HomeThe stadium as a forum for expression: Freedom, solidarity and protest

The stadium as a forum for expression: Freedom, solidarity and protest

As the ‘cathedrals of football’, stadiums offered a variety of places to interact with others. However, international governing bodies such as FIFA, the IOC and UEFA applied the principle of neutrality, according to which political messages were not permitted in sporting venues. The German Football Association (DFB) also followed this guideline. Nevertheless, sport has always been politicised – particularly with regard to the Cold War between East and West after 1945, global hot spots or the rivalry between the two German states.

Spectators and fans also brought social problems and political protest into the stadium stands. Fan chants, symbolic actions and banners not only served as a way to express support for a team, but often also as demonstrations of political points of view. International football matches with a large media audience offered a broad public stage from which fans could draw attention to the fate of refugees, members of the opposition and politically persecuted people.

In the Federal Republic of Germany and the GDR, people were particularly concerned about the division of the country. West German fan groups demonstrated all-German solidarity when they played against teams from the GDR or when football games took place in the divided city of Berlin. At football matches in West Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, for example, banners appeared time and again with expressions of sympathy and solidarity that emphasised German unity. These greetings from the West Germans were just as much a thorn in the side of the SED state as the GDR fans’ enthusiasm for the Bundesliga. After all, fan culture in East and West proved that young people in both German states were fully aware of the other Germany: Football friendship instead of class warfare!

A banner celebrating the bond between supporters of Hertha BSC and 1. FC Union across the Wall in West Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in the 1980s. (1)

The final German championship match in 1953 in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Entire sections of the stadium were deserted. The East Berlin spectators, who normally had access to tickets in GDR marks, were absent. After the East German uprising of 17 June 1953, the GDR sealed off West Berlin. (2)

‘Tear down the wall – Dresden in the Bundesliga‘. March 1986, Krefeld’s Grotenburg Stadium. Bundesliga club Bayer Uerdingen hosted Dynamo Dresden in the second leg of the quarterfinal of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. (3)

: A demonstration of solidarity: Supporters of 1. FC Kaiserslautern showed support for West Berlin during the final German championship match against Preußen Münster in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1951. Berlin was in a vulnerable position due to its isolated location in the centre of the GDR. (4)

Düsseldorf Fortuna fans showing East German – West German solidarity with a welcoming message on the streets of Leipzig during their team’s appearance in the UEFA Cup in December 1973 (5)

Although Helmstedt and Magdeburg are only around 50 kilometres from each other, the two cities were worlds apart during the period of German division. FC Bayern visited 1. FC Magdeburg for the second leg of the round of 16 in November 1974. These two FC Bayern fans from Helmstedt are prominently displaying their banner in Magdeburg city centre. (6)

Secret photograph taken by an MfS photographer documenting the presentation of a banner by FC Bayern fans from Kulmbach in the centre of Dresden. Dresden, European Champions Cup 1973: Dynamo Dresden – FC Bayern Munich. (7)

FC Bayern Munich fans from Kulmbach showing East German – West German unity with a message to the city of Magdeburg in the run-up to the second leg of the round of 16 in the European Champions Cup against 1. FC Magdeburg in 1974. (8)

This blurry undercover Stasi photo shows that the MfS used secret police methods to document the West German FC Bayern fans’ greetings to the people of Dresden. Dresden city centre, European Champions Cup between Dynamo Dresden and FC Bayern Munich in 1973. (9)

Karlsruhe SC supporters demonstrated their solidarity with West Berlin on the pitch at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1956. The city defended itself against the GDR’s policy of isolation during the Cold War. West Berlin saw itself as part of the Federal Republic, while the GDR disputed this with reference to the special rights of the Allied occupying powers. West Berlin, final match for the German championship 1956: Karlsruher SC – Borussia Dortmund. (10)

Kulmbach fans of FC Bayern Munich demonstrate German-German unity with a greeting to the city of Magdeburg in the run-up to the second leg of the round of 16 in the European Champions Cup against 1. FC Magdeburg in 1974. (11)

A scene from the 1987 Junior World Cup in Chile: Chilean fans supported the GDR team during a match against Scotland in Valparaiso. They were showing their gratitude for the reception of Chilean exiles in East Germany after Chile’s 1973 military coup. The banner, written in German, was removed shortly afterwards by members of the Chilean secret service (12, 13)

On 8 September 1968, a Polish accountant named Ryszard Siwiec set himself on fire in the stands of Warsaw’s 10th Anniversary Stadium to protest against Communist rule. Siwiec died of his injuries a few days later. The incident was motivated by suppression of the Prague Spring by Warsaw Pact troops, including Polish army units. There is a memorial plaque for Siwiec at Narodowy Stadium, which was built for the 2012 European Championship. (14)

Dariusz Wojtaszyn, Professor at the Contemporary History Department at the Willy Brandt Centre for German and European Studies at the University of Wroclaw, explained the circumstances of Ryszard Siwiec’s self-immolation on 10 September 1968 in Warsaw’s 10th Anniversary Stadium. (15)

Exiled Chileans protest against the military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, which had overthrown the socialist government under Salvador Allende a few months earlier, at the 1974 World Cup preliminary round match between the DFB team and Chile in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. (16, 17)

Protests against the military dictatorship in Argentina. Despite international protests, the 1978 World Cup was held in Argentina, where a military dictatorship had been torturing and murdering members of the opposition since 1976. In Paris, demonstrators called for a boycott of the World Cup in spring 1978. (18)

A demonstration in favour of Solidarność: Poland and the Soviet Union met in the intermediate round of the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Poland had been under martial law since 1980. In 1982, Soviet tanks were on the borders of eastern Poland threatening invasion. An independent trade union called Solidarność organised strikes. On the instructions of the Soviet Union, the strikes were to be ‘pacified’  – militarily – in order to prevent the People’s Republic of Poland from leaving the Communist fold. Polish exiles displayed a huge Solidarność banner in the stadium in Barcelona. Images of the banners were broadcast all over the world on television. (19)

Prof. Dariusz Wojtaszyn from the Willy Brandt Centre at the University of Wroclaw/Breslau on the background of the fan demonstration with the Solidarność banner at the 1982 World Cup match between Poland and the Soviet Union. (20)

Filmmaker Diethard Küster was a member of the Chile Committee at Freie Universität Berlin in West Berlin during his student days. Here, he talks about expressions of solidarity and the Chile Committee’s actions during the 1974 World Cup in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. (21)

Camilo Pereda was four years old when his mother fled Santiago de Chile with him and his brothers in 1973. The family was taken in by the GDR in 1974, and from then on lived in East Berlin, where Camilo grew up and went to school. In 1985, the family was allowed to return to Chile, where the military dictatorship was still in power. Here, Camilo Pereda talks about the actions of the exiled Chileans who returned from the GDR during the Junior World Cup in 1987. (22)


1: Camcop media, Andreas Klug 

2: Klaus Westenich

3: Pressebilderdienst Horst Müller GmbH

4: Archiv Berliner Fußball-Verband, Fotograf unbekannt

5: Archiv Fortuna Düsseldorf, Fotograf unbekannt

6: Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, Bezirksbehörde der Deutschen Volkspolizei M24 Nr. 584 Foto 72

7: Bundesarchiv, MfS BV Ddn Abt. VIII Nr. 12535 Bild 354

8: Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, Bezirksbehörde der Deutschen Volkspolizei M24 Nr. 584 Foto 70

9: Bundesarchiv, MfS BV Ddn Abt. VIII Nr. 12535 Bild 422

10: Archiv Karlsruher SC

11: Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, Bezirksbehörde der Deutschen Volkspolizei M24 Nr. 584 Foto 68

12/13: Alvaro Camu


15: Universität Wroclaw/Breslau (Audio)

16/17: IMAGO, Ferdi Hartung und IMAGO, WEREK

18: Dom Slike, Alamy Stock Photo


20: Universität Wroclaw/Breslau (Audio)

21: Zeitzeugen-TV, www.grimmchronik.de (Video)

22: Zeitzeugen-TV, www.grimmchronik.de (Video)