October 24, 2017

Last match of the GDR – the story of a strange farewell

On the evening of September 12th, Germany, the GDR, France, Great Britain, the US and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany. The two German countries were finally re-united, and what had been torn apart by the Second World War had come together almost 46 years later. That same night was also a significant date in the GDR’s footballing history: it was the date of the last international played by the East-Germans.

What boy doesn’t dream about putting on the jersey of his nation to represent them at the international level?  Who doesn’t want to wear the badge of their national football association on their chest with a sense of enormous pride? After September 12th, the jerseys, the team and the country itself would vanish. Several players who weren’t good enough to compete in an all-Germany national team were robbed of that chance after the two countries re-united.

National team coach Eduard Geyer had done his best to assemble a squad that could take on Belgium, but, in the end, only 14 players agreed to join the team. Bundesliga stars like Ulf Kirsten, Andreas Thom and Thomas Doll had all declined to join out of the fear of catching an injury in what they considered to be a meaningless friendly. Other players came up with strange excuses; for example, one told the coach he considered himself to be a West-German now and another told Geyer that he couldn’t find his passport. Geyer, who was upset about most of his established players deciding to stay at home, told Sport Club:

Of course, one is ticked off by that. Refusing to go wasn’t sporting behaviour, everybody knew that this was the last international.

Captain Matthias Sammer had arrived from Stuttgart to join the team, but when he saw that only 13 other players – most of them young and inexperienced – had made it into the squad, he wanted to turn around and leave. However, there were no more flights back to Stuttgart that night, meaning that the midfielder had no other choice than to travel to Anderlecht together with his team.

A last hooray for the comrades

The chances of the GDR to win the match were considered to be slim; even at full strength, one would have imagined Geyer’s team having trouble defeating the Red Devils. However, over the course of the trip, the players appreciated the chance to represent their country for the very last time (in Jörg Schwanke’s case it was also his first time featuring in an international match). Stefan Böger remembers the atmosphere during the team’s preparation in Berlin well, he told Spiegel:

Nobody was tense. We wanted to enjoy playing together one last time.

Most of the players besides Matthias Sammer were unknown quantities to the average Belgian football fan. Even the TV producers of the match didn’t really know who they were dealing with and included wrong pictures for several of the players in the GDR’s line up in the starting XI graphic ahead of the match.

Böger himself had to sit on the bench during the first 25 minutes of the match, because Geyer preferred to play the experienced international Jörg Stübner in his position, whose task was to control the Belgian star Enzo Scifo. The Auxerre player hits the post early on, but from there on out the men playing in white and blue controlled the match. Even after Stübner had to go off due to an injury, there wasn’t a sudden increase in urgency in the Red Devil’s attack. Böger ran, defended and destroyed the opponent’s promising attacks after he came on for the Dynamo player Stübner.

Matthias Sammer would later state that he was forced to his own luck. Geyer’s star player put in a brilliant performance and finished off his career for the GDR by scoring two goals in a well deserved 2-0 win.

Energie Cottbus defender Jörg Schwanke would later state that the match wasn’t about demonstrating a team spirit of defiance; rather, it was just a chance to enjoy one last lovely game, while scouts from the Bundesliga and abroad were watching the players who they now could lure out of the GDR.

A long night in Anderlecht

Only 12,000 spectators saw the GDR’s farewell on the international stage of football. The players, were delighted with their performance, nevertheless, according to Stefan Böger:

We were proud, we really enthused by our performance. It took a long time before we took our shower. We spent a lot more time in the changing room then we’d normally do, because things became apparent to us. The conversations started flowing.

One of the players who had understood the magnitude of what was happening in Anderlecht was substitute goalkeeper Jens Adler, who had been subbed on in the 90th minute. After the final whistle, Adler, who hadn’t touched the ball once, started crying.

After a while, the players got back to the hotel, had something to eat, then started drinking one, two or a few beers to celebrate their victory. Nobody knew what was going to happen after Germany had been re-united. Some of the star players were already making good money in West-Germany, but excepting Matthias Sammer, this wasn’t the case for any of the players competing in the Vanden-Stock Stadion that night.

The political events had effected the players of the national team over the last couple of years. Geyer went as far as saying that the fall of the Berlin Wall impacted his players to such a degree that they couldn’t compete against Austria in the GDR’s deciding qualifying match ahead of the 1990 World Cup. Austria won 3-0, and from there on out many of the most exceptional talents decided to make their way over the border to West-Germany to make a living for themselves in the Bundesliga. At that time, the East-Germans had one of their strongest generations of players. If their team had continued playing a few more years, they would have certainly made it to an international championship.

On that night 14 of them had their beers, but 13 didn’t know what the future had in store for them.

Welcome to West-Germany

Besides Matthias Sammer 12 of the other 13 players in the GDR’s squad that day managed to get to the Bundesliga. In the end, Stefan Böger would make 147 appearances in the league for Hansa Rostock, MSV Duisburg and HSV. The star striker Uwe Rösler made his name in the Premier League after his time at Nürnberg and Kaiserslautern, whilst VfL Bochum picked up Jörg Schwanke, Heiko Bonan and Dariusz Wosz. Eintracht Frankfurt signed the sturdy defender Thorsten Kracht. The two Dynamo Dresden players, Heiko Scholz and Jörg Stübner, stayed at Dynamo, as the club was integrated into the Bundesliga. Scholz would later on make name for himself at Bayer Leverkusen and Werder Bremen.

Stübner, on the other hand side, deteriorated into a life of alcohol and medication abuse. During the first Bundesliga season, he managed to get onto the pitch in only five Bundesliga matches. The man who was consider the GDR’s biggest talent back in 1987 would go from lower league to lower league team without ever finding any happiness or stability in his life. In an interview with the TV Show Sport Inside, Stübner blamed his addiction problems on the demise of the GDR – he simply couldn’t handle what was happening at the time. The midfielder told Bild in an interview in 2004:

If the reunification of Germany never happened, I would have a family, kids and a coaching position.

The last time the public heard of the former footballer was in 2010. Dynamo’s former star player, who was adored by the women of the city for his boyish good looks and who represented his country on 47 occasions, was living of social benefits at that point, having 11€ per day to live on.

His fate raises many questions.

Such as, what caused Stübner’s demise? Yes, the easy answer might be to attribute the substance abuse problems with the contract that was signed on the day the GDR took on Belgium, and there might be an element of truth to this observation. Where does a home sick person go when the country he once knew doesn’t exist anymore? The fact that certain values held highly in the GDR were thrown out of the window without as much as a discussion after Germany was re-united shook more people than just Stübner after all.

Uwe Rösler once remarked in an interview with the Norwegian broadcaster TV2 that it was a shame that the GDR’s national team was resolved. A player like Rösler had no chance whatsoever to make it to the German national team, and he was robbed of the opportunity to see how far he could reach on the international stage.

When it comes to that team, there are the ‘what if’ questions that are never going to be answered. The fact that 7 East German players made the Germany team for the 2002 World Cup speaks volume to the fact that the GDR were in the midst of developing a great generation of footballers. However, the country itself never reaped the rewards of their labour as it ceased to exist. East-German TV commentator Uwe Grandel described the GDR’s 2-0 win over Belgium as “one of the most remarkable results of our football history”. The GDR’s 293rd international match represented a bittersweet end to their national team’s existence.

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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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