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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 June 2006, 23:48 GMT 00:48 UK
Legacy of the 'Miracle of Berne'
By Paul Legg
BBC News

Hungarian goal keeper Gyula Grosics tries to stop an attack by West Germany's Schaefer
The tournament was the first to be broadcast live on TV in Europe

For the Germans, knowing the impact of the World Cup goes far beyond football is a lesson they have understood since a rainy day in the Wankdorf Stadium in Berne, Switzerland, in the summer of 1954.

An unheralded West German team, first timers in the tournament, caused the biggest sensation in world sport since World War II by defeating the apparently invincible Hungarians to win the trophy.

The victory led to an unprecedented outpouring of joy, not just in West but in East Germany too, as millions took to the streets to celebrate a "positive" German achievement.

The celebrations were encapsulated in the phrase "Wir Sind Wieder Wer" ("We are somebody again") as they gave enormous psychological impetus to the building of the West German state.

Televisions sell out

The success of the West German team played an undeniable role in stimulating the economic growth, already beginning to transform the face of the country.

Reichstag at the end of World War II
Victory had a great psychological impact in post-war Germany

In particular, the success of the team gave a huge boost to the West German media industry. The tournament was the first to be broadcast live on television in Europe.

At the start of the tournament, few Germans had TV sets but, by the end, the factories and shops had completely sold out.

At the start of 1954, there were 11,000 television owners in West Germany, but by the end of the year there were 84,000.

Television manufacturers were quick to capitalise on the connection with football, presenting each of the German players with a gift of a set in highly publicised ceremonies.

Other manufacturers were equally alive to the commercial advantages of being associated with the huge positive publicity surrounding the team.

Adidas takes off

The players were showered with extravagant gifts at every stage of their drawn-out homecoming: with the televisions came radios, washing-machines, fridges and sewing-machines (the latter for the loyal spouses who had supported from the Home Front).

Nothing can stop these unlovable people
Daily Mirror, 1954

Among the players, the most popular gift was a new motorbike.

This was still a time when cars were too expensive for most Germans but the motorbike industry was booming: 60,000 bikes were delivered to German homes between 1951 and 1955.

The best example of this commercial "exploitation" of the World Cup victory came from within the West German camp itself.

The shoe manufacturer "Adi" Dassler had been a key member of the team's backroom staff: his invention of the "removable stud" playing a largely unheralded role in the final victory.

Within days of the victory in Berne, Dassler's company, Adidas, was advertising "the boot which won the World Cup" in German sports magazines.

Controversial comments

In the same way as Franz Beckenbauer and Co are very conscious of the impact a successful tournament in 2006 will have on the image of Germany today, so in 1954 politicians and media commentators were concerned at the negative effect any excessive celebrations could have on world opinion.

German captain Fritz Walter holds the Jules Rimet Gold Cup at Bern, Switzerland, July 4, 1954
The West German team was showered with gifts after the victory

The singing of the banned first verse of the German national anthem by a small group of German supporters at the final whistle coupled with comments by the head of the German Football Association claiming that the Gods in Heaven had marched side by side with the team, provoked an immediate unwelcome reaction in parts of the foreign press.

As a result, one Danish newspaper reported that all that had been lacking at the end of the match was the "Sieg Heil" salute; in Milan, a sporting journal reported the West German victory under the headline: "Deutschland uber Alles".

In Britain, the Daily Mirror complained that "nothing can stop these unlovable people". And in France, Le Monde reported the German success under the headline: "Achtung."

The paper's columnist went on to remind readers that while winning a football tournament might in itself be innocent, the "innocent Weimar Republic" had "given birth to Hitler".

'Miracle of Berne'

This adverse publicity had some West German commentators - always prone to agonising at the best of times - wishing that the team had not won the 1954 World Cup after all!

But this was always a minority view and as the fuss died down about excessive celebrations, the benefits to West Germany of the victory became clear.

Some modern day historians call the football triumph a founding event in the birth of the West German state.

However the united German team performs in a few weeks' time and however well the tournament passes off, it will be hard pressed to have a greater impact inside Germany than that had by what became known as "Das Wunder von Bern" ("The Miracle of Berne").






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