Standing by the wall: What became of the “crack” East Germans?
Posted on October 3, 2014
On Germany unity day, it is perhaps appropriate to recall the days when East Germany produced some pretty useful footballers and devilishly difficult teams to beat. While the East never matched the West for international success, teams like Dynamo Dresden, Magdeburg, Vorwaerts and Carl Zeiss Jena all presented difficult hurdles in European competition. A trip “behind the curtain” was invariably shrouded in mystery, a mild air of threat and, of course, omnipresent uniforms. I recall more than one English team, travelling to Cold War Europe, taking a stash of tea bags and sausages with them on an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup trip to ensure they could acclimatise! You don’t need Typhoo in Sofia and Bucharest these days!
Sons of the silent age
It was a different world and another time, however. One former East German resident once told me that, as a football fan, he was often harassed by the secret police, to which I responded, “If you knew they were secret, they surely were not.” As flippant as this remark may have seemed, this highlighted the ever present fear of the state. We’ve all seen the film, “The lives of others”.
Football in East Germany, which had to play second fiddlem to some extent, to sports that emphasised the strength and vitality of the youth of the socialist state, was invariably corrupt in the Eastern Bloc. The state made sure those teams that represented the army and secret (and not so secret) police prospered. Any team with Dynamo in its name was linked to the police/Stasi and thus hated by other fans. But there were four types of club in the old East German football set-up: the Dynamos; Vorwaerts, overseen by the Ministry of Defence; clubs with no affiliations such as Magdeburg and Carl Zeiss Jena; and pure and simple works teams (come on, name Turbine Potsdam’s best player!).
There is a much-repeated story about the head of the Stasi, Erich Mielke, visiting the Dynamo Dresden dressing room in 1978 to tell them that, despite winning the title that year, it was Dynamo Berlin’s turn to dominate the competition from thereon. They did, until the Berlin wall started to crumble and the Stasi lost its grip on the DDR. Mielke, in a society with a free press, would have been great copy. Among his soundbites: “Football success will highlight even more clearly the superiority of our socialist order in the area of sport.” Imagine Tweeting that!
Dynamo later sought to soften their image and distance themselves from a regime that was heading for the exit door, changed their name to FC Berlin. They were still disliked.
Not everyone just sat back, however. The fans of Union Berlin, who despised Dynamo, were a radical bunch and flew in the face of the state. When a free-kick was awarded in a game, they would chant, “Die Mauer muss weg!” – the wall must go.
As far as international football goes, East Germany’s golden period was between 1972 and 1976. In the Munich Olympics, the DDR was joint bronze medall
ist with their stablemates, the Soviet Union. This was a strong Olympic tournament and the Eastern Bloc’s strength in “amateurism” really shone through, with Poland winning gold, Hungary silver and the USSR and DDR bronze. Two years later, came one of the pivotal moments in 20th century footballing history as the East beat West 1-0 in the 1974 World Cup thanks to a goal from Juergen Sparwasser. The next Olympic Games saw the DDR beat an excellent Poland team 3-1 in Montreal to claim gold. Eight of the team that beat the West in Hamburg in the World Cup received gold medals in Canada, highlighting the sham that was amateur status in the 1970s.
Once reunification arrived, DDR football all but collapsed. Financially, clubs from the East could not possibly compete with the likes of Bayern Munich, Hamburg and Werder Bremen, although some tried and allowed their spending to get out of control. In 1990-91, the last year of the old Oberliga (renamed from the DDR-Oberliga to the NOFV-Oberliga, which then became part of the German regional structure), only two clubs, Hansa Rostock and Dynamo Dresden, qualified for the unified Bundesliga. Hansa were relegated in 1992 and Dresden followed three years later.
So what happened to the pre-eminent names of DDR football, and where are they now?
Hansa Rostock: 3.Liga (13th in 2013-14)
Dynamo Dresden: 3.Liga (relegated from Bundesliga 2 in 2013-14)
Rot-Weiss Erfurt: 3.Liga (10th in 2013-14)
Hallescher FC Chemie: 3.Liga (9th in 2013-14)
Chemnitzer FC: 3.Liga (12th in 2013-14)
Carl Zeiss Jena: Regionalliga Nordost (3rd in 2013-14) – step 4
FC Lokomotive Leipzig: Oberliga Nordost-Sud) – step 5
FC Stahl Brandenburg: Brandenburg Liga – step 6
Eisenhuttenstadter FC Stahl: Brandenburg Liga – step 6
FC Magdeburg: Regionalliga Nordost (2nd in 2013-14) – step 4
FC Berlin: Regionalliga Nordost (promoted from NOFV Oberliga Nord in 2013-14) – step 4
FC Sachsen Leipzig: Bankrupt 2014 (reformed club BSG Chemie Leipzig)
Energie Cottbus: 3.Liga (relegated from 2.Liga in 2013-14)
Victoria 91 Frankfurt: Dissolved 2012
Of these teams, only Hansa Rostock can claim to have made much of an impact in the Bundesliga. They had a decade in the top division between 1995 and 2005.Generally, and sadly, East German clubs have been plagued by financial problems. The last legacy East Germany side to play in the Bundesliga was Energie Cottbus, who were relegated in 2009, a year after Hansa Rostock fell from grace. Apart from Dresden, Lokomotive Leipzig are the only other East German side to have played in 1.Bundesliga, and that was just for one season in 1993-94.
Breaking glass – the decline of Jena’s finest
It’s sad to see that some of the names from the 1960s and 1970s have fallen off the football map.
Carl Zeiss Jena were a club that owed its roots to its workers. In the old socialist empire, such a team was laudable and epitomised the collective pursuit of fitness, health and shared objectives. The town of Jena was dominated by the optical glass manufacturer, Carl Zeiss. The football club won the East German title in 1963, 1968 and 1970 and in 1981, reached the European Cup Winners-Cup final, losing to Dynamo Tbilisi. They started reunified life in 2.Bundesliga and went down the ladder, wracked with scandal and financial problems. Today they play in front of fewer than 3,000 people in Regionaliga Nordost and in 2014-15, they are not doing badly at all.
Magdeburg (pictured), meanwhile, enjoy good support for a regional league team – over 7,000 people at their home games. They are also in the Nordost, but they too have enjoyed better times and at their worst, they were attracting fewer than 500 fans. But Magdeburg are the only club from the East to win a European trophy, beating AC Milan in the 1974 European Cup Winners-Cup final. Like Carl Zeiss, they have also experienced financial crisis.
Lokomotive Leipzig are something of a cult club but they are even further down the German pyramid and have been usurped by RB Leipzig, who have made waves in recent weeks over Red Bull’s patronage and bold ambitions for the club. Lokomotive have almost disappeared from view, which is a great shame for a club that was the first national champions of Germany (in their original guise as VFB Leipzig) in 1903. RB, incidentally, are going well in 2.Bundesliga, and may well be the first Eastern side to make a splash for some time.
What in the world?
What does the future hold for clubs from the East? Look at a map of the Bundesliga and it makes depressing viewing, a lop-sided football nation. One step down, though, there is RB Leipzig and FC Aue, from a city of just 18,000 people. It may take many more years before the East can compete with the West, but there’s no shortage of interest among the fans – the recent game between Dynamo Dresden and Chemnitzer in 3.Liga attracted a crowd of just under 30,000. Perhaps a team from DDR football’s past could be on its way back?