East German football league system

The football league system of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR) existed from 1949 until shortly after German reunification in 1991.

East German football league system
Flag of East Germany East Germany
The East German Bezirke
Schwerin coat-of-arms.jpg Schwerin
Rostock Wappen.svg Rostock
DEU Neubrandenburg COA.svg Neubrandenburg
Wappen Magdeburg.svg Magdeburg
DEU Potsdam COA.svg Potsdam
Coat of arms of Berlin (1935).svg Berlin
Coat of arms of Halle (Saale).svg Halle
Wappen Frankfurt an der Oder.jpg Frankfurt (Oder)
Wappen Cottbus.png Cottbus
Wappen Gera.svg Gera
DEU Erfurt COA.svg Erfurt
Wappen Suhl.svg Suhl
Dresden Stadtwappen.svg Dresden
Coat of arms of Leipzig.svg Leipzig
Coat of arms of Chemnitz.svg Karl-Marx-Stadt
Last Champion 1990-91
Hansa Rostock


For most of its history, competitive GDR football was divided into three tiers. The Oberliga was founded in 1949, and served as GDR football's highest tier of competition throughout the country's existence.[1]

The Liga was founded in 1950 as the GDR's second tier of competitive football. Between 1950 and 1954, Liga clubs were divided into geographical sub-divisions. In 1955, the Liga switched to a single division format, before reverting to geography-based sub-divisions in 1962.[1]

Between 1952 and 1954, and from 1963 until 1990, the third tier of GDR competitive football consisted of several district leagues known as Bezirksliga. The boundaries of these Bezirksligen corresponded to each of the GDR's administrative divisions, with clubs assigned according to their location. In 1955, a single division known as the II. Liga was introduced, supplanting the various Bezirksligen as the GDR's third tier of competitive football and transforming the latter into fourth tier competitions. However, in 1963 the II. Liga was abolished, and the Bezirksligen were restored to third tier status.[1]

In order to facilitate re-integration into a unified German league system, a one-off reorganisation of East German leagues was implemented for the 1990-91 season. This reorganisation saw the Bezirksligen once again relegated to fourth tier status, with the third tier consisted of four new divisions corresponding to the regions of Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thüringen.[1]

Below the Bezirksliga level, several county competitions known as the Bezirksklasse, Kreisliga and Kreisklasse took place.[1]


Source: "East German football leagues" (in German). Das deutsche Fussball Archiv. Retrieved 2008-03-08.


Between 1949 and 1957, the East German Sports Committee (DS) was officially responsible for administering the country's various leagues via its Football Section (SF). In addition to securing the GDR membership in football's international governing body FIFA, the SF was a co-founder of European football's foremost administrative body, UEFA.[2]:22 Both achievements would pave the way for the participation of East German clubs in international competition from the mid-1950s onwards.

From 1957, the East German Gymnastics and Sports Confederation (DTSB) assumed the DS's responsibilities over sport, later forming the East German Football Association (DFV) in 1958 to replace the SF.[2]:23

Political interventionsEdit

Despite the official power accorded to the SF and later the DFV, both bodies lacked total autonomy over major administrative decisions, which were often influenced by the political interventions of state and regional interests.

Club restructuringEdit

The SF forcibly merged or relocated several clubs and teams in the DDR-Oberliga in 1954. Officially, the decision was aimed at concentrating the best players in certain locations, with the intention of improving the general quality of East German football.[2]:22 However, the move was derided by fans as serving the interests of powerful political interests.[2]:24

BSG Chemie Leipzig, the champions of the 1950-51 season, was dismembered in September 1954. Almost all of its players were assigned to the new sports club SC Lokomotive Leipzig. The rump BSG Chemie Leipzig was relegated to the Bezirksliga and renamed BSG Chemie-Leipzig West.[2]:107 The successful team of BSG Empor Lauter was relocated to Rostock in October 1954. The team and its place in the DDR-Oberliga was transferred to the new sports club SC Empor Rostock, which later became FC Hansa Rostock.[3] Then SED First Secretary in Bezirk Rostock Karl Mewis and SED funcionary Harry Tisch were instrumental in the relocation of BSG Empor Lauter to Rostock.[4][3] The football team of Dynamo Dresden, the champions in the 1952-53 season, was relocated to East Berlin in November 1954. The team and its place in the DDR-Oberliga were transferred to the new sports club SC Dynamo Berlin, which later became BFC Dynamo. Political factors and pressure from Erich Mielke were probably the main reasons behind the relocation of Dynamo Dresden to East Berlin.[5][6] The relocation was designed to provide the capital with a competitive team that could rival Hertha BSC, Blau-Weiß 1890 Berlin and Tennis Borussia Berlin, which were still popular in East Berlin and drew football fans to West Berlin.[7][5][6]

Relocations would continue to take place throughout the history of East Germany, one notable example being the relocation of FC Vorwärts Berlin to Frankfurt an der Oder.[8]

League calendarEdit

In 1955, the SF switched its league competitions from the traditional autumn-to-spring season running between August and May, to a calendar-year season running from February to November. This decision was influenced by the desire of GDR political leaders to align the country's institutions with those of the Soviet Union, which employed the calendar-year system in order to avoid playing games in cold and snowy winter weather.[2]:111

However, the decision made less practical sense in the more temperate GDR. Match attendances suffered during the traditional vacation months of July and August, and GDR clubs - often midway through their domestic seasons - found themselves at a physical disadvantage in UEFA competitions against fresh European sides coming off their summer breaks.[2]:112

The DFV would revert to the old August-to-May system from the 1960-61 season onwards.

Club prioritisationEdit

The DFV implemented two major reforms in 1965 and 1970 that favoured the GDR's larger clubs.

In 1965, select clubs were formally granted status as football clubs (FCs). The FCs were allowed to establish player development programmes and schools within their designated catchment areas.[9]:456–7 The move essentially granted them a monopoly over up-and-coming youth prospects, contributing to an ever-increasing gulf in quality between the FCs and ordinary factory clubs (BSGs).

In 1970, the DFV presided over de facto professionalisation. Players in FCs were allowed to train full-time, and were granted access to material privileges such as interest-free loans, cars, or apartments. By contrast, BSG players were expected to complete their day-shifts, and continued to be paid solely for their day-jobs.[9]:457


Officially, player transfers for money did not exist in the GDR. However, the DFV could 'delegate' a player from one club to another upon the player's request.[2]:105

Such delegations were frequently subject to political complexities. In 1981, Sachsenring Zwickau player Hans-Uwe Pilz requested a transfer to Dynamo Dresden. Despite the DFV's approval, resistance from Zwickau officials scuttled the move. In 1982, the DFV approved a second request by Pilz to move to Dresden, only to find that regional DTSB officials from Karl-Marx-Stadt had signed off on papers delegating Pilz to their city's own club: FC Karl-Marx-Stadt. The resulting fracas was only settled after intervention from national DTSB chief Manfred Ewald and Socialist Unity Party (SED) Central Committee member Rudolf Hellmann.[2]:101–4

Such horsetrading between competing party, city, and club officials for players was commonplace. Although player income was officially restricted to what they earned from their day-jobs, officials offered a variety of under-the-table incentives to lure players away, ranging from apartments, cars, food, or laxer work regiments.[2]:105



Football clubs in the GDR could be classified into four categories:


Short for Betriebssportgemeinschaft, BSGs were sport clubs sponsored by state-owned enterprises. BSGs were the basis of sports in the GDR, and were the most numerous type of GDR football club. However, they received the least support from state authorities, and were often subject to arbitrary interventions.

Generally, players were enterprise employees. Due to the varying economic output of different industries, the BSG's varied greatly in financial wealth and sporting success, with Wismut and Chemie clubs proving particular successful. BSG's can be subdivided into the following:[1]

Some industrial branches were particularly unsuccessful due to low funding. One example were the agricultural enterprises, which failed to have a club in the Oberliga or Liga after 1978, when Traktor Groß Lindow were relegated.

Some clubs were BSGs in practice, but carried the names of their particular enterprise, one example being Sachsenring Zwickau.


The clubs of the interior ministry with strong connection to the police and the secret police.[10] The clubs were part of sports association SV Dynamo.


The clubs of the ministry of defence.[1] The clubs were part of sports association ASV Vorwärts.

Football Clubs (FC)Edit

Established after the 1965 DFV reform, these were:[1]

Apart from these eight, BFC Dynamo and FC Vorwärts Berlin also became FCs, while remaining under the influence of their ministries. An eleventh club, SG Dynamo Dresden was granted the same privileges in regards of player drafting but did not become an autonomous football club.

Fan cultureEdit

Club rivalriesEdit

Club rivalries developed along several lines. The most common rivalries were those between intra-city or intra-enterprise rivals, and could be found at every tier of GDR football.

More unique were rivalries that formed out of anti-establishment sentiment, with BFC Dynamo proving the foremost target of such feeling. Within Berlin, BFC Dynamo elicited the contempt of the firmly working-class 1. FC Union Berlin.[9]:464 A similar relationship existed between 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig and BSG Chemie Leipzig in Leipzig. Outside Berlin, supporters of BFC Dynamo found themselves scorned by supporters of Dynamo Dresden. In addition to the transfer of the first team of SG Dynamo Dresden to SC Dynamo Berlin in 1954, supporters of SG Dynamo Dresden accused BFC Dynamo of benefitting from its status as the favourite club of Erich Mielke, despite itself being supported by the Stasi.[9]:463

Upon the establishment of Football Clubs (FCs) in 1965, another form of rivalry emerged between players and fans of the FCs and BSGs. Those associated with the BSGs frequently took pride in their status as "real" workers teams, and poured scorn on the 'elitist' FCs that benefited from increasing de facto professionalisation of the sport throughout the 1970s.[2]:102

Fan clubsEdit

Unofficial fan clubs revolving around the GDR's various football clubs were widespread, and were often viewed with suspicion by the ruling SED regime owing to their spontaneous and independent nature. While their express purpose was to organise fan events and produce club-related materials, they were frequently scapegoated for football-related disorder.

The state's accusations of fan club-derived hooliganism steadily gained legitimacy come the 1980s. Infiltration by skinheads, especially amongst the Berlin clubs, saw a shift towards more a more militant culture and a spate of violent incidents.[9]:464

The DFV attempted to clamp down on fan incidents by offering fan clubs the opportunity to register as official associations. While some fan club members were attracted by the incentive of privileged access to players and match tickets and subsidized travel, others were contemptuous of the very notion of bureaucratic incorporation and the loss of autonomy and spontaneity.[9]:465


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Dennis, Mike. "Behind the Wall: East German football between state and society".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k McDougall, Alan (2014). The People's Game. Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ a b Hesse-Lichtenberger, Ulrich (2003). Tor!: The Story of German Football (3rd ed.). London: WSC Books Ltd. pp. 225–226. ISBN 095401345X.
  4. ^ Mike, Dennis; Grix, Jonathan (2012). Sport under Communism – Behind the East German 'Miracle' (1st ed.). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan (Macmillan Publishers Limited). p. 138. ISBN 978-0-230-22784-2.
  5. ^ a b Mike, Dennis; Grix, Jonathan (2012). Sport under Communism – Behind the East German 'Miracle' (1st ed.). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan (Macmillan Publishers Limited). p. 137. ISBN 978-0-230-22784-2.
  6. ^ a b Mike Dennis. "Behind the Wall: East German football between state and society". Archived from the original on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 12 November 2010.
  7. ^ Pleil, Ingolf (2013). Mielke, Macht und Meisterschaft: Dynamo Dresden im Visier der Stasi (in German) (2nd ed.). Berlin: Chrisopher Links Verlag (LinksDruck GmbH). p. 16. ISBN 978-3-86153-756-4.
  8. ^ Teichler, Hans Joachim (2008). "Fußball in der DDR - Fußballbegeisterung und politische Interventionen" (in German). Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. Retrieved 2008-03-16.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Dennis, Mike; Grix, Jonathan (2010). "Behind the Iron Curtain: Football as a Site of Contestation in the East German Sports 'Miracle'". Sport in History. 30 (3).
  10. ^ Teichler, Hans Joachim (2008). "Fußball in der DDR - planungsresistent und unregierbar?" (in German). Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. Retrieved 2008-03-16.
  11. ^ Kleiner, John Paul (19 April 2013). "The Darth Vaders of East German Soccer: BFC Dynamo". The GDR Objectified (gdrobjectified.wordpress.com). Toronto: John Paul Kleiner. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  12. ^ McCracken, Craig (21 April 2015). "Forward With Vorwärts Berlin, East Germany's Team Of The 60s – Part Two". Beyond The Last Man (beyondthelastman.com). Craig McCracken. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  13. ^ Kannowski, Stephan (1999). Der Einfluss der SED auf den Sport der DDR am Beispiel des Fußballvereins 1. FC Union Berlin (October 1999 ed.). Hamburg: Diplomarbeiten Agentur diplom.de (Bedey Media GmbH). pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-3832419226.


  • "Kicker Almanach" The Football Yearbook on German football from Bundesliga to Oberliga, since 1937, published by the Kicker Sports Magazine

External linksEdit