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German group became CBJ fans, friends for life in Columbus

Blue Jackets hockey provided memorable moments during year in capital city

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

The Blue Jackets are popular in Columbus, but they also have fans all across the world. BlueJackets.com is checking in with some of those fans, talking to team diehards overseas to find out how they became so passionate about the franchise and what it's like to follow from so far from Columbus. 

When six young men stepped off the plane from Germany to Columbus in July 2016, they probably couldn't have imagined what was in store during their yearlong stay in the capital city. 

The six hadn't known each other before heading to the States, but all signed up to spend a year in service with Agora Ministries in central Ohio. 

It ended up being the time of their lives for Nico Nischwitz, Grady Niyonkuru, Dominik Knab, Davin Neumann, Harry Fitz and Jonathan Elsaesser. 

"For all of us, leaving home and going a year abroad was an experience that we won't forget over the course of our lives," Nischwitz said. "We loved the time we had there and really fell in love with Columbus and Ohio. Columbus is just a fun city with a lot of stuff to do when you're young." 

Two of them fell in love literally, as well -- Niyonkuru and Neumann would meet their wives in Columbus. For the rest, they simply acquired a love of the city and its sports teams, including the Blue Jackets.  

Nischwitz said hockey isn't a sport he grew up watching much of, as the sports that track most in Germany, joining the country's wildly popular Bundesliga soccer league, are the NFL and NBA. But the six friends were in Columbus during the 2016-17 season in which the Blue Jackets made history with a 16-game winning streak on the way to a 50-win campaign, and as the city became consumed with CBJ fever, so too did the group. 

It took a while to see the first win, though.  

"Our first Blue Jackets game was in January against the Senators," Nischwitz recalls. "We lost 0-2, which sucked, but experience wise it was a blast. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed seeing the game. And we didn't get a shot from the cannon, so we needed to come back.  

"Second game was against the Rangers. We lost 3-2, which sucked, but at least we got the experience the cannon. But at that time we were hyped about the Jackets and the experience of hockey games. We followed the Jackets and hoped they will make a playoff run.  

"And because we all were nuts about it and couldn't go without seeing a CBJ win, that's why we came back for a third game, against the Panthers. We finally got to see our first victory, thanks to an outstanding game from Bobrovsky (I see the irony here)." 

If there's one memory that sticks out for Nischwitz, though, it's not from the year he spent in Columbus. Neumann's wedding was scheduled for April, 2019, in suburban Columbus, and it just so happened to be at the same time as the Blue Jackets' first-round playoff sweep of Tampa Bay. 

As a result, the group was back together and got the chance to see history in person. 

"It was way over our budget and also impossible to get some tickets for the game," Nischwitz said. "So now all of us being 21, we watched the games at the R Bar. It was nuts. I've been to a lot of public viewing in Germany, but I would say Games 3 and 4 in the R Bar was a better public viewing (experience) than the one when Germany won the World Cup in 2014. And that's a really high bar to beat, but it did. I remember my ears ringing the days after the games because it was constantly so loud and people were just freaking out about how the Jackets played.  

"Experiencing something like this, first time winning round one in the playoffs by sweeping the Lightning in the way they did it, in the three weeks we were back in Columbus to visit for the wedding? The Jackets couldn't have done it any better than this for us. A memory that we will talk about forever when it comes to the sports highlights that I got to witness. And we even had the chance to see them live when they did their public training game because they were so good that they had to wait another week for the opponent in round two." 

Five of the six have returned to their native Germany to live, with Nischwitz, originally a native of Pforzheim having settled in Marberg, a city of about 75,000 people about an hour north of Frankfurt in the central part of the country.  

Niyonkuru still remains in Columbus with his wife, giving him the chance to easily stay abreast of all the sports he and his friends picked up, but Nischwitz said those still in Germany remain close followers of the Buckeyes and Blue Jackets. The group has scattered about their home country but still has a reunion each November for the Ohio State-Michigan game, but Nischwitz admitted it's not easy to watch every Jackets game because of the time difference that has most games starting past midnight. 

Still, he does his best to follow, as any fan would. 

"82 is a lot of games in the middle of the night," he said. "But when there is a game on the weekend that is earlier or a good one to stay up, I watch them. But what I do after every game night is watch the highlights from the game. I don't look at my phone in the morning, or mute the notifications so I don't see the score. During breakfast I watch the extended highlights without knowing the final score. That's what comes closest to watching the game live and having the full dose of sleep.  

"If there's a playoff game, it is something different when it comes to weighting in between sleeping or watching the game. I need to say, having those 20-minute breaks between periods kills you trying to stay awake, but it is worth it." 

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