How the Cup was beastly to the East

Leipzig shows it knows how to party - but the region's problems will soon be back to the fore
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The Independent Football

With Ukraine's exit from the World Cup on Friday night, the old East Germany's role in a tournament which still has a week to run is now reduced to that of spectators. Of the 32 nations in the World Cup only Ukraine chose to base themselves in the former DDR, in Potsdam. This may be because Andriy Shevchenko's father, a Russian army officer, was stationed there and his sister born there.

The Dutch appear to have spoken for many when they reportedly said they did not think they could find the level of luxury they were used to in the east. Germany are based in the capital, but both the hotel and training ground are in what used to be West Berlin.

Leipzig, the only venue within the old socialist state to host matches, staged its last game last weekend, between Argen-tina and Mexico. The next task in Saxony is to find a means of preventing the Zentralstadion becoming as anachronistic as Erich Honeker's old regime.

When Germany sought to stage the World Cup, one motivation was to highlight the nation's unification. Capitalist economics intervened, exacerbated by poor management. The old clubs of the East, Lokomotive Leipzig, Carl Zeiss Jena, Dynamo Dresden, Dynamo Berlin, FC Magdeburg, all fam-iliar from European competition, had quickly plummeted down the leagues after unification as the well-drilled products of a youth system which produced Matthias Sammer and Michael Ballack headed West. Only the newly promoted Energie Cottbus, from a small town east of Berlin, will represent the East in the Bundesliga next season.

Jürgen Sparwasser, the man who scored in East Germany's historic 1-0 defeat of West Germany in the 1974 finals, said last week: "Football in the old East is not advancing because of the economic situation. It is hard to find sponsors and, though there are still good youth-training facilities, they can't afford to keep their talent."

So when Fifa insisted that all World Cup stadiums had to have a minimum capacity of 45,000, most cities balked at the cost of redeveloping their decrepit grounds. As Magdeburg and football-mad Dresden opted out, Leipzig, with a combination of public money and private finance, took on the role.

As the original home of German football - the DFB (the German FA) were founded in the city in 1900, and the first champions came from Leipzig - it was the romantic choice. But Lokomotive had collapsed, so the less illustrious Chemie Leipzig were installed there.

This was largely against their fans' wishes, but although only 2,000 turn up, Chemie are being paid £500,000 a year to play at the Zentralstadion. The holding company owning the ground are also underwriting, through sponsorship, the cost of a new sports director and several big- name players, with the intention of winning promotion to Bundesliga 2 within three to five years. Meanwhile, Magdeburg's new 25,000-seat stadium will open this autumn and happily host third-division football.

Leipzig hoteliers were also left disgruntled by the World Cup, claiming they have had only 80 per cent occupancy on match days, around 50 per cent during the rest of the tournament. This may be partly due to the way Fifa handled accommodation bookings, but many fans preferred to commute from Berlin, which has a higher international profile and better connections with other venue cities.

Which is a shame, because Leipzig has much to offer and, as much as Berlin, showcases the changes which have happened since unification. This is most apparent in the redeveloped railway station, which welcomed fans with free table football, and the location of the fan- fest.

In 1989 Augustus Platz was one of the sites of the "Monday demonstrations", in which hundreds of protestors stared down armed soldiers, hastening the fall of the Berlin Wall and the DDR. During the World Cup it has been filled with Mexicans and Dutch, Argentinians and Serbs, French and South Koreans, all eating, drinking and watching their team on the big screens. It is estimated around 145,000 foreigners came to the city and 300,000 visited the fan-fest.

Jonathan Brenton, a spokes-man for the British Embassy in Berlin, said: "I have no sense that there is an East-West divide in this World Cup. The Germans have been out celebrating all over." But Sparwasser cautioned: "Looking at the public fan parties in cities like Leipzig or Jena, you can see how much people are standing behind the German team. But when this is all over and all the fun stops, then I fear the region's problems will come to the fore once again."

Additional reporting by Alisdair Thompson in Leipzig and Matthew Beard

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