Germany’s favorite Pastime - The German Soccer League System

Aerial of Soccer or Football field, Iceland
Soccer is the most popular sports in Germany. Arctic-Images-Digital Vision@gettyimages.de

I always have to smile when I read about the Baseball World Series. There indubitably is a bit of hubris in play when national sports leagues put their finals on a global level. Not that the U.S. American Baseball finals aren’t the height of that specific sport. But I would argue that the reason is, that the rest of the world doesn’t really care about Baseball. The rest of the world is pretty much busy playing, watching or discussing Football – and by Football I mean Soccer.

That definitely goes for Europe and, of course, for Germany. To gain further understanding of the German affection for their favorite pastime, let us take a look at the history of the sport.

 

It began in a School - The Beginnings of German Soccer

The first game of Soccer that was played in Germany cannot be pinned to an exact date. It was in 1874 and it probably began in a school in Braunschweig (other sources say that the first game of Soccer was played in Dresden in the same year). The game was already known in the German Reich, and it was frowned upon. Sports in Germany were coined by the harsh militarism of the time. Especially in the Schools, physical education consisted of quasi-military exercises and gymnastics. The pupils should be taught the conservative values and strict order of Prussia. The authorities didn’t see these attributes getting across in the wild and rugged game of Soccer.

But against all odds, a few Braunschweig teachers managed to integrate the game into their curriculum. One of them founded the first German Soccer club in 1875 and formulated the first batch of rules. Fifteen years later, Soccer already had made a long way on the path to fully establishing itself in German culture.

 

The first official international games of a German national team were played in 1908. The German Football Association was founded in 1900 and the first nationwide championship was held in 1903. The young structures of German Soccer were, of course, heavily disrupted by the two World Wars. And even though a lot of clubs that are still active today were already founded before the war period, the infrastructure that formed the foundation of today’s league system weren’t built until 1945. In the following years bunch of quasi-professional Soccer leagues, the Oberligen, were established in the different German regions. As early as 1947, occupation zone-wide championships were held. In some of the regions the Soccer Associations created second leagues, directly connected to the respective Oberliga. The champions of all Oberligen qualified for a playoff system, whose winner became the German Soccer Champion. On top of the quasi-professional leagues consisting of clubs with licensed players, there was a widespread web of amateur leagues. These already closely resembled the later German amateur Soccer system.

 

The Creation of modern German Soccer

In 1962, the Bundesliga was founded as the new highest championship in western Germany.

The equivalent leagues of the German Democratic Republic would dissolve into the western German after 1990. Its first season was played in 1963 and 1964. The second level of German Soccer was the Regionalligen (as the name says, these leagues were divided by region, into north, south, east, and west). The worst teams in the Bundesliga would be relegated into the Regionalligen and the best Regionalliga-Teams had a chance to play in the Bundesliga. Ten years later, in 1974, the Zweite Bundesliga (Second Division) was established as an additional professional league. Four years later, the Oberligen returned in form of the highest amateur class, just to be replaced by the revived Regionalligen in 1994. In order to professionalize German Soccer even further, a third professional league, the 3.

Liga was introduced in 2008. The Regionalligen remained as the highest amateur class, only as the fourth division in the system.

 

Underneath the Regionalligen, the amateur system splits up into countless leagues, classes and equally ranked divisions – but still: it is technically possible for a club to rise from the lowest amateur level into the Bundesliga, even though that never happens. It is entirely possible for a club to have more than one team in the different leagues within the same system – up until the 3. Liga. A youth Soccer system which almost equals the adult structures runs parallel.