The football nation: Germany’s heritage of sport

The last football world cup reinstated a huge chunk of England’s pride regarding this national sport, even though it was not “coming home” at the end of the day. Germans, on the other hand, suffered a lot during these exciting weeks, because football is the all-time favourite for them, and the centre of many a town or village community on top of that.

A part of this is due to the way sports is organized in Germany. A special type of organisation, a “Verein”, is the backbone of many local communities. These charitable associations deliver everything from education and physical empowerment to social interaction and support. A verein is by definition a non-profit club, not only for sports. Nearly 600,000 of them exist in Germany, 84,000 of them are members of the German Olympic Sports Association, the DOSB (Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund). Seven million people play football in these clubs, followed by the five million members of the “Deutscher Turner Bund”, the governing body of gymnastics. Tennis players and target shooters measure up to 1.3 million participants each.

​The target shooters (“Schützenvereine”) are a good example for the influence of sports clubs in towns and villages: The traditional yearly fun fair in these villages is often organized either as “Kirchweih” (by the local church community) or as “Schützenfest” (by the local target shooter or hunting club). The latter is usually combined with a target shooting competition, followed by the crowning of the “Schützenkönig”, the King of Shooters. Germany has a lot of these longstanding traditions that seem normal while you are there, and slightly odd when looked at from afar. In this, like in many other ways, Germany is very similar to England.

Also not different from England, there is a huge gap between what people do themselves in their free time and the things they are interested in. The renowned Allensbacher Institut, a polling company that keeps statistics on German habits and preferences, found that football is indeed the sport most Germans are interested in – nearly 35 per cent of Germans watch it on TV, support a club or argue about it in their free time. Much less expected is the number 2 in this list: 13 per cent of Germans are fans of Ski Jumping (who would have thought), narrowly followed by Boxing.

Read more about the prestigious Ski-Jumping Competition which takes place annually in Southern Germany and Austria.

While not in the list of the top three, one iconic German sport has a steady space in the mind of Germans, with currently growing numbers, from nine per cent to 12 per cent in general interest. Like football was invented by the English, Handball is an original German discipline, and it features all the excitement of a football game for viewers and players.

2019 offers fans a European Championship, hosted by Germany and Denmark, putting high pressure on the German team that won its last World Cup in 2006 at home and lost the last European Championship with a defeat as devastating as the football national team in Russia. There is not much room for managed expectations when the ball starts to fly in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne and Munich this January. If you want to know more, try the website of the German Handball Association.

For Germans, sport is a well-organized and very traditional part of their everyday life, and this remains the same even in the modern of age of urban gyms and a growing fitness industry. Looking at the list of favourite sports, this is quite obvious: the first “modern” discipline on that list is Karate, with 160,000 participants number 20 on the list of popular sports.

German Karate, by the way, has made its way to Manchester. You can meet quite a few Germans at Manchester Karate, founded by a German immigrant in 2012.

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