Reading Through The Dead Land – Collecting East German Football Programmes

I started learning German at 11 years old. I had never learned a foreign language before and I knew my grandad had learned German in his later years but that decision as an 11-year-old to ask to do that over French or Spanish changed my life forever. Through secondary school to A-Level to degree and beyond, Germany and the German language have had a dramatic impact on my life.

The other big thing I’ve found interesting about Germany; East Germany. When I started looking harder at German history during my degree, the old East suddenly became much more easily accessible. I ended up living in the former East Germany for a time; I went to a Stasi prison, I made friends with people who learned Russian at school and were taught that my parents and I were the class enemy. The country that was called the German Democratic Republic (but only managed to be two out of three) remains fascinating to me, more as a study as to how it could happen.

Given my love of East German history as well as the language an how it is used, do you know what’s been a great thing to cover all the bases? Football programmes. Being British, football is woven into our social fabric and part of that for me has been the football programme. Aside from something to read at half time, the programme is this great snapshot of the time from which it came.

As a younger man I had a decent collection but got rid of a lot of them. However as I got older the collection restarted. I’m fortunate enough to have been to a world cup of three different sports as well as the 2012 Olympics. I’ve got a really cool memento of those and given my interest in East Germany I decided that there must be a way to get a programme from that era. I wanted something to go on the wall in a frame. “I can surely get a German football programme on eBay, right?” The can of worms was opened.

This all started with two programmes; a Hansa Rostock programme from a 1989 game in the UEFA Cup against Banik Ostrava and a programme from the most infamous East German side, Dynamo Berlin against Dynamo Dresden. They stayed on the wall till the frame fell off the wall but when they did, I sat down and read them. What I discovered was a treasure trove that ticked all the weird boxes in my head that I enjoyed.

My family are not surprised by any of this. A linguist in a family of scientists and maths graduates, I’ve always been someone for the obscure to the point that I’m made to write lists at Christmas because I’m apparently “awkward to buy for”.

The collection itself now sits at 30 which doesn’t immediately sound a lot but that’s because the collection itself has some self-imposed rules. The programmes themselves have to be from games played in the former GDR before the fall of the Berlin Wall and I’m only allowed to buy one a month unless the bundle is less than £20. I didn’t want to burn out on collecting and also enjoy the hunt of finding stuff. I wanted to make sure I had a collection of programmes that I wanted rather than just collecting for the sake of it.

From the outside there’s nothing that drastically different design wise to programmes from other countries from the time but the one big difference is the colour. East German programmes look much like any other European country’s programmes in that sense. The printing style is different but the colours do catch your eye. Carl Zeiss Jena or Lokomotiv Leipzig’s striking yellow and blue, national team programmes are a mixture of red and dark blue (not a colour the national team ever played in) or a club like Wismut Aue whose programmes’ purple hue matched their shirts to a tee. That said there’s minimal use of colour outside of the front covers. All photos are in black and white as are the adverts and virtually everywhere uses a similar font. Some would lazily say that it mirrors the GDR in some ways; colour outside and none inside though in a uniform inside for me is where the programmes get interesting.

East German programmes are a wild read and not just because they’re all in German. It’s the type of German used. People talk about keeping politics out of sport but in East Germany that wasn’t possible. Politics and the class struggle was forced through into the daily life of East Germans by their government and the wording in a lot of the programmes belies that. Nothing escaped. Football programmes from the GDR are not political tracts by any means but it bares remembering just how deep politics was forced into sport even here.

One of my favourite programmes in my collection is a prime example. Whilst Hertha vs Union Berlin is being billed as the first top flight Berlin derby Union, East Berlin’s unofficial anti-establishment team and something of a yo-yo club in the GDR, regularly took on Dynamo Berlin when both were in the Oberliga, East Germany’s top flight. The programme in my collection from Good Friday, 20th April 1984 features something you’d never seen in modern football; first time voters discussing their excitement at being able to vote in May’s upcoming election. Voting in East Germany was nominal at best and the headshots of the players don’t really reinforce any excitement that their words put forth about casting their ballots for any of the National Front block candidates.

One big similarity in East German football to other European countries in the 1980s was hooliganism and in a country that made a big deal of controlling information, you might think that such things would be hushed up or ignored but it’s handled head on. Possibly frustrated with the result of their game against the hated Dynamo, FC Karl-Marx-Stadt fans or “Rowdys” are noted to have caused the game to be delayed by throwing fireworks. 4 fans are named as being given year bans from the stadium and fans are asked to distance themselves from such elements.

My favourite programme is the last one in my collection featuring a then top of the table clash between Dynamo Dresden and Magdeburg. It features players you might have actually heard of like Matthias Sammer and Ulf Kirsten for the hosts and Uwe Rösler for the visitors. The programme has this advert inside the front cover for the Museum of the Army of the DDR. It also talks about what’s going on within the club such as the fan club tournament and recent results. My favourite bit though is how it belies nothing of what was to come. Football programmes generally provide a window into the time that they’re from but this one stands as a pillar of obliviousness to the world around it. The game in question kicked off at 6pm German time on Wednesday 8th November 1989. About 24 hours after the game started, the entire world had changed forever.

I’m looking to grow my collection and I think of the little goals I have for it. I want a programme from every club who was in the Oberliga when the Berlin Wall fell and am currently 60% there. The issue for me as a collector is the wildly varying prices as there seems to be no conformity, at least on eBay, as to what the pricing should be. I’ve seen the same programme listed for a couple of pounds to nearly £100. It’s a minefield for the collector on a budget.

The big ones that I want to collect are any of the cup final programmes, I currently only own the 1987 one, and the programme from the lone East German success in European competition where Magdeburg defeated AC Milan in the 1974 European Cup Winners Cup final in Rotterdam. Given my wife and I are currently trying to buy a house, the between £80-£120 I’ve seen it listed for will need to be used for other things currently.

1974 Cup Winners Cup Final – Magdeburg v Milan

East Germany wasn’t a good place for many people to be; people spied on their neighbours, people were jailed for the simple crime of wanting to wanting to go down the road and see other Germans or because they had different ideas but through it all, people lived. They had kids and went to the movies and watched football. My collection for me is about that snapshot past the iron curtain into a part of the life of every day people.

My collection doesn’t have a specific end point; in some ways, I like to think I’m preserving this obscure bit of history by collecting these. However, like East Germany itself, it has that Dynamo Dresden programme and a definite ending.


Anthony was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, lives in Southampton and left a piece of his heart in Rostock, Germany. He is usually found writing about British ice hockey at Banners On The Wall ( When he’s not obsessing over the Basingstoke Bison or the Rostock Piranhas, he’s an AFC Bournemouth and Hansa Rostock fan along with a variety of other sports teams who excite and frustrate him in equal measure. 
Find him on Twitter @84arussell and his ice hockey writing @BannersOTW 

One thought on “Reading Through The Dead Land – Collecting East German Football Programmes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.