A historic goal, a risky bet, whisky smuggled beyond the Iron Curtain and a star striker banished by secret police from his national team just before its greatest moment.
A remarkable series of events was set in motion after East Germany’s 1-0 victory over West Germany in the 1974 World Cup.
It was the only football match played between the nations, two ideological opposites partitioned following the Second World War.
After the fall of Nazi Germany, the Communist East became a satellite state of the Soviet Union, while the capitalist West was formed of occupation zones administered by America, Britain and France.
Until 1964, they competed in the Olympics together – as the United Team of Germany.
But the East German-built Berlin Wall, erected three years earlier, was a sign of diminishing political warmth, and when Erich Honecker took over leadership of East Germany’s only party in 1971, he announced that unification with the West was no longer an objective.
For years the East Germans rejected West German overtures to play football. It was seen as too much of a risk – there was a far greater chance of defeat than in sports such as swimming and weightlifting.
But in a World Cup, there was no choice.
“The officials were hoping it wouldn’t be a disgrace,” says Hans-Jurgen Kreische, a softly-spoken former Dynamo Dresden and East Germany striker who played in the landmark game at Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion on 22 June 1974.
“The players didn’t feel any pressure though. On the contrary, we were looking forward to comparing ourselves to the West.
“It was something we repeatedly strived for, but the authorities always prevented.”
In the West Germany side were captain Franz Beckenbauer and prolific striker Gerd Muller. They were the host nation, and the European champions.
No wonder Hans Apel, then a month into his new job as the country’s finance minister and a spectator at the group stage match, was in confident mood.
“I was quite sure we would beat them at least 3-0,” he said, speaking before his death in 2011.
“I wasn’t excited, I wasn’t nervous. We were very good at football, and nobody knew anything about them.”
The match turned out quite differently. Controlling a bouncing ball and cutting through the West Germany defence, Magdeburg striker Jurgen Sparwasser struck with 12 minutes left to secure victory for East Germany.
According to Kreische, the game was played in friendly circumstances. Nothing like a derby between enemy states.
Afterwards, he and Apel would have a fateful encounter.
“Following the final whistle all the players swapped shirts, although we didn’t do it on the pitch because officially it was forbidden,” Kreische says.
“But we got on very well. We spoke the same language after all. It was a hard but fair battle.”
The win gave East Germany top spot in the group, which appeared to actually work in West Germany’s favour.
It meant they avoided Brazil, Argentina and Netherlands in the second group stage, landing among Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia instead.
The circus moved on. An exodus of fans, players and journalists headed to their next venues. For Apel, it was a return to the real world of government in the West German capital Bonn, via Dusseldorf.
Kreische was on the same flight, en route to Hanover, where defending champions Brazil lay in wait.
The two men sat next to each other.
“He asked me who I was,” Apel recalled.
“‘I’m the Finance Minister of the Federal Republic,’ I said, and he laughed, so I showed him my identity card. He was astonished, maybe even a little bit afraid.
“I said to him, one thing is absolutely clear, West Germany will never win the World Cup.
“But he said to me ‘no, that’s totally wrong, you will be the world champion’.
“‘You’re just talking nonsense’, I said. ‘Perhaps you’re too polite to tell me how bad this team is. Let’s make a bet. Five bottles of whisky’.”
Kreische didn’t have the means to buy whisky or send it across the border, so they agreed that only Apel would have to pay up if he lost.
The wager was set, and Kreische’s career would take an irreversible turn.
West Germany did go on to win the World Cup, coming from a goal down to beat a brilliant Netherlands side 2-1 in the final in Munich.
East Germany were eliminated from their intimidating second group, losing to the Dutch and Brazil, but managing a 1-1 draw with Argentina.
Once he was back in Bonn after the tournament ended in July 1974, Apel asked his secretary to buy him some bottles of good whisky.
“I telephoned the ambassador of East Germany in Bonn, and I said to him ‘You will get five bottles of whisky, and you will transport them please to Mr Kreische’.”
This is how a diplomatic bag containing several headaches-worth of fine scotch crossed one of the most sensitive and dangerous borders in the world.
“I was shocked to receive it at first because I didn’t really know Apel at all,” says Kreische.
“In Dresden we couldn’t receive West German TV so we weren’t that well informed. A lot of us, including me, didn’t even know who he was.
“And it was absolutely forbidden to have any contact with anyone in West Germany.
“But I was allowed to keep the bottles. I shared them with my friends. It was good whisky. Black and White.”
And there, for a few weeks, the matter rested. Until a letter reached Apel’s office.
“I got a typed letter – a peculiar letter,” Apel said.
“Kreische later told me it was written by the secret service, and he had to sign it.”
That secret service was the infamous and pervasive Stasi, who infiltrated every part of East German society. They recruited informants, and informants to inform on the informants. It would have been impossible for Kreische not to consider the potential consequences of taking the whisky.
“I was anxious. I was certainly aware of the fact someone would notice this affair, but I wasn’t exactly afraid,” he says.
“I had such a high position at Dynamo Dresden that I couldn’t really imagine being sacked or expelled from professional sport.”
He was wrong.
The whisky, as well as a letter that Apel sent with the gift, had a devastating impact on Kreische’s career.
“In my letter there stood a sentence which created additional problems for him,” Apel said.
“It read ‘I hope that we will meet again soon’. This created the impression there might have been more than football talk and a simple bet.”
In 1976, East Germany won the football gold medal at the Montreal Olympics. But Kreische was absent. He followed their historic exploits from Dresden instead.
“That year Dynamo Dresden was the top team of the country. We won the league title and the cup and I was the top scorer, with 24 goals,” he says.
“After I read my Stasi file in 2004, I now know that it was because of this bet that I wasn’t taken.
“The file said: ‘Sportsman Kreische is not acceptable to represent East Germany at the Olympic Games’.”
Two years later, at the age of 30, Kreische retired.
But despite missing out on an Olympic gold medal, he is still very proud of his contribution to East German football history, and his 50 caps for his country.
“Why should I mourn or regret something that happened so long ago?
“Since then I met Apel and we became really good friends. He regretted that the whole thing had harmed me a lot.
“That I could be part of that 1974 World Cup was overwhelming. And that we could prove we could play good football on the other side of Germany was wonderful.”
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