Memories of DDR

Friedrich Ludwig Jahn was born in the Prussian state of Brandenburg in 1778.  

To his admirers he was known as ‘Turnvater Jahn’ and is regarded as one of the fathers of mass participation gymnastics. For others his thoughts and practices are linked to Hitler’s national socialism and an aim to create the ultimate German citizen through body perfection.

His name though has more commonly come to symbolize a stadium that was once home to East Germany’s most successful club – Dynamo Berlin.

Now tainted by its association with the hated East German state, the modern day BFC Dynamo are almost anonymous in the now cosmopolitan Berlin only not quite.

The linger in the IV tier German Regionaliga unable to progress to the hallowed territory of 3. Bundesliga or even higher where old foes like Dresden and Magdeburg have managed to find themselves.

The fanbase is a pale shadow of what it had been in the 1980’s. Most young people born long after 1989 follow Hertha but Union Berlin are the foremost club in Berlin in terms of recent success.

A small cult following still watches BFC Dynamo fixtures but the numbers are dwindling. The club are trying to progress on and off the field with new initiatives but history has left it carrying a huge weight around its shoulders.

Stigmatized, disliked and kept to the side. Out of the way.

Nowadays another club Viktoria Berlin use the sport park with BFC Dynamo’s tenancy a historical fact still shrouded in secrecy and the hated strands of East German communism that many would rather forget. Viktoria’s fan base is so thin on the ground the home fans are almost always outnumbered by visiting fans inevitably attracted to the stadium due to its nostalgic past.

Dynamo Berlin won every single DDR Oberliga championship that was contested between 1979 and 1988.

Only the patronage bestowed upon rival side Dynamo Dresden prevented the club from Berlin from winning the DDR Oberliga title every year.

Tales of secret deals and illicit pressures on referees inside the Friedrich Ludwig Jahn must have been a fact of life in the East Berlin of the 80’s.


Largely home to BFC Dynamo during its years of East German glory the stadia’s original name was the ‘Berliner Sport-park’. Located in Prenzlauer Berg it was re-titled the Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sportpark in 1952 paying homage to the Prussian gentleman of the same name.

To the west of the stadium stood the Berlin wall; a construction that divided the city in two.

Also to the west was a large grassy area called Mauer park; an area that became a virtual no mans land during the years of the hated wall.

Although not erected until 1952 the lands on which the stadium stand had a footballing background.

Previous to being the home of Dynamo it been used as the early home ground of Hertha Berlin.

The tall dominant floodlights are complemented by the numerous speakers which are dotted around the perimeter fences; speakers which almost certainly once upon a time pumped out state propaganda or police orders to the gathered masses.

Of the two stands that look down on the pitch one stand looked out to western Berlin pre-1989 over the top of the Berlin Wall.

The other stand looked east to the tall and symbolic Fernsehturm on Alexanderplatz.

Behind the wall, almost directly outside on the corner of Eberswalder Straße, Berneuar Straße and Schwedter Straße was the so called ‘death strip’.  It was here that many East Berliners, eager to escape to the west, fell to gun shot from the watching guard towers.

As you walk along the corridors of the main stand it’s hard not to think back to the days of DDR.

The Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sportpark now sits surrounded by a more younger, fresh, alternative and trendy Berlin.  Filled to the brim with new business, renovated buildings and alternative restaurants the stadium itself sits almost silent and unchanged.

Not so much downtrodden but a reminder of East German times.

A running track where some of East Germany’s finest athletes once practiced still surrounds the pitch.

But the immediate exteriors of the stadium are a tangled mess of designated dog walking space and paths.

The outer stadium walls meanwhile are strewn in colorful if nonsensical graffiti some of which is dedicated to Berlin’s main Bundesliga club – Hertha rather than Dynamo now based back at its true home of Stadion im Sport forum.

The coded seating arrangements inside still remain but such is the open nature of the stadium it’s easily possible to walk about at will. Once inside you can walk past the referee room and home team dressing rooms without security checking who you are at least on a non-matchday.

A far cry from the secrecy and behind closed doors era of the 1980’s.