The Invisible Wall of Germany

Nearly 30 years have passed since the famous Berlin Wall was brought down. The German Democratic Republic (GDR), aka East Germany, had finally merged with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), aka West Germany. The Cold War was ending.

The fall of the Berlin Wall marked a reunion of the great German dream prior to the World War. The dream however looked a distant one as the two nations could not be any more ideologically different.

West Germany was a democracy run on the ideals of the Allied nations. The East was run on Marxist socialist ideals, which seeped through not only to the socio-economic order of the State, but also to football.

Football added the icing on the cake when it came to clashes of these ideological differences between the two nations. The East and the West met only once, yet this encounter resonated throughout the world at the time.

It was the 1974 World Cup tie, in which East Germany emerged victorious over their bitter rivals thanks to a late goal by Jurgen Sparwasser.

However, it was West Germany who would have the last laugh as they would go on to lift the trophy. The East German hero,

Sparwasser himself defected to the West one year prior to the fall of the Wall. He indeed would not be the last.

The encounter only highlighted the stark contrast between the way the two States were set up.

While the West German football team composed of professional football players, the East German players were picked out from police forces or the Army.

Some East German players even had other routine jobs to adhere to back at home. A football player in East Germany was held in the same bracket as a policeman or a soldier. This stemmed from the Marxian philosophy that all men are equal.

Club clashes between the two sides were often feisty and heavily contested. This was despite many of the East Germans supporting the West because of the better conditions existing there.

The clubs from both countries did not play each other till the 1973-74 edition of the European Cup, where East German champions, FC Dynamo Dresden met West German champions Bayern Munich.

Dresden ended up losing 7-6 on aggregate, putting an end to one of the most thrilling encounters of all time. It ended up being one of the most watched games in football history with the return leg in Dresden witnessing nearly 300,000 ticket requests.

From then onwards, club clashes between the countries became far more frequent.

One of the most memorable encounters was the 1985-86 European Cup Winners Cup clash between Bayer 05 Uerdingen and Dynamo Dresden.

The match was termed “Miracle of the Grotenburg” and is still well remembered among the Uerdigen faithful.

Dresden had won the first leg 2–0 at home and led 3–1 at half time in Uerdingen when the latter scored six unanswered goals to win the tie 7–5 on aggregate.

Since then, many of the West German clubs sent scouts to watch East German players, as they tried to lure them away by offering better contracts.

The faltering East German economy acted as a catalyst to the mass exodus of players leaving for the West.

Once the Berlin wall was opened in 1989, the demise of East German football seemed inevitable.

It was also ironic that East Germany at the time probably boasted one of the best footballing sides needing only a draw to qualify for the 1990 World Cup.

The end of East German football seemed near as a host of stellar players and young prodigies were all prized away by West German clubs.

In 1990, East German football heard its final death knell when they played their last international game against Belgium.

This was a fiercely emotional game where a young Matthias Sammer starred as captain and netted two goals.

Sammer later moved to the Bundesliga after reunification, where he made his lasting legacy.

The last season of the East German Oberliga saw the top two placed teams automatically placed in the Bundesliga the following season. The next six teams were made to play in the 2. Bundesliga.

Hansa Rostock finished the Oberliga as winners with Dynamo Dresden finishing in second. Both clubs went on to play in the Bundesliga the following season.

Much has changed however since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the German dream of reunification 28 years later.

Apart from RB Leipzig, there is not a single East German side playing in the Bundesliga at present.

There was a total of four teams from East Germany in the top two tiers of German football up until last year.

There still seems to exist an invisible wall between the Eastern and Western side of Germany.

While the West has flourished with the advent of capitalism, and getting in more sponsors to provide for larger and well equipped stadiums, the East has remained caught up in its socialistic mindset.

The clubs, though supported by the local populace lack the financial prowess required to attract the biggest players in the game and move up the top of German Football.

While clubs like Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg have had the support of sponsors like T-Mobile, and Volkswagen, traditional clubs like Dresden seem to be reminiscing in their glory days.

In general, the East lags far behind the west in terms of overall progress. Unemployment is nearly twice as high in the East than in the West.

There is far less scope of investment in the East, and far lesser corporations or even small private firms.

Furthermore, the population of East Germany is steadily on the decline with nearly two million people having fled for the West since the fall of the Wall.

An invisible iron curtain has now fallen between the Western and Eastern parts of Germany.

For traditional clubs like Dresden to re-emerge to their glory days, there has to be a change in the socio-economic order of Eastern Germany.

One might view RB Leipzig as a success story, with the club now challenging for the Bundesliga. The question whether we might witness a reunification of German football at the top flight however, yet remains to be answered.

For football lovers of course, such a renaissance would indeed be welcomed.

Author Details

Shounak Banerjee
Shounak Banerjee

Law Student. Sports Lover. Writer.

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