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Whatever happened to East German football?

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Statisticly speaking three out of the 18 teams in the Bundesliga should come from the former G.D.R. As a matter of fact not a single Bundesliga club is from East-Germany. Why?

Well, let’s face it. The G.D.R. was never a powerhouse when it came to football. Their national team never won any trophies, or had a team that could stick up to their West-German counterparts. The only big victory the G.D.R. had in its history as a football nation was their 74 victory against West-Germany. Amongst all the losses the West-German football nation had to endure, this one is amongst the worst of its history. Jürgen Sparwasser makes it 1-0 for the G.D.R.

Matthias Sammer on the ball for Dynamo Dresden in 1988.

The comrades moments in the sun
The re-unification of Germany has certainly not been to the detriment of footballers from the region. Footballers like Michael Ballack, Robert Enke, Matthias Sammer and Ulf Kirsten made it all out of the former communist state, and became excellent footballers in West-Germany or elsewhere.

And while the national team of the G.D.R. lagged far behind West-Germany, the clubs in the former communist satellite state of the Soviet Union have had their moments in the sun. The 1970s saw East-German football teams do well in international competitions. Especially 1. FC Magdeburg, Carl Zeiss Jena and Dynamo Dresden played a big role in that success. These teams reached the quarter- and semi-finals of the international competitions on a regular basis.

The biggest success that the G.D.R. got to celebrate came in 1974, when Magdeburg won the European Cup-winners Cup.AC Milan were favorites to win the final of 1974, but the Italians lost 2-0.

In the 1980s the clubs from German Democratic Republic didn’t do quiet as well as in the 70s, but Carl Zeiss Jena and Lokomotive Leipzig managed to reach finals in international competitions. Going into the 90s with this track record, the reunification of Germany forced all East-German clubs into the West-German leagues. After the last season of G.D.R. football the two top teams were moved into the Bundesliga, while the teams occupying rank 3-6 were moved into the 2. Bundesliga.

Capitalism now! What happened after 1990?
The two teams that made it into the Bundesliga in 1991 were Dynamo Dresden and Hansa Rostock. Both familiar names to German football fans. Dynamo managed to avoid relegation for the first three seasons, but was relegated in 1995. Since then has the team struggled in the 2. Bundesliga and the lower divisions of German football. Hansa Rostock didn’t

Hansa Rostock Ostsee Stadion in 1957. The club is currently playing in the 3. Liga, the third tier of German football.

manage to avoid relegation in their first season, but did however manage to return to the Bundesliga in 1995. The club managed to stay their until 2005. That makes Hansa Rostock by far the most successful East-German football team after the reunification of Germany.

What both these teams have in common is that some of their best players went to West-German sides for a higher pay after the reunification. Ulf Kirsten and Matthias Sammer are both former Dynamo players. Both of them made a huge impact on German football. While the “brain-drain” effect lured highly educated East-Germans to the west, the possibility of East German football to get back to the glory days of the 70s was destroyed, because of higher pay in the west of Germany.

Guest appearances
Besides Dynamo Dresden and Hansa Rostock a number of East German clubs have had the honor of participating in Germany’s Bundesliga. The first East-German side that managed to get promoted from the 2. Bundesliga was VfB Leipzig. The club managed to stay in the Bundesliga for one season. Energie Cottbus managed to stay in the Bundesliga for six seasons between 2000 and 2009.

Hope for the future?
12,8 million people live in the part of Germany that was formerly known as the G.D.R.. If the 36 teams from the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga were equally divided throughout Germany, 6 teams should come from East Germany. As a matter of fact only three do, and all of them play in the 2. Bundesliga.

Aue's captain Tomasz Kos and his team are in the running for one of the promotion spots in the 2. Bundesliga.

Erzgebirge Aue are for the moment the team from East-Germany with the best shot of getting into the Bundesliga. If they manage to do so, they will probably have huge problems to defend their place in the league. But if this season has taught us anything, with the FC St. Pauli on 28 points, and Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg in the fight against relegation, the small teams can still get by in the Bundesliga if they put up a hell of a fight on the pitch.

Feel free to leave a comment below.


About Niklas

Niklas Wildhagen has been following the Bundesliga for over 20 years and he is the editor in chief of the Bundesliga fanatic.

4 responses »

  1. Nice post!

    But no word about RB Leipzig, the new “toy” from Red Bull. I think this is the team we have to pay attention in the next years.

    • I agree… Not mentioning them is a bit short sighted from my side.

      Hoffenheim managed to get from the lower divisions and into the Bundesliga in a short amount of time, so RB Leipzig might be able to do the same thing.

      Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. Nice post! The situation has slightly changed now with five teams trying to survive in the 2nd division and four in the third. All should do well, i expect alas there is some unexpected trouble with the finances which has blighted East German football for the best part of the last 20 years. I did post something on that, too.

  3. Pingback: Football Book Review: Behind the Curtain by Jonathan Wilson | Bundesliga Fanatic

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