What happened to the greats of the G.D.R.? An interview with blogger Max Schoob part 1

Max Schoob is a Leipzig native, with some family roots from East-Germany, and a football blogger. His blog Abenteuer-Fussball is about football in general, but it has also covered many of the teams from East-Germany over the years. We thought that Max would be the perfect guy to answer all the questions surrounding East-German football, that often get tossed under the table in many mainstream publications. Without any further ado, here is part 1 of our interview with Max.

Fanatic: Many of the former greats of East-German football (Magdeburg, Dynamo Dresden, Chemnitz, Hansa Rostock etc.) have struggled post reunification. Some of them have had brief spells in the Bundesliga, but for the most part are just struggling in the lower divisions of German football nowadays. Why have these teams failed to live up to their glorious past after reunification?

Max Schoob photographed with German football legend Gerd Müll

Max Schoob: Simply put: A complete change of the system along with the overhaul of how the football business worked made it difficult for those teams to remain competetive. Many of the clubs from the former G.D.R. were so called factory teams, which meant that they were supported by a company, and to an extent by the state (all businesses were state owned back then). The collapse of the G.D.R. made the planned economy of East-Germany a model of the past overnight, and suddenly all these teams had to figure out how they could compete in a free economy.  In other words, the old economic model was no longer a sustainable foundation on which to run a club.

Maintaining a good relationship with the party and its officials were the main tasks of a club’s leadership in times of the G.D.R. and now the teams needed sponsors and investors that could support their ambitions etc. Very few East-German sponsors had the financial means to support a Bundesliga team back then (still the case today).

A good example of a dubious businessman is former Dynamo president Rolf-Jürgen Otto. His business dealings as the head of the club landed him a three year jail sentence.

The reunification allowed dubious West-German businessmen to enter the former G.D.R. Some of them promised clubs that they would ”help” them.  Instead, these individuals were in it for their own personal gain and many of them left their club in ruins. This was a valuable lesson for many of the teams. Many of them are currently trying to get from the anonymity of German amateur football back to their former glory days.

Additionally, the lure of West-German football was too good to resist for some of the biggest talents in East-German football and most ended up leaving their clubs behind. Before reunification, East-German players could not choose the club they were playing for but all that changed and there was little their club could do to hold on to them. Replacing the biggest talents became too tough a task for many of the teams from the East.  That exodus of East Germany’s biggest talents added to their perpetual decline.

Finally, it has to be said that this question is impossible to answer really, because the reasons for each failure are different from club to club, however, the causes for failure are also somewhat similiar if one goes by an club for club analysis.

Fanatic: The two East German teams that have had an impact in the Bundesliga are Energie Cottbus and Hansa Rostock. Why did they manage to play in the Bundesliga for several seasons, while former greats like Dynamo Dresden did sink without a trace after a couple of seasons in the beginning of the 90s?

Max Schoob: Hansa Rostock were formed in 1965 with the goal of establishing a performance centre for the northern part of the G.D.R. This meant that the team didn’t have to rely on a state owned company to sponsor them, which in turn made the change from the planned economy to a market based economy easier for them. Furthermore, Hansa did have a number of great talents back at the end of the 80s, which resulted in Hansa winning the last championship of the G.D.R. Compared to the other teams from the region, Hansa were in good financial shape, and due to their professional structure in their youth programmes the team managed to play a good role in the Bundesliga.

Eduard Geyer(left hand side) honors Dynamo player Andreas Trautmann for his footballing achievements in 1989. Geyer's name is mostly linked with Energie Cottbus these days, but Geyer was a Dynamo man from his days as youth until 1990.

Energie Cottbus’s success is very much based on Eduard Geyer, a G.D.R. football icon, joining the club in 1994. Geyer was the right man, at the right place and at the right time. It is similar to Mainz and Klopp: Without Geyer Energie would have never been where they are at the moment. ”Ede” Geyer led the club for years, and despite a number of difficulties (an economically poor region, a low population) he managed to develop a team that made it to the Bundesliga, while making sound decisions when it came to spending the club’s money.
A little side note on Dynamo Dresden: Dynamo is like the town of Dresden – every small detail has to be discussed ad nauseum, and even the smallest tiniest detail, that people elsewhere wouldn’t care about, has to be dissected, and people have to argue about it. This hasn’t been entirely helpful for the club, and the high turnover at the top of the club hasn’t helped in regards of stability. For peace and quiet to prevail at Dynamo, the world has literally come to an end.

Fanatic: As we mentioned earlier, there isn’t any East-German team playing in the Bundesliga at the moment, and this has been the case for some time now. Has this influenced the interest in the sport in the former G.D.R.?

Max Schoob: Well, I can illustrate that with an example: My granddad from Dresden had a season ticket for the matches of Dynamo during the G.D.R. era. After the reunification he didn’t watch a single match in the stadium until last year! He did, however, follow what was going on with his favorite team, but all the developments in and around Dynamo Dresden had a sobering effect on him. And this is the case for many fans all around region. But, the enthusiasm for the sport is still there, and it can blossom! Dynamo Dresden have shown that for the last couple of seasons.

The interest for football is also still there all around the region, but the tristese of what happened after the reunification has turned many season-ticketholders and fans in the stadium into passive spectators, who follow their club in the newspaper, or watch the highlights of the match on the television.

Fanatic: Talking about Dynamo Dresden: They and a number of former East-German clubs are trying to build a solid foundation for the future. How do these teams approach that goal?

Dynamo Dresden manager Volker Oppitz has a tough task ahead of him. Key players are leaving the club, and money is scarce.

Max Schoob: Consolidating  finances is what most teams are focussing on. On this somewhat shaky, but solid foundation, the clubs have only one choice: Developing their own talents. If those talents are a hit in the lower divisions of German football, teams from West German often come in and snatch them up with their superior financial power. Every coach in East-German has been in the situation where he had to replace a handfull of his best players after one season. And, because of the limited resources, those players have to be replaced with new talent coming from the youth ranks.

But, the climate is changing! Some of the clubs have managed to attract interest from players outside the region. Dresden have build a new stadium, and Cottbus have hired new coach (Claus Dieter Wollitz) who has turned the philosophy of the club into something a number of players want to be a part of.

Fanatic: Erzgebirge Aue were maybe the biggest surprise package of the last 2. Bundesliga season. After being promoted from the 3. Liga into the 2. Bundesliga the team managed to be in contention for a promotion spot to the Bundesliga for a long time. Before the reunification Aue played 39 seasons in the higest tier of G.D.R. football (the longest period of time for all East-German clubs). The team were relegated into the 2nd tier of East-German football two years before the reunification. What happened to the team after the wall fell, and how would you explain this renaissance?

Max Schoob: Aue failed to qualify for the 2. Bundesliga right after the reunification. The deciding match between them and FSV Zwickau was abandoned after hooligans from Zwickau had caused mayham. The scoreline, which was kept, was 4-1 for Aue at this point, and that meant that Aue were 1 goal short of getting a spot in the relegation play off match that could have given them a spot in the 2. Bundesliga.

So Aue had to go the way from the Oberliga (3rd tier) and the Regionalliga (still third tier: the third tier was renamed after Aue’s first season in it) to get into the 2. Bundesliga. Similar to the situation at Cottbus, much of Aue’s fortune is down to one man: Gerd Schädlich arrived in 1999, and build a solid foundation and managed to get promoted to the 2. Bundesliga four years later. After the promotion Aue managed to grab 4 top ten finishes in a row.

FC Erzgebirge Aue is a bit like the SC Freiburg. Taken aside the turmoils that prevailed when the team were relegated from the 2. Bundesliga in 2008, it really is possible to work in a peaceful environment here. There is no big city nearby, scandals and escapades are far far away from Aue, the stadium is in the middle of the forrest, and is sorrounded by mountains. I guess these conditions have led to Erzgebirge being successful after the G.D.R. times.

Fanatic: You’ve been following East-German football closely for a while now. Could you give us the names of a couple of talents we should keep an eye on?

Max Schoob: There are two players from Regionalliga champions Chemnitzer FC who can have a great future ahead of them. First there is Benjamin Förster, who had a sensational strike rate in the Hinrunde. The other player who has been impressive is future Dortmund player Chris Löwe. Another player who is worth following is Benjamin Kirsten, keeper of Dynamo Dresden, and the son of former Bundesliga top scorer Ulf Kirsten. We’ll be hearing a lot about him in the future.

Fanatic: If one of our readers would like to take a football holiday in East-Germany, where should he or she go?

Max Schoob: The new stadium in Dresden is really fantastic. The fans are close to the action like in the Premier League in England, a big terrace for people who want to stand during the match, and phenomenal fans. ”Das Stadion der Freundschaft” in Cottbus is also amongst my favorites. The intensity and atmosphere created by the fans in those two stadiums is immense. Some of the clubs in the Bundesliga could only dream about an atmosphere like that.

Fanatic: The clubs in the former G.D.R. have suffered after ”Die Wende” came along and reunited Germany. But, could the same be said about the development of young footballing talents?

Max Schoob: The structure of the youth academies in the G.D.R. was rather professional. (This goes also for other sports. East-German athletes have provided many medals for Germany in other disciplines.) However, this professionalism came at a price that was too expensive for many academies after the G.D.R. had to face the reality of an market economy. Only a handful of academies could continue their work after Germany was re-united.

However, the work that is done today is still at a very high level, because coaches,  officials and helpers have kept on providing their knowledge to young talents.

Many East-German talents are these days swept up by West-German clubs with a good scouting network, preventing them from playing one or two season for their team at senior level. As mentioned before, developing young players is key in East-Germany these days, most clubs haven’t any other choice.

Fanatic: If one takes a glance at German newspapers and magazines these days one reads rather seldom about East-German football. When the media reports about it, it often is about hooligans, neo-nazis using football as a recruitment tool, and foreign players being taunted with racial slurs during matches. Are the descriptions by the German media accurate? Or is there an imbalance to the picture that the media provides their audience?

Max Schoob: Those are really regrettable things, that do occur. But, going by the amount of coverage and what really is going on, one has to say that it sometimes is blown out of proportion. A handful of people have managed to give an entire part of the country a bad name.

The NDP (the nationalistic party in Germany) has used football as a recruitment tool in parts of East-Germany with a staggering amount of unemployment, trying to widen their base amongst young people. This development gives reason for concern. Most of these teams play in the fifth and sixth tier or in even lower divisions.

I have personally never witnessed any unpleasantness in East-German stadiums. I have never been a witness of hooliganism or abandoned matchtes. Of course, there have been Bengalos, and people who have tossed their lighter onto the pitch, but that does also happen during Bundesliga matches and elsewhere in West-Germany.

Finally: the football in this part of the country doesn’t get any coverage, because there aren’t any Bundesliga teams. Most of the teams play in the 3. Liga or in even lower divisions. A report of the match between Carl Zeiss Jena and SV Sandhausen isn’t a sexy thing in many people’s opinion. They’d rather see a neo-nazis and their violent outbursts etc.

Fanatic: Next season 5 East-German clubs are going to compete in the 2. Bundesliga. What can we expect of those teams?

Max Schoob: Erzgebirge Aue and Union Berlin are going to end up somewhere in mid-table. For newly promoted Hansa Rostock staying in the league is the top priority this year around. The team wants to get back to the Bundesliga at some point, playing a decent first season upon their return to the 2. Bundesliga would be a good start. Avoiding the drop is also the main goal for Dynamo Dresden, but they’ll have a much tougher time than Hansa, because the team lacks the financial means to replace all the key players that have left them after this season. Their best shot is to be carried on wave of passion and fight. The best shot at getting relegated has Energie Cottbus. If everythings goes to plan the team can finish in the top 5. But, the team has lost both its striker, Nils Pettersen and Emil Jula. Replacing them will be difficult. Therefore Energie aren’t really a contender for promotion this year in my opinion.

Our thanks goes to Max Schoob who graciously answered our questions by taking some time off from his busy life. You can follow Max on Twitter, and read his blog here. The second part of the interview is going to be all about the teams from Max’s hometown Leipzig.

Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.


  1. I hadn’t mentioned this before, but I really enjoyed this–especially the personal photos w/Gerd & in the stadium. I’ve not followed much 2.Bundesliga action, but with the number of E German clubs there this season, I’m thinking I’m going to try & find a way to catch more of the 2. Cheers Max & Nik!

  2. There are undeniable some alarming tendencies, too.
    But I am pretty sure that Max meant that he never experienced it in person while attending a game in the stadium.
    Great interview by the way 🙂

  3. Excellent article and good to have some insight into how the former GDR clubs are now performing. It’s a shame to see so few doing much at the top table of German football but given the nuge change in circumstances for these clubs following the fall of the Berlin Wall, you can see why it would take a while for them to readjust.

    Hopefully with 5 former GDR clubs now in the 2. Bundesliga we can see some of them push on into the Bundesliga.

    Looking forward to part 2.

  4. interesting interview, looking forward for part 2.

    but what max says about the problem with fascist (and sometimes even openly national-socialist) and racist fans is too downplaying. without any doubt racist or homophobic statements are not an exclusive east german problem, you can find it almost everywhere in stadiums around europe, but in east germany in a lot of stadiums they gained a dominance, not necessarily in numbers, but they dominate the fan culture, they dominate the fan chants and they are the guys who drive to all the away games. which is one of the reasons why many people in west germany think that all of them are nazis.

    and max never witnessed any hooligan action in the stadiums? to write down a list of riots only from hansa and dynamo fans inside and outside stadium (often in combination with fascist chants, banners and so on) would blow up this comment.

    and if you are non-white and planning to visit the stands from dynamo dresden or lok leipzig you will very soon recognize how unpleasant football in some east german stadiums can get.

  5. Sammer, was the best… how could i have forgotten him?

    In addition to that, it is said that the modern youth development program that provided so many youngsters to the german football is an eastern invention, guided by Sammer in his federative charge.

  6. Not to mention arguably the best of the bunch, Sammer. Also lesser known, T. Linke, a personal favorite.

  7. Very good read, Max. Thanks for shedding light on the situation with East German clubs that many of us aren’t aware of. I’m looking to see what the five former GDR teams in 2. Bundesliga can accomplish next season.

  8. It´s a matter of fact that most of best players of the reunificated Germany had come from east: Ballack, Bernd Schneider, Ulf Kirsten…

    East Germany has done comparatively a bigger contribution than the West in terms of developing players, so i think the east deserves more respect.

  9. Excellent piece chaps,

    Really has widened my knowledge of East German football as I don’t follow much outwith the Bundesliga.

    Although, great to see Hansa Rostock back in Bundesliga.2 and hopefully they can reach the top flight soon enough.

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