve great things." As with the local football club SV Bechen 1930 whose first team are in the lower reaches of district league B. Ramelow got heavily involved in turning the shale pitch into a grass one, organising sponsors and drumming up donations as well as organising a great opening event. In the first ever match in 2014, Klaus Toppmöller, Hans Sarpei and Ulf Kirsten provided the coaching triumvirate and Jens Nowotny, who lives nearby, answer the call of his old mate Calle, Boris Zivkovic flew in from Croatia, Thomas Häßler was there and Dieter Trzolek was on the sidelines as physio to provide relief for aching muscles and legs.

"I like getting my hands dirty!"

The carnival procession in Bechen saw 50 people travel round the streets in home-made bee costumes. Carsten Ramelow, a Berlin boy who long ago picked up the Rhineland customs, bought giant Maja and Willi bees made of papier-maché at an auction and had them towed round on a trailer. Calle is simply a team player who looks after everything. If the farmer next door bringing in his hay harvest he always gets involved with the pitchfork in his hand. "We all get on really well here, helping each other and we like helping each other. I always liked getting stuck in and sometimes I like doing the dirty work for others." A characteristic evident in earlier days on the pitch.

It's not that long ago he hung up his boots and from time to time he does pull on the shirt for the Veterans team at Bayer 04. "But not very often," he said, "I always have to listen to what my body’s saying." Eight operations on his knees, four on each, have taken their toll. "But I can't complain," said Calle, "I can go jogging and do all the work in the garden. I don't need to do any more weight training." And if he wants to take it a bit easier then he gets on his quad bike and drives through the woods with childlike pleasure.

He does still have a connection to the game. That comes from his many years, voluntary activity as vice president of the VDV, the Association of Professional Footballers, a players union that supports its 1,300 members with professional services in the areas of financial support, law, education, careers, medicine, sports psychology, media training, competition integrity and training out of contract. In Duisburg-Wedau, the VDV organises an annual, big professional camp training sessions and friendly games, "as a platform for lads out of contract to get a chance to show what they can do for new clubs.”

From Berlin to Bayer 04

Carsten had a helping hand in his career when he moved from Hertha Berlin to Bayer 04 in the winter of 1995 after he played against the Werkself two years before for the Hertha Reserves in the Cup final. He went on to spend 13 years as a pro at Leverkusen with over 400 competitive appearances for the Werkself including 333 in the Bundesliga. He bowed out in 2008 when his knee finally gave way and he was unable to carry on helping out Ulf Kirsten's U23 team and that proved hard for him. "The adjustment is very difficult and you have to find a new role in life." These days he has it all worked out with the right mix of work and pleasure. But he is rarely left idle as we've seen. No wonder with so many human and animal members of the household.

Ramelow is an infrequent visitor to the BayArena. "I like going there but it's less and less over the years. I still have contact with Kieß from time to time as we’re on the same wavelength as is the kit man Klaus Zöller," said Calle. Then a flat ball is rolled to his feet. The 'polar bear' is demanding his attention. For Calle it's Duke time.

© Bayer 04 Leverkusen Fussball GmbH

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