An East German postcard from 1971 of the reconstructed Ermeler House (pale yellow building at right) (Bild und Heimat)
Despite the destruction caused during World War II, post-war Berlin was dotted with notable structures that had miraculously survived the fighting. In East Berlin this architectural legacy posed a challenge that the rulers of the “first socialist state on German soil” would have been happy to have done without, keen as they were to put a “socialist” stamp on their new capital (e.g. see the Stalinallee project). In a few high profile cases, the decision was made to remove “ideologically unsuitable” buildings. The best known example of this approach was the destruction of the Hohenzollern City Palace in 1950 (the Palace of the Republic would later stand on this spot). In other instances, authorities took a more pragmatic approach, deciding to make use of facilities “tainted” by their previous associations. A good example here would be the House of Ministries, a massive complex in central Berlin that had been built for Hermann Göring’s Aviation Ministry. East German leaders turned into a major administrative centre and in fact it was in one of its ballrooms that the GDR was formally brought into existence during a ceremony on October 7, 1949.
Another interesting, albeit lower profile, illustration of how GDR authorities dealt with the architectural legacy they had been bequeathed is found in the case of Ermeler House, the subject of this post. Read More
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.
The Shuffle Demons emerged on the Canadian music scene in the mid-1980s and immediately made a name for themselves as a sax-focused jazz quintet whose high energy performances married hard bop rap with fun. The group is best known for its track “Spadina Bus” and a video for the song, a paean to a bus route in their hometown of Toronto, turned a lot of heads and helped establish the band as a fixture on the Canadian jazz scene.
Between 1985 and 1997, the band toured Europe a remarkable fifteen times and during the early years, they busked their way across the continent, picking up the occasional gig on the way. During 1985, the band traveled to the island of West Berlin to try their luck on the streets there and then decided to head eastwards and see what the side of the city behind the wall had to offer. I saw an interview with the band after this trip in which they made mention of their adventures in East Berlin and was reminded of this after encountering the band at a music festival here in Toronto recently. Interest piqued, I contacted the band through their website and was thrilled when one of the band’s founders, Richard Underhill, agreed to meet with me to reminisce about their East Berlin experience.
The GDR’s leaders were very sensitive about how their country was perceived internationally. Seen by many as a rump state and proxy of the Soviet Union, East German leaders took great pains to assert their legitimacy whenever and however they could. These efforts increased in 1971 with the ascension of Erich Honecker to the positions of First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and Chair of State Council. Under Honecker, East Germany pursued international recognition through a variety of means including diplomacy (e.g. supplying aid to Third World countries, applying for and receiving member status at the United Nations (1973), signing the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe at Helsinki (1975)) and sport (by pouring huge amounts of money (and anabolic steroids) into the country’s Olympic programs to support the country’s “diplomats in training suits”). Another way the GDR attempted to massage its international image was by hosting the 10th iteration of the World Festival of Youth and Students in East Berlin in the summer of 1973, an event that has come to be known by some as the “Red Woodstock”.
Commemorative beer stein given to a family which hosted a billet in their apartment on Berlin’s Leninplatz during the festival.