The year is 1910, and football is considered to be the “English disease” in a Germany ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm II. But, the sport is gaining ground amongst some young men. Some of the come from St. Pauli, then a suburb of Hamburg. The ” Hamburg-St.Pauli Turnverein” opens a football branch. From now on all the kids from St. Pauli who want to play football go there to play and experience the joy that only football can provide. The football division of the gymnastics club parts ways with the gymnasts, and the FC. St. Pauli is solely a football club afterwards.
Not a bastion of rebellion
The team spends most of its time between 1924 and 1945 as an elevator team, either playing in the highest tier of German football(back then football was organized in regional divisions) or the second highest tier. Adolf Hitler’s power grab in a Germany that still is torn apart by the First World War affects the team somewhat during that time. One of the first orders of business for Hitler is to indoctrinate the youth. Football clubs, and other youth organizations are now run by Hitler’s SA.
The same goes for St. Pauli. President Wilhelm Koch is at first protesting the Nazi’s use of St. Pauli’s stadium and training grounds for their events. Koch writes that these areas shouldn’t be used for anything else, but football. In the end Koch folds under the pressure of the regime, and even becomes a NSDAP party-member in 1937.
World War 2
1939: World War 2 breaks out. Football is amongst the least of concerns of the citizens in Hitler’s Germany. Towards the end of the war Hamburg is barely recognizable. A shimmer of its former, glorious self.
But, the Hamburg district is one of only three districts that manages to organize a championship for the local clubs during the years of the Second World War. St. Pauli participates in that league, but isn’t anywhere near winning the Hamburg championship during the war years.
Meatballs and sausages
1947 play resumes in Hamburg. The city is currently being rebuild, and the other pleasures of life have slowly returned to the forefront of the population’s mind.
St. Pauli play in the Oberliga Hamburg. On their team plays the former Dresden player called Karl Miller, who started out at St. Pauli in the early 30′s. His father, Karl Miller sen, runs a butcher’s shop in Hamburg. Miller lures a number of the best players from Dresden to St. Pauli. Former German finance minister and life long St. Pauli supporter Hans Apel explained this migration of the players in the German documentary “Mythos St. Pauli”:
“There came this guy, and he told the players three things. First of all, the Russians can’t catch me, the club will have a fantastic stadium in the near future and they can give you food. That was worth more than a giant transfer fee, or anything else back then.”
Member of “Die Wunder-Elf”, Harald Stender, told the makers of the documentary that he still remembers his former team-mate Karl Miller vividly.
“He told me once that I should come to the shop. Karl Miller and Karl senior were both butchers. And when I came to the shop Karl took me to this little room at the back of the store. And he gave me sausages.”
Besides sausages, the Millers son gave the players of the team meatballs and other meat based products that were hard to come by during a time when food rationing was the order of the day. Miller butchershop goodies lured some of the best players in the country to St. Pauli. The club that had always been in the shadow of the big and mighty Hamburger SV was suddenly turned into one of the best clubs in the country. “Die Wunder-Elf” was born.
The enticements of the butchershop had an immediate effect on the results of the club. St. Pauli won the district championship in Hamburg in 1947. Amongst the players who played for the club in that season are one time German international Alfred “Coppi” Beck, Heinz Hempel, Josef Famula, Walter Dzur, Heiner Schaffer, Heinz Köpping, Fritz Machate, Rolf Börner, Hans Appel and “Tute” Lehmann. Even future German national coach Helmut Schön couldn’t resist Miller’s food, and played a couple of matches for the buccaneers.
“Die Wunder-Elf’s” run continued until 1952. After the win of the Hamburg championship the teams were reorganized into a different a league system. The Hamburg teams played now in Oberliga Nord, which included the best teams from Northern-Germany. St. Pauli managed to grab the second berth in the table four years in a row. The team reached the quarter finals of the German championship twice in that period as well.
The team managed to stay in the Oberliga Nord until 1963, despite many of their best players leaving the club after 1952.A return to glory?
After 1952 St. Pauli’s Wunderelf was dissolved, the club returned to its former anonymity. The buccaneers were not amongst the 18 teams which formed the Bundesliga in 1963. The fans had to wait until 1977 to watch their team compete in the highest tier of German football. St. Pauli’s first ever Bundesliga season ended in relegation, but the team’s derby victory against the HSV is still one of the fondest memories many fans of the buccaneers have from the team’s many ups and downs during that period.
The club has a couple of stints in the Bundesliga as well in the 90′s, and one in the 00′s. Last season’s 2. Bundesliga campaign ended in a somewhat disappointing 4th place finish. The buccaneers had managed to hover around the promotion spots for most of the time, but were in the end beaten to the punch by Düsseldorf who finished in third. Many St. Pauli fans weren’t alive during the days of “Die Wunder-Elf”. If they’ll ever have the privilege to see a return to the glorious days that could compare to “Die Wunder-Elf’s” accomplishments is doubtful. Only time will tell.
Any thoughts, or comments on this piece? Don’t hesitate, and leave them below!