Eastern Europe in the ’70s and ’80s was a dark and mysterious place to us in the West. Contrasting ideologies were suspicious of each other. Communist regimes were not only keen on controlling the information their own people received, but fiercely protective of how much the outside world was aware. Consequently, we knew very little about leagues in East Germany and the Soviet Union. After the Berlin Wall came down we began to discover more, as records were released. The most we knew about at the time was when East German clubs played in European competitions, which they did to varying degrees of success.
Looking back through some of the seasons in the ‘Oberliga’ I discovered this classic from the beginning of the 1980s.
The 1970s had been dominated by Dynamo Dresden and Magdeburg. Between them, they won eight of the ten titles on offer during the decade. The two they didn’t win were the first and last. Dynamo Berlin won the title in 1979, their first, by seven points from Dresden, with a record goals tally. They hit ten in a match twice, as they banged in 75 goals from their 26 matches. Before that season second places in 1972 and 1976 were the best they’d achieved.
What would the response of the ‘big two’ be for the new season?
The word ‘Dynamo’ implied a connection with the police. In East Germany’s case, this meant ‘the Stasi’. Berlin’s President was Erich Mielke, the Minister for State Security. The Stasi was the notorious secret police of the GDR, one of the most hated and feared organisations.
Dynamo Berlin went into the 1979-80 East German season in a unique position for them. They were defending Champions.
They were managed by 32-year-old, Jürgen Bogs. He’d taken charge of the youth side before being given the top job in July 1977. A mixture of youth and experience, they were bolstered by a strike-partnership of Hans-Jurgen Riediger and Wolf-Rudiger Netz. The pair hit 36 between them in their Championship winning season.
They were a whisker away from a league and cup double that season too as Magdeburg’s Wolfgang Seguin’s goal in extra time denied them in the Polka Cup.
The traditional ‘big four’ in East German football was Dynamo Berlin, Dynamo Dresden, Magdeburg, and Carl Zeiss Jena. Matches between them often went some way to deciding the destination of the title.
After all four sides were successful in the first week, Dresden beat Jena in week two. In week three, Berlin beat Magdeburg. By week six, both Magdeburg and Jena had lost twice and already looked out of contention, even at this early stage. This was because Dresden and Berlin looked infallible. Dresden had won every game and Berlin had dropped just one point. This was still a time when two points were awarded for a win.
At this stage, Berlin’s Hartmut Pelka was banging the goals in, with six in his last four matches.
But when they went to Carl Zeiss Jena in week seven, they came unstuck with their first defeat of the season. This came just after they’d seen off Polish Champions, Ruch Chorzow in their first ever European Cup tie.
A week later, Dresden also lost. They’d won their first seven matches, but now the gap at the top was back to one point. This lasted a week, as Berlin suffered their second defeat in their last three matches as they were beaten by Wismut Aue.
In the European Cup, Berlin had made it through to the Quarter-Finals stage as they beat Swiss Champions, Servette. They were then drawn up against Nottingham Forest. But that was for the New Year. Meanwhile back in the league, the top two met for the first time in week thirteen, in Dresden.
Having the top two meet at the halfway stage of the season, also meant they would meet again in the final round of matches. Unless Berlin could get anything out of this meeting, it could all be over by then. Dresden came into the match knowing a win would take them six points clear at the top. They’d already won 11 of their 12 matches thus far, so expectations were high. Berlin had been beaten twice and another defeat would surely be too much to claw back in the second half of the campaign. Berlin’s recent record against the biggest club in the country was pretty good, with no defeats in their last four meetings.
30,000 packed into the Dynamo Stadion in Dresden and watched a cagey goalless first half. Just before the hour mark, Ralf Sträßer gave the visitors the lead. Then with 20 minutes to go, Hartmut Pelka doubled their lead. It was a great moment for him. He’d started the season with six goals in four matches, but hadn’t found the net for almost three months. What a time to end the drought. Peter Kotte got one back for Dresden but Berlin held on to register a vital win.
They couldn’t really afford anything other than a win and now the lead was down to two points with everything to play for in the second half of the season.
In March, Berlin arrived at the City Ground to take on defending champions, Nottingham Forest in the European Cup Quarter-Finals. Their league form had given them a good build-up. Forest, on the other hand, had just suffered two defeats in their last three matches. Manager, Brian Clough included the mercurial Stan Bowles in his starting 11.
Forest, as the home side, had most of the chances but the game hinged on a moment midway through the second period. Berlin were on the counter when Pelka played a long ball from his own half out to the left wing where Terletzki was free. He crossed to the far post and Riediger chested it down before firing past Shilton. The home fans were stunned.
Try as they might, Forest couldn’t get back level and Berlin came away with a priceless 1-0 away win to take back with them for the second leg. This was the first time an East German side had beaten an English club in European competition.
After the game, Clough appeared to heap much of the blame onto his million pound striker, Trevor Francis. This was a cunning attempt to wind the player up for the return leg.
30,000 filled the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn Stadion for the second leg. Berlin had a lead from the first leg and a crucial away goal. 15 minutes in and a long free-kick from Lloyd was headed down by Needham and Francis bundled the ball over the line, to cancel out Berlin’s advantage.
With 10 minutes of the first half remaining, O’Neill did well down the right and played it into Francis in the area. He turned brilliantly and fired the ball in off the underside of the bar. Berlin would now need to score twice.
Four minutes later things got worse for the home side. Robertson was brought down in the area and then stepped up to convert the penalty. Forest lead 3-0 at the break and 3-1 on aggregate.
Early in the second half, Noack was brought down by Robertson in the area, and the home side now had a penalty. Terletzki scored to give the Germans hope, but Forest held on to win on aggregate. Berlin’s European dream was over, but the Quarter-final was a decent stage to reach.
Now they had to concentrate on the league to give themselves another go at the European Cup the following season.
Dresden and Berlin each won their next four matches. But then Dresden hit a rough patch. A late penalty held them to a draw at home to Rot-Weiß Erfurt. They were then beaten 2-4 at Lokomotiv Leipzig. On the same day, Berlin were held to a goalless draw at Frankfurt.
Berlin were now top of the league for the first time in the season, albeit on goal difference. Dresden had now just picked up nine points from a possible 14. Whereas Berlin had picked up 13 during this period.
But two weeks later, Berlin’s 11-match unbeaten run came to an end at Zwickau. Dresden were back on top with a two point advantage. There were just six games to go, had Berlin blown it?
This seemed to galvanise Berlin. They win their next four matches scoring 16 goals. During this period Dresden dropped a point at Magdeburg and so it was all set up for a final game shootout between the top two.
Dresden lead by one point, so a draw would do for them. However, Berlin had won every single match at their home stadium, the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark. In fact, this was the second successive season they’d won every home match. Quite a record.
10th May 1980 and 30,000 packed into the ground to watch the ultimate final match of the season.
Twelve months earlier, Berlin had secured their first league title in the same fixture at the same venue with a 3-1 win. Now they would need a similar performance to deny Dresden their fourth title in five years.
The first half was goalless, increasing the pressure on the home side. The huge crowd desperately trying to will their team on, hoping the strike-force of Riediger and Pelka could add to the 28 goals they’d already banged home that season.
With thirteen minutes remaining, defender Norbert Trieloff brought the ball forward from the back. He exchanged passes with Olaf Seier in midfield. Then as he approached the Dresden area, he played another one-two with Pelka and slid the ball past Jakubowski in the visitors’ goal.
The crowd erupted. Trieloff was smothered by his teammates. Had he scored the winner? Could they defend their lead?
The answer to both those questions was yes. It proved to be the only goal of the game. Berlin, who’d only been top for two weeks of the season, had now beaten their nearest rivals, Dresden, to end the season on the top of the pile.
It was a dramatic end to the season and resulted in Berlin defending their crown. In the summer of 1980, Frank Terletzki, Wolf-Rüdiger Netz, Norbert Trieloff and Artur Ullrich were part of the East German squad which won the Silver Medal at the Moscow Olympics.
Berlin would go on to win the next eight league titles, giving them ten in a row. Although there were accusations of favourable treatment from referees and of course with their close connections to East Germany’s political elite, they also benefited from having their pick of the best players around.
Erich Mielke argued it was better for the nation if all attention was heaped on one club to represent them. In a similar way to how Dinamo Tblisi was doing for the Soviet Union.
Their 100% home winning record finally came to an end when Magdeburg held them to a 1-1 draw early in the following season. The run had lasted an incredible 29 matches.
Berlin finished second to Dresden in 1988-89 and soon after the wall came down. Many of the best players left the club as East Germany was dissolved. Dynamo Berlin was renamed FC Berlin and finished fourth in 1989-90.
The 1990-91 was the last season of the Oberliga. The East German league structure was merged with West Germany and only the top two teams were allowed to enter the Bundesliga. Unfortunately for Berlin, the merging of the two leagues came a year or two too late for them. They gradually sank to the lower reaches of German football.