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WARSAW: When Hans-Christian Maass travelled from East Berlin to Warsaw four decades ago to watch West Germany play Poland he thought he was seizing a rare chance to see some of the finest footballers in a generation.    

East Germany's Communist authorities viewed the then 21-year-old's trip very differently.

In their eyes Maass had betrayed the “Workers and Farmers” state by supporting the class enemy, West Germany. As an East German citizen his allegiance should have been with fellow Socialist Poland.

The price he paid for watching that European Championship qualifier in 1971, where a West Germany team featuring the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Guenter Netzer and Gerd Mueller beat Poland 3-1, was severe.

He was expelled from East Berlin's Humboldt University just months before completing his studies in animal husbandry, a course which would have guaranteed him an enviable career path and position in society.

Instead he found himself on the wrong side of a regime which thought nothing of destroying people's lives in order to make an example of them.

Maass' story is one of those told in an exhibition on show in Gdansk during Euro 2012, organised by the European Association for East-West relations, exploring the experience of being a football fan under Socialism, particularly in East Germany.

As co-hosts Poland and Ukraine strive to show how far they have progressed since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the exhibition reminds of the times when Eastern European fans were forbidden from accompanying their teams to matches in the West, when spies and informers infiltrated their ranks, and when glossy football posters from the West were like gold dust.

TWO GERMANYS

The situation in East Germany was particularly intense.

People could not help but feel pride at the performance of this other German team, particularly the group of players who had impressed by finishing third at the Mexico World Cup in 1970.

“This was a world class team, so we thought going to Warsaw would be a unique chance to see them. For us it was about the sport, the emotion, we had no idea that what we were doing would be construed on ideological grounds,” said Maass.

He flew to Warsaw, his first ever flight, with two friends.

Through contacts in the West, who in turn had links with the German Football Association, he managed to get tickets. To his surprise he found about 5,000-6,000 East Germans at the game, outnumbering the West German fans. “Hi from Leipzig, Franz” read one banner.

West German media made much of this support, to the chagrin of the East. With the Munich Olympics looming in 1972, the regime needed to assert that sport was above all else an ideological battle ground.

Individual events such as athletics or swimming were seen as the easiest route to show the superiority of Socialist athletes, and East Germany began an extensive doping programme.

Team sports were harder.

“East Germany always had an inferiority complex when it came to football, making authorities particularly sensitive,” said Maass.

After his expulsion from university, he tried to flee across the Baltic Sea in a dinghy, but was picked up by a Norwegian boat with an East German crew and sent back. Shortly afterwards he was bought free by West Germany's Lutheran Church as part of a larger political prisoner programme, and moved to the West.

SPIES

In a state which strived to organise all aspects of people's lives, in labour groups, political youth organisations, Soviet friendship societies, fan culture began to find develop as a sub-culture, a sphere where people could be free from politics.

East German authorities moved to crush this flourishing fan culture, and began a deliberate infiltration of their ranks.

In the exhibition one man relates how the terraces were dotted with individuals facing away from the pitch, busy photographing the fans. The notorious Stasi secret police penetrated all areas of life.

“Reading the Stasi informers' reports gives you goosebumps. The language is banal and bureaucratic, but the precision and detail is astonishing,” said Thomas Schneider, one of the organisers of the exhibition.

If any East German teams had to face Western opponents, the “fans” that travelled with them were either Stasi informers themselves or regime loyalists.

Despite the restrictions fans did persist in trying to see Western teams in Poland or the Czech Republic, countries they could travel to without visas.

West Germany's World Cup victory in 1990 was all the more special as it came just a few months before reunification.

“It helped the two Germanys grow together,” said Schneider.


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