After 60 years, family feud that made Puma and Adidas is over

Jonathan Brown
Thursday 17 September 2009 00:00

Thet are two of the world's most instantly recognisable sports brands and they hail from the same medieval German town. Indeed Puma and Adidas, which have shod millions of runners and footballers over the years and graced the feet of some of the greatest ever athletes, trace their origins to the same family of cobblers.

But a deep and apparently irreconcilable fraternal bust up between brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler 60 years ago saw the original company split into the two leading names we know today. Yet as both firms have gone on to international success, the enmity continues to divide the north Bavarian town nicknamed the "place of bent necks" because everyone checks out everyone else's shoes and where rival staff employed by either company live separate lives.

Today, however, after six decades apart, the present day bosses are to bury the hatchet in a highly symbolic display of reconciliation, shaking hands as part of a pioneering peace initiative. To consolidate the rapprochement, workers from the two firms will then play football together, breaching a divide that has existed since an argument between the two brothers as they left an air raid shelter during the Second World War. Chief executive of Adidas Herbert Hainer said he was proud to be taking part in the project, entitled Peace One Day, which is the brainchild of the German film-maker Jeremy Gilley.

"We firmly believe that sport can bring the world together. Sport has shown this at countless occasions in the past and we are committed to the positive values found in sport: performance and passion, teamwork and fair play," he said.

Before the war the brothers' joint company Gebrüder Dassler Sportschuhfabrik made the place famous producing sports shoes that were worn by Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics. But while elderly residents still gossip about various fanciful causes of the rift – continually speculating on whether Adi slept with Rudi's wife, that the two wives hated each other, that Rudi fathered Adi's son or that Rudi – the less successful entrepreneur of the pair – had his hands in the petty-cash box – no one really knows.

But most seem to agree that the argument can be traced to one night in 1943 and a misplaced comment by Adi that Rudi was never to forget: during an Allied bomb attack on Herzogenaurach in 1943 Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudi and his family were already in.

"The dirty bastards are back again," Adi said, apparently referring to the Allied warplanes. Rudi was convinced that his brother meant him and his family.

After the war Rudi was taken to an American prisoner of war camp while his fraternal rival carried on running the family business without him. In 1948 he returned and set up his own factory, now Puma, on the other side of the river. Since then the two companies have bitterly contested every technological innovation.

Today Puma operates in 120 countries and employs more than 9,000 people worldwide. The Adidas group has more than 38,000 employees and generated sales of €10.8bn (£9.6bn) in 2008.

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