Leipzig’s Zentralstadion – Glory Days


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“RUHM DER D.D.R. (Deutsche Demokratische Republik)” — “Glory Of The (German Democratic Republic)”

For the East German government officials desperate to demonstrate the superiority of state socialism over the capitalist class enemy in every aspect of life at all times, athletics notwithstanding, it was a vertiable crown jewel that vistiors were intended to behold and be impressed with. When officially inauguarated in Leipzig on August 4, 1956, for the second-ever German Gymnastics and Sports Festival event held in the D.D.R., the capacity for 100,000 spectators was something that no other stadium in all of Europe could proclaim. As the name would suggest, the ZENTRALSTADION at the SPORTFORUM LEIPZIG was meant to be the showpiece arena as well as the symbolic home ground of the national sports program in the German Democratic Republic.

This, of course, was to include football.

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In 1948, it was decided by East German planners in Soviet-occupied Leipzig that the abundant rubble on hand as a result of World War II should be used to construct a sports stadium in the city. An Olympic swimming facility was first completed in 1952 at the site along the artificially-created Elster river basin that would become the Sportforum Leipzig and construction work on the main athletic stadium began two years later under the direction of Karl Souradny. In the end, roughly 1.5 million cubic meters of Kriegstruemmern (war rubble) went into the building of the massive walls surronding the enormous Zentralstadion.

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October 22, 1957 — Hard-working groundskeeper HANS RICHTER mows the grass on the pitch at the Zentralstadion five days ahead of East Germany’s scheduled FIFA World Cup qualification match with visiting Czechoslovakia to be played in Leipzig. Despite the fact that neighboring Federal Republic of Germany had not only entered but already won its first World Cup tournament by 1954, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik did not succeed with its very first attempt to reach the final tournament of a major international competition. Although Richter could not have possibly realized such in advance, an official attendance record at the Zentralstadion which would never be broken was set but Czechoslovakia scored three goals in the first half on the way to a 4-1 defeat of East Germany.
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The World Cup qualification match between visiting Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic contested on October 27 in 1957 at the sold-out Zentralstadion in Leipzig is considered by researchers to have been the football match with the highest attendance ever to have been staged in the history of the now-defunct nation. The official figure is listed at 110,000 spectators while some accounts attest that the overflowing arena actually held as many as another ten thousand people that historic day. It is documented that roughly 640,000 ticket orders were received prior to the match.

Almost one month later, on November 24 of that same year, another official crowd of 110,000 was recorded at the Zentralstadion when Poland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics staged a one-game, neutral site playoff in Leipzig to determine who would qualify for the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden after finishing level on points in Group 6.

Capacity crowds for football matches at the Zentralstadion were commonplace in the 1950s. In the stadium’s first month of operation in August of 1956 alone, two-sellout crowds of 100,000 were reported when D.D.R. Oberliga champion SC Wismut Karl Marx Stadt played the powerful Hungarian army club SE Honved Budapest and a Leipzig City Select side hosted the Romanian team Dinamo Orasul Stalin from Brasov. The very next month, a domestic record in the Oberliga was established for all time in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik when SC Lokomotive Leipzig downed intra-city rival SC Rotation Leipzig 2-1 in a derby match on September 9.

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(photo dated April 4, 1978)
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In October of 1956, the Zentralstadion in Leipzig bore witness to a very famous match when reigning East German champion SC Wismut Karl Marx Stadt hosted visiting West German side 1.FC Kaiserslautern including legendary national team striker Fritz Walter. Many sources list 110,000 as the number of people who showed up to see the former Soviet Prisoner-of-War and captain of West Germany’s 1954 World Cup title-winning squad score the memorable “Hackentor von Leipzig”. Walter intentionally fell forward and then propelled the ball forward over his head with his heel into the upper right hand corner of the net to astonish the crowd as 1.FC Kaiserslautern triumphed 5-3; well-known D.D.R. sports reporter Wolfgang Hempel immediately annointed Walter’s strike as the Goal of the Century (Tor des Jahrhunderts).

Another West German club on a trip across the border, FC Schalke 04 Gelsenkirchen, and local SC Lokomotive Leipzig also attracted an audience of 100,000 football fans to the Zentralstadion in late November of 1956, as well.

The six-figure crowds in Leipzig slowly began to become a thing of the past through the years, though, as the East German national team repeatedly failed to qualify for the final tournament of major international events. The final time official attendance was recorded in excess of capacity at the Zentralstadion occured in late May of 1965 when the G.D.R. could only finish 1-1 with Hungary in a World Cup qualification match. The very last officially-logged audience of 100,000 spectators at the stadium by the Elsterbrecken arrived the very same day that prolific striker Joachim Streich of FC Hansa Rostock neatly curled the ball around FC Liverpool’s highly-accomplished goalkeeper Ray Clemence as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik battled to a 1-1 draw with visiting England on May 29, 1974.

Altogether, the East German national team was credited with having drawn a crowd of 100,000 or more to the Zentralstadion a total of five times.

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The national team of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik line-up prior to the start of a UEFA European Championships qualfication match with Poland in front of an official crowd of 55,000 spectators at the monstrous Zentralstadion in Leipzig on April 18, 1979 … East Germany rallied to defeat Poland 2-1 on the strength of second half goals scored four minutes apart by Streich and Lindemann, respectively … Seven players from the D.D.R. Startelf to face the Poles here were also in the starting line-up for the German Democratic Republic almost three years earlier when East Germany defeated favored Poland in the Final of the Olympic tournament at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, Canada.

D.D.R. left to right ……… captain Hans-Juergen DOERNER (SG Dynamo Dresden / 96 caps, 8 go), goalkeeper Hans-Ullrich GRAPENTHIN (FC Carl Zeiss Jena / 21 caps), Hans-Juergen RIEDIGER (FC Dynamo Berlin / 39 caps, 6 go), Hartmut SCHADE (SG Dynamo Dresden / 28 caps, 4 go), Gerd WEBER (SG Dynamo Dresden / 33 caps, 5 go), Reinhard HAEFNER (SG Dynamo Dresden / 54 caps, 4 go), Konrad WEISE (FC Carl Zeiss Jena / 78 caps, 1 go), Gerd KISCHE (FC Hansa Rostock / 59 caps, 0 go), Lutz LINDEMANN (FC Carl Zeiss Jena / 21 caps, 2 go), Joachim STREICH (FC Magdeburg / 98 caps, 53 go), Martin HOFFMANN (FC Magdeburg / 62 caps, 15 go)
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From the time the football facility was first built in 1956 up until the time that the country, itself, formally ceased to exist in 1990, the national team of the German Democratic Republic played a total of 45 full international matches in addition to three Olympic qualification contests at the Zentralstadion at the Sportforum Leipzig. Almost half of these full internationals (21 of 45) were qualification matches for either the FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championships but the results for East Germany in those are not overwhelming (nine wins, six draws, six losses). This helps to explain why the D.D.R. qualified for exactly one final tournament (ironically enough, the 1974 FIFA World Cup hosted by ultimate class enemy West Germany) in its entire 41 years of existance.

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(photo dated July 31, 1987) — this aerial shot taken just a couple of years before the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall provides an excellent view of the Elsterbrecken in the background setting alongside the massive sports arena that was the old Zentralstadion in Leipzig during the time of the since-departed Deutsche Demokratische Republik.

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