Unlike counterparts in England, Spain or Italy, German clubs have a knack of adorning their date of foundation with great importance. They treat their foundation date with such reverence that it almost always forms a part of the official club name – 1860 Munich, Schalke 04, Bayer 04 (Leverkusen), Mainz 05, BVB 09 (Dortmund), Hannover 96. Many more at least carry the dates in their club badge, like Bochum, Düsseldorf, St. Pauli or Duisburg do. VfB Stuttgart’s logo read ‘1893’ but not ‘Stuttgart’ until 1999. These dates mark an important era of the beginning of football in Germany.
Long before football arrived in Germany, gymnastics dominated the country. Most early clubs were created for exactly this purpose. Back in the old days, football in Germany was considered as the ‘English disease’ and only took its roots later in the 19th century. When these clubs were founded, they were never solely for football, but were multi-sport, non-profit associations offering its members sports such as basketball, softball and most importantly gymnastics. So the FC in a club name need not mean all it does is kick a ball, as a lot more sports are involved. So the date of foundation on a club’s logo need not mean that its specifically for football. So one may think that TSV 1860 Munich played football as early as the eighteen hundreds, but the truth is that it only opened a football division as late as in 1899.
Although over the years German clubs discredited their entire full name, most traditional clubs still stick to a part of it. For example take Germany’s most successful club – FC Bayern Munchen 1900 e.V. or the current Bundesliga champions BV Borussia Dortmund 09 e.V.
The e.V. stands for eingetragener Verein or registered club. For a club to play in an organized league system, it has to be officially recognized as a public sporting society, hence the e.V. Most clubs over the years have deleted it from their name long ago, Bayern Munich did this in 2000. The years 1900 and 09 mark the clubs foundation date, which is always considered a matter of great pride in Germany. Of course there are clubs currently in the Bundesliga without their foundation date, notably Wolfsburg founded in 1945. Its official name is simply ‘VfL Wolfsburg’, which for legal reasons only should be followed by a ‘Football Ltd.’ since the professional football division was turned into a company in 2001. The club badge displays a fat, green ‘W’ and that’s it. Or take the current Bayern Munich which discarded their full name mysteriously, back in 2000.
The most important part in any club’s name is the city that it represents; this is an aspect which is common for all football clubs around the world. However, it may get confusing if a district’s or state’s name is introduced in it. Bayern for example comes from the state of Bavaria, even the blue and white stripes on the clubs logo is that from the flag of Bavaria. Then you have clubs with names such as Westfalia Herne, Pressen (Prussia) Munster, Schwaben (Swabia) Augsburg, Sachsen (Saxony) Liepzig and a host of others. Coming to districts, the best example in the current Bundesliga is FC Schalke o4, which belongs to the city of Gelsenkirchen yet they choose to go by their district name or even the recently relegated St Pauli, whose full name is actually Pauli-Hamburg but so intense is the rivalry that they never ever use it.
The next element in a German Club’s name is usually an expression of a particular word – something which many teams prefer to be known as. The founders of the very earliest football organizations in Germany were middle class men, mostly educated till secondary school having a bias towards the Latin and Greek language. They usually had a taste for fancy sounding names of Roman origin. Hence, for some clubs in Germany you would find their first name beginning with words such as Borussia, Fortuna (fortune), Viktoria (Roman Goddess of fate and victory), Arminia (the bow to the Roman warrior Arminius), Concordia or Britannia (Harmony). Some Germans were eager to convince the world of their loyalty to the Kaiser, so used the words such as Germania, Alemannia, and Tuetonia in their club name. Many of these clubs changed their names post world war 1.
The most common thing that you would come across in the name of a German football club is the use of alphabets at the start. BVB, VfL, TSV etc. But ever wondered what they really stand for?
As mentioned before, many clubs in Germany started off as a gymnastics association. So usually the older clubs sport a ‘T’ in their names. ‘T’ stands for Turnen, which translates to gymnastics. Clubs in Germany can be called either a ‘Klub’ or a ‘Club’. So that’s from where the K or C originates. In their local language, the Germans refer to a club as Verein or at times Union. Those make the alphabets U and V. The ‘G’ in a clubs name (TSG Hoffenhiem etc) stands for Gemeinschaft, which means a group or a community. Also if you come across a ‘B’, it stands for Bewegunsspiele or physical games. If you find a small ‘f’ or ‘u’, it simply means ‘for’ or ‘and’.
Some clubs sport the color of their jersey as their club’s first name, Rot/Blau/Schwarz/Grun/Weiss, which when translating to English mean red, blue, black, green and white.
Some clubs have words such as Borussia, Werder, 1.FC, Bayern, Eintracht, Bayer, etc. The word ‘Borussia’ is a Latinized form of Prussia – a term used for naming German clubs located within the former kingdom of Prussia. The name Borussia MonchenGladbach was given keeping this in mind. The founders of Dortmund, however, picked Borussia as their first meeting location for discussing the club’s foundation. The meeting took place at a pub having an advertisement of the products of a the local ‘Borussia Brewery’.
The ‘Werder’ in the Bremen-based club refers to ‘a large piece of land next to a river’, and that’s exactly where a group of students played during their clubs foundation years. The ‘Eintracht’ in Frankfurt stands for ‘harmony’, derived from the Latin word ‘Concordia’, which means unity or as they use in modern terms, united!
Bayer, of course, is the name of the pharmaceutical company that formed the Leverkusen-based club in 1904.
The ‘Hertha’ in Hertha Berlin was named after a ship, also an old fashioned women’s name.
A group of youngsters came together and founded the first football club in Nuremberg and from then it was known as 1.FC Nürnberg. The ‘1.FC’ in a clubs name could mean three possible things – either it’s the first official club in the city, or the club with a higher importance than others with the same name and city, or the first club in that city to play in an organized league structure.
Now, let’s look at the clubs in GDR (East Germany). In the former GDR, free uncontrolled formation of sports clubs were not permitted, even the players on an elite level did not have choice of their own club. Football Clubs in GDR that were run by the government were mainly classified on the names they were given.
Dynamo – Clubs with this name were run by the interior ministry. They had a strong connection to the Stasi (secret police). The head of the Stasi was the patron of all the Dynamo clubs.
Vorwärts – The clubs managed by the ministry of defense had Vorwarts as their first name.
BSG – Clubs with BSG in their names were those sponsored by government-owned companies. BSG stands for Betriebssportgemeinschaft.
The other clubs had first names referring to an industry or branch associated with their formation. Hansa Rostock is an exception, as Hansa refers to Rostock’s former place in the medieval Hanseatic League of ports city.
A few examples:
Aktivist = Mining industry
Aufbau = Building industry
Chemie = Chemical industry
Einheit = Civil administration
Empor = Trade & Commerce:
Energie = Energy providers
Fortschritt = Textile industry
Lokomotive = State railway
Motor = Automotive industry
Post = Postal service:
Rotation = Print industry
Stahl = Steel industry
Traktor = Agriculture
Turbine = Energy providers
Wismut = Mining industry, specifically uranium mining
So the next time you come across a German club, having a peculiar name, you’ll know that it has a lot more to it than just being a name tag.
– Lester Ervine Pereira
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