Who were some big sporting geeks

Football - more than a game

Franz-Josef Brüggemeier

To person

Born in Bottrop in 1951, is Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Freiburg. He publishes on the social and economic history of the 19th and 20th centuries, most recently with a focus on environmental history and the history of modern sport. He is also a member of the steering group of major historical exhibitions, including: Fire and Flame. 200 years of the Ruhr area (Gasometer Oberhausen 1994/1995); in the middle. Saxony-Anhalt in history (Vockerode power plant 1998); The ball is round. The football exhibition (Gasometer Oberhausen 2000).

Contact: [email protected]

The surprising win of the football World Cup in 1954 briefly forged people into a community. The event was only interpreted as the "true hour of birth of the Federal Republic" in later years.

DFB President Peco Bauwens (left) presented Fritz Walter and 1. FC Kaiserslautern with the championship trophy in 1953. Walter was captain of the German national team at the "Miracle of Bern". (& copy AP)

An event and its interpretation

On July 4, 1954, the national team of the Federal Republic became soccer world champions for the first time. In the final in Bern, Switzerland, she surprisingly won 3-2 goals against Hungary. When 2004 marked the fiftieth anniversary of winning the title, this anniversary met with great public interest. Numerous books and television programs, newspaper and magazine articles as well as radio reports picked it up, as did a successful feature film. Winning the World Cup was unanimously seen as one of the most important events in German post-war history. Particularly noteworthy was an editorial in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on July 3, 2004, almost fifty years to the day after the final. It came from Hans Werner Kilz, one of the two editors-in-chief, and contained all the interpretation models that were (and still are) in circulation on this topic.

According to the article, winning the title triggered a "we-are-again-who" feeling in Germany at the time. For the first time after the Second World War, it offered the population the opportunity to get intoxicated by a success that had been achieved "quasi jointly". The author described celebrations that turned into patriotic rallies and even saw the celebrations as the "true founding date of the Federal Republic". Winning the World Cup title is more important than currency reform, the adoption of the Basic Law and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The public reaction to winning the title was indeed unusual. According to contemporary reports, almost all residents of the Federal Republic - and the GDR - watched the final. The streets looked as if they had been swept empty, the few televisions - there were around 40,000 in West Germany - were besieged, while the vast majority watched the broadcast on the radio, alone or in smaller or larger groups. The surprising victory caused great cheers. When the team returned from Switzerland and took the train via Constance to Munich, the stations and their surroundings were full of people. In Munich alone, around 400,000 to 500,000 men, women and children welcomed the team enthusiastically.

The last time there had been comparable storms of enthusiasm and crowds was during National Socialism. Hence the question arises of how they are to be understood and which messages were associated with them in the early summer of 1954. Were they patriotic rallies? Was there even a revival of nationalism to be seen? Was the national enthusiasm cause for concern? How did the media, politics and other contemporary observers react?

If you analyze the newspapers and magazines of that time and look up the archives, you get a surprising finding: journalists, politicians and other public figures almost did not comment on winning the World Cup. The daily newspapers mainly reported on the sporting event. They only mentioned the return of the players in passing. This also applies to the cultural and political magazines, with the exception of Der Spiegel. If the Federal Republic was "newly" founded in July 1954, at least politics and the media did not notice this.

Political and social environment

In the early summer of 1954, the public was dominated by two closely related foreign policy issues in which France played a central role: the rearmament of the Federal Republic and the war over France's former colony in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia).

The governments of the Federal Republic, France, Italy and the three Benelux countries agreed to rearmament within the framework of a European army in May 1952 by signing the treaty establishing a European Defense Community (EDC). The approval of the national parliaments had already been given, only that of the French parliament was still pending when, on May 7, 1954, French units in Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam) suffered a decisive defeat against the communist forces of the Viet Minh. A few days later the government fell. Pierre Mendès-France, the new Prime Minister, entered with the promise to end the war within 30 days. The prospects that the French parliament would approve the rearmament of the Federal Republic in the face of these problems sank to zero.

This put Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his internally controversial policy of integration with the West in a difficult position. He tried to save the situation, put pressure on the French government and stated in an interview that appeared on July 3rd, the day before the final: "It cannot be said emphatically enough: the so-called alternative to EVG is the German national army. " He added that nobody in the world wanted such an army and therefore the EDC had to come into being. But fear of Germany's renewed military armament was widespread in Europe. There was great outrage, especially in France.

At the same time, negotiations on Indochina took place in Geneva, and no agreement was yet in sight. The French government was running out of time. If the talks fail, the Cold War threatens to intensify and the fighting to spread to large parts of Asia. In this situation, the French National Assembly spoke out against the European Defense Community. On July 21, 1954, the Geneva Conference ended with a ceasefire agreement between France and the Viet Minh, and Vietnam was divided along the 17th parallel.

Domestically, the Federal Republic dominated the following issues in the early summer of 1954:
  • A few days before the World Cup final, June 17th was celebrated as a national holiday for the first time. The popular uprising in the GDR was exactly one year ago. Patriotic events took place in many places, from which Adenauer distanced himself in order not to give any impetus to the demands for national unity on the part of the SPD and the associations of expellees. The displaced persons' associations held their annual meetings these days, at which they demanded the return of the former German territories in the east. These meetings were well attended, as the approximately twelve million refugees or displaced persons in the Federal Republic often still had major material, social and emotional problems and were not willingly accepted everywhere in their new environment.
  • In addition, despite the economic boom in 1954, there were still more than a million unemployed. Numerous orphans, widows and elderly people, most of whom received little support, lived in poverty.
  • It is also worth remembering about 1.5 million people missing. Most of them had died, but many relatives were hoping to see them again, as missing people kept returning unexpectedly. The Red Cross continued its search operations, traveling exhibitions with pictures of missing persons traveled through the cities, and the afternoon television program consisted largely of search programs.
  • Several trials took place in May and June 1954, ending a long period of silence about the crimes of the National Socialists. Only a few articles appeared about the great process that took place parallel to the World Cup in Metz, France. This was about the Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace, in which more than 20,000 Jews and members of the resistance had perished, often in an extremely cruel manner. Instead, the newspapers reported on trials, which, however, concerned crimes that Germans had committed against their own compatriots .
These are just a few of the issues that occupied politics and society in the spring of 1954. You could be one reason the World Cup received so little media attention. But political issues do not automatically receive greater attention, and sporting events in particular can marginalize them today. That was not the case in the early summer of 1954 and was less related to the importance of the political events than to the fact that football was much less important then than it is today.