The Spirit of Spiez

West germany players pose after winning the 1954 FIFA World Cup Switzerland. © Sport Archive/FIFA Museum
West germany players pose after winning the 1954 FIFA World Cup Switzerland. © Sport Archive/FIFA Museum

Nine years on from the end of the Second World War, West Germany was still experiencing the after-effects of the carnage that had engulfed the continent of Europe. Eleven men on a football pitch helped change the national mood.

One of the most unusual objects we have in the FIFA World Football Museum Collection is a chair. It’s the sort of chair that you might find in countless homes around the world. It’s not a Chippendale, or from the workshop of any other famous designer, but it has its own unique value in that it helps tell the story of how West Germany re-joined the international community.

Baroque style Classic Chair from the Hotel Belvédère in Spiez made from wood and upholstered in fabric. | 102cm x 52cm x 50cm | © FIFA Museum
Baroque style Classic Chair from the Hotel Belvédère in Spiez made from wood and upholstered in fabric. | 102cm x 52cm x 50cm | © FIFA Museum (click to enlarge)

In 1954, much of West Germany still lay in ruins. The economic miracle that was to transform the country had yet to happen. At the 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland, the West Germany team stayed at the Hotel Belvédère in Spiez, located in the idyllic setting of the south shore of Lake Thun. It was here that coach Sepp Herberger helped forge a team spirit among the 22 players that is credited with playing a large part in the Germans becoming the most unlikely champions in the history of the World Cup. “Das Wunder von Bern” – the Miracle of Berne – was helped in no small measure by “Der Geist von Spiez” – the Spirit of Spiez. The chair in our collection comes from the Hotel Belvédère from the time that the West Germans stayed there at the 1954 World Cup.

It is easy to underestimate the importance of West Germany’s victory at the 1954 World Cup. After all, three more triumphs have followed, each with its own special significance. But Franz Beckenbauer, captain of the 1974 World Cup winning team and coach of the 1990 world champions, is in no doubt as to what it meant.

“What was important, very important, was that this victory gave us recognition once again. Germany was destroyed after the War. Nobody took notice of the country, justifiably, because of everything that had happened. We were ostracized. We had tried to reconstruct Germany and then came this terrific victory at the World Cup and suddenly we were in on it again. Therefore, this victory at the 1954 World Cup has certainly been the most important victory in the history of German football.”

Coach Sepp Herberger (sitting on the ball) and the German squad are taking a break from their training in Spiez - July 1954 © Ullstein bild via Getty Images
Coach Sepp Herberger (sitting on the ball) and the German squad are taking a break from their training in Spiez - July 1954 © Ullstein bild via Getty Images (click to enlarge)

Herberger chose the Hotel Belvédère because it gave the team the privacy and the tranquillity that he wanted. He would take players individually to one side and work on the psychological as well as the tactical side of the game, building up a bond between the team that would serve them so well during the tournament. Herberger had been head coach since taking over from Otto Nerz in 1936, but Germany had been banned from international football in 1945 and had been excluded from the 1950 World Cup. Just as the country needed reconstructing, so did the national team.

West Germany’s return to international football came in 1950 after an absence of eight years, with a match against Switzerland before a German national team record crowd of 103,000 in Stuttgart. That 1-0 victory was the start of a three and a half-year journey that led to the World Cup in Switzerland. Over that period Herberger had just 19 games to build a squad capable of winning the tournament and he used the groundswell of public support and enthusiasm to help that building process. A coach for whom character was as important as technical ability, he always believed in the collective. "Eleven friends you must be" he is quoted as saying, and he used players from 1.FC Kaiserslautern to form the core of the team.

Enthusiastic reception for the German World Cup winners at the train station in Singen one day after the final. Out of the train window from left: Karl Mai, Josef Posipal and Horst Eckel. © Ullstein bild via Getty Images
Enthusiastic reception for the German World Cup winners at the train station in Singen one day after the final. Out of the train window from left: Karl Mai, Josef Posipal and Horst Eckel. © Ullstein bild via Getty Images (click to enlarge)

Herberger was meticulous in his approach - always with a notebook at hand - and it was in the Hotel Belvédère that his philosophy morphed into the ‘Spirit of Spiez.’ It was central in not only building up the team , but also in countering the disappointments that came their way, notably in the wake of the 8-3 thrashing at the hands of Hungary in the first round in Switzerland. Fritz Walter, the captain, was known to be very despondent after a defeat so Herberger didn’t room him with his brother Ottmar, but with the upbeat and jovial Helmut Rahn. “Helmut, build up Fritz for me,” Herberger is also quoted as saying. Here, in essence, was the Spirit of Spiez.

Who knows who of the West Germany squad sat on the chair we have in our collection, but it is testament to one of the most extraordinary stories that the World Cup has ever witnessed, culminating in the team’s 3-2 victory over the seemingly unbeatable Hungarians in the Final in Berne. Secluded from the press and family in the hotel for the duration of the tournament in Switzerland, the players were genuinely shocked by the rapturous welcome they received on their triumphant journey back to Germany by train. At each station they were met by huge crowds wishing them well and showering them with gifts. The parade in Munich was said to have taken place before “hundreds of thousands.” “Das Wunder von Bern” indeed, but helped in no small measure by “Der Geist von Spiez”. Two names forever embedded in the folklore of German football and the cultural history of Germany itself.