20 years later, remembering East German film and football

On the club level, three East German teams reached the final of the Cup-Winners’ Cup, with 1. FC Magdeburg, in 1974, winning the nation’s only European trophy. With the concentration of resources from the mid-1960s on 11 “focus clubs”—the festival screens full European matches featuring three of them, Dynamo Dresden, Carl Zeiss Jena and FC Dynamo Berlin—player transfers to these sides became compulsory. This followed a rebranding of traditional, “bourgeois” teams into company sporting groups. Clubs acquired prefixes such as Chemie (chemical industry), Aufbau (construction), Stahl (steel), Lokomotive (railways), Wismut (ore mining), Empor (meaning “upwards!”), Vorwärts (“forward!”) and Rotation (derived from “rotary press”).

German historian Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger has described the conflicts between Manfred Ewald, president of the East German Olympic committee, who saw sport primarily as “social and patriotic education,” and club directors who had power bases in the trade unions or the GDR’s secret police, the Stasi. Football was passionately supported, says Springborg, yet federal authorities prioritized training in Olympic sports. Football, writes Hesse-Lichtenberger, was “torn between different directives, tugged this way and that by conceited party bosses, unloved by men in suits who would have preferred it if youngsters had taken up swimming and weightlifting. No surprise, then, that things got chaotic, scandalous or simply weird.”

Some of the weirdness comes through in festival offerings. A contemporary German documentary, Der kleine General—Dynamo Dresdens Meisterjahre unter Walter Fritzsch, 1969–1978 (The Little General—Dynamo Dresden’s Championship Years under Walter Fritzsch, 1969–1978), captures Fritzsch’s authoritarian style. Hesse-Lichtenberger characterizes him as “a maniacal bureaucrat” who asked his players to write post-match essays in composition notebooks while Fritzsch’s wife monitored their intake of cigarettes and booze.

In what might pass for commentary on capitalist mores, an elite striker in Der Mittelstürmer verweigert das Paradies (The Center Forward Denied Paradise) is sold to an eccentric millionaire to form part of a human menagerie. Festival organizers label this 1987 release an East German flirtation with experimental film-making techniques. Other offbeat GDR productions include Nicht schummeln, Liebling, a 1973 musical comedy about women’s football. The cover of the festival program offers a screen grab from the film. Women in one-piece, form-hugging tangerine kit frolic in a goal celebration that must realize Sepp Blatter‘s every dream for the women’s game. In Der nackte Mann, a 1974 comedy, bureaucrats commission a sculptor to create a monument for the central sporting plaza. When sculptor Kemmel‘s work is erected, the Olympian figure that he has selected, a nude runner, provokes uncertainty as footballers and other citizens must try to harmonize this classical expression with socialist reality.

Lutz EigendorfAs an example of Stasi meddling in football—Stasi chief Erich Mielke employed “the entire apparatus of state repression” to guarantee success for BFC Dynamo, FourFourTwo reports in Dec 07—the festival presents the 2000 documentary Tod dem Verräter (Death of a Traitor). The director, Heribert Schwan, gained access to Stasi files to trace the security police’s monitoring of Lutz Eigendorf, the so-called Beckenbauer of the East who defected to West Germany in 1979 following a friendly between his club, the Stasi-controlled Dynamo Berlin, and 1. FC Kaiserslautern. Schwan discovered that Mielke directed 50 agents to monitor Eigendorf in the West. On 7 Mar 1983, Eigendorf died in a car crash. Pictures of the wreckage show a car nearly sawed in half by the force of impact. In the FourFourTwo article, Richard Pendleton writes:

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