Once the Champions League quarter-finals had been played, it was always mathematically likely that we'd have two German-Spanish ties in the semis. Quite apart from the fact that these are attractive and interesting match-ups, they are also fitting, as the two countries have a long and colourful mutual history in the major European cup competitions.
I don't have access to a database where I could quickly look this up, but it seems to me that our clubs have played Spanish teams unusually often. Just consider the fact that Atlético have met no less than 13 different German clubs over the years! Bayern, Bremen, Dortmund, Dresden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Jena, Leverkusen, Nurenberg, Schalke, Uerdingen and Wolfsburg.
The greatest German experts on Spain are Schalke, I suppose. Although they have yet to meet Real Madrid in a competitve game, they have played nine different Spanish sides: Atlético, Barcelona, Bilbao, Espanyol, Mallorca, Santander, Sevilla, Tenerife and Valencia.
The first time a German team reached the European Cup final, the opponents came from Spain and the resulting game - Real's 7-3 against Frankfurt at Hampden Park in 1960 - acquired almost mythical status. It was even voted the greatest game of all time by FourFourTwo magazine back in the 1990s.
The first time a German team won the European Cup, the opponents came from Spain again and the game produced one of the truly pivotal goals in our football history - and the most unlikely of heroes. With only seconds left on the clock and Bayern trailing Atlético 1-0 in the 1974 final, defender Georg Schwarzenbeck tried a desperate shot from almost 30 yards that somehow found its way through ten pairs of legs and crossed the line just inside the left-hand post.
This goal - one of only 30 which Schwarzenbeck scored in a career that spanned 589 professional games - forced a replay which Bayern won convincingly. So you could say that the man whose day job was covering Franz Beckenbauer's back when the Kaiser moved upfield ultimately laid the foundation stone for Bayern's dynasty.
Two years later, in 1976, there were even two German-Spanish clashes in the European Cup. In the quarter-finals, Real eliminated Gladbach on away goals and under very dubious circumstances. In the second leg at the Bernabéu, the Germans took the lead, but then the Dutch referee Leonardus van der Kroft (incidentally, the man who brandished the first-ever yellow card in the Eredivisie) began making strange decisions.
First he awarded Real a free-kick that led to the equaliser. It was such a dubious free-kick that it caught even the Spanish by surprise: Roberto Martinez, who had supposedly been fouled, had already carried the ball over to the flag and was ready to take a corner when he realised that van der Kroft had blown his whistle. Then, in the final 20 minutes, the referee disallowed two Gladbach goals that both looked legal - one for offside, even though the linesman hadn't waved his flag, the other for a foul or a handball, nobody was really sure, in the build-up.
It wasn't the last nightmarish encounter Gladbach would have with Real. Nine years later, in the UEFA Cup, the Germans were on the wrong end of one of the biggest comebacks in the history of European club competition. At home (more precisely: in Düsseldorf, where Gladbach often moved for big games because their own ground was fairly small), Borussia won 5-1 in great style. It was as commanding a lead as you can hope to take into a second leg against mighty Real. But it wasn't enough.
On a cold December night in Madrid, Jorge Valdano scored with two headers in the first half, both from a Juanito cross. Fifteen minutes from time, Santillana made it 3-0 with a fine volley. And in the final minute of the game, Valdano struck from 16 yards, Gladbach goalkeeper Ulrich Sude couldn't hold on to the ball and Santilla poked the rebound in from close range to send the Germans packing on away goals.
Despite this comeback, though, Real have often suffered at the hands of Bundesliga teams. When Gladbach won that first leg 5-1, it marked the third time Real had conceded five goals on German soil. The first to inflict such heavy damage on such a proud team were Hamburg. In the semi-final second leg of the 1980 European Cup, Manfred Kaltz and Horst Hrubesch both scored a brace and it was 4-1 at half-time.
However, Real had won the first leg 2-0 and so it remained a close affair until Caspar Memering produced the fifth goal in the last minute. By that time, Real were down to ten men, because a certain Vicente del Bosque had been sent off for taking a swing at a certain Kevin Keegan.
Only roughly two years later, in March 1982, Real again held a two-goal advantage after the first leg against a Bundesliga team and were again taken apart in Germany. And again nerves frayed. In Kaiserslautern's legendary 5-0 demolition of Real, no less than three visitors were sent off: Isidoro San José and Laurie Cunningham for rough play, Francisco Pineda for dissent. I guess it just wasn't Real's day, considering that the crucial opening goal through Friedhelm Funkel after seven minutes was a harmless shot which goalkeeper Agustin let slip first through his hands and then through his legs.
Then, of course, there's Bayern. German journalists love to tell the story that the Munich giants are known as La Bestia Negra, the black beast, in Spain because they have hurt Real so often. I'm not sure if this story is really true. For all I know, bestia negra simply means "bogey team" and is not at all reserved for Bayern.
Be that as it may, I guess it's safe to say that Real very much prefer playing Dortmund in this season's semis. After all, they have been knocked out of European Cup or Champions League semi-finals by Bayern in 2012, 2001, 1987 and 1976. The latter season, you will recall, was the campaign in which - according to the German view - Real only got past Gladbach because a Dutch referee robbed Borussia.
The press coverage back then was really intense and the public outrage immense. This led to the strange situation that the whole country rallied behind Bayern (this didn't come natural to many fans even back then) for the semis and asked the club to "revenge Gladbach". Add to this that Real fielded two Germans - Günter Netzer and Paul Breitner - and you can imagine how anticipated the games were.
It probably doesn't come as a surprise that the football itself was somewhat anticlimatic. Three Gerd Müller goals, one in Madrid and two in Munich, saw Bayern through. The most tumultuous moment came after the final whistle at the Bernabéu: a 26-year-old Spaniard ran onto the pitch, hit Gerd Müller with his fist and knocked down the Austrian referee Erich Linemayr, before Bayern goalkeeper Sepp Maier finally wrestled him to the ground. The miscreant later sent a letter of apology to Real's president Santiago Bernabéu.
The most bizarre incident involving a German team at that ground, however, was certainly the fallen goal in the 1998 semi-final against Dortmund. In the words of the BBC: "Spanish fans in an area where Real's notorious Ultra Surs traditionally gather shook a perimeter fence causing the posts attached to it to collapse." Unbelievably, it took the club officials 75 minutes to produce a replacement during which time the players and millions of television viewers could do nothing but wait.
By comparison, ties between German teams and Barcelona have been relatively scandal-free, with one exception we'll come to. Drama, though, was often in evidence. In 1961, Hamburg came within seconds of knocking a heavily favoured Barça side out of the European Cup. But in stoppage time of the second leg, club icon Uwe Seeler, of all people, gave the ball away and allowed Barcelona to score a goal that forced a one-game play-off.
Two-and-a-half-years later, the two clubs met again, this time in the Cup Winners' Cup, and again the tie went to three games. At the Camp Nou, 80,000 Catalans saw an amazing 4-4 draw. A scoreless draw in Hamburg followed and since the away-goals rule wasn't yet in existence, Hamburg and Barcelona met in Lausanne to decide the tie on neutral ground. With seven minutes left, Barcelona captain Ferran Olivella played a back pass that was too short, Seeler won the ball and scored Hamburg's 3-2 winner.
Come to think of it, the other spectacular games between Barcelona and German clubs also involve teams you wouldn't immediately expect. There is the 1979 Cup Winners' Cup final, for example, which Barcelona won 4-3 against a very brave Fortuna Düsseldorf team that is still revered by the club's fans. Then there's the 1992 European Cup. You may recall that it was won by Barcelona against Sampdoria. What you may not recall is that Barça almost didn't even reach the group stage that year.
In the second qualifying round, the Catalans were drawn against Kaiserslautern. They won the first leg at home 2-0, but then ran into serious problems in Germany. With 20 seconds left on the clock and Kaiserslautern leading 3-0, Ronald Koeman sent a free-kick towards the far post, where José Mari Bakero jumped higher than two defenders and scored with a looping header into the far corner.
Or how about Leverkusen? En route to their 1988 UEFA Cup win, Bayer managed the rare feat of defeating both Barcelona teams - Barça in the quarter-finals thanks to a Tita goal at the Camp Nou, and Espanyol in the final, on penalties.
For my money, though, the most spectacular win against Barcelona was racked up by Cologne. In the 1980-81 UEFA Cup, the two clubs met in the second round and Cologne lost the first leg at home, 1-0. Things looked hopeless for the Germans, but two weeks later Barcelona suffered their heaviest home defeat in UEFA club competitions. Gerd Strack and Stephan Engels scored shortly before and after the break, Pierre Littbarski added a third and Dieter Müller made it 4-0 on 70 minutes.
Sitting in the stands was Bernd Schuster, who'd just left Cologne for Barcelona and must have wondered what he'd gotten himself into. Because the fans didn't take kindly to the debacle. First they threw coins at Cologne's subs bench, then bottles, finally seats they had ripped out.
Still, what may well be the most famous German-Spanish match of all featured neither Real nor Barcelona, neither Bayern nor Gladbach or Dortmund. Because what fans of a certain age remember best is a magic November night on which unglamorous Karlsruhe celebrated a sensational 7-0 win against Valencia in the 1993-94 UEFA Cup.
Karlsruhe had a few players you may know, a young Oliver Kahn was in goal and Slaven Bilić in defence, but Valencia had just climbed into first place in the Primera División and were strongly favoured. Even more incredible, the first half hour belonged to the visitors, who had won the first leg 3-1 and came close to taking the lead on numerous occasions.
Well, and then... it just happened. The star of the match was striker Edgar Schmitt, who scored four of the seven goals. In the week before the game, he had been involved in a serious car crash - but on the night it was the Spanish who felt as if something heavy had hit them.
Have I forgotten a memorable tie? I bet I have. Jolt my memory.