Marco Hassler considers himself a long-distance Vikings fan.
Very long distance, in fact.
Hassler was born and raised in Saarland, located in southwest Germany, but was introduced to American football in 1998. Having an interest in Norse mythology and the history of the Vikings, Hassler was immediately drawn to the Minnesota Vikings – and was easily hooked by the magical team that was led by Randy Moss and finished 15-1 that season.
"My friends from school had teams like the 49ers, Raiders or Redskins, but I decided to go with the Vikings," explained Hassler, who now lives and works in Switzerland. "Although there have been tough times to watch, I never struggled [to stick with the team]."
Hassler always admired Minnesota from afar and was often drawn to books about the state as a child.
"The winters, the snow, the beautiful forests. Unique landscapes on one hand and metropolises like Minneapolis and St. Paul on the other. The United States of America and especially Minnesota were always fascinating for me," said Hassler, who has now visited Minnesota six times.
Hassler calls Minnesota a "second home" and enjoys spending time at the Mall of America or making the trek along the North Shore of Lake Superior. He even has a tattoo of the Split Rock Lighthouse on his right calf, depicted just beneath a large rendition of a Vikings helmet.
The native of Germany has adopted the Minnesota sports team as his own and has attended Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, Wild, Minnesota United FC and Golden Gophers games during his visits.
And while he has been to U.S. Bank Stadium a couple of times to watch his beloved Vikings play, Hassler wanted to increase the fan support for the Purple and Gold in his home country.
What started out as a Facebook group connecting Vikings fans living in Germany soon grew beyond the realm of social media. In August 2017, Hassler and a few friends met to discuss the idea of establishing a German Vikings fan club, and on Oct. 29, several fans traveled from Germany to London to watch the Vikings defeat the Browns at Twickenham Stadium.
On Jan. 11, 2018, the club was officially launched.
"It became clear that there are a lot of [people] out there with the same love and passion for the Vikes," said Hassler, who serves as the vice president of the Minnesota Vikings Fans Germany e.V. The initials stand for eingetragener Verein, which means the club is legally registered and recognized by Germany.
"There are a lot of diehard fans in Germany, loyal to the Purple and Gold, united with our brothers and sisters of the Viking World Order from Minnesota," Hassler added.
Raimund Rüther, a native of Werl, Germany, recognized the group's flag while at the London game and later attended a summer meeting to connect personally with fellow fans.
"I appreciate that I can talk with other Vikings supporters who are as interested as me," Rüther said. "Football is rising in Germany, but it's seldom to find someone who commonly understands the details of the game – and with the Vikings, it is special."
According to Hassler, the fan club is the largest in Germany at 210 members and growing.
The club's members meet in different locations, from watching Vikings games at various sports bars throughout Germany to hosting Super Bowl parties at members' homes. Meetings for the club also are planned.
Hassler explained that the Vikings have gained more and more popularity in Germany over the recent years, and he credited "good efforts" of the team for the rising draw.
"Spectacular games, hard fights and winning records were all reasons," Hassler said. "And the Minneapolis Miracle – Oh my gosh, what a game! After that game, more and more people joined the Vikings ship.
"But there was also many guys who started cheering for our team after the heartbreaking loss against the Seahawks in the playoffs … because we fought till the end against a Seattle team that is very popular in Germany also," Hassler added. "Most popular teams here are the Patriots, Seahawks, Cardinals and, unfortunately, the Packers. But the Vikings fans in Germany are just as diehard as those in the States. Our love for our team is real, and we're no bandwagoners."