For those of you interested in East German football, you may wish to lend an ear to this interview which Alan McDougall, author of The People’s Game: Football, State and Society in East Germany, gave to the always interesting Radio GDR podcast. Alan was kind enough to sit through a number of questions put to him by myself and Radio GDR’s Shane Whaley and the result is an interview which I think does justice to a book of remarkable breadth and insight.
“Chemie-Schweine ‘raus! Chemie-Schweine ‘raus!”
“Chemical Pigs Out! Chemical Pigs Out!”
“Lok-Schweine ‘raus! Lok-Schweine ‘raus!”
“Locomotive Pigs Out! Locomotive Pigs Out!”
The chants reverberated around the large hall on Leipzig’s new Trade Fair Grounds as the groups of opposing fans hurled their chants at each other. Rows of riot police ensured that the supporters were kept in their assigned sections and that none slipped out to confront their “enemies”.
VfB Leipzig fans climb over security fence seeking to join others storming the Sachsen fan bloc during the May 1999 derby at Bruno Plache Stadium (photo: author).
The scene was like nothing I had witnessed before: exciting, frightening and more than a little bewildering. It was January 1999 and the occasion was an inconsequential indoor soccer tournament being put on by the German Football Association in the eastern German city of Leipzig during the long winter break in the German Bundesliga schedules. Taking part were the two local clubs, VfB Leipzig and FC Sachsen Leipzig, two top teams from eastern Germany (Hansa Rostock (1st div.) and Energie Cottbus (2nd)), along with a handful of western German clubs from the 1st and 2nd divisions. Coming from Canada, where a hockey game between the country’s two greatest rivals could be staged under the supervision of couple dozen policeman with little to no violence, real or threatened, the vitriol on display was hard to process.
Also confusing were the epithets being thrown around. Who were Chemie and Lok? I had come to Leipzig a “soccer fan” (not saying much in a country where, at the time, there was precious little soccer to be a fan of!) but almost completely ignorant of the city’s footballing history. I worked up my courage and asked a teenager standing near me if he could explain and I learned that the fans were referring to the East German predecessors of VfB (1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig) and FC Sachsen (Chemie Leipzig). These two teams, he told me, really don’t like each other.
It turned out that I hadn’t seen the half of it. Read More
This video of a match report on an GDR Oberliga football match from November 25, 1989 has been making the rounds for a while, and I thought I’d post it here with a translation of the moderation as it’s a nice little window into the social changes taking place in East German at that time.
The game in question between Lokomotive Leipzig, a team typically to be found at the top of the East German table (though not in this year) and BSG Stahl Eisenhüttenstadt, a weak sister of GDR football, at Stahl’s homeground, Ironworkers’ Stadium, just over two weeks after the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9th. Read More
Last year while searching eBay for potential new acquisitions to my collection of GDR ephemera, I came across some used school notebooks, a rather unusual find but one which had me excited as I’m always on the lookout for items which have a clear personal angle. When they arrived, I discovered that the notebooks were from 1970 and had belonged to a grade 1 girl with the rather distinctive name of Kordula Striepecke. While the notebooks for her mathematics and German class were unrevealing, young Kordula’s notebook for Heimatkunde, a sort of introduction to civics, told a rather interesting story.
Kordula Striepecke’s notebook from grade one Heimatkunde, or introductory civics (photo: Jo Zarth)
International Workers’ Day, May 1st, as subject of a dictation (photo: Jo Zarth).
A picture of a typical GDR prefab apartment block with Soviet and East German flags festooning the balconies as was the practice on May 1st and the Republic Day (October 7th) (photo: author).
Illustration from Kordula’s Heimatkunde notebook; it accompanied a dictation on spring (photo: author)
Dictation on Vladimir Lenin (photo: Jo Zarth).
My collection includes this replica of the jersey worn by the GDR team when they defeated the BRD 1-0 at the 1974 World Cup (photo: author).
The GDR was a footballing nation and in this respect at least, its leaders were in tune with their populace. The members of the ruling Party’s Politbüro, the seat of power in East Germany, apparently spent much time “discussing football results” (Thomas Blees, 90 Minuten Klassenkampf: Fischer Taschenbuch, 1999. pg. 51). And when talk turned to the results of the GDR’s national team, it would rarely have brightened the mood for while football was clearly the “people’s choice” in terms of popularity and participation, the GDR team’s performance was rarely to the level that would’ve endeared it to the Party bigwigs who expected East German athletes to climb the podium so that the “Workers and Peasants’ State” could bask in the reflected glow.
Olympic gold at the 1976 Montreal Games marked the high point of GDR football achievement, but that was on paper only; for most fans of the sport, the zenith of East German footy came forty years ago today, June 22, 1974, when the national team defeated the host West Germans in a group stage match at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg during the 1974 World Cup.
The GDR Objectified goes in search of traces of the GDR at sites related to the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
One of the central focuses of my collection through the years has been my attempt to recreate the “All-Time GDR Oberliga Table” in beer glasses. The “eternal table” is a way European soccer fans gauge a club’s overall success by amalgamating league results over time to create standings which reflect all match results – ever. Thankfully, such a table exists for GDR football and it brings together some 44 teams which competed in East German soccer’s top flight during its existence from 1949 to 1991.
I have tried to acquire a beer glass for each team in the table and my collection now includes 24 of the 44 teams found in the “All-Time” table. While I’ll be adding a couple of new glasses in the near future, I fear that I may have reached the end of my acquisitions, howver, as many of the teams represented in the table were there only briefly or played in the 1950s, factors which worked against the creation of commemorative glassware.
In the coming months (years?), I hope to turn the spotlight on some of the clubs with particularly interesting histories, but for now post my collection for your enjoyment below. (I’ve included additional information on the teams in the captions which can be accessed by clicking on the photo.)
Many thanks to Ralph Newson for taking the photos seen here!
FC Carl Zeiss Jena (1st place, 35 seasons, 1097 points) commemorated the team’s three players on the GDR’s gold-medal winning team at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada with this glass.
Berliner FC Dynamo (2nd place, 35 seasons, 1092 points) was the much hated club of the East German secret police and GDR champions for ten straight years between 1979 and 1988.
1, FC Dynamo Dresden (3rd place, 31 seasons, 1077 points) were the main rivals of BFC Dynamo in the late 70s and 80s. This glass recalls the distinctive lighting masts of the team’s home ground the Rudolf-Harbig Stadion (since removed).
1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig (4th place, 36 seasons, 1039 points) were one of the first addresses of GDR football. Their victory over Girondins Bordeaux in the 1987 Cup Winners’ Cup in Leipzig’s massive Zentralstadion has gone into history as one of the great matches involving an East German team.
FC Wismut Aue (5th place, 38 seasons, 1018 points) were a power in the 1950s and an “evergreen” in the Oberliga enjoying the most seasons in the top flight of any GDR club.
FC Vorwärts Frankfurt/Oder (6th place, 35 seasons, 1012 points) were a club affiliated with the National People’s Army and located in one of its bastions near the Polish border.
FC Vorwärts Berlin were one of the GDR’s top teams from the mid-1950’s through to their relocation to Frankfurt/Oder in 1971.
FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt (7th place, 37 seasons, 972 points).
1 FC Magdeburg (8th place, 30 years, 920 points) was the only East German team to win any European hardware taking the Cup Winners’ Cup from AC Milan in 1974.
BSG Sachensring Zwickau (9th place, 35 seasons, 888 points) were sponsored by the factory producing the GDR’s (in)famous Trabant car and even featured the plant’s logo in their team crest.
Hallescher FC Chemie (10th, 34 seasons, 874 points) produced the captain of the GDR national team Bernd Bransch. This glass depicts the main stand of the team’s Kurt Wabbel Stadion.
FC Hansa Rostock (11th place, 31 seasons, 808 points) were only of GDR football’s weak sisters, perhaps cursed as a result of their founding when Empor Lauter, a successful team from Saxony, was forced to relocate to the Baltic port in 1954 to address this city’s lack of a team in the top flight.
FC Karl-Marx-Stadt (12th, 31 seasons, 769 points) most notable as the club where German skipper Michael Ballack would learn his footballing ABCs. The team now operates as Chemnitzer FC, reflecting the city’s jettisoning of its “honorific” name as soon as it was able in 1990.
BSG Chemie Leipzig (13th place, 27 seasons, 733 points) was founded in 1964 as part of the reorganization of GDR football. Made up of those players deemed not good enough for Leipzig’s “main” team, Lokomotiv, the team promptly won the East German championship and earned the support of many “regular” Leipzigers because of the apparent discrimination it had experienced at the hands of authorities.
1. FC Union Berlin (14th place, 19 seasons, 423 points) were the “underdogs” of East Berlin and, at least according to the Stasi, a meeting place for “asocials” in “The Capital of the German Democratic Republic”. And East German Cup Winners in 1968.
BSG Brieske Senftenberg (15th place, 13 seasons, 395 points).
BSG Lokomotive Stendal (16th place, 14 seasons, 356 points) were having none of these pseudo-champagne flutes. Here their nice “down to earth” pint glass!
BSG Stahl Riesa (17th place, 16 seasons, 326 points). Love the I-beam, a staple of GDR teams with steel plant affiliations.
BSG Stahl Brandenburg (20th place, 7 seasons, 174 points), nicknamed “the Juice Drinkers” for their choice of glassware.
BSG Stahl Thale (22nd place, 4 seasons, 207 points) eschews the I-beam for a stylized blast furnace gas flare.
FC Energie Cottbus (24th, 7 seasons, 117 points) were one of the few GDR teams to make the leap from the GDR league into professional football in unified Germany.
BSG Chemie Böhlen (28th place, 4 seasons, 65 points) was a club from the chemical region just south of Leipzig able to reach the top flight of GDR football four times.
BSG Stahl Eisenhüttenstadt (29th place, 3 seasons, 61 points), originally FC Stahl Stalinstadt, became the only team in Oberliga history to be penalized for “damaging the principles of socialist society” when the club was relegated from the top tier for being a bit too obvious about the fact that its players were not the amateurs they were supposed to be.
BSG Fortschritt Bischofswerda (35th place, 2 seasons, 33 points) enjoyed Oberliga competition in the 1986-87 and 1989-90 seasons.
ASV Vorwärts Stralsund (36th place, 2 seasons, 33 points) only sniffed first division air in 1971 and 1974, but were a perennial power in the GDR League, the country’s second division.
BSG Motor Suhl (44th, and last place, 1 season, 5 points) managed a single season (1984/85) in the GDR’s top league. Given the result, perhaps this was best for all concerned.
To understand the lay of the land in footballing terms in the “Berlin – Capital of the German Democratic Republic”, it is helpful – appropriately enough – to take a dialectical approach. On the one end of spectrum, you had Berlin Football Club “Dynamo” (BFC), the country’s most successful, and despised, team thanks in large part its “sponsorship” by the state’s security organs including the notorious secret police the Stasi. (For an overview on BFC, see my earlier post on the club and its history here.) BFC’s opposite, in every sense, was 1. FC Union Berlin, a team with strong, genuine working class roots and a level of fan support unparalleled in the East.
1. FC Union pennant from late 1970s / early 1980s (photo: editor).
Reverse side of pennant cheekily featuring Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, part of of rival BFC’s turf (photo: editor).
Most sports leagues have a team that functions as a villain, a target for the antipathies of practically everyone who isn’t one of their fans. In baseball, the New York Yankees have worn the black hats, both literally and figuratively, since the 1970s when George Steinbrenner took over the team. In NFL football, the New England Patriots have attracted considerable scorn thanks to the their coach Bill Belichick, a man with the few scruples and even fewer social graces. In the hockey world, the 70s-era Philadelphia Flyers (aka “The Broad Street Bullies”) invited the disdain of practically every fan outside of the “City of Brotherly Love” for their successful redefinition of the sport to include a healthy dollop of Kubrickian ultraviolence.
A BFC wall calendar from 1985 purchased on my visit to East Berlin that spring. I think I got this at a kiosk in the Friedrichstrasse station. It measures 56 X 41 cm. (photo: author).
Lists of sporting villains are constantly being revised (mainly in bars and on sports talk radio), but I would contend that all would be enriched through the inclusion of East Germany’s most reviled soccer team: Berlin Football Club Dynamo (BFC Dynamo). Read More
Shortly after arriving in Leipzig in January of 1999, I came across an intriguing article in a free local monthly. Entitled “The Good Person of Stötteritz”, it wasn’t so much the Brecht reference that caught my eye as it was the accompanying picture of a fellow showing off an apron with the logos of teams from East German soccer’s Oberliga (First Division) .
I read on and learned that the fellow, Martin Bayer, was a local social activist who aimed to redirect the cast offs of consumer society to people who might be able to use them. Originally from the West, he’d moved East after unification and though registered as a Psychology student at the university, he spent most of his time on self-directed, social improvement projects.
The Good Person of Stötteritz himself: Martin Bayer and the Oberliga apron (photo from Blitz magazine)