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Review of Stasi FC – the incredible story of the football club belonging to the undercover police force.

Alongside the inevitable horror, there is always a certain comedy involved in the collapse of authoritarian regimes. The performative projection of strength and infallibility reaches a point of absurdity at which it starts to look like obvious weakness: brittle, slightly silly and too fragile to withstand even the slightest challenge. Power becomes paranoia – and it becomes impossible not to laugh.

During the 1980s, East Germany faced difficulties in developing cultural influence, placing a strong emphasis on sports as a way to solidify national identity. Athletes were obligated to serve the state, regardless of personal preferences. Sports with high potential for medals, such as track and field and gymnastics, received top priority. A cutthroat process of selection led to the identification of the most promising contenders, who were then heavily influenced with performance-enhancing substances before competing on the world stage, resembling a group of tracksuit-clad Terminators.

However, there were certain aspects where football stood out from others. The sport itself, along with its accompanying culture, has a defiant and unmanageable nature. Due to its widespread popularity and broad appeal, it is challenging to exert the same level of control. Nevertheless, as demonstrated in this intriguing documentary, that does not mean that no one made an effort to do so. Fortunately, their attempts were not entirely successful. In fact, their success had significant, unforeseen repercussions.

We start with the simultaneously unpleasant and pitiful character of Erich Mielke. Mielke served as the leader of the Stasi, the infamous secret police of East Germany. The Stasi specialized in intense surveillance and interference, infiltrating all aspects of life in East Germany. In the late 1970s, Mielke made the decision that it was time for his favorite football team, Berliner FC Dynamo (BFCD) to achieve success. The top players were strategically swayed towards BFCD. Specific referees were selected for important matches with predictable results. Much of the evidence amusingly reveals that some games were essentially staged trials – manipulated by authorities until the desired outcome was achieved.

However, not everything was going smoothly. Through interviews with players and fans, the Stasi FC uncovers the cracks in their seemingly perfect facade as they continue to spread. The first sign of trouble appeared in 1979 when midfielder Lutz Eigendorf of BFCD sought asylum after a match in West Germany. He left behind his wife and children in the East, who soon became well-acquainted with the methods of the Stasi. Eigendorf himself was not so lucky, as he passed away in a mysterious and disputed traffic accident in 1983. Despite this, his fate did not deter other players from attempting similar escapes – two other East German players also successfully fled to the West by ditching their assigned chaperone during a team trip. Interestingly, it seems that the chaperone was too preoccupied with the temptations of Western indulgence to fulfill his duties.

Lutz Eigendorf’s car after a mysterious traffic accident in 1983.

At this stage, a documentary about football transforms into a documentary about practically everything except football. BFCD had been dominating and winning titles in the mid-80s. However, it was not surprising to anyone, except Mielke, that the repetitive success was becoming tedious. Additionally, the regime saw it as a threat. By 1987, as BFCD was celebrating their ninth consecutive title, their fans began to turn their backs on the game during matches. As one fan explains, at that point they were not attending for the football. By the next year, when the team achieved their tenth victory, their fans could have fit in a single taxi to get to the game. Meanwhile, there was an increase in crowd unrest and violence – but unlike football hooliganism in the UK during this time, it took on a revolutionary and almost heroic nature.

It is difficult to determine the role that dissent played in the subsequent events. The documentary wisely avoids making exaggerated statements about football being responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, it is evident that the anti-BFCD sentiment among fans started to merge with a broader anti-authoritarian sentiment. The anonymity and security in numbers of being a football fan has often bred a sense of recklessness – it is impressive to see it used for positive purposes.

The club BFCD currently plays in the fourth division of German soccer. Despite their decline in status, it is difficult to believe that supporting them now is not more enjoyable. Stasi FC has found redemption in their failures and their journey continues in a tragicomic fashion.

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Source: theguardian.com