As part of our new Lost Champions series, today we’re taking a look back in history at the former German national title winners now sadly lost to the game. The country’s separation into two different states post WW2 made 20th century football in Germany more complicated and fragmented than in most European countries, but here we’ll attempt to cover all four of the distinct eras of the German game: the early years from 1903 through to the 1930s, the game under the Third Reich, the modern Bundesliga and the four decades of the East German Oberliga.
Considering the huge geopolitical changes that have affected every aspect of German life over the past century, perhaps it’s something of a surprise that just eight former champion clubs no longer exist – five from the days of the early unified championship and three from the East German Oberliga era.
Three of these clubs were Berlin-based, a major European capital that has had a difficult relationship with the game over the decades. Middle-class Union 92 Berlin was one of the founding members of the German Football Association in 1900 and took the national title in 1905 with a surprise win in the play-off Final against strong favourites Karlsruher FV (of whom more later). Union merged in 1927 with another of the city’s earliest founded clubs, Berliner FC Vorwärts 1890, and a year later the new club also absorbed Arminia 1906 Berlin.
All German clubs were dissolved by the victorious Allies at the end of WW2 and the merged club re-formed shortly after as SG Mariendorf. Eventually that club split into three separate entities, none of which made any impression on the wider game. A small amount of Union 92’s DNA carried through to the Blau-Weiss 90 Berlin team that spent a single season in the Bundesliga during the late 1980s before drifting into bankruptcy, ironically in 1992. Union 92 Berlin had no connection with the better-known and still active 1.FC Union Berlin club.
Another one-time Berlin-based national champion was BFC Viktoria 1889, known as the Tempelhof Lions after the city district in which they were based. Viktoria was Germany’s oldest club and ran both football and cricket sections. The football club became a major force at city championship level in the 1890s and progressed to reach four national championship Finals between 1907 and 1911, winning two of them.
Viktoria remained a force in the German game until the end of the First World War before declining. Playing in the western side of the city post WW2, the club was blighted by financial issues and mismanagement. Viktoria were playing in the German fifth tier as recently as 2013 when they merged with Lichterfelder to form a club called FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin. The new club claims itself to be a continuation of the old Viktoria’s lineage, but there have been too many stages of separation for us to consider them as such.
Berlin’s most famous and successful lost champion is Vorwärts Berlin, the original GDR army club and six-time winners of the East German Oberliga between 1958 and 1969. Being an organ of the state brought certain advantages for Vorwärts that were not available to most other GDR clubs, but despite this privileged status the club was well-respected for the attractive football it played which set it apart from the dour style prevalent in East German football at the time.
Vorwärts was a politically driven football construct that ultimately lost out to a better connected politically driven football construct. Stasi chief Erich Mielke wanted his beloved Dinamo Berlin to be the unrivalled power in East Berlin, so in 1971 Vorwärts was moved from the capital to Frankfurt (Oder) on the German-Polish border and renamed Vorwärts Frankfurt/ Oder. After various renamings and mergers, what little there remains of the original Berlin club plays under the name of 1.FC Frankfurt in the fifth tier of the German game. You can read BTLM’s extensive two-part history of Vorwärts Berlin here.
Karlsruher FV was formed in 1889 and was the first official football club in southern Germany. By the turn of the twentieth century the club dominated the South German regional championship leading to three appearances in national finals between 1905 and 1912. Two of those were lost but under English coach William Townley the 1910 Final appearance against Holstein Kiel was a successful one. KFV remained strong at regional level without being able to make the same impression on the national stage. Fortunes dwindled post WW2 as Karlsruher SC took over the mantle as the city’s main club and KFV sank down to the fifth tier before disappearing completely in 2004. A new club taking the same name was formed in 2007 and plays in the amateur leagues.
Formed in 1893 as the football wing of a gymnastics society, VfB Leipzig was one of the original clubs that came together to form the DfB in 1900. Success followed rapidly with championship wins in 1903, 1906 and 1913 and final appearances in 1911 and 1914. Post WW2 VfB Leipzig’s identity altered significantly. Disbanded and then reformed as SG Probstheida under the occupying Soviets, the club suffered the indignity of multiple mergers and name changes until adopting its most recognisable modern identity in 1966 as Lokomotive Leipzig.
Under the Lokomotive banner the club was one of East Germany’s stronger teams without ever managing to become champions and the high point of its history was an appearance in the 1987 Cup Winners Cup Final. Following German reunification the historic VfB Leipzig name was resurrected as the club reached the Bundesliga in 1993, however relegation followed after just a single season and the club floundered into bankruptcy and dissolution in 2004. A phoenix club was founded that same year preferring to use the Lokomotiv Leipzig name rather than the VfB one.
Our other two lost East German clubs were title winners in the very early, chaotic days of the Oberliga and were different versions of the same club.
Horch Zwickau became the first official League champions in 1950 with an infamous victory over Dresden’s SG Friedrichstadt on the last day of the season. This was a game marred by the wanton violence of Zwickau’s players, conveniently overlooked by a referee who was under instruction from the communist authorities to favour the working class Zwickau team at the expense of the bourgeoise Dresden. This was technically Horch Zwickau’s second championship. In 1948 they had become the first champions of the Soviet controlled Ostzone under their previous name of SG Planitz.
Horch Zwickau was merged with a newly formed local side named Aktivist Steinkohle Zwickau and by the 1970s had become Sachsenring Zwickau. Today what remains of these early GDR champions play as part of FSV Zwickau in the German fourth tier.
Formed in 1898, Dresdner SC evolved as a force regionally in the 1920s and nationally during the WW2 years. Back-to-back titles arrived in 1943 and 1944, the former in some style with the Dresden club winning every one of the 23 games it played during the season and scoring a remarkable average of seven goals in each.
Reconstituted as SG Friedrichstadt after the war, the club’s last footballing foray came in that 1950 East German championship play-off against the Soviet backed Horch Zwickau detailed above. After a violent reaction by their supporters to defeat in that game, the club was disbanded and its players assigned to a variety of other teams. Dresdner’s diluted lineage can be traced through dozens of later clubs including Dynamo Dresden. A new Dresdner SC came about in 1990 as a renaming of a totally different club that had been known since the 1960s as Lokomotive Dresden.