Kaiserslautern (dpa) – The grand gala is canceled due to Corona. But all of football Germany remembers its perhaps greatest hero nowadays.
Fritz Walter, captain of the legendary 1954 World Championship team, would have turned 100 on Saturday (Oct. 31). Historians like to refer to the “miracle of Bern” as the true birth of the Federal Republic. Only one of the 3-2 overall wins against the Hungarians, which are considered overwhelming, is still alive: Horst Eckel. “We would have had a great birthday. He wouldn’t have celebrated it alone. Anyone who was there at the time would be gone,” the 88-year-old said wistfully in an interview with the German news agency.
Fritz Walter died on June 17, 2002 at the age of 81 at his home in Enkenbach-Alsenborn, six months after the death of his wife Italia. The city of Kaiserslautern, its club FCK and the German Football Association commemorate the great sportsman in exhibitions and on the Internet. The honorary captain of the national team played 61 caps (33 goals) and was unforgettable with the 1954 triumph at the tournament in Switzerland.
The Germans had lost 3: 8 in the preliminary round to the team of Ferenc Puskas, 0: 2 they were already behind in the final after eight minutes. Shortly before the end, Helmut Rahn scored 3-2 in the Wankdorf Stadium. “Rahn should shoot from the background – Rahn shoots – Teoooor! Teoooor! Teoooor! Teoooor!” Exclaimed the famous reporter Herbert Zimmermann. And then: “Out, out, out – out! – The game is over! – Germany is world champion …”
Even today, these sounds and images bring tears to the eyes of many Germans. “We are someone again! That was certainly the feeling of millions of people.” This is how Chancellor Helmut Kohl once described the mood in the post-war period. Nine years after the end of World War II, the triumph gave an entire nation a new sense of self-esteem – and made Fritz Walter an ever-humble role model for generations. The historian Joachim Fest saw it this way: “There are three founders of the Federal Republic: politically it is Adenauer, economic Erhard and mentally Fritz Walter.”
Fritz Walter has always remained loyal to his 1. FC Kaiserslautern, for whom he played from 1928 to 1959 and played 384 games for the first team (327 goals). The son of the club’s restaurant host declined offers from abroad: “Dehäm is dehäm.” He was German Palatinate Champion in 1951 and 1953, but the wartime robbed him of his best years as a kicker.
In 1940 he was drafted into the Wehrmacht. Five years later he was to be transported from a prison camp to Siberia, but the guards recognized the footballer. Fritz Walter later described the decisive match with the camp police as the “game of his life”, which probably saved him from death in the camp. In October 1945 he returned to Kaiserslautern.
Uwe Seeler recalls his idol in “Kicker”: “When I took my first steps in the DFB jersey in October 1954, shortly after the World Cup triumph in Bern, he had hero status. I was incredibly impressed with how modest he was. ” The three-time World Cup participant has always tried to imitate him: “To be humble, never forget where you come from.”
As a child, teenager and young adult, Miroslav Klose was often a fan in the west bend at 1. FC Kaiserslautern matches. “You quickly get it – Fritz Walter is a legend,” said the 2014 World Champion. As a professional, he was looking forward to meeting his role model in the VIP room after every home game. He later sent him congratulations and a bottle of Fritz Walter sparkling wine after goals for the national team: “I never opened them, they are still on my parents’ shelves.”
Five years after the “Miracle of Bern”, which he experienced at the age of 33, the idol ended his career. The Red Devils have been playing in the Fritz Walter Stadium on Betzenberg since 1985, where the legends of the club – alongside brothers Fritz and Ottmar Walter, Horst Eckel, Werner Kohlmeyer and Werner Liebrich – are immortalized in bronze.
“When we played football on the street as children, everyone wanted to be Fritz Walter. The admiration was deep within us then,” said former Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister Kurt Beck (SPD), who is still noticeably moved today. It was also Beck who made the footballer an honorary citizen of the state in 2000 – a title that no one else carries.
Because the ingenious playmaker liked to run in the rain, as in the final in Bern, from that moment on people often spoke of “Fritz Walter again”. In interviews about the World Cup triumph, the exceptional athlete repeatedly referred to national coach Sepp Herberger – or his teammates: the secret to success was “the twelfth man: the boss, the innkeeper” and “our great camaraderie”.
Horst Eckel, the youngest of the World Cup team at the time, always had a special bond with Fritz Walter. It was a “father-son relationship”. The photo of the two carried on the shoulders by spectators and the captain with the trophy is probably the best known from 1954.
Eckel doesn’t believe his friend would have made “anything big” out of his 100th birthday. “He wasn’t a good speaker either. Well, when he spoke, he didn’t like it at all,” he said with a smile. The last survivor of the 54 heroes hopes to see Fritz Walter back in heaven at some point. “Then we will continue with football as we used to do. It was a good time.”