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Brunswick - remember the name

There are some German cities that either have their own name in English - Munich and Cologne come to mind - or where the English spelling varies from the German one - think Hanover. (Spelt Hannover in German.)

It's often said that this is the case because of the umlaut problem, as both München (Munich) and Köln (Cologne) have an umlaut. However, it's much more likely that the English name goes back to the original place name and then wasn't subjected to the linguistic changes that happened in Germany itself over the course of the centuries. After all, English is a Germanic language, as we pointed out when discussing players' names. (See: What is in a name?, October 20, 2009.)

Munich, for instance, was first referred to as "forum apud munichen", an expression meaning market near the monks. And Cologne was originally called Colonia Agrippina by the Romans. (Empress Agrippina was born on the river Rhine and the region then became her colony, hence "colonia".) So in a way the modern English name of these cities is actually pretty close to the name medieval Germans would have used.

The same goes for Braunschweig, a city you will know as Brunswick. When that place was first mentioned in documents, in the early 11th century, it was called Brunswik or Brunswiek. Actually, in the local Low German dialect that's the name it carries to this day. The current official name, Braunschweig, only cropped up occasionally in the 16th century and didn't gain wider currency until the 19th.

So, when you have a look at the Bundesliga II standings this weekend, as this division returns from hibernation, and find the name Eintracht Braunschweig there, bear in mind that this team comes from Brunswick. I'm telling you this because all the signs are that the club will return to the Bundesliga in the summer after more than a quarter of a century in the lower echelons of the game.

This long absence from the limelight explains why younger fans know very little about Eintracht Braunschweig (the club moniker, incidentally, means "unity"), while more seasoned followers of the German game view the team's imminent return to the top flight with a mixture of anticipation and nostalgia.

Eintracht, you see, were one of the three North German founder members of the Bundesliga, alongside Bremen and Hamburg, chosen ahead of other well-known teams from that part of the country, such as Hannover 96 or VfL Osnabrück. (Wolfsburg, based barely 20 miles northeast of Braunschweig/Brunswick, were just an obscure amateur club back then.)

For more than two decades after the formation of the Bundesliga, Eintracht were not just an established top-flight club, they were considered mainstays and an integral, if unglamorous, part of the league with numerous claims to fame. We have touched on one of them before, namely the fact that Braunschweig introduced modern marketing methods to the German game (see: The struggle for shirt sponsorship, October 7, 2008), but the club were equally well-known for what they did on the field of play.

That despite the fact Eintracht were operating under structural disadvantages. For one, the club was based in what Germans called the Zonenrandgebiet, meaning regions close to the East German border. Second, Brunswick was a city of only 230,000 people by the mid-1960s, which is why the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said in 1966 that provincial clubs like Eintracht would soon fall by the wayside: "Braunschweig's elimination would amount to a logical straightening of the geographical and economical Bundesliga body." Using plainer words, the paper predicted: "In the long run, they are fighting a losing battle against their better-off rivals."

About ten months after these lines were printed, Braunschweig shocked the country by winning the league title and becoming the most unexpected champions in Bundesliga history until neighbours Wolfsburg pulled off an equally stunning feat in 2009. Under coach Helmuth Johannsen, the team proved almost impossible to break down in the 1966-67 season, keeping 17 clean sheets. It was a defensive side, yes, but not unattractively so, as they had a stylish playmaker in Lothar Ulsass (whom Johannsen's successor Otto Knefler rated higher than both Günter Netzer and Wolfgang Overath) and an adventurous defender in Jürgen Moll, a former centre-forward. (Tragically, Moll and his young wife died in a car crash in late 1968.)

Finally, that first great Eintracht side never played it dirty - the team set a record that still stands by going 322 Bundesliga games without having a player sent off. (When the run finally ended, in August 1975, it was not even for a foul: Wolfgang Grzyb was red-carded on account of dissent.) And the team proved that the title was no fluke by doing well on the European stage, too, as Eintracht came within two minutes of knocking Juventus out of the European Cup. A late penalty for the Italians forced a one-game play-off at a neutral ground, which Juve won 1-0.

The second great team in the club's history was assembled thanks to the investments of Eintracht's sponsor Günter Mast, the nephew of the man who created the famous digestif Jägermeister. (More about Mast in the shirt-sponsorship column mentioned above.) Led by the brilliant Yugoslav winger Danilo Popivoda, Braunschweig missed out on the 1977 league title by just one point, finishing third.

Eintracht would never again be that good, even though Mast continued to finance spectacular transfers, the most famous being that of Paul Breitner, who was signed for 1.6 million Marks from Real Madrid in 1977. Breitner never really settled down in Braunschweig/Brunswick, but the photo that shows him - complete with afro and moustache - in Eintracht's famous yellow shirt with the Jägermeister logo and lettering has become one of the iconic images of 1970s German football.

Despite Mast's money, Eintracht were widely popular during those years, in part because they always made life hard for Bayern. (Between October 1972 and August 1983, the Munich giants just couldn't win in Braunschweig.) Eventually, however, money ran out and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's prediction about a losing battle belatedly became reality, with Eintracht dropping as low as the third division.

This long and eventful history, however, is only part of the reason why it would constitute some sort of poetic justice if Eintracht should return to the Bundesliga after this, the league's jubilee season. There's also the fact that the city of Braunschweig/Brunswick is a significant place with regard to the German game.

It was on a parade ground just a brisk walk from the modern city centre and a mere two miles from where Eintracht now stage their matches that the first-ever game of football was played in Germany and by Germans. On a cold afternoon in September or October 1874, Konrad Koch, a local teacher, gave his pupils a rugby ball and encouraged them to kick, throw or carry the pig's bladder around.

Only 19 months later, a Hamburg newspaper reported that the game had spread from Brunswick to Hamburg and that more and more young men were drawn towards "this new sporting fashion which is all about kicking a ball". The article's headline was: "The students call it football!"


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