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Two Germanys, One Game

During the 28 years of the country’s division, East and West Germany played as separate football teams.

During the 28 years of the country’s division, East and West Germany played as separate football teams. Amidst rising Cold War tensions, the 1974 World Cup brought the two together on the pitch – for the first and only match in World Cup history, where East and West Germany would ever face each other. 

Following World War Two, the ensuing geopolitical tensions between the powers of the Eastern and Western Blocs that developed into the Cold War became painfully apparent in the division of Germany. The deep rift the East-West divide had carved into its landscape turned Germany into the centrepiece of the conflict.

It was only through the Basic Treaty of 1972 that East and West Germany had even recognised each other as sovereign states. Though the decade had also initiated a process to normalise interaction between them, political relations remained precarious.

When in 1974 the World Cup was hosted by West Germany the tournament brought its Eastern neighbour across the Iron Curtain to participate. The teams also found themselves in the same group along with Chile and Australia.

For both German teams, the World Cup got off to a good start: West Germany defeated Chile and Australia, while East Germany won against Australia and scored a draw in the match with Chile. It was in the final group match that the two German teams would finally come face to face for one of the most politically charged games of all time. 

While the West German team were deemed hot favourites playing at home and as defending European Champions, the East Germans were sorely underestimated. “Everyone thought that we had no chance and we just wanted to prove to the world that we could play football,” said East German Midfielder Bernd Brausch. Though it was true that they had little international experience and all had other jobs beyond the football pitch, they could also boast past successes, like an Olympic bronze at the 1972 games.

POLITICS ON THE PITCH

On 22nd June 1974, the “two Germanys” stepped onto the pitch of Hamburg’s Volksparkstadium. The encounter not only had the peoples of both countries, but also a number of politicians on the edge of their seats. The match drew a crowd of over 60,000 spectators but only 1,500 East German fans were given permission to travel to the West German port city to cheer on their team.

As the stadium clock showed 7:30pm and the referee’s whistle got the ball rolling, players from both sides felt the importance of the game. Expectations were high, but the first half proved a disappointment. Though both sides had opportunities, neither managed to score and the teams left the pitch at Half Time with a 0:0 draw.

During the second half West Germany dominated the field but still was unable to send the ball into the net of their opponents. Then, in the 82nd minute, East German Striker and Magdeburg Player Jürgen Sparwasser managed to weave his way between three West German defenders and kick the ball past the West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier. With no further goals in the final minutes, the game ended 1:0. Against all of the odds, East Germany had won not only the match, but also the group title. The West German team would, however, later erase the memory of their defeat by winning the tournament.

Many years later, the two German teams were once again drawn to contend against each other in the qualifiers of the 1992 European Championship. But before the match could take place, political events overtook them: the Berlin Wall fell, Germany was reunified and their two teams became one.