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For “everyone in every place” (daily newspaper Junge Welt)

by archysport

imago images/Michael Schick

No idea about the GDR: Hesse’s Interior and Sports Minister Peter Beuth (CDU)

The appearance of the Hessian interior and sports minister Peter Beuth in the castle of Wiesbaden-Biebrich was already a few years ago. His introductory words at an event organized by the German Olympic Academy (DOA) in 2015 are legendary because they squeezed the view of GDR sport into a simple German formula: Until the “Wall came down”, they were exclusively fixated on international medals, which was a matter of course was all around a doping contaminated matter. According to the ministerial entree, there was hardly any popular sport between Fichtelberg and Cape Arkona until 1990. At that time there was no open contradiction in the auditorium – and hardly anyone who mumbled into his beard asked who had written such nonsense into the manuscript of this man at the desk. Wiesbaden was unfortunately too far away geographically for there were enough courageous former amateur athletes from the so-called new countries in the hall to guard against such outrageous statements.

In Dresden, Potsdam or Schwerin, Beuth would have failed badly with his bizarre thesis. Contemporary witnesses could have explained to the Minister on foot and authentically how diverse and colorful the sporting life was under and beyond “diplomats in training suits” and outside of “State Plan 14.25”. A glance at a large online lexicon would have been enough to discover around 3.7 million members for 1989 under the heading “Deutscher Turn- und Sportbund” of the GDR (DTSB). All of them doped competitive athletes? Rather a number that concealed the varied life of popular sport, which was turned inside out after the “fall of the wall” based on the model of club sport in the old federal states. Minister Beuth should be very surprised when he learns that up until 1989, specialists even researched and taught in subjects such as leisure and recreational sports at the highly respected German University for Physical Culture and Sport (DHfK). Walter Ulbricht had already put it in 1959: “Everyone, anywhere, once a week, exercise”.

Around 3.7 million East Germans under the roof of the DTSB, which breathed its life on December 15, 1990 and merged with the German Sports Association (DSB)? What might all the people have done in sports? Above all, they can take the fairy tale of the exclusive top sporting state ad absurdum. According to statistical documents, there were almost 10,700 sports associations towards the end of the GDR – mostly with the name Betriebsportgemeinschaft (BSG) attached to state-run companies and with nicknames like »steel«, »locomotive«, »chemistry«, »tractor« or »energy« indicating the respective branch. In addition, there were the university sports associations (HSG) and more than 6,500 sports groups in the Angler Association and over 650 of them in the General German Motorsport Association (ADMV) in the civil sector. There were also the sports communities of the security organs, such as those of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of State Security under the common name “Dynamo” and the army sports association “Vorwärts”.

The figures of around 265,000 trainers and almost 160,000 referees and referees make it clear that despite all the dominance of top-class sport, there was a large popular and amateur sport scene at the same time. In addition, it is estimated that more than 400,000 volunteers were involved in club sports. Together, they formed his personal backbone, from the training operations for recreational and amateur athletes to the sometimes broad league network in which they moved – often enough with vehicles from the vehicle fleet of the carrier companies. Not to forget the sports communities in the schools, whose members took part in the annual district partakiads in children’s and youth sports. At this level, the competitions did not have the character of a competitive sporting test of strength, unlike the national Spartakiads and – in gradations – the Spartakiads in the individual districts between Rostock and Karl-Marx-Stadt.

These were very special East German structures that had to be brought into line with the West German model after 1990. 30 years ago that meant a huge administrative cut. The main thing was to transfer all the elements of basic sport between the Elbe and Oder into a club landscape under civil law and to adapt it to the associated new charitable law. The network of popular and amateur sports in East Germany had to be converted to a classic system of registered associations. A feat of strength that, unfortunately, has so far been neglected in its dimensions. Among other things, because there is a lack of numbers, facts and overviews to adequately understand this tremendous upheaval. Unfortunately, too little has been documented in the GDR how rich their legacy is beyond top-level and competitive sport. This leads to fallacies such as those presented uncontested in Biebrich Castle on the banks of the Rhine.

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