Snapshot – Dr. K’s secret mission

Rainer Calmund was finally back home in Leverkusen on Monday November the 13th 1989. The big man had just experienced the Berlin Wall tumbling, and he had been in Berlin to experience history. Now that history had been made, Calmund’s mind inevitably went back to how he could make Bayer Leverkusen a better team. Given what he had just experienced, he had an idea. Some of those East-German players were rather good, why not sign them? That’s at least how Calmund himself remembers those days, but more about that later.

The wall had fallen after all, meaning that transfers from the G.D.R. to West Germany now were possible. Bayer Leverkusen had decided to send three scouts to the match between Austria and the G.D.R. at the Ernst Happel stadium in Vienna. Among those scouts was a certain Wolfgang Karnath.

Two tickets for three scouts – What to do?

At the airport in Düsseldorf the three men traveling to scout those newly available G.D.R. players were in for a nasty surprise. One of them wouldn’t be able to attend the match, because their employer had only provided them with two tickets. Wolfgang Karnath decided to leave his colleagues to it, but on the way to Vienna he started thinking of how he could attend the match after all.

Suddenly the scout had a brainwave. He had taken his Red Cross army ID with him. On the day of the match Karnath decided to imitate a doctor asking for an accreditation for the match. Somehow he got away with the ruse, Karnath remembers:

“The Austrians thought that I was the team doctor of the G.D.R., and the G.D.R. people thought that I was the team doctor of the Austrians.”

Whilst loads of Bundesliga scouts and managers were present in the stadium, Karnath had somehow gotten closer to those G.D.R. players than anybody else. However, now that he was close to the pitch he needed to make that advantage work in his favor. During the second half the scout made his move. Karnath sat down on the G.D.R. bench, without being spotted by the national team coach Eduard Geyer who apparently was more busy being annoyed by his team losing 3-0 against the Austrian national team.

Meeting at midnight

With 15 minutes to go Eduard Geyer decided to take Matthias Sammer off the pitch. As luck would have it, the Dynamo Dresden player sat down right next to Karnath. Sammer still remembers their meeting to this day, saying:

“Suddenly I sit next to Wolfgang Karnath, who says that he is from Bayer Leverkusen and that Rainer Calmund had sent him on a mission. And just think about the fact that Bayer Leverkusen talked to you first and we need to meet each other tonight. It was really clever.”

Karnath knew that other scouts would get in touch with the players after the match. However, he knew that the four most desirable players of that G.D.R. side were Andreas Thom and Thomas Doll from BFC Dynamo and Matthias Sammer and Ulf Kirsten from Dynamo Dresden.

In order to gain an advantage Karnath told Sammer that he could “offer adequate advice” to any G.D.R. player willing to leave the country. The two of them decided to meet up at the sport school Lindabrunn at midnight. Sammer had managed to convince his teammates Ulf Kirsten and Andreas Thom to join that meeting. Karnath had now managed to get to three of the G.D.R.’s four world class players.

Securing the signatures

In the following weeks Rainer Calmund tried to play out the advantage Karnath had given him. A day after the match in Vienna the G.D.R. national team returned to the country. Karnath and Calmund met at a hotel in East-Berlin to have a chat about what Karnath had accomplished. On the same day Calmund decided to pay Andreas Thom a visit in order to convince him to join Bayer Leverkusen.

After the two of them had had their chat, Thom said that he could very well imagine joining Calmund’s team. A few days later a TV show by the name of Anstoss (kick off) invited Thom for an interview in Cologne. Calmund got wind of that and decided to drive to East-Berlin in order to get on the same flight as Thom. Co-incidentally Calmund managed to get the spot right next to Thom on the flight.

During the flight he managed to convince Andreas Thom to sign for the club. In the end Bayer Leverkusen managed to get Andreas Thom to join the team on January 1st 1990. The striker was the first player who officially transferred from East Germany to West Germany without having fled from the G.D.R.. Bayer paid 2.5 million Deutsche Mark to BFC Dynamo, which made Thom a rather pricey signing at the time of his signature.

The transfer of Ulf Kirsten should follow the next summer. The Dynamo Dresden striker wanted to join VfL Bochum, because he had been gifted a radio by then Bochum coach Hermann Gerland. However, Bochum couldn’t afford the transfer back then.

Kirsten had one other offer on the table. Borussia Dortmund also wanted to sign the striker. However, in the end Bayer and Rainer Calmund managed to convince the striker to join Die Werkself.

Helmut Kohl puts his foot down

Matthias Sammer also agreed to join Bayer Leverkusen. However, at that point German chancellor Helmut Kohl had had enough of Bayer Leverkusen’s dealings on the transfer market. The Christian Democrat called Rainer Calmund, telling him that he couldn’t simply buy all of the best G.D.R. players.

And when two very big men talk amongst themselves, the biggest one more often than not wins the discussion. After the phone call Calmund agreed that Matthias Sammer wouldn’t join his team, which meant that the future Borussia Dortmund skipper would end up signing a contract at VfB Stuttgart.

Karnath regrets the fact that Sammer didn’t join Bayer Leverkusen. These days he thinks that Calmund was a bit of a wimp giving up after Helmut Kohl’s call to him. When asked what the transfer of the Dynamo Dresden player would have done for the team, Karnath replied:

“That’s simple. Bayer Leverkusen would have been unbeatable for years. It wouldn’t have been any problem to secure the championship for Leverkusen with a leader like Matthias Sammer on the pitch.”

Another thing Karnath disagrees about with Calmund is whose idea it was to get to those G.D.R. players. Most German newspapers who have written about these transfers cite the story mentioned above, claiming that Calumnd had the idea after witnessing the Berlin Wall falling. However, Karnath says that Calmund’s recollection is mistaken at that point:

“I reminded the then novice manager of Bayer Leverkusen Rainer Calmund a couple of weeks before, that we needed to get to those G.D.R. players in case there was to be a change in the political situation.”

It’s impossible to say who is right in that particular spat. However, Andreas Thom’s and Ulf Kirsten’s numbers show that Bayer were right in signing those two G.D.R. players. Kirsten would stay at the club from 1990 until he retired in 2003, scoring 182 goals in 350 Bundesliga matches (42 assists). Thom would only stay five years at the club, but the midfielder’s stats were also impressive. In 151 matches the former BFC Dynamo player created 36 goals and 41 assists for Die Werkself.

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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.

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