A Forgotten German Legend – Reinhard Lauck

A Union Berlin fan favorite and all around brilliant holding midfielder.

Günter Netzer mentioned Reinhard Lauck’s name in an article in Tagesspiegel, years after the legendary match between West-Germany and the G.D.R. Many had forgotten about the humble locksmith from Sielow who had managed to break into the G.D.R. national team roster. The match between the two German national teams has its own very special place in the nation’s history, and the decisive figure in that particular tale is Jürgen Sparwasser, if most history books are to be believed.

Netzer, however, had a different take on matters. Lauck, he pointed out, was the man who had managed to keep Germany’s playmaker, Wolfgang Overath, quiet over the course of the entire match. Without their star player, the West-Germans struggled to get into the match. Topping it all off, it was, in fact, Lauck who placed a delicate and precise cross into the path of Jürgen Sparwasser’s run for the 1-0 goal. Lauck’s importance had been overlooked if Netzer is to be believed.

The highlights of the match between West-Germany and the G.D.R. include some of Reinhard Lauck’s finest moments

”Nobody knew him”

The G.D.R. national team and Lauck would reach new heights two years after the famous match between the two Germanys, when the G.D.R. won the gold medal during the 1976 Olympics. By then, Lauck could look back on a career that had started with a bang 8 years earlier. The then 22-year-old had completed his switch from Energie Cottbus to Union Berlin two days before the cup final between Union Berlin and Carl Zeiss Jena in 1968.

None of his new colleagues knew Lauck at the time, as he had spent his entire career in the second tier of East-German football up until this point. Union coach Werner Schwenzfeier was convinced, however, that he had brought in an important man for the future. The new coach gave his new holding midfielder the starting nod only 48-hours upon joining Lauck joining Union Berlin.

Schwenzfeier’s somewhat insane move paid off. Lauck re-paid him by playing a fine cup final, preventing the Carl Zeiss midfielders and attackers from putting together the fluid attacking moves they had been producing for most of that season. Lauck and his teammates managed to win this hard contest by 2-1 in the end, causing a massive upset. Union had won their first and only title during the G.D.R. era (and only title to this day).

The robust midfielder stayed with the Iron Ones for another five years, competing in all together 145 league and cup matches, scoring 12 goals in the process. During that time, Lauck managed to become a fan favorite at Die Alte Försterei due to his competent ball distribution and his spirited defensive display – he was truly an excellent fighter on the pitch. Lauck was even given his debut in the G.D.R. national team during his stint at Union.

Betraying Union?

Union were relegated from the Oberliga after their dire display during the 1972/73 season, and Lauck moved cross town to Union’s arch rivals, Erich Mielke’s BFC Dynamo. The details surrounding this move are still unclear. It has been claimed that Lauck was told by the G.D.R.’s footballing officials in very certain terms that he had to move, whilst others have claimed that the midfielder wanted this move himself, in order to remain within a shout for a spot in the national team.

Union’s fans were distraught by the move at the time, and some of them even camped outside of Lauck’s home, trying to convince one of their favorite players to return to the Iron Ones.

After 8 years of service to Dynamo, 2 G.D.R. championships, 152 games and 29 goals Lauck had to retire due to a knee injury. A truly remarkable career had to come an end.

The jersey which was never returned

Coming to grips with life upon ending his career wasn’t easy for Lauck. After his career, and especially after the reunification of the two German nations, the former holding midfielder struggled with an alcohol addiction. Finding work and holding onto it became more and more problematic for Lauck over the years.

Everybody who had known Reinhard Lauck knew of his condition. Despite it, he was invited to a historic re-match between the 1974 World Cup sides of the West-Germany and the G.D.R taking place in Steinach in 1994. However, Lauck couldn’t play the same part as in 1974, when he managed to take out the German playmaker Wolfgang Overrath, Upon his arrival, Lauck’s former teammates noticed that he was far too drunk to step onto the pitch.

Funnily enough, none of his former colleagues were cross with Lauck. They felt sorry for him, many of them even gave him a pat on the back. The former Union and Dynamo player was well-liked amongst his teammates. Lauck was a gentle human being with a heart of gold off the pitch according to those who had known the man. Neverthless, every now and then, Lauck would brag to some of his friends about the 1974 match or his gold medal from the games in Montreal.

The German film-maker and writer Torsten Schulz met Lauck shortly before his death in September 1997. Lauck seemed embarrassed about the many wrong decisions which had gone in Dynamo’s favor, according to Schulz’s essay in the book Eisern Union. Furthermore, Schulz had the impression that Lauck never had come to grips with his move from Union to their crosstown arch rivals.

Schulz wanted to meet Lauck a second time and surprise him with the jersey which he wore during the 1968 cup final. Schulz’s father had been at the game in Halle and tore off the jersey of Lauck.

One month after the meeting, Lauck was found by the police on the pavement with alcohol in his blood and severe head trauma. The holding midfielder lost his last fight after he being in a coma for two weeks, dying on October 22nd 1997 – only 51 years of age.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-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 and on the @AufstiegPod.

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