The 1954 World Cup: Triumph of a New Germany
When West Germany won the competition for the first time in 1954 they were the unfancied representatives of a divided nation emerging from defeat and humiliation.
July 2014 saw a sporting triumph which is credited with playing an important role in the rehabilitation of Germany after the Second World War. Few observers gave the West German football team any real chance when they met the highly regarded Hungarian side, ‘the Mighty Magyars’, led by the great Ferenc Puskás in pouring rain in the World Cup final in Berne’s Wankdorf Stadium on July 4th, 1954. The Germans, contrary to received wisdom today, had little pedigree in international football up until this point. The Hungarians, on the other hand, were the ‘Golden Team’ of the postwar period, unbeaten for four years and having outclassed England twice in the build up to the tournament in Switzerland.
In the event, West Germany’s remarkable 3-2 victory (despite being 2-0 down after ten minutes) was indisputably the biggest sporting sensation since 1945. Not only that, but for the first time since the end of the war the Germans felt able to raise their heads above the parapet and display national pride in an achievement that was both a legitimate cause of celebration and appeared to have no connection with the recent Nazi past. In this context, the words of the West German radio commentator, Herbert Zimmermann, ‘It’s over! Over! Over! Germany are the World Champions’ – as famous in Germany as Kenneth Wolstenholme’s ‘They think it’s all over’ is in England – appear not just to refer to the outcome of the match but also to the promise of an end to the hardship and humiliation Germans had experienced since 1945, the so-called ‘Zero Hour’.