It has been, by any standards, a quiet twenty-first birthday. The reunified German nation celebrated its coming of age on Monday, not with wild revelry, but with a mature, modestly demure acknowledgement of this remarkable achievement.
Of course, Germany has been young before its time. Alcohol consumption began not this week, nor surreptitiously in mid-teens, but with uncharacteristic abandon upon its very birth, in the wreckage of the Berlin wall in the remarkable autumn of 1990. Germany has been financially responsible for itself for a long time; and for some years has held the keys to the Eurozone door. It is a protective parent, privately admonishing a young, careless Greece, whilst agreeing to bail it out of its worst excesses.
The united Germany faces the world as a success story, an economic powerhouse, respected if not greatly loved by the wider world. But the picture we have, of the older brother of the West putting a protective, guiding arm around the coarser, younger, wilder East, is not entirely accurate. There are still filial differences, deep fissures in this relationship; and where better to showcase them, as usual, than in the world of football.
48 hours before the celebratory fireworks began in Bonn, pyrotechnics of a different sort were occurring in the less rarefied surroundings of 2.Bundesliga. The second tier of German football was hosting a telling encounter between Energie Cottbus, formerly of the East, and St Pauli, of the West. The geographical distance is reasonable, though not great; supporters of St Pauli will have boarded their trains at Hamburg Hauptbanhof anticipating an inconvenient though hardly horrific four hour trip on the inevitably efficient Deutsche Bahn. In political terms, though, these clubs are a lot further apart than a short trip spent reading Bild and sipping Holsten.
St Pauli are, of course, internationally known for their pacifist, anti-fascist support base. The terraces at the Millerntor ground are a reflection of the adjacent Reeperbahn; musicians and anarchists mix with prostitutes, pimps and DJs. Strippers were recently banned. During the club’s most recent period of financial distress, sex workers on the Reeperbahn were said to have charged clients an extra 10%, with the money going straight to St Pauli.
Transport this caravan of Dutch-like anarchism southeast, to the Stadion der Freundschaft in the industrial city of Cottbus. The home team, Energie, were formed by a collective of coal miners, and still bear the name of an industry which still powers the regional economy in southeastern Brandenburg. The city has little time, or patience, with the northern frivolities of St Pauli. For, despite twenty-one years of unity, this is a very different country indeed.
Unemployment in Brandenburg runs at 11.7%; it is 8.3% in Hamburg. The prosperous city state’s 1.8 million inhabitants achieved a GDP of EUR 88.3 billion in 2010. Brandenburg, with 750,000 more souls, managed a miserly EUR 55 billion. 73% of Brandenburg’s economy is based around industry; in Hamburg it is only 17%.
On the pitch, the visitors from the West recorded an easy 4-1 victory. Chancellor Merkel, an honorary member of Energie Cottbus, may consider this an appropriate scoreline.
Energie Cottbus, though, never starred in the East German Oberliga. What of those clubs that did? Have they taken their dominance of the East on to a united Germany? The answer, of course, is no.
Two clubs could be said to have been pre-eminent in East German football; Dynamo Dresden and FC Dynamo Berlin. These two enjoyed a fascinating rivalry; Berlin rested soundly under the patronage of Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi. Whenever Dresden threatened to get close, their finest players would be purloined and sent to the capital. The result was ten successive titles for Berlin between 1979 and 1988, sandwiched between five championships for Dresden. The power and influence of the Stasi in the DDR can largely be measured, historically, according to whether Dresden or Berlin were Oberliga champions.
Today, Dynamo Berlin compete in the Nord-Oberliga, a regional division representing the fifth tier of German football. As St Pauli were winning in Cottbus, Dynamo were losing 4-2 to Union Berlin’s reserve team. Without the patronage of the Stasi, Dynamo have dropped out of the national consciousness entirely. No wonder many in the East still mourn the passing of the DDR.
Dynamo Dresden, less dependent upon the state, have fared a little better. They have rather yo-yoed between divisions of late, but currently find themselves in 2.Bundesliga, playing to packed houses in their rather neat Gluckgas Stadion. But in relative terms these are tough times still. Here was a club regularly participating in the latter stages of European competition; a club done no favours by the DDR establishment, probably hopeful of better fortunes once the wall collapsed. Instead, they have been inevitably surpassed by the spending power of the Western giants.
Unsurprisingly, many in the East are not entirely delighted at these wild discrepancies. Many people engage in a little harmless ‘Ostalgia’; hankering for former days of tootling around in Trabants under the ever-watchful eye of Erich Mielke and his Stasi apparatchiks. Others seek different outlets for their frustration; and this has led to a significant rise in far right and neo-Nazi sympathy across the former DDR.
Politically, these gains have benefited the extreme right NPD. As the party’s vote declines steadily in the West, it is on the rise in the East. The party’s membership has almost doubled in the last decade. Spiegel magazine recently found that 10.5% of the Eastern population held what they described as a “unified right-wing worldview”. Where is this phenomenon most clearly seen? Of course, it is at football grounds.
Many clubs from the former East Germany have groups of fans, ultras or hooligans who are infamously right-wing. Inferno Cottbus, supporters of Energie, are one such group, but there are many more. Ultras Chemnitz, Scenario Lok (Leipzig), Ultras Plauen, Stahl Brandenburg, NS Boys (Chemnitz), to name but a few. The NPD will often recruit and disseminate literature on the curves of the larger Eastern teams.
In contrast, Germany’s left-wing supporter bases can be found in the prosperous West. St Pauli, of course, and Bayern Munich are prominent here, founders of Alerta Network, an international movement of far left fan groups. Several clubs also have prominent anti-racist groups integral to their support, notably including Infamous Youth of Werder Bremen, Brigade Nord of Hannover and Ultras Dusseldorf from Fortuna.
When these clubs meet, a placid, cooperative, unified Germany is far from obvious to the observer. Violence is common, both inside and away from the grounds. That the Bundesliga has largely escaped these clashes is simply due to the current failure of any club from the East to penetrate this elite division.
The opening line of Germany’s post-unification national anthem cries for “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit”; or unity, justice, and freedom. For the football clubs and supporters of East Germany, Hoffman von Fallersleben’s famous lyrics must sound rather hollow. At this particular birthday party, they are still the less prosperous, cruder younger brother, of whom the elder is ashamed but cannot quite see fit to exclude altogether. Einigkeit, indeed.
By Tom Clover
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona