From 1979 to 1988, Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga 5 times, and in the other 5 years never fell below 4th. And impressive win streak thats been superceded in recent years by an impressive run starting in 1998, when they have won the League 18 times. In 2022, they won the Bundesliga for the 10th time in a row. It was a spectacular accomplishment.
But they weren’t the first German team to do that…
In Berlin, in the borough of Lichtenburg, the quarter of Alt-Hohenschönhausen is home to Berliner FC Dynamo. Playing in the DDR-Oberliga, Berliner FC won their League 10 times in a row, with a core group of players that not only led them to local success, but European success as well. In the 1979-80 European Cup, they went all the way to the quarterfinals, becoming the first German team to beat an English team in England, when they beat Brian Clough and Nottingham Forest 1-0. With a stellar Youth system, bringing in players such as Bernd Schulz, Frank Rohde, and Christan Backs, and a solid core of verteran players, they reached the quarter finals of the European Cup again in 1982, losing to Aston Villa. In the 1983-1984 season, their loss to FC Karl MArx Stadt broke a 36 game winning streak, and again made it to the quarter finals of the European Cup before losing to Roma. A bit of trivia for those of you out there, each team Berliner lost to went on to win the Cup. In the 1984-1985 season they scored 90 goals, but some of their wins were not without controversey.
The DFV conducted a review in the 1984-1985 season and found the club was given fewer yellow cards, and other non call led to the conclusion that they had gained at least 8 points in 26 matches to to clear referee errors on the pitch. While the East German Stasi support of the club was well know, and there were flgrant instances of referee bias in favor of the club, such as the game against SCG Dynamo Dresden in the FDGB Pokal, there is no evidence that the referees were ordered (or bribed) to favor the Berlin club. In fact complaints against the bias club received led to the General Secretary of East Germany getting involved directly, and while several people were removed from their positions, they did little to assuage a lot of the publics beliefs of what was going on. Players and coaches on many teams believed that the Berlin club didn’t need any of the help they had received, because an excellent youth system, and solid player moves such as Thomas Doll from Hansa Rostock, ensured the quality of their sqaud was better than the teams they faced. The culmination of the clubs run was a last day win against FC Vorwarts Frankfurt that clinched the League on goal difference.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall meant changes for every East German club, but BFC Dynamo was among the hardest hit. The disbandment of the Stasi meant the club lost one of its main sponsors, and the East German Ministry of the Interior said it would support the club until the end of the 1989-1990 season and that was it. In an attempt to distance itself from it’s former sponsor, they rebranded as FC Berlin, but players leaving for greener pastures meant the team lacked the solid foundation and cohesiveness it had relied on during the 80’s. After finishing in 11th place and losing in the 2. Bundesliga playoff, FC Berlin was relegated to the the NOFFV-Oberliga, but despite dominating the 1991-1992 season, they again missed promotion to the 2. Bundesliga, and the last of their former players left. Depending on who you ask and what you use for sources, the entire roster of FC Berlin changed over twice in the three years since the Wall fell.
Despite making millions on playere transfer in the early 90’s, and competing in the Regionaliga Norst, the team was losing money and sponsers. Relegation to the Regonalliga was followed by insolvency proceedings, and it was found that the club was at least 7 million DM in debt. Supporters started fundrasing, former players came back to help, and a new presidum would take control of the team in 2002. After two years of close calls, with Team President Mike Peters funding the club directly, the club was promoted back to the Oberliga, and more importanlt, the insovlvency proceedings against it were settled.
The next few years were close run, as the club bounced between the Regionalliga and Oberliga while struggling to stay solvent. On more than one occassion one of the clubs main sponsers had to step into save it, and during the latter half of the 00’s the clubs financial situation improved.
The club rebranded itself as BFC Dynamo, and in 2009 adopted its new crest. In 2010 the club starting climbing back up the standings, winning promotion to the Regionalliga in 2014, and winning several Berliner Cups the following years, and despite some financial struggles put together some good sqauds, one of which missed out promotion to the 3. Liga at the end of the 2022 season on goal difference, which led to the dismissal of Coach Bennbenneck.
At the start of the 2022-2023 season, the club finds itself struggling. Its vaunted youth system is no longer in place, and while the squad has some good players on it, they are aging. The team is semi-professional, doesn’t have great finances, and promtion to the 3. Liga is tough, finish first in the Regionaliga gives that team a place in the playoffs, which you have to win in order to be prmoted. In addition, the clubs stadium is aging, and the finances are such that making the repairs required or building a new one is just not possible now.
Meanwhile, Hansa Rostock is in the 2. Bundesliga, and has a decent chance of finishing top half. SC Dynamo Dresden is in 3. Liga, having recently been relegated.
Into this situation step Nicholas Schmidt. The Berlin native and once promising Hertha Berlin youth midfielder left the game after the death of his father in 2014, and returned to the game as a junior coach with Hertha Berlin a year later, becoming a youth coach in 2018 before taking a coaching role with 1. FC Kaiserslautern II in 2020. While not the Supporters club first choice, he obviously made an impression on Club President Norbert Uhling to hire him.
“Nikki?” His father called out. The house was mostly quiet, except for the beeping of the medical devices.
“I’m here Papa,” he replied, grasping his fathers hand. Those hands had been large once, and strong, a builders hands. His father used to say how proud he was of the fact the 3rd best thing he had ever done as a builder was to help tear down the Wall in 1989.
His father coughed, and asked for water, which was provided to him via a glass his son held.
“Can I ask you a sentimental question son?”
Nicholas Schmidt blinked, hard enough he thought his father might have noticed.
“What is you’re favorite memory of us?”
“Playing football with you in the park Papa,” he replied honestly.
“All of the times Papa. You would come home from work, check my homework, and we would make dinner than go to the park and kick the ball around. You showed me how the game was played, you gave me a love for the game, a passion for the game-“
“I took you away from it by getting sick.”
“No, Papa, you didn’t. I love the game, I will always love it, but I love you more.”
His father gripped his hand briefly, and the room was quiet, save for the beeps.
“I’m sorry I didn’t take you to more games,” his father said.
“You were working Papa.”
“Not always…” was the reply, and Nicholas sat up.
“In the closet, on the top shelf, behind the suitcase,” his fathers voice was quiet, but firm. Nicholas went to the closet, now empty of clothes, but found the box he was told to find.
He opened it up at his fathers direction, and saw the scrapbooks.
“The top one,” his father said, coughing again.
Nicholas opened it up, and saw two tickets, for a game between Berliner FC Dynamo and Carl Zeiss Jena, dated 1977.
“I met your mother at that game,” his father smiled. “She arrived with another young boy, but we left together.” Nicholas had fleeting memories of his mother, who had passed away when he was not yet four.
“We couldn’t afford to go to a lot of games, but we would gather with friends and listen, and other times we would be by ourselves and listen.” As his father talked he flipped thru the book, pulling out old tickets, yellowed newspaper articles, gameday pamphlets.
“She was a huge fan of the club, and I became one as well. I first kissed her at a match, when we beat Dresden. At least that was my excuse for kissing her, but in my defense, she didn’t object at the time.” He heard his dad chuckle, then cough.
“After we married, we couldn’t go to as many games as we liked, what with my travelling for work, but she would write me letters.”
Nicholas set the first book on the nightstand, and pulled out the second. Inside were more tickets and pamphlets, and letters. Neat, precise handwriting, going into great detail about the game she had watched. From the way she wrote, she either took notes as she watched the game, or wrote the letter immediately when she arrived back at their apartment.
Putting the second book down, he saw there were two more in the box.
“You never told me this before Papa,” he said softly.
“The Wall fell, things got tough. Money, work, the team fell on hard times as well, all the eastern teams did. Plus there was the clubs history, it didn’t set to well with a lot of people, but she watched loyally until we couldn’t afford to buy tickets. Then the club rebranded, all the players left…”
Nicholas listened as his father talked about the club after the Wall came down, as he read newspaper articles about their 7th consecutive league win, their 8th, their ninth. A letter from his mom, who wasn’t in the best seat in the house but saw Reich’s header go into the net for the win, and reading her description of the crowds reaction he felt as if he were there.
He opened the last book, flipping thru the pages, and stopped on the last one. It was a photo of the family. His dad with his arm around his moms shoulder, as she held a small boy who was clearly unhappy to be there.
“Nikki?” his father asked, noticing his sons silence.
“A photo Papa, all of us at a game.”
He saw his dad smile.
“That was a good day. The team didn’t win, but we had a good time.” Papa was silent for a moment. “It was the last game we went to as a family, Marie became ill a few months later.”
And eighteen months after that gone, to cancer. Nicholas flipped thru the books a few more times, then set it down and picked up one of the ones he had set down previously, and found himself reading newspaper articles from the early 80’s, when the club was winning everything.
“Do you love the game?”
“Then I want you to stay involved with in in some way. Playing, coaching, both, it does not matter. You stay involved. It does not have to be a career, but stay involved. You love it, don’t let me be the reason you walked away from it, OK?”
Nikki smiled, and wiped a tear away from his eye.
“Can you read me a letter?” his father asked after a few moments.
“Of course Papa,” he replied, and with care, he lifted one of the letters from the book, and began to read. Tens of letters later he was reading softly, his mother was furious at the loss to FC Karl Marx Stadt, which had broken the clubs 36 league match winning streak. She wrote with emotion, her handwriting became a little sloppier usually when she was mad, and he read it as best he could. He didn’t remember his moms voice, but his dad had smiled earlier when she railed against a player from Hansa Rostock who’s two footed lunge could have hurt Backs quite seriously, and while he could not speak in her voice, her tone was unmistakable.
He looked up from reading to ask his father a question, when he realized there wasn’t any beeping from the machine anymore. Setting the letter back in between the pages, closing the book and setting it back in the box, he stood up, and with a careful hand brushed back the thinning hair from his father forehead and kissed it. Albert Schmidt had never been a demonstrative man, but Nicholas had known he was loved, and the way his mom wrote he knew his father had been loved as well. He leaned down next to his fathers ear.
“Go with God, Papa. When you see Mama, tell her I love her and miss her, and when I see you both again, I will be bearing a trophy with BFC Dynamo’s name on it. The Bear will Roar again, I promise you both. I love you. Thank You for everything.”
He kissed his fathers cheek one last time, then left the room to call the hospice nurse.