The first brick in the (Berlin) Wall

What happened when you feel like split in two watching the tv? It happened when Germany faced Germany” wrote Gunther Grass in 1974. He spoke about the Bruder Duell between East Germany and West Germany at the 1974 World Cup. The match that transformed Jurgen Sparwasser in a living legend.

At the 1974 World Cup, West Germany were the host nation and the main favourite for the title. The frame of the Nationalmannschaft came from Bayern Munich, recent European champions: Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, the stopper Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Paul Breitner, the box-to-box midfielder Uli Hoeness, the main scorer Gerd Muller. On the other side of the Berlin Wall, stars of that level could be seen only on tv screens. In the Oberliga, the East Germany first division, the few transfers were decided by the Ministry of Sport. Officially, players were amateur, although they were secretly recognized bonuses, particularly in case of a positive results against Dinamo Berlino, the Stasi team.

The level, anyway, wasn’t so despicable: in 1974 Magdeburg managed even to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup defeating AC Milan in the title-match. Wolfgang Seguin is one of the four “Mosquetaires” of that side that drove the national team to the World Cup, along with the striker Martin Hoffman, the playmaker Jurgen Pommerenke and the half-winger Jurgen Sparwasser.

Their qualification became immediately a political affair. On December, the Federation denied the coach Georg Buschner the approval to participate to the draw ceremony in Frankfurt, fearing a defection. East and West Germany were in the same group. The Bruder Duell is scheduled as the last match, in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion in Hamburg.

The Bruder Duell

Both teams had already qualified for the second group stage, so the prize was to finish at the top of the group . After 1-0 and 3-0 victories over Chile and Australia, West Germany needed only a draw. For Georg Buschner’s East Germany, coming after a 2-0 defeat to Australia and a 1-1 stalemate against Chile, only victory would suffice.

Around 60,000 fans packed into the stadium, including 1,500 East Germans, arrived with special visas valid exclusively for that 90 minutes. Among them, Stasi hid hundred of agents. Besides, the Red Army Faction had threatened to bring a bomb into the stadium and to explode it on that June 22.

Buschner had to sacrifice the injured Streich: he opted to insert Kurbjuweit and Kreische in the midfield advancing Sparwasser as the second striker along with Hoffmann. Schon made a single change in the first-choice starting lineup: Flohe was promoted for Jupp Heynckes.

For the first 40 minutes, nothing noteworthy happened in a predictably tension-ridden clash. Then, out of nowhere, Gerd Muller controlled in the box and turned towards goal but the ball rebounded off the post. The interval was just two minutes away.

When the Uruguayan referee Ramon Barreto Ruiz kicked off the restart, Germany DR appeared more motivated and determined. After 15 minutes, the midfielder Reinhard Lauck outpaced Wolfgang Overath but his right-footed shot finished just wide. At 69th minute Schon tried to change things: he substituted Schwarzenbeck with Hottges and Overath with Gunter Netzer, the flamboyant Monchegladbach kid who drove a Ferrari and managed a disco club. He had a harsh rivalry with Franz Beckembauer, and his transfer to Real Madrid didn’t help to downsize it: it seemed Kaizer Franz persuaded Schon to prefer Overath, then playing at Cologne, to Netzer. During the 1974 World Cup, Netzer would play only the last 22 minutes of the Bruder Duell, but curiously it was Netzer, once become Hamburg’s general manager, to call Beckenbauer in his team.

But Netzer failed to make the breakthrough and Germany FR didn’t manage to change the pace of the match. In the closing stages, both teams seemed content with the goalless draw.

Then, it happened. After 78 minutes Erich Hamann, on the pitch since 14 minutes, found Sparwasser free in the box. The attacker with the number 14 shirt, the same as Johann Cruyff, headed down, sprinted against Berti Vogts, evaded the tackle by Hottges and clinically found the net to the bottom far corner. It’s the goal of a worker, a working goal, that perfect suits a counter-hero whose surname means “spared water”. A hero that, in the only match ever played between East and West Germany, cancelled the acclaimed superiority of the Germany FR while his mother was watching him on tv on the other side of the wall. In spite of Beckembauer reassurances, “nothing happened”, something happened and dramatically changed in Germany. The day after the victory, the Eastern daily Fuwo exhalted Buschner’s perfect tactics but didn’t touch the political meanings of the clash. Those meanings that restrained Sparwasser from celebrating out in the streets with his mates because eventual images of a sports symbol caught in loose behaviours in the middle of the permissive West would have been an unsustainable damage for the Eastern propaganda.

The political sensitivities of the time were so high that players were forbidden to swap shirts after the final whistle. However, in the tunnel, Paul Breitner offered an exchange to Sparwasser whose original shirt was sold at a charity action 28 years later, in 2002, and raised 16,350 euros.

The communist regime tried immediately to get possession of that goal. Erich Mielke, Minister of State Security and as such head of the Stasi, said: “Success in football will clearly highlight the sports superiority of our socialist order”.

Different rumours, in a pre-internet and pre-blogs era, flourished around the Hamburg heroes. Urban legends talked about a new car, a new home and a remarkable bank account: but there’s nothing true. Players received only the promised 2,500 marks for the passage through to the next round.

In the meantime, another kind of doubts emerged: someone started to arouse suspicion that the match was bribed, that West Germany didn’t give it all to avoid defeat, because they, in spite of the second place at the end of the first round, finished in the easiest of second round groups, with Jugoslavia, Sweden and Poland while East Germany, that topped the group, had the tough duty to face Brazil, Argentina and Holland.

Many years after that goal that metaphorically opened the first brick in the Berlin Wall, 21 months before the hammer blows made it effectively collapse, Jurgen Sparwasser crossed the border. Eintracht Frankfurt had offered him a job as a coach. After the Wall fell, many hoped in a better life, in vain. Among them, there was Sparwasser. “I expected something more for the former East Germany. I told that to Helmut Kohl in a talk show on tv. Because of money, everything associated with Germany DR was destroyed, without trying to salvage the good part: school system, sports education, social solidarity. We wanted freedom, we deserved it; but I don’t know if we’re all happy now”.

For his “disertion”, Sparwasser has been called a traitor. But no accusation can erase the memory of that goal. If one day my gravestone simply says ‘Hamburg 74’” Sparwasser said, “everybody will still know who is lying below”.


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