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The Hero of Bern

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Fritz Walter, captain of West Germany when they surprisingly beat Hungary in the 1954 World Cup final, a victory which provided a post war Germany, still reeling from the conflict, with some element of emotional legitimacy and self respect.

Walter was part of the generation of players whose careers had been ravaged by WWII. As a result he was an exceptionally modest man who spent his entire club career with 1. FC Kaiserslautern, helping them to win the German championship twice. The club from the Pfalz was the dominant force in domestic football at the time and sent five players to the World Cup in Switzerland, including Walter and his brother Ottmar.

The victory, as West Germany recovered from a 2-0 early deficit to win 3-2, was a key milestone in the country‘s footballing development. Hopes beforehand were not particularly high, given that there was still no professional national league in West Germany at the time. The subsequent failure to defend the title in 1958, with Walter then 38 and clearly past his best, was a key driver in the footballing authorities‘ decision to establish the Bundesliga.

Walter, who ran a hotel and restaurant in Kaiserslautern and never moved away from the town after retiring, became a national icon in a country desperate for anything to celebrate at the time. He was venerated for the rest of his life, in a way that no other German footballer has been since, until he died in 2002, during the course of another German run to the World Cup final.

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