East German legacy lives on 20 years after unification (News Feature)
By John Bagratuni Oct 1, 2010, 10:27 GMT
Berlin - Twenty years on, Germany has not fully shaken off its former political division as some ghosts of the East German past are still alive on the playing fields of sport.
A recent book by a former East German top sports official caused a stir as he admitted to a widespread doping programme but at the same time denied any knowledge that under-age athletes were also given banned substances.
Although compensation was paid, doping victims were among the big losers once the Iron Curtain came down and Germany was reunified on October 3, 1990.
So too have been eastern German football clubs who play no dominant role in the domestic leagues although some players such as Germany captain Michael Ballack have risen to fame and fortune.
Ballack is joined as a winner of 1990 reunification by fellow- footballer Matthias Sammer, former boxer Henry Maske, ex-track and field star Heike Drechsler and - arguably most notably - figure skating darling Katarina Witt.
One dubbed 'the most beautiful face of socialism' by Time Magazine, the 44-year-old Witt is now the face of Munich's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
When the Olympics were held for the first time in Munich, the summer edition back in 1972, it marked East Germany's rise as a sporting superpower.
Double sprint champion Renate Stecher and her compatriots garnered 66 medals in Munich for third place in the overall medals table, well ahead of their western cousins who took 40 medals at the home event.
It was also in those early 1970s that East Germany decided to set up a doping programme for its athletes, according to the book of former East German umbrella sports body (DTSB) deputy boss Thomas Koehler.
'If East Germany wanted to remain competitive it had no choice but to allow the use of doping substances,' Koehler said in the book entitled 'Two sides of the medal.'
Trials have since been held and some coaches, doctors and officials were fined or received suspended prison sentences. Victims of the doping programme have also been compensated.
Doping was one reason why medals and records rained down on East Germany which used sport to promote the superiority of communism and at the same time to create a national identity it badly lacked in comparison to the other communist bloc (and western) nations.
However, East Germans found it hard to identify with their athletes because of the political dimension. One of the victims is Juergen Sparwasser, who famously scored East Germany's 1-0 winner in the 1974 World Cup match against West Germany in Hamburg.
'The hatred against me grew and grew in the GDR. The goal did me harm,' said Sparwasser, who defected to West Germany in 1988.
Eastern football in general had nothing to celebrate either in the unified Germany. The region has no Bundesliga club and former top sides such as FC Magdeburg and Dynamo Dresden play in the lower leagues, still plagued by infrastructure problems and fan violence.
Football is one example that reunification did not make Germany an even bigger sports power, as once suggested by the New York Times and by Franz Beckenbauer, who suggested after West Germany's World Cup triumph in 1990 that the soon-to-be unified team would be unbeatable for years.
But Germany have only won Euro 1996 since then and Olympic medal tables have seen Germany drop from 142 medals 1988 in Seoul to 41 in Beijing 2008.
German Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach says that on the domestic level sport has 'managed reunification better than other areas of society due to its unifying power' but he also acknowledges that the doping issue remains a difficult one.
After all, the six-time 1988 Olympic swimming champion Kristin Otto sometimes still raises eyebrows for being a sports presenter at ZDF television and Marita Koch also has to defend herself for her now 25-year-old 400 metres world record.
'It is important that we don't forget the past and learn from it for the future,' said Bach.