Shortly after moving to Germany, my mid-breakfast-Facebook-scroll informed me that Hull City, freshly promoted, were coming to East Germany to take on SG Dynamo Dresden in a friendly a few weeks later. 15.00 on Saturday; easily accessible with a round day trip being cheap. It was on. But in the days beforehand, friends and colleagues had one thing to say;
Dynamo Dresden fans are notorious for their aggression and extremism. A Spanish friend attending a Dynamo Dresden match as a neutral was instructed by fans to go out and buy some Dynamo merchandise before returning to their stand. Later, as he tried to film some of the action on his phone, he was pelted with coins until he stopped. The most extreme anecdote I’ve heard was when the Dynamo Ultras “K-Block” broke into the team’s training ground after a heavy loss and dug 11 graves. The exploits of the Dynamo Dresden Ultras are so infamous that fans of other German teams look for any opportunity for revenge.
The extensive hooliganism that exists across the former German Democratic Republic is well documented. Communist East German industry died quickly after reunification, plunging many into unemployment that is still higher compared to the former West 27 years later. Higher unemployment means that predominantly young men gravitate toward team sports to get their sense of purpose and meaning in their otherwise unproductive, frustrated lives. The lack of a job means less negative incentive to not get involved with hooliganism. This phenomenon can be observed across the former GDR, but Dynamo Dresden, being the single club in East Germany’s second largest city, beats rival Ossis in terms of sheer scale.
At time of writing, Dynamo Dresden continue to underachieve on the pitch down in the 2. Bundesliga. The magnificent Glücksgas Stadion, owned by the Dresden city council, boasts a capacity of 32,000 that is usually close to full for home league fixtures, in spite those league fixtures having been in the 2. and 3. Bundesliga for a while now. Though tales of heroic upsets exist, such as the 4-3 ousting of Bayer Leverkusen after a 3-0 deficit, Dynamo Dresden are not a household name thanks to their quality of sport. It is the fans that do the work. While some of them may enjoy the occasional tear-up, the collective efforts of the Schwarz-Gelb faithful demonstrate a creativity not usually associated with the methodical, dogmatic Germans. Their choreographies and tifos are Germany’s best. Have a browse on Youtube after you finish reading this post.
Dresden is the largest city in the German federal Bundesland of Saxony. Putting Football fans to one side for a brief moment, the conventional pop-culture images of contemporary Dresden and of Saxony are quite dissimilar. Beautiful Dresden has long been known as the “Florence of the Elbe”. Many were indeed burnt away by the RAF, but several key edifices that allude to Dresden’s romantic and musical past survive in the Altstadt. Meanwhile the Neustadt across the river is home to a thriving leftist counter-culture. Every May the Neustadt transforms for 48 hours as the “Bunte Republik Deutschland” hits the city; a bumper block party in which streets, bars, shops, restaurants and even private apartments are converted into speakeasies, moshpits and raves for the greatest inner-city festival that you’ve never heard of. Meanwhile, Saxony itself is increasingly being associated with the modern far right. The PEGIDA movement originated in Saxony, something that is difficult to believe as you stroll around the colourful Neustadt streets. Ask citizens of other German cities and states what they associate with small town Sachsener. The answer won’t be pretty.
Guilty by association. Dynamo Dresden has come to embody the neo-fascist Football skinhead identity in the minds of many onlookers. The combination of
- aggressive and proactive Ultras and hooligans openly associating with the club
- the club’s extensive fan base across the state of Saxony and
- the well-publicised Islamophobic sentiment within the state
fit very well with the simplified narrative that all fanatical Football fans are right-wing sympathisers. This is a rather unfair portrayal of Dynamo Dresden supporters as a collective. Fan initiatives are numerous and bold in promoting the message of tolerance, diversity, acceptance and above all progress on the terraces at the Glücksgas Stadion. While fans of rival teams continuously elect to vilify fans of Dynamo Dresden, doing so on the basis of a projected far-right ideology just doesn’t match up to the reality.
However, in truth the club has never been apolitical, for right or for wrong. Manipulation of Football in Communist East Germany for political gain is very well documented. Totalitarian regimes the world over have always used sport as a means of self-promotion to convey success and strength. Under Communism teams were often (but not always) linked to one of the national industries with players officially being amateur. You could never call the system “sponsorship”, but a nationalised trade did provide resources and the team did represent the trade, critically acting as a sporting medium for the disputes and tensions seen between trade and state. The idea of the state exercising absolute control over all economic activity in the communist world is something of a myth; each body did indeed struggle against the central party and powers for their own interests. In communist Eurasia, the central intelligence services and / or secret police would back a team, almost always exclusively with the moniker ‘Dynamo / Dinamo‘. And in the GDR, the Stasi also needed a successful team to back to win public support and approval.
That team was SG Dynamo Dresden, formed in 1953, but over time the ruling Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands felt the most successful state-backed team should naturally be based in the capital, Berlin. In 1964, Dynamo Dresden were forcibly relocated by the SED to East Berlin midway through the season, initially with the name SFC Dynamo, later changed to BFC Dynamo. Fans of the original Dynamo Dresden were distraught. The largest spectating crowds in East Germany had been relieved of their team with little explanation. They built their team back, installing the same original name and returning to greatness during the 70’s and 80’s, although without ever having an equal playing field on which to compete against the heavily favoured and resource endowed BFC Dynamo Berlin.
The rivalry between Germany’s two Dynamos exists to this day. In 2018, it is Dynamo Dresden who are laughing last. BFC continue to fade into obscurity, while Dynamo Dresden remain one of the most supported club in Germany, a feat made all the more impressive given the relatively poor Football played in Dresden. Dynamo Dresden fans are conscious of the former relationship that their professional Football team had with the Stasi, but their domestic image has changed dramatically over the last three decades, largely thanks to fan behaviour. Whether that current image is a good one or not is for you to decide.