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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”.

Leipzig fans climb over security fence seeking to join others storming the Sachsen fan bloc (photo: author).

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.

LPZ Football - DFB Hallenfussball Neue Messe

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.

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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).

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.

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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!

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.

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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 (photo: author).

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

The Good Person of Stötteritz himself: Martin Bayer and the Oberliga apron (photo from Blitz magazine)

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