Stadion der Freundschaft

The German city of Frankfurt an der Oder sits on the western bank of the Oder River and is one of easternmost cities in Germany. Opposite sits the Polish town of Słubice, which was a part of Frankfurt until 1945, and then called Dammvorstadt.

Just to the south sits the town of Eisenhüttenstadt.

The football team in Frankfurt (Oder) are now known as 1.FC Frankfurt but the club was originally founded as the army club SV VP Vorwärts Leipzig in 1951.

The word Vorwarts has numerous connotations most notably being a left wing media format that has an association with Trade Unionism, socialists like Karl Liebknecht, Friedrich Engels and Marxist economics.

By the 1920’s Vorwärts started to become associated with themes of pacifism, neutrality and Socialism.

In football however Vorwärts in front of the team name referred to the MoD – Ministry of Defense.

Move to Berlin

In 1953 Vorwärts Leipzig were relocated to East Berlin in 1953 by the East German regime and renamed ASK Vorwärts Berlin.

Dynamo Dresden the then East German champions were also relocated to East Berlin in November 1954 by the state.

As it turned out this move to Berlin for Vorwärts saw the club move into a period of great success. This began in 1954 with the FDGB-Pokal and East German championships followed in 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1965.

Vorwärts then won another two championships (1966, 1969) and in 1970 again made a losing appearance in the FDGB-Pokal final.

It was not until 1971, that the club was moved again this time to the thriving city of Frankfurt (Oder). At the start of the decade it had a population of 80,000.

While no documented historical meeting confirms why the club moved ultimately the decision to relocate was taken via and within the DDR state machinery.

Despite the official power accorded to the Deutscher Fußball-Verband der DDR (DFV) the association lacked total autonomy over major administrative decisions. Big strategic decisions were often influenced by the political interventions of state and regional political interests.

From a football perspective FC Vorwärts Berlin were seen as a threat to BFC Dynamo Berlin at a time when the state wanted Dynamo Berlin winning domestic titles. The state also wanted BFC competing in European competition as a football club representative of the East German state.

Frankfurt (Oder) from Poland

Effectively the DDR had a number of manipulative characteristics central to its ideology.

One was the willingness of the ruling member committee to manipulate teams, and sports people – this included renaming teams; using them as propaganda tools and using players in various ways for political or other secretive reasons.

But scratch the surface just beneath the standard state interference and the reasons why Vortwärts were relocated to Frankfurt (Oder) are right in front of you in detail.

In the late 1960’s the DFV implemented two major reforms that favored the DDR’s largest clubs.

Firstly, some select clubs were formally granted status as football clubs (FC’s).

These clubs were allowed to establish player development projects and set up educational schools within their designated regional catchment areas. This policy essentially gave sports clubs a monopoly over up-and-coming youth prospects and contributed to an ever-increasing gulf in quality between the FC’s (Dynamo and Dresden) and the factory clubs (BSG’s) such as Energie Cottbus or Chemie Liepzig.

Secondly, the DFV presided over de facto professionalization by the 1970’s.

Players at some clubs were allowed to train full-time, and were granted access to material privileges such as interest-free loans, cars, or apartments in exchange for state favors e.g. spy on other people. By contrast, ‘other’ club’s players were expected to complete their day-shifts at a workplace, and continued to be paid solely for their day-jobs rather than only for sporting endeavor.

Officially money did not exist in the GDR for the purpose of transfers. Instead the association and the state would ‘delegate’ a player from one club to another upon the player’s request or if they were seen as troublesome moved on.

Finally, the communists simply liked boxing people and institutions into geographical sub-divisional areas (regions) – managed spaces as it was easier to control them.

The move to Frankfurt (Oder) worked out just as the German state planned it would.

It ultimately paved the way for Dynamo Berlin to dominate Berlin football come the mid-1970’s and win the title in consecutive years in the later part of the decade.

Vorwärts did enjoy another decent run in the 1980s after the move.

They competed in the UEFA Cup four times where they were twice knocked out by West German clubs – Werder and VfB Stuttgart. A game against Nottingham Forest was held in Frankfurt (Oder) in 1983 after the club finished second nationally in the Oberliga.

The 2-0 win v PSV Eindhoven a year later would be the last ever game in UEFA tournament football played at the Stadion der Freundschaft.

The Deutscher Fußball-Verband der DDR (DFV) decided to play two international fixtures at this stadium.

The first against Canada was won 2-0 while the last against Norway saw 6,000 fans watch a 1-0 win.

However, both of these were friendly challenge matches. Ultimately competitive qualification fixtures were too important or deemed too risky to play in regional outpost locations.

Nowadays the Frankfurt (Oder) stadium is in a state of disrepair. Blocks – Block A, Block B, Gaste Block all areas designated to pack fans in section by section but in effect useless as there are no fans come matchday.

The original floodlights have gone but the pylons are still standing or at least some of them.

Like much of the town this is a ghost town – seats are few and far between and the stadium is a long mass of concrete slabs with the grey benches which sat in communist times torn out. Come fixtures in the sixth tier of German football crowds of less than 100 common are common.

The away areas sits fenced off – what away fans venture here are hosted in the main stand.

Those who actually went and saw football here in the 80’s have left or are dead – ghosts condemned to club history.

The scoreboard that proudly displayed the 2-0 win over PSV Eindhoven is long gone – it had to be taken down in 2000 for safety reasons.