13/30 | Germany 1954 – Why A World Cup Can Change The World!

“This is not a tragedy, dear listeners… it is a defeat in a football match”- A finishing statement from Hungarian radio after the Miracle in Bern was complete.

It was Fritz-Walter-Wetter, Fritz Walter-weather, in Bern. Rainy, grey and dim, just like the German captain Fritz Walter liked it. He always played well in these circumstances. The captain Fritz Walter, the Kaiserslautern legend, of whom their stadium is named after, had an astonishing ability to saunter across the grass with the ball taped to his magical feet. Tackles were no matter to the diminutive attacker with the commanding presence of a Japanese emperor as he just skipped them with flamboyant affluence while laughing sardonically at their fruitless attempts. A master, an artist and one of the best leaders Germany has ever had.

Because he was truly something special. A rare specimen of responsible leadership mixed with superb technical and tactical prowess, a player that brought out the best in others as well as himself. He was handed his Kaiserslautern debut at 17 and began to impress right away. Sepp Herberger, who was both Kaiserslautern’s and the national team’s coach at the time, was so impressed that he handed him his international debut not long after, in which he scored a hattrick against Romania. Fritz Walter had an ability to find space where there was none, create chances where it seemed impossible and score goals that no one else in his time could. Well, except every member of the Hungarian team in 1954 of course. As the leader of this team, things couldn’t go south. He was in control, kept his players in check even though this wasn’t too difficult.

There was a saying in Germany at the time. The Germans had shown examples of fantastic unity in the first weeks of the tournament and the Spirit of Spiez became hoi polloi for media. Spiez was the lake where the German team resided and some claimed that this place was responsible for the unity that had been shown against Turkey and Yugoslavia. It’s easy to forget that Germany had a long way to the final. They somehow got in the same group as Hungary and Turkey, two very good sides where Hungary were labelled as one of the best teams in the world, if not the best. Turkey were unknown but had done well in their qualifiers. Germany had a long walk ahead and for some, it wasn’t a first.

The German goalkeeper Anton “Toni” Turek was, as many others in the German team, a part of the Wehrmacht during the war, tasked to defend Germany and its allies. Turek was a promising footballer at the time, but had to interrupt this for military services demanded by Berlin. This was of course a real danger to his promising future as a footballer, but it was also an obvious danger to his life, as wars every so often tend to be. One day, it looked like more than Turek’s career was about to end when he was struck by a shell splinter through his helmet. He was lucky, the shell splinter didn’t pierce his head or even his skin, but the shock was enough for him to bear it with him for the rest of his life. Another player who had problems after the war was Fritz Walter’s youngest brother Ottmar Walter, another part of this triumphant team. Ottmar suffered a horrible knee injury in the middle of the war, which made him incapable to continue fighting. This healed quite well and he could actually pick up his career as a footballer, but this had to end after his injury came back to haunt him in 1956. He retired in 1958, having scored 336 goals in 321 competitive games for his native Kaiserslautern.

One must recognize what this World Cup meant for the Germans. Germany had been rolled over, by good reason, by Allied forces and there was a sense of division in the ranks even before the wall had become a talking point on the global agenda. The country had been bombed, cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Düsseldorf were all in ruins. A map in Frankfurt shows the devastation after the bombings- nothing was left, but one church. Everything else had been burnt down by allied bombs and now the same people that had had to endure these bombings had to endure being occupied by them. The Germans were short on confidence, short on money and support and now they waltzed into a World Cup with a team full of amateurs. Their World Cup hopes at the time could very well represent the national consensus – utter and bitter hopelessness.

The German Republic had just begun its governmental duties, things were going back to something close to normal for the first time in ten years, but the deafening feeling of bleakness was still there, weighing them down, bringing them back down when they were on the up. It was also a time of great insecurity. The second World War had ended with the biggest bang since Krakatoa and this sent shivers down spines on both sides of the soon-to-be iron curtain. The show of force in Japan by the Americans had created a new status quo in Europe and no one knew when it was going to change, with some even claiming that it hasn’t changed since. In this time of despair and fear, football became the only hope for a nation in desperate need for it. Football could bring some happiness to a country were happiness had become a mere luxury, instead of a convenience, where fearmongering was the main feature in political statements and where there were enemies around every corner. There were still Nazis in the local governments, still political struggles between state and Verbund and several football clubs took part in this German cold semi-civil war. There was no real structure, nor an aim for people, nor was there any sign of respect from the occupying forces and the Germans were quite simply trapped in a world they no longer felt was theirs.

The future was full of nuclear silos, silent bombers and orange lights guiding people to shelters- the now was a mixture of chaos and nothingness and the past? The past was hell itself. The Germans were trapped, and no part of time proved philanthropical enough for them to drift away to in dreamful sleep. Then came World Cup in football 1954. And it all changed.

Maybe it was the Spirit of Spiez or maybe it was just a mixture of Sepp Herberger and Fritz Walter, but the Germans did well straight away. Germany beat Turkey 4-2 in their first game of the tournament. They had the calamity of facing the by far best teams in their group. While Turkey faced Germany and South Korea and Hungary faced the same two, Germany missed out on the opportunity to destroy South Korea and were pitted against the two best teams instead, something they managed to get out of. They knew that a win against Turkey was needed to advance. Then, due to Turkey’s win against South Korea, the two had to face each other again. But before this, Germany got battered by Hungary with 8-3 in a game where the Germans reportedly used their B-team. They sacrificed the game against Hungary to win against Turkey, which was a clever move from Herberger. Because a fresh German team flew out of the blocks against Turkey and annihilated them from the off. 7-1 and the Germans were in the quarterfinals.

Then they beat a very strong Yugoslavia with 2-0, a performance lauded as one of the finest defensive performances a German national team has ever done. The defensive line of Posipal, Liebrich, Mai and Kohlmeyer had kept shut and Liebrich and Posipal were both hailed in Germany as master defenders afterwards. After this defensive anti-debacle, they rolled past a strong Austrian team with 6-0 and had reached the final at Wankdorf Stadium in Bern. This was the real deal, this was their first actual challenge and it was a big one. They had to play the very team that had humiliated them in the group stage, Hungary.

The German starting eleven for the final had forged itself. Players had played too well to keep  them out of the starting squad and the connections between the players had become too strong to let go of. This was one reason to the unity the German team proudly showed. The players had played together, some of them at Kaiserslautern and at an amateur level, and they knew the ins and outs, strengths and weaknesses. They knew which foot to pass, what height to put on the crosses and knew what players were supposed to lead and which ones were supposed to follow. There were actually a few leaders in this team. Fritz Walter was one of them, winger Helmut Rahn was another and Walter’s midfield companion Max Morlock was another, the Nuremberg legend who named their stadium. This trio forged bonds within the squad and eradicated any structural weaknesses that may have existed. They were prepared for this final.

Toni Turek, the man with the shell splinter through his helmet during the war, in goal. Josef Posipal, a native Romanian with German parents, at right back; defensive genius Werner Liebrich and outspoken handyman Karl Mai in central defence; Werner Kohlmeyer, one of the fairest defenders German football has ever seen, on the left flank. In front of them, Horst Eckel operated as a defensive midfielder, with some license to roam free. He was a good goal scorer even though his main position was between defence and attack. Horst Eckel played with Fritz Walter at Kaiserslautern and is the sole surviving member from this team today. Max Morlock and Fritz Walter played in front of him, acting as an attacking axis behind the brilliant trio up front. Ottmar Walter, Fritz’ brother, was joined by wingers Helmut Rahn and Hans Schäfer. Ottmar Walter was one of the best goal scorers Kaiserslautern have ever seen, while Helmut Rahn and Hans Schäfer became legends at Rot-Weiss Essen and 1. FC Köln respectively. This squad was about to take on the force of the decade, the Mighty Magyars- one of the best teams this world has ever seen perform with players like Ferenc Puskas, Zoltan Czibor, Jozsef Bozsik and Sandor Kocsis. The main difference between the two teams was that a major part of all Hungarian players was professional, while the Germans were semi-professional at best. This makes the subsequent triumph even more unbelievable.

The game began in front of 60.000 spectators at Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, the Swiss national stadium. After a few minutes, the German dream was almost quashed when Ferenc Puskas scored. It was a show of brilliant poaching. Then, they scored again through Sandor Kocsis after a short lapse In concentration from the Germans. Hungarian radio wanted to calm both the team and the viewers down after this goal by saying that it was just like the last game that was won 8-3. Then Nuremberg legend Max Morlock reduced the score to 1-2 after 10 minutes and he began to shiver. The German commentator Zimmermann instead said that this Germany is not the same that git beat 8-3, this is no B-team, he said. He was right! Because Helmut Rahn completed the sensational fight back after 18 minutes. The rest of the first half wasn’t as frantic, but with some opportunities on each side. The Hungarians were at their best between the 20th minute and the 70th and created chances every time they went forward. However, through a rigorous marking job from Karl Mai and Werner Liebrich, the Hungarian strikers were kept out. Then, Germany fought back and gained a bit of possession. They created their first good chance in the 71st minute when Helmut Rahn took a deranged shot at goal from the corner of the box.

15 minutes after this, Hans Schäfer managed to dispossess Jozsef Bozsik and crossed it into the area. The ball was cleared, but Helmut Rahn picked the ball up, hopped past a few defenders, found room to shoot and drove the ball into the net behind Grosics. 3-2! The Germans rejoiced, Helmut Rahn, the “Cannon from Essen” had just scored a great goal and sent the German commentator into new, uncharted levels of euphoria. Ferenc Puskas scored a header from close range after a cross from Toth, but it was ruled out for offside. The referee blew his momentous whistle and Germany had beaten the Mighty Magyars. The German commentator couldn’t formulate himself, the Hungarian radio commentator couldn’t hold his tears and began to sob, while he also thanked the “fair” Germans for a good game between to really good sides. The Germans dropped down in the grass. I wonder if they even fathomed what they had just done.

Some historians claim that this World Cup win was the start of the new German republic and that it was the sign of a reboot. Because after this, the German society began to recuperate. It slowly got better and realized that the future was perhaps not at fruitless after all. If Germany could beat Hungary at the World Cup, then the strong and industrious German people could overcome any trouble that is being thrown at them. A slight peek at where Germany are now would validate that claim.

Axel Falk

Axel Falk is a 21-year old multilingual football journalist from Sweden, specializing in German football -- of all kinds! He has featured regularly for the sites Get German Football News, Fresh off the Gegenpress, and is one of the main editors at SvenskaFans' German site, the biggest sports site in Sweden. Axel's well-traveled voice graces a number of podcasts in Swedish, as well as English, and has been cited by an array of sites in English, German and Swedish. He tweets at @Falkfurt.
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