The History and Development of Magdeburg as a Sports City: From Industrialization to Present Day Facilities

When exactly the time is to be settled, since the first foundations were laid in Magdeburg for later presenting and being able to call itself a city of sports, is disputed even among scholars. The opinions are divided. That it could have been during the Thirty Years’ War when Tilly’s troops are said to have done vigorous physical exercises in the field before the attack on the fortress at that time or even earlier, when numerous knight tournaments took place in the local districts – this is probably more likely in the Reich to be sorted into (sporting) folklore.

However, anyone who states the point in time as “about 100 years ago” is probably not quite right either. “It started much earlier,” says Martin Sanne, one of the best connoisseurs of the local sport, in the KOMPAKT interview. “With the rise of Magdeburg to an industrial city, later especially of heavy machinery, more and more sports clubs were founded. Here lies one of the important foundations for the later boom, which also ensured that the name Magdeburg was mentioned more and more frequently at the Olympics, World and European Championships.” In the eighties and nineties of the 19th century, the first clubs. In his essay “Sportstadt Magdeburg”, author Volkmar Laube refers in particular to the “great tradition” of workers’ sports clubs, which literally shot up out of the ground at that time.

Later, not only the two world wars threw back the sporting development of the city enormously. There were simply more important things. Not to mention the ruined sports facilities, especially after 1945. In many places, we had to start almost from scratch. And there was to come a period when everything was suddenly on the brink in Magdeburg – especially in the high-performance sector. The years immediately after the fall of the Wall. When, due to the changed social structures, many achievements threatened to collapse. Especially in the 1970s and 1980s, the successes of the SCM handball players (twice European Cup winners, ten national titles), the FCM soccer players (European Cup of Cup winners, three national champions) and the Olympic gold medals in Seoul (2x gold, 4x silver) also drew international attention to Magdeburg. Above all, the material and financial basis crumbled at the time. The state-owned companies, where some of the athletes were employed – gone. The state apparatus, where it looked similar – gone. University and sports school – it was uncertain whether and how they should continue.

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“For us at the SCM, it was mainly about saving as much as possible in the club for the new time,” reports Sanne. The now 81-year-old, who once worked as head coach, association coach of the East German track and field athletes, later as sports coordinator, sports director and managing director, is considered an excellent expert on Magdeburg’s sports history of the past three decades. “On the one hand, it was our aim to stick to the five Olympic sports that we practice: track and field, swimming, rowing, canoeing and handball. On the other hand, it was about continuing to have figureheads in the club, such as Olympic champions like Dagmar Hase (swimming) and Olaf Heukrodt (canoeing), track and field athlete Kathrin Neimke or the canoe Olympic champions Ingo Spelly and Ulrich Papke.”

A third were the coaches. Sanne: “We knew that we can only keep the SCM at the top with well-trained trainers. However, the dissolution of the DHfK, the German University for Physical Culture in Leipzig, represented a serious obstacle on this path.” A fact, he adds, “the effects of which can still be felt to this day”. Qualified trainers “with the appropriate university education are missing everywhere. This extends to youth and school sports”.

Nevertheless, the fighters in the SCM managed to implement their request at the time. Especially with a view to and in comparison to other top clubs in the GDR. They either disappeared completely, partially collapsed or only later, in a minimalistic form and sometimes under a different name, only recovered with difficulty from the 1990s. Regardless of whether that happened in Rostock, Dresden, Potsdam, Chemnitz or Erfurt. Not to mention the former army and police clubs. Even right on the doorstep, the decline of former top clubs could be seen. Example 1. FC Magdeburg. The post-reunification turmoil forced the once proud blue and whites into the diaspora of amateur football for a quarter of a century (see also the extra article in this issue and the book “Spielmacher” published by Kompakt-Verlag).

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“It was important to us at that time,” emphasizes Sanne, “that we consistently set out to bring the sports facilities into shape. Examples of this are the renovation of the running hall and the expansion of the athletics facility. At that time, the decision was also made to start planning for a larger hall of our own – the later Bördelandhalle. It was initially intended for training and school sports. However, this would not have been possible without the active help of the city and the state, especially with regard to financing. As one has to say in general, the state and municipality have supported sport in Magdeburg in the best possible way over the years. At the time, there was a close connection between the sports club and what was then the federal training center, from which the Olympic base emerged in 1992.” Without all of that – one can add from today’s perspective – today’s generation would hardly be able to speak of a sports city on the Elbe.

Now at the latest the question could arise: City of Sports – what is that actually? Who sets the criteria for this? Are there any? Any community that owns, say, a stadium, a gym and a handful of clubs can claim such status qua acclamation. It is correct that there is no universally recognized or even written down definition. And a (e.g. even legally) protected term does not exist. Former mayor Lutz Trümper once defined it as follows in an MDR film: “The Grube Stadium with its 40,000 fans and the big teams that played here, Bayern Munich or Schalke 04, reflects an enormous tradition! That gave the city an image as a sports city and created self-confidence.”

If you want to know what a sporting city might look like, you only have to look around Magdeburg. In addition to the successes of athletes in the high-performance sector, which have undoubtedly been recognized for more than half a century, there is an abundance of sports facilities – within a stone’s throw of the Elbe, so to speak. What makes it so special is that arenas, halls and sports service providers are clustered in an area that is barely more than one square kilometer in length. Let’s count them: There is the MDCC Arena, which now has a capacity of 30,000 spectators, the Getec Arena, designed for 7,000 visitors, the athletics complex with the open-air facility, a running hall with a circular track, a covered running hose, a throwing house and the multi-purpose hall. In addition, there will be the bobsleigh push facility, which will be completed in 2021, the FCM junior performance center.

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The ensemble is supplemented by two sports schools, boarding schools and sports medicine facilities and the Saxony-Anhalt Olympic base. And as if all of this weren’t enough, another sports center with training halls and function rooms is being built directly in front of the stadium for a construction sum of 12 million euros. The whole thing could be crowned by the new German swimming center planned for 2028, which will cost 50 million (see extra article). If you look just a little beyond the “small sports town”, you will also see the Elbe swimming pool, which was completely renovated in 2008, the new construction of the canoe boat house in 2011 and the rowing boat house in the city park, which was completed in 2019.

Is everything paletti in the sports city of Magdeburg? Martin Sanne bobs his head. “As impressive as the sports facilities are, it will be a constant struggle to fill them with life and performance in the future. Things aren’t looking great for some of the sports that have celebrated us in the past. It is now about securing the status as a federal base for the future. A lot stands and falls, that has to be emphasized again, with qualified trainers. It only works if we do proper youth work and there are enough follow-up squads available in the next few years. In addition, there are two things. On the one hand, there has always been a lack of opportunities for rowers, canoeists and track and field athletes, i.e. competitions in which the top athletes can present themselves to the local audience. On the other hand, there is simply a lack of sponsors in the individual sports, also because of the great appeal of handball and football players. To put it bluntly, the only sponsors left are: mum and dad. Or Grandma and Grandpa.”

2023-06-04 13:25:27
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