Friday, July 8, 2011

Women’s soccer club stays in fast lane in Germany

Women's soccer club stays in fast lane in Germany

BY NICHOLAS KULISH AND JERÉ LONGMAN

POTSDAM, GERMANY — The top women's professional soccer team here began 40 years ago with an anonymous posting on the bulletin board at an energy company in Communist East Germany.

''Founding women's soccer team,'' the handwritten note read. ''Please appear March 3, 1971 at 6 p.m. in the Walter Junker clubhouse,'' which was named after a young Communist killed in the Spanish Civil War.

The team that grew out of it, Turbine Potsdam, named after the power-generating turbines at the state-owned company, went on to win six championships in East Germany. Turbine survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and the transition to capitalism and went on to win not only the championship of reunified Germany five times but twice the championship of a Europe no longer divided by the Iron Curtain.

By combining the traditions of the old East German sports academy with the sponsorships and fan clubs of capitalist soccer culture, the team has built one of the top training destinations in the world for girls' and women's soccer, drawing players from as far away as Brazil and Japan. Yet the rapidly growing interest in women's soccer may hurt rather than help the team, as western German clubs with more money lure away Turbine's best players with higher salaries.

Hundreds of fans gathered on Tuesday night at the 40th anniversary party for Turbine on the shores of Templiner Lake outside Potsdam.

Fans watched Germany's national team defeat France, 4-2, in the women's World Cup, with the first goal coming off an assist by Turbine's own Babett Peter. They listened to the songs of East German pop singer Ute Freudenberg, who defected to West Germany in 1984 but is now back in the former East.

The biggest cheers of the night, however, came for the 68-year-old coach and athletic director, Bernd Schröder, who read that bulletin board note in 1971 and volunteered to coach the club. He has been with it ever since, with the exception of a one-year suspension by Communist officials for letting his squad play teams from the West.

''It's unique in world history and cannot be repeated,'' Schröder said in an interview on Tuesday, the week after he was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz with distinction, the highest civilian award in Germany. ''You don't get a penny for it. I won the Activist of Socialist Arbeit six times and got 250 marks for each one.''

The role of Schröder — a former goalie turned engineer who has worked since the team's founding without ever taking a salary — is also unique. The tall, charismatic coach with the deep voice and unusual presence, on the field and onstage, as he was on Tuesday, is the symbol of the club even more than the players.

''We don't want to talk about it now but it is a question that just asks itself,'' said Rolf Kutzmutz, 64, a friend of Schröder's since the 1970s now serving as the club's vice president. ''He's not just the coach. He's Turbine,'' Kutzmutz said, in a comment echoed by many fans discussing their ''Schrödi.''

Women's soccer was not banned in East Germany, as it was from 1955 to 1970 by the West German soccer association, but it did not receive official support from the state. The East German sports machine, so famous for doping its swimmers and track and field athletes, chose to concentrate on individual sports to haul as many medals as possible for the glory of a country of just 16 million.

Soccer wasn't even an Olympic sport for women, which meant it was neglected by the officials. When the Berlin Wall fell, the depth of involvement in steroids became apparent, not to mention the Party and Stasi secret-police involvement in men's professional soccer and other sports. The best men's players went west. The women, who had to work for a living anyway, stayed where they were.

As Turbine rebuilt for the future, it began a deep cooperation with the surviving sports academy in Potsdam, the Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sports School, whose graduates have won 64 Olympic gold medals, according to the school's Web site.

Volker Kluge, who was a spokesman for the East German Olympic Committee and former sports editor for Junge Welt, the largest-circulating paper in the D.D.R., or the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, said that 21 of the 24 sports schools that existed in East Germany still are operational today, developing elite athletes. Kluge said that as many as 10 sports schools also have opened in western Germany since the Wall fell.

''Even Western Germany accepted this was the only way to go,'' said Kluge, who is now a sports historian. ''It was a great idea, a great project, one of the few things East Germany brought to unified Germany.''

Tabea Kemme was born near Hamburg in December 1991, more than two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When she arrived at the sports school as a 14- year-old it was the first time she was ever told she came from West Germany. She played for the under-20 world champion team in 2010, the same year she won both the German title and the European Champions League title.

''I don't know if I could have gotten where I am without the school,'' said the young defender on Tuesday. ''At the sports school you really strive for your goal, you live there, train there, you're closer together.''

The 19-year-old's goal is to play in — and hopefully win — the women's World Cup like four of her teammates, three of whom are playing for Germany, and Yuki Nagasoto, who plays for Japan.

Many of the fans on Tuesday wore the white Germany jerseys with the name Bajramaj on the back, for the popular young player Fatmire Bajramaj. But she is no longer with the team, after signing to play with 1. F.F.C. Frankfurt, the club's German rivals with the deep pockets.

''Frankfurt's going to be the best,'' said Reinhard Tienz, 61, a fan who turned out for the celebration this week. ''More and more it's all about money, like it is with the men's game.''

There is not a single team representing the former East Germany in the men's top professional league.

Speaking to supporters Tuesday, Bernd Schröder did not appear ready to give up. He introduced the players one by one, noting that the defense was ''the youngest in the league with an average age of 19.4 years.''

Turbine's future lies in whether the club and the sports school can develop players faster than the other clubs can buy them.

''Our fans would give their last shirts for this club,'' he growled into the microphone, ''for the team, for the city and for the region.''


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