Bundesliga history: All clubs that have played in Germany’s top flight
A total of 57 clubs have had the honour of competing in the Bundesliga over its 60-year history.
The number of clubs to have competed in the Bundesliga over its 60-year history reached 57 as Heidenheim took their place in the 2023/24 campaign. But who are the rest? Who has been around the longest? And who were the one-season wonders?
Only five of the 16 teams that competed in the inaugural 1963/64 season are still present in the Bundesliga as of 2023/24, while there are seven clubs currently in the top flight who have never dropped out, and only seven former champions.
bundesliga.com takes you through all the teams to have graced Germany’s first division over the last 60 years, going by the number of seasons they’ve played up to and including 2023/24. And the order may surprise some of you…
*All stats correct as of the start of the 2023/24 season
You may not actually be surprised to see 32-time Bundesliga champions Bayern at the top of this list, but they only took to this particular summit in 2021/22 after Werder Bremen’s relegation the previous year. The Munich club are in their 59th Bundesliga campaign, having failed to qualify for the first two seasons. That’s the first big surprise.
At the time of the Bundesliga’s creation in 1963, Bayern were in fact far from German football’s top dogs – perhaps not even the big team in Munich. Places in the newly created league were based on a 12-year ranking in the regional league system in place at the time. The Oberliga Süd received five spots, with Bayern coming sixth in the standings, so they were going to miss out anyway before city rivals 1860 Munich rubbed salt in the wound by winning the Oberliga title to automatically qualify, despite being a rung below them in the 12-year ranking.
After finally coming up in 1965 with a team featuring up-and-coming youngsters like Gerd Müller and Franz Beckenbauer, they actually lost their debut Bundesliga game 1-0 to 1860, but still finished their maiden campaign in third. Champions that year? It just had to be 1860… The only time the two Munich teams have both finished in the top three in the Bundesliga.
Watch: All about Bayern Munich
Since then, however, Bayern have been German football’s leading light. They won their first title in their third season (1968/69) and have only finished outside the top six four times. They were Germany’s first European champions, in fact lifting a hat-trick of consecutive European Cups in the 1970s. They’re the only German club to win the continental treble of league, cup and UEFA Champions League. They did so twice – in 2012/13 and 2019/20 – with the most recent as part of a historic sextuple under Hansi Flick.
Bayern lead the Bundesliga’s all-time table by some 700 points ahead of Borussia Dortmund, but they only overtook Bremen for most games played when they faced Union Berlin in their 1,935th Bundesliga fixture on Matchday 27 of 2021/22. It’s just one of many records they hold, from titles to most points in a season. There’s also Gerd Müller’s fabled 365 goals as the all-time top scorer and Robert Lewandowski’s 41-goal campaign. The list goes on and on.
SV Werder Bremen
Years in Bundesliga: 59 (1963-80, 1981-2021, 2022-present)
Most appearances: Dieter Burdenski (444)
Most goals: Claudio Pizarro (109)
Youngest player: Fabio Chiarodia (17 years, four months, 17 days)
The word Werder literally means ‘ait’ or ‘eyot’ in English and refers to small islands in a river, such as the Peterswerder where the club's Weserstadion home – itself named after the river Weser that flows alongside it – is located. Werder Bremen were founding members of the Bundesliga as one of three qualifiers from the northern Oberliga, and they have had 59 campaigns in the Bundesliga.
While Bayern Munich’s 59 seasons at this level have been continuous, Werder have twice been relegated (in 1980 and 2021) before bouncing back immediately. They were the second team to lift the Bundesliga Meisterschale in 1964/65, having finished 10th in the inaugural season. The Green-Whites have been champions on four occasions in total as well as runners-up seven times – behind only Borussia Dortmund (nine) and Bayern (10) in the latter category. They are one of four teams alongside VfB Stuttgart, Eintracht Frankfurt and Schalke to have played against every single club to have appeared in the Bundesliga prior to 2023/24.
There have been two major eras in Bremen’s Bundesliga history. The first began in April 1981 when Otto Rehhagel, returning for his second spell in charge, succeeded Kuno Klötzer who stepped down for health reasons with the team top of the Bundesliga 2 Nord table following their first relegation. Rehhagel would go on to spend 14 years at the helm, leading the team back to the top flight, immediately establishing them as a top team – always finishing in the top five in each of their first eight seasons back – and winning the title again in 1988. ‘King Otto' led them to glory again in 1993, as well as the DFB Cup in 1991 and 1994, plus UEFA Cup Winners' Cup success in 1992. At the time of his departure to Bayern in 1995, his tenure was the longest ever by a Bundesliga coach.
The second major era was under Thomas Schaaf, who was installed at the end of the 1998/99 season to keep them up. Not only did he achieve that goal, but he also guided them to the DFB Cup title against Bayern. After establishing a free-flowing, attacking team, Schaaf led a side spearheaded by Brazilian Ailton to a historic league and cup double in 2003/04. At the time, Bremen were the only team after Bayern and Cologne to achieve the feat. Schaaf also took them to the UEFA Cup final in 2009, having knocked out arch-rivals Hamburg in the semi-finals. He also won the DFB Cup again that year with a team that included Claudio Pizarro in the second of what would be four spells at the club plus a young Mesut Özil - who scored the only goal in the final against Bayer Leverkusen. Schaaf's 14 years at the helm ended in May 2013, making him the third-longest-serving coach in Bundesliga history.
Dortmund was the city where the Bundesliga was created at the 1962 DFB (German FA) convention, while the club were the last champions of the pre-Bundesliga era and founding members of the new league. It was almost befitting that they then scored the first goal in Bundesliga history, Friedhelm ‘Timo’ Konietzka striking after only 58 seconds in what ended up a 3-2 defeat away at Werder Bremen.
BVB – so nicknamed as an abbreviation of the club’s full official name, Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund – were top-four regulars for the first four years and the first German club to win a continental title with the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1966. However, a steady decline soon followed and their top-flight stay was ended in 1972. It came at an unfortunate time for the club, with construction on their new 54,000-capacity Westfalenstadion home under way for the 1974 FIFA World Cup. To make matters worse for fans, the first Bundesliga game held there was in fact between their local rivals Bochum and Schalke in April 1974, due to works at the former's home.
Dortmund returned to the first division in 1976 and would rank anywhere from 16th in 1985/86 – surviving only via the play-off – up to second in 1991/92. They had come so agonisingly close to the title in their first season under Ottmar Hitzfeld, missing out to VfB Stuttgart only on goal difference. Built around local boy and club record appearance holder Michael Zorc, the likes of Stefan Reuter, Matthias Sammer, Karl-Heinz Riedle and Andreas Möller were all signed in a statement of intent that culminated in back-to-back titles in 1994/95 and 1995/96. And although they finished only third the following season, it went down in history as Dortmund won the UEFA Champions League in Munich against Juventus, thanks to a worldie off the bench from Lars Ricken.
A sixth league title followed in 2001/02, this time with Sammer as coach and Zorc pulling the strings in a management role, before the latter took over as sporting director in 2005 up until 2022. However, things went south after losing the 2002 UEFA Cup final and the team slipped into mid-table and very nearly insolvency. The financial ship soon steadied, the glory days would return to Dortmund following the 2008 appointment of Jürgen Klopp. He galvanised and rejuvenated the entire club over his record seven-year tenure, leading them to the title in 2010/11 with a team featuring fresh-faced future stars like Robert Lewandowski, Mario Götze, Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels and Jakub Blaszczykowski . They were all signed for next to – or indeed – nothing. Klopp's exciting young side repeated the feat the following year with a then Bundesliga record haul of 81 points, also beating Bayern Munich 5-2 in the DFB Cup final to win their first-ever double. Five Bundesliga crowns makes them the joint-second most successful team after Bayern.
Their style of play turned them into a fan magnet, becoming the first club in European football ever to average an attendance of over 80,000 during a season. Their fabled Yellow Wall - the southern stand - is the world’s largest standing terrace at a capacity of about 24,000. That model of signing young players and allowing them game time to develop has also proven a success numerous times. Previous unknowns like Lewandowski and Kagawa have been followed by Ousmane Dembele, Christian Pulisic, Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, Gio Reyna and now Jude Bellingham. Many were signed for nominal fees and those who have left have done wonders for the BVB coffers.
Watch: All about Borussia Dortmund
Years in Bundesliga: 57 (1963-75, 1977-2016, 2017-19, 2020-present)
Most appearances: Karl Allgöwer (338)
Most goals: Karl Allgöwer (129)
Youngest player: Timo Werner (17 years, five months, 11 days)
Stuttgart were big hitters, particularly in southern Germany, in the pre-Bundesliga era. They enjoyed a golden spell in the 1950s with two national championships and two DFB Cups. They were also founding members in 1963 and have played exactly the same number of Bundesliga games as Borussia Dortmund. A two-year stint in the second division in the 1970s forced the team to rebuild, and they returned to establish themselves at the upper end of the Bundesliga standings, culminating in their first Bundesliga title in 1983/84. They took the prize again in 1992 and 2007, before experiencing the lows of relegation in 2016 and 2019.
Befitting the city that is just as famous as the purported home of the automobile and the current homes of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, Stuttgart's esteemed youth academy has produced some of modern German football’s biggest names, like Sami Khedira, Timo Werner, Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich. Another homegrown player, goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand, still holds the Bundesliga record for longest run without conceding a goal, going 884 minutes unbeaten for the club in 2003. The academy still uses a concept developed in the 1990s by Ralf Rangnick to help promote and improve young players and prepare them physically and mentally for the professional game.
VfB – which is an abbreviation of Verein für Bewegungsspiele (literally, club for movement games) – are also best recognised for their white shirts with a red hoop. The original kit was white with a black star and black shorts, inherited from a predecessor club’s rugby team in the 1890s. The famous hoop (Brustring) first appeared in 1925 on the suggestion of a youth player and has featured in every home design since, apart from the 1975/76 jersey when they were in the second division.
Former Germany and USA national team coach Jürgen Klinsmann first made a name for himself at Stuttgart, winning the Bundesliga top scorer crown in 1987/88. The first head coaching role Joachim Löw had was with VfB from 1996 to 1998, leading them to DFB Cup glory and the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Perhaps the best-loved trio in the club’s history was the Magisches Dreieck (magic triangle) of Giovane Elber, Fredi Bobic and Krassimir Balakov, who helped the team that triumphed in the cup. In 1996/97, the three scored 49 of Stuttgart’s 78 Bundesliga goals.
The city of Mönchengladbach – often shortened to just Gladbach for ease – lies on the western border with the Netherlands and is a very unassuming place for one of the giants of German football. Borussia joined the Bundesliga the same season as Bayern Munich and would go on to create an intense rivalry with the Bavarians. Under legendary coach Hennes Weisweiler, he created a free-flowing team that encouraged individuals to flourish. After a 7-1 European Cup thrashing of Inter Milan in 1971, Sir Matt Busby said of Gladbach’s play: "Nobody in the world would’ve won against this team today. That was football in the highest perfection."
Nicknamed the ‘Foals’ as a result, Gladbach were the first team to successfully defend their Bundesliga title (1969/70 and 1970/71) and the first to be champions five times, following a hat-trick between 1975 and 1977. The following season they set the record for the biggest win in Bundesliga history, thrashing Borussia Dortmund 12-0 on the final day of 1977/78. The Foals also won the UEFA Cup twice that decade and reached the 1977 European Cup final (losing to Liverpool). The team of that era included legends Wolfgang Kleff, Berti Vogts, Günter Netzer, Rainer Bonhof, Allan Simonsen and Jupp Heynckes. Gladbach and Bayern dominated the domestic scene to such an extent that 12 of Germany’s 22-man 1974 World Cup squad came from those two teams (plus Netzer, by then at Real Madrid), including eight of the 11 that beat the Netherlands in the final.
Although five-time champions, three-time DFB Cup and two-time UEFA Cup winners, Gladbach have been relegated twice since their last silverware but recovered in the last decade to become a regular again in European competition, including the Champions League. In 2011/12, a young Marco Reus became the first Gladbach player in 25 years to be named Germany’s Footballer of the Year. And their rivalry with Bayern has been reignited in that time as well, with no club coming anywhere near the 35 points Gladbach have taken off the record champions in the last 12 years prior to 2023/24. That includes 10 wins – double what any other team has managed.
The club’s current home at Borussia-Park opened in 2004 and is one of German football’s most popular grounds to visit. Prior to that, they played their games at the fabled Bökelbergstadion. The club enjoyed many of its greatest moments there, but it was also the site of one of German football’s most famous and ultimately defining games in April 1971. When Borussia’s Herbert Laumen got caught in the net against Werder Bremen, the left post of the goal snapped. Since it couldn’t be repaired, the referee called off the game and it was eventually awarded as a 2-0 win to Bremen, despite the scoreline of 1-1. As a consequence, clubs replaced their wooden goalframes with aluminium. The broken post is currently on display in the club museum.
HSV are one of Germany’s biggest and most successful clubs, having spent almost a century in the respective top division from its creation in 1919. They were founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963 and held the status as the league’s only ever-present club up till their relegation in 2018 – the only time in their history that they’ve dropped from the highest rung of the footballing pyramid. A clock in the stadium even counted their time as the ‘Bundesliga Dino’. However, they’ve been unable to return since, coming agonisingly close every year in Bundesliga 2.
Die Rothosen (red shorts) produced the first top scorer in Bundesliga history with 30 goals in as many games from the legendary Uwe Seeler, whose right foot is now immortalised in a giant statue outside the Volksparkstadion. The club enjoyed a golden era across the late 70s and early 80s with three Bundesliga titles in five years, two DFB Cups, the 1976/77 European Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1982/83 European Cup. The team was built around legends like Rudi Kargus, Manfred Kaltz, Peter Nogly, Caspar Memering, Jimmy Hartwig, Felix Magath and Horst Hrubesch.
That era began with the appointment of Peter Krohn as club president in November 1973. He was seen as a revolutionary in how he turned football into a business. As such, HSV became just the fifth Bundesliga club to have a sponsor on their kits. That was liqueur producer Campari, with events taking place around games to attract fans and bring in money. That included ‘show training sessions’ where people could even ride an elephant. Not everything was popular, such as the decision in 1976/77 to wear pink and baby blue kits in an attempt to entice more women supporters. However, it ultimately worked and HSV were able to make some big signings, most famously luring Ballon d’Or winner Kevin Keegan from Liverpool.
FC Schalke 04
Years in Bundesliga: 54 (1963-1981, 1982/83, 1984-88, 1991-2021, 2022/23)
Most appearances: Klaus Fichtel (477)
Most goals: Klaus Fischer (182)
Youngest player: Julian Draxler (17 years, three months, 26 days)
Schalke hold the rather unwanted record of being the club to have played the most seasons in the Bundesliga without ever lifting the Meisterschale. They came agonisingly close in 2000/01 before an injury-time goal from Bayern Munich took the title away from them on the final day. However, silverware has come in the form of five DFB Cups and the 1998 UEFA Cup. They also hold the honour of being the fourth-largest football club in the world by membership, after Bayern, Portugal’s Benfica and regional rivals Borussia Dortmund.
The Royal Blues hail from Gelsenkirchen, a city built on the coal mining industry of the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s that social backdrop that still shapes the club today, and mining remains a key element, such as in their nickname Die Knappen (the miners) and the Veltins-Arena tunnel, which is mocked up as a coal mine. Their Knappenschmiede academy is also famed for unearthing and promoting a multitude of young players, including Manuel Neuer, Leroy Sane, Mesut Özil, Ilkay Gündogan, Weston McKennie. The list goes on and on…
They are another founding member and remained in the Bundesliga until 1981. A turbulent decade followed with three relegations but two promotions back. They returned in 1991 and would remain until 2021. A rebuild in Bundesliga 2 went to plan as they came back up again as champions, but an immediate relegation again in 2023 leaves their future in the balance once more. They will lose their status as one of three teams to have faced every other possible Bundesliga club, as they miss out on games against Heidenheim in 2023/24.
It also leaves German football without one of its biggest fixtures again. Schalke’s rivalry with near neighbours Dortmund is known as the Revierderby – or the ‘Mother of all derbies’, given how huge the fixture has become. They’ve produced some of the greatest matches in Bundesliga history with some astonishing comebacks. There have also been some of the strangest moments, like when a police dog called bit Schalke’s Friedel Rausch on the backside during a game in Dortmund in September 1969. He was given a tetanus shot and finished the match. In response, Schalke president Günther Siebert had lions greet the teams on the field in the reverse fixture.
Watch: Dog bites in Revierderby
Years in Bundesliga: 55 (1963-1996, 1998-2001, 2003/04, 2005-11, 2012-present)
Most appearances: Karl-Heinz Körbel (602)
Most goals: Bernd Hölzenbein (160)
Youngest player: Jürgen Friedl (17 years, 26 days)
Germany’s financial capital of Frankfurt am Main is also the largest city to have only had one club play in the Bundesliga. The dominant local side is Eintracht, which translates as ‘unity’ following a string of mergers. They were the first German club to reach the European Cup final, losing what’s been dubbed the greatest final ever 7-3 against Real Madrid in Glasgow in 1960. No club has played as many seasons in the Bundesliga as SGE – their three-letter abbreviation coming from the official name of Frankfurter Sportgemeinde Eintracht – without ever finishing in the top two.
They enjoyed a 33-year spell in the Bundesliga from foundation before an up-and-down couple of decades. Their most recent brush with relegation was in 2015/16 when Niko Kovac saved them via the play-off against Nuremberg, but things have only really gone up from there. Kovac guided them to a fifth DFB Cup title – the joint-third most of any club – by beating Bayern Munich in 2018, having lost the previous year’s final against Borussia Dortmund.
Frankfurt have since been regulars in UEFA competition, where tens of thousands of supporters have followed the team across the continent. That culminated in winning the UEFA Europa League in 2021/22 under Oliver Glasner – remaining unbeaten throughout the competition and adding to their 1980 UEFA Cup triumph – and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League for the first time ever, where they reached the knockout stages. Another DFB Cup final in 2023 underlined Eintracht’s status as a cup team in recent seasons.
The often mixed nature of their results down the years led to the nickname ‘moody diva’, but they are also known as Die Adler (the Eagles) thanks to their club badge – itself based off the Frankfurt city crest – and since 2006, an eagle named Attila has flown around the stadium before home games. It’s one of just two living mascots in the Bundesliga, alongside Cologne’s billy goat. Frankfurt’s Karl-Heinz ‘Charly’ Körbel holds the record for most Bundesliga appearances (602 – all in Eintracht colours), while a record 58 different nations have represented SGE in the Bundesliga.
1. FC Cologne
Years in Bundesliga: 52 (1963-98, 2000-02, 2003/04, 2005/06, 2008-12, 2014-18, 2019-present)
Most appearances: Toni Schumacher (422)
Most goals: Hannes Löhr (166)
Youngest player: Yann Aurel Bisseck (16 years, 11 months, 28 days)
Cologne – or 1. FC Köln as they are officially known – hold a special place in Bundesliga history as the division’s inaugural champions in 1963/64, having topped the table for all but one matchday early in the season. They were generally around the top end in the following years without really challenging. That changed in 1976/77 when Hennes Weisweiler returned for his third stint in charge as coach. He led the team to DFB Cup glory before guiding the Billy Goats to their first and only domestic double the year after.
That successful 1977/78 campaign saw Dieter Müller become the only player to date in the Bundesliga to score six goals in a single game. He did so in a 7-2 win over Werder Bremen on Matchday 3, but there is no video footage of the achievement since no TV cameras were sent to the game with it being a rearranged fixture on a Wednesday.
Cologne were regulars in European competition for much of the 70s and 80s, even reaching the 1985/86 UEFA Cup final against Real Madrid. The good times came close to returning in the late 80s with Bundesliga finishes of third, second and second, but financial issues soon led to a downturn that resulted in relegation in 1998. Since then, the club has become a yo-yo team. Their current five-year stint in the Bundesliga is their best since their original 35-year spell at the top table.
Cologne as a city can be a wacky place, with the area known for its annual Carnival celebrations that obviously also spill over into the world of football. Effzeh, as they are often referred to, are the other Bundesliga club to have a living mascot, alongside Eintracht Frankfurt. There has been a Hennes at Cologne home games since 1950, when circus director Carola Williams gifted the club a billy goat – hence the nickname and goat on the club badge – as a good luck charm and named it after player-coach Weisweiler.
The current version of the goat is Hennes IX and he lives at the Kölner Zoo with other goats, being brought to home games. The original Hennes even used to travel on the team bus to away fixtures. Hennes XIII in particular was very popular during his decade as mascot. His death in 2019 triggered an outpouring of grief in the city, having been with the club through relegation, promotion and even European football for the first time in a quarter of a century. Hennes’s presence on the side of the pitch is just another event within the highly entertaining event that is a Cologne home game.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Years in Bundesliga: 45 (1979-present)
Most appearances: Rüdiger Vollborn (401)
Most goals: Ulf Kirsten (182)
Youngest player: Zidan Sertdemir (16 years, nine months, three days)
Currently only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are enjoying a longer unbroken spell in the Bundesliga than Leverkusen, following their maiden promotion in 1979. They are a somewhat unique club in the world of German football given their connection to the Bayer AG company, who are 100 percent owners – as an exemption to the 50+1 rule – since the pharmaceutical giant, which is based in Leverkusen, had supported the club for several decades. That link earned the team the nickname Die Werkself – literally the works or factory XI, since the club was founded by workers in the Bayer organisation back in 1904.
Although that history and status is an exception to the usual club management rules in the Bundesliga means they are often viewed in a different light in Germany, Leverkusen remain a popular team internationally thanks to appearances in European competitions and their often swashbuckling style of play, combined with young, exciting players. Two of German football’s most prodigious players of recent years hail from the Bayer 04 youth setup, in Kai Havertz and Florian Wirtz. They also boast a special link with South America, often proving the launchpad for players arriving in Europe, such as Arturo Vidal, Renato Augusto, Paulo Sergio, Jorginho and Lucio. Five of the 11 players in the club’s Team of the Century to mark the 100th anniversary in 2004 were Brazilian. USA legends Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna also got their first tastes of European club football at the BayArena.
Leverkusen won the UEFA Cup in 1987/88 and the DFB Cup in 1992/93, but only Eintracht Frankfurt and Schalke have spent more years in the Bundesliga without ever winning it. However, Die Werkself have come seriously, and often dramatically, close. They’ve been runners-up five times, with the most (in)famous occasion being in 2001/02 when they blew a five-point lead with three games to go to finish second, which is where they also ended up in the DFB Cup against Schalke and the Champions League against Real Madrid that year. Their runners-up treble earned them another nickname of Vizekusen, or Neverkusen, and the Eternal Bridesmaid. It came two years after a Michael Ballack own goal on the final day saw them miss out on the title on goal difference to Bayern, when a draw at Unterhaching would’ve been enough.
Leverkusen have boasted some notable goalscorers down the years, from club record holder Ulf Kirsten, who scored more Bundesliga goals than any player in the 1990s, to Dimitar Berbatov, Stefan Kießling (Bundesliga top scorer in 2012/13 with 25 goals) and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez. But they also boast the top-scoring goalkeeper in Bundesliga history in Hans-Jörg Butt with 26 (all penalties, of which 17 were for HSV). He wasn’t always lucky, however. He’s the only Bundesliga player to be a treble runner-up twice, following the 2002 disappointment with the same fate as a Bayern player in 2012, while also being part of Germany’s second-place squad at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. One of his penalties in 2003/04 also counted for nothing in the end as he was too slow getting back into his goal after celebrating scoring from the spot against Schalke, and Mike Hanke lobbed him straight from the kick-off.
1. FC Kaiserslautern
Years in Bundesliga: 44 (1963-96, 1997-2006, 2010-12)
Most appearances: Werner Melzer (374)
Most goals: Klaus Toppmöller (108)
Youngest player: Franco Foda (17 years, five months, 22 days)
Kaiserslautern as a city is perhaps best known for being the largest US military community outside of the USA – referred to as “K-town” as Americans struggled to pronounce the name – due to its proximity to Ramstein Air Base, but its football team remains a giant of the German game. Lautern, as they are known for short, were two-time champions in the pre-Bundesliga era with a team led by legend Fritz Walter, who captained Germany to 1954 World Cup glory. They were also founding Bundesliga members in 1963, but rarely challengers in the league's initial decades.
That was until 1990/91, when they emerged as shock champions, having finish 12th the previous year, with a team that included Stefan Kuntz, Bruno Labbadia, Bjarne Goldbaek and Thomas Dooley. However, their stay in the Bundesliga was ended in 1996 with relegation, despite winning the DFB Cup a week later. They bounced straight back up under Otto Rehhagel and went on to stun the footballing world by winning the Bundesliga in 1997/98 – the first and only time a promoted club has gone on to be champions, having topped the table from Matchday 4 and boasting a young Michael Ballack in the side.
Many ups and downs followed, with the slide to the third division complete in 2018, where they would spend four years before returning to Bundesliga 2. But the faithful at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion – also known as the Betzenberg, or just Betze – have seen some amazing games down the years. That includes a 7-4 win over Bayern Munich in October 1973 despite being 4-1 down after 57 minutes. The story goes that Josef Pirrung, who scored twice that day, was immediately offered a contract by Bayern but turned them down. And there was the 1981/82 UEFA Cup quarter-final against Real Madrid, where Lautern overturned a 3-1 first-leg loss in Spain by winning 5-0 – Real’s joint-heaviest loss in European competition.
Watch: Kaiserslautern's fairytale 1997/98 title win
Years in Bundesliga: 40 (1963-65, 1968-80, 1982/83, 1990/91, 1997-2010, 2011/12, 2013-2023)
Most appearances: Pal Dardai (286)
Most goals: Michael Preetz (84)
Youngest player: Lennart Hartmann (17 years, four months, 14 days)
No city has produced more Bundesliga clubs than Berlin, with Hertha the capital’s maiden representative in the inaugural season and also the longest serving by some considerable margin. The club itself is named after a steamboat that had recently been used by two of the founding members on the river Havel.
They were champions in 1930 and 1931 and founding Bundesliga members in 1963, but were relegated in 1965 despite finishing 14th due to financial irregularities. A consequence of that decision was that the league was expanded from 16 to 18 teams for the ensuing seasons. Die Alte Dame (Old Lady) have yo-yoed up and down the divisions over the years, being relegated seven times – most recently in the 2022/23 season just gone – and coming up on six occasions, with their longest absence a seven-year stretch in the 1980s when they sank as low as the third tier.
Hertha introduced Berlin-born brothers Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng to the world of professional football. The club also holds a place in Bundesliga history with the division’s attendance record of 88,075, set when they hosted Cologne on 26 September 1969 at their Olympiastadion home – the stadium built to host the 1936 Summer Olympics, is the location of the DFB Cup final every year, hosted the 2015 UEFA Champions League final, the 2006 FIFA World Cup final and will be where the final of the UEFA Euro 2024 takes place.
VfL Bochum 1848
Years in Bundesliga: 37 (1971-93, 1994/95, 1996-99, 2000/01, 2002-05, 2006-10, 2021-present)
Most appearances: Michael Lameck (518)
Most goals: Hans-Joachim Abel (60)
Youngest player: Dirk Drescher (17 years, five months, 13 days)
Sandwiched between Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr, Bochum have had to play second fiddle locally to Borussia Dortmund and Schalke in the Bundesliga. The club is one of the oldest sports organisations in the world, tracing its history back to 1848, and worked its way up to the Bundesliga in 1971. They would remain for over 20 years, earning a reputation as dogged fighters despite being perennial underdogs and the nickname Die Unabsteigbaren (the unrelegatables).
They were finally relegated in 1993 – the first of six demotions from the Bundesliga – but have come back up again six times, including a record five bounce-back promotions whereby they have returned after just one season away. Their 2010 relegation led to a decade languishing in Bundesliga 2 before they re-joined the top flight in 2021. Their best finishes are fifth in 1996/97 and 2003/04.
Nevertheless, VfL have produced three Bundesliga top scorers in Stefan Kuntz (22 in 1985/86), Thomas Christiansen (21 in 2002/23) and Theofanis Gekas (20 in 2006/07). Kuntz is among some of the notable names to have been produced by the club, starting with coaching legend Herrmann Gerland in the 1970s, through to Joel Matip, Ilkay Gündogan and Leon Goretzka now in the modern game.
And for lovers of football nostalgia, Bochum is often the place to go in the Bundesliga. They’ve been playing their home games on Castroper Straße since 1911, with the current Ruhrstadion a real throwback. Bochum also feature high on the list of unique football collectibles thanks to their 1996/97 rainbow jersey released to celebrate their first-ever UEFA Cup campaign.
1. FC Nuremberg
Years in Bundesliga: 33 (1963-69, 1978/79, 1980-84, 1985-94, 1998/99, 2001-03, 2004-08, 2009-14, 2018/19)
Most appearances: Thomas Brunner (328)
Most goals: Heinz Strehl (76)
Youngest player: Christian Wück (17 years, four months, 11 days)
No club knows that yo-yo feeling better than Nuremberg. They jointly hold the record for most promotions (eight, with Arminia Bielefeld) and outright for most relegations (nine). Known as Der Club, they were the most decorated team in German football at the time of the Bundesliga’s creation as eight-time champions and with three DFB Cups.
One of the 16 founding members, they won their ninth crown and first (and only) in the Bundesliga in 1967/68 under Max Merkel. But only serving to exemplify the later up-and-down nature of the club, they were relegated the following year – the only time a champion has gone down in the Bundesliga.
In 1987, they were overtaken by Bayern Munich as Rekordmeister and didn’t win any other title until lifting the DFB Cup in 2006/07. No surprise what happened the year after. Yes, they were relegated. They also hold the ignominious honour of being the only Bundesliga club to have been knocked out of the DFB Cup by a team in the fifth tier, losing 2-1 to Ulm in 2001/02. It’s all led to fans describing the club’s ability to lose in such a manner as an “art form”, with those moments of sporting tragedy just as legendary as their moments of triumph.
Nuremberg count the likes of former player Ilkay Gündogan and current International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach as supporters. Their Max-Morlock-Stadion is named after the club legend, who made history as the first German player to score in a World Cup final.
Years in Bundesliga: 30 (1964-74, 1975/76, 1985/86, 1987-89, 2002-16, 2017-19)
Most appearances: Steve Cherundolo (302)
Most goals: Hans Siemensmeyer (72)
Youngest player: Valmir Sulejmani (17 years, 10 months, 12 days)
Champions in 1938 and 1954, Hannover were one of the first teams to gain promotion to the Bundesliga, joining for the second campaign in 1964/65 and finishing fifth – their best position until fourth in 2010/11. They remained for a decade and also enjoyed a lengthy spell between 2002 and 2016, but have also spent long periods outside of the Bundesliga, with a total of 27 campaigns in the second tier, where they currently find themselves.
They reached the UEFA Europa League knockout rounds twice in the 2010s, while their only major honour in the last half a century was the 1991/92 DFB Cup, which saw them become only the second second-tier club to lift the trophy after seeing off five Bundesliga clubs in Bochum, Borussia Dortmund, Karlsruhe, Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Hannover are perhaps best known abroad as the adopted home of ‘Captain America’ Steve Cherundolo, who made 415 competitive appearances for the club and holds their record for most games in the Bundesliga. He’s the only person to have gone to three World Cups (2002, 2006 and 2010) as a Hannover player. The Reds also hold two notable unwanted Bundesliga records, as the only team to score three own goals in a single game (5-3 loss to Gladbach in December 2009) and the earliest sending-off for two yellow cards, given to Mame Biram Diouf after 12 minutes in October 2013.
Although known as the Reds, Hannover’s official club colours are actually black, white and green. This confusion dates back the early 20th century and a time when three clubs in the city – spelled Hanover in English – all had black, white and green as their club colours. It was then agreed that HSC Hannover would get to play in black, white and green, Arminia Hannover would be in blue, and Hannover 96 in red.
Years in Bundesliga: 28 (1963-1982, 1991/92, 1993-95, 1996-2000, 2005/06, 2007/08)
Most appearances: Michael Bella (405)
Most goals: Ronald Worm (71)
Youngest player: Jürgen Ulitzka (17 years, nine months, 11 days)
Duisburg were one of the 16 founding members and the first runners-up in the Bundesliga, coming second behind Cologne. But even knowing that, you might still struggle to find them in the table from 1963/64, since they still went by the name Meidericher SV, with their original hometown of Meiderich now a part of the city of Duisburg – the home of the world’s largest inland port – just to the north of Düsseldorf.
The current name of MSV Duisburg (Meidericher Spielverein Duisburg) first appeared on 7 January 1967 as the club sought a new start in a bid to stave off relegation. It worked and they remained in the Bundesliga for 19 seasons until 1982, after which their rollercoaster ride began and they have since spent 11 years in the third tier (where they currently play), 22 in Bundesliga 2 and only nine more in the top flight.
Nicknamed the Zebras due to their traditional striped shirts (although in blue and white), Duisburg have topped the Bundesliga table on three occasions. But they hold the remarkable honour of being the only team to sit first in the Bundesliga with a negative goal difference (-1 after Matchday 22 of 1993/94). They also hold the record for the biggest away win in Bundesliga history (9-0 at Tasmania Berlin in March 1966), while Helmut Rahn – the German hero of the 1954 World Cup final with his two goals – became the first player ever to be sent off in the Bundesliga, after headbutting an opponent in Duisburg’s game against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 4 of 1963/64.
Wolfsburg are the only other previous Bundesliga champion never to be relegated, alongside Bayern Munich, and have enjoyed over a quarter of a century of continuous top-flight football since coming up in 1997. Although there have been scares, including survival via the play-offs, they famously lifted the Meisterschale in 2008/09 under Felix Magath.
He built a team that included Andrea Barzagli, Zvjezdan Misimovic, Josue, Ashkan Dejagah, Makoto Hasebe and was spearheaded by the duo of Edin Dzeko and Grafite. Combined they accounted for 54 of the Wolves’ 80 goals, and the latter was the division’s top scorer with 28. As Franz Beckenbauer put it, Magath turned “an average team into champions”. He got them incredibly fit with an arduous training routine that had seen a hill nicknamed ‘Mount Magath’ built on the training ground for players to run up. But the title success was all the more remarkable given Wolfsburg were ninth at the midpoint of the season. Never before or since has a team come from that far back at the end of a Hinrunde to be champions.
Wolfsburg are the only other club alongside Bayer Leverkusen to be fully owned by an external company in an exception to the 50+1 rule, namely Volkswagen, whose staff created the team in the 1940s. The Wolves also became the first Bundesliga club to hire an English coach when they brought in Steve McClaren in 2010. The arrival of Dieter Hecking in 2012 saw success return to the Volkswagen Arena, with a team that included Kevin De Bruyne, Andre Schürrle, Ivan Perisic, Luiz Gustavo and Naldo achieving only the club’s second top-two finish in the German pyramid in 2014/15 and winning the DFB Cup against Borussia Dortmund. De Bruyne’s 20 assists that season was a record in the Bundesliga at the time.
Years in Bundesliga: 25 (1966/67, 1971-87, 1989-92, 1995-97, 2012/13, 2018-20)
Most appearances: Gerd Zewe (440)
Most goals: Klaus Allofs (71)
Youngest player: Frank Kirn (17 years, eight months, one day)
The name Fortuna – that of the Roman goddess of fate and fortune – was inspired by a horse-drawn carriage from a bread factory called Fortuna that happened to pass by the club’s founders in 1912, although the current club traces its roots back to 5 May 1895 with Turnverein Flingern 1895. Apart from being champions in 1933, fortune hasn’t necessarily followed Düsseldorf. Their maiden Bundesliga season in 1966/67 saw them beat Borussia Dortmund in their opening match but also ended in relegation.
They returned in 1971/72, playing at the Rheinstadion, newly constructed for the 1974 FIFA World Cup, and enjoying a 16-year unbroken stint in the Bundesliga during what would be the most successful period in the club’s history. Back-to-back third-place finishes in 1972/73 and 1973/74 are their best in the Bundesliga era. In December 1978, they inflicted a 7-1 loss on Bayern Munich that remains the record champions’ heaviest away defeat in the Bundesliga.
Die Flingeraner – so named due to their establishment as a gymnastics club in the village of Flingern – reached three consecutive DFB Cup finals in 1978, 1979 and 1980, winning the latter two and setting the competition record for most consecutive games won (18). That run also saw them become the only German club to compete in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup three years on the spin, famously losing the 1978/79 final in extra-time to Barcelona (4-3) having only qualified as cup runner-up to arch-rivals Cologne, who won the domestic double.
The stars of that era were record appearance holder Gerd Zewe and the Allofs brothers Klaus and Thomas. Klaus is the only Fortuna player to finish as the Bundesliga’s top scorer, with 22 goals in 1978/79. He was also top scorer at Euro 1980, which Germany won. The club’s fortunes have fluctuated wildly since those days, being relegated from the Bundesliga five more times and dropping as low as the fourth tier in the early 2000s.
Watch: Best of Fortuna Düsseldorf fans
Years in Bundesliga: 24 (1963-68, 1975-77, 1980-83, 1984/85, 1987-98, 2007-09)
Most appearances: Gunther Metz (278)
Most goals: Emanuel Günther (37)
Youngest player: Klaus Theiss (18 years, one month, 17 days)
Predecessor club Karlsruher FC Phönix were crowned domestic champions in 1909, while the club as we know it now won back-to-back DFB Cups in 1955 and 1956. And although Karlsruhe were founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963, on-field success has been in short supply since then.
KSC battled against the drop in each of their first five Bundesliga seasons before going down in 1968. They would spend the next two decades flitting between the top two divisions. Things changed with the appointment of former player Winfried Schäfer in 1986. It was his first coaching job and he brought them back up in 1987 before establishing Karlsruhe as a top-flight side.
Schäfer's club record 12 years at the helm of a side once dubbed “an XI of nobodies” was shaped by his promotion of youth, including later German football legends like Oliver Kahn and Mehmet Scholl. Three finishes of sixth under Schäfer are the best in the club’s Bundesliga history, while he also took them into the UEFA Cup three times, losing the 1993/94 semi-final on away goals to Austria Salzburg. They won the Intertoto Cup in 1996.
Things have been a struggle since, both on and off the pitch with drops as low as the third tier and financial issues threatening the club. A total of 22 coaches in the 25 years since Schäfer left, including the likes of Joachim Löw, show the level of instability Karlsruhe have endured. They haven’t been in the Bundesliga since 2009 but came agonisingly close in 2014/15 with a dramatic late play-off loss to Hamburg. They fell to the third division two years later but have since established themselves back in Bundesliga 2 as of 2019.
Years in Bundesliga: 24 (1993-97, 1998-2002, 2003-05, 2009-15, 2016-present)
Most appearances: Christian Günter (302)
Most goals: Nils Petersen (69)
Youngest player: Dennis Aogo (17 years, nine months, 13 days)
For the majority of their existence, the club we now know as SC Freiburg wasn’t even the biggest in its hometown of Freiburg im Breisgau, in Germany’s far southwest. It wasn’t until the 1970s in Bundesliga 2 that they finally usurped Freiburger FC as top dogs and have been above them in the pyramid since 1978/79.
The big turning point in Freiburg’s history was the 1991 appointment of Finke as coach. He took them up to the Bundesliga for the first time in 1993, although they were close to becoming one of the Bundesliga’s also-rans, only avoiding immediate relegation on goal difference. But they went on to finish third in their second top-flight campaign, claiming a famous 5-1 win over Bayern Munich and still having a chance of winning the title with two games to go. It remains their best-ever finish to a season.
Finke would remain in his post until 2007 for what was until September 2023 the longest tenure of any coach in German professional football at 16 years. He was with Freiburg for three promotions and three relegations and took them into Europe for the first time ever. Members even tried to force an extraordinary general meeting to try and make the club reverse their decision to part ways. Robin Dutt was his successor and brought Freiburg back up in his second season and established them in the Bundesliga again over another two years before leaving for Bayer Leverkusen. Marcus Sorg took over for 2011/12 but only lasted until December. That led to the appointment of assistant Streich, who initially didn’t want the main job as he didn’t enjoy the limelight. But he too has gone on to shape an era at Freiburg.
The club stuck with him after going down again in 2015, but he brought them straight back up as Bundesliga 2 champions ahead of RB Leipzig and has turned them into a fixture on the Bundesliga landscape now. The past two years in particular have been among the biggest in the club’s history, with finishes of sixth and fifth – both times narrowly missing out on a first-ever UEFA Champions League qualification – and reaching the DFB Cup final for the first time in 2022. Streich’s over 4,000 days at the helm have also seen the move from the club’s home of almost 70 years, the Dreisamstadion, to their modern new Europa-Park Stadion.
Years in Bundesliga: 21 (1963-73, 1974-80, 1981-85, 2013/14)
Most appearances: Franz Merkhoffer (419)
Most goals: Lothar Ulsaß (84)
Youngest player: Hartmut Konschal (18 years, four months, 12 days)
Of the 12 teams to have won the Bundesliga over the last 60 years, Braunschweig are probably the least well known. So well done if you got them. One of the 16 founding members, Eintracht were the fourth team to be champions, doing so in 1966/67 despite failing to finish in the top half of the table in the league’s first three seasons. They secured the title on the penultimate matchday with a 0-0 draw at Rot-Weiss Essen, which saw the club’s own four-time German racewalking champion Viktor Siuda (active within its athletics division) make the 328-kilometre journey from Braunschweig to Essen on foot. He arrived 20 minutes before kick-off.
Eintracht’s title win was all the more remarkable because, even though the players were professional and received 1,200 Deutschmark (around €600 in modern money) per month, as well as 250 DM (€125) per win, they mostly still had regular jobs, meaning they only trained four days a week.
Braunschweig appeared in all but two of the first 22 Bundesliga seasons before relegation in 1985 sparked a decline. It wasn’t until 2013/14 – during the 10-year tenure of Torsten Lieberknecht – that they enjoyed a one-season return to the top flight, finishing bottom. They have flitted between the second and third divisions for most of the last four decades.
Eintracht are perhaps most famous (or infamous) for being the first Bundesliga team to have advertisers on their jerseys. The problem in 1973, however, was that that wasn’t permitted by the German FA. So, when liquor producer Jägermeister – run by Günter Mast, who invested in the club – wanted to promote their products, the club got around the ban by changing their club logo to include the drink’s famous stag – despite the club’s nickname of Die Löwen (the Lions) – and Christian cross. The badge remained unchanged from 1972 to 1986, while the vast majority of members even voted in 1983 to rename the club FTSV Jägermeister Braunschweig. This was again refused by the DFB, which insisted that club names could not be used for advertising purposes.
TSV 1860 Munich
Years in Bundesliga: 20 (1963/70, 1977/78, 1979-81, 1994-2004)
Most appearances: Harald Cerny (238)
Most goals: Rudolf Brunnenmeier (66)
Youngest player: Lance Davids (18 years, seven months, 11 days)
The city of Munich has been the destination of the Meisterschale 33 times in 60 seasons, but did you know it wasn’t Bayern who won it first? That honour actually went to 1860, who at one time staked a claim to being the bigger club in the Bavarian capital. The fact Die Löwen won the regional Oberliga title the year before the Bundesliga’s introduction guaranteed their place in the league and excluded Bayern from qualifying due to a rule that only allowed one club per city.
1860 won the DFB Cup in the Bundesliga’s first season – their second such title – and then became the first German club to reach a European final, losing 2-0 to West Ham United in front of almost 100,000 at Wembley in the Cup Winners’ Cup. They were then crowned champions for the first and only time in 1965/66, finishing just ahead of Borussia Dortmund and promoted city rivals Bayern.
The story goes that coach Max Merkel made players drink a combination of red wine and raw eggs to build up energy. Another story of that era also goes that they missed out on later Bayern and Germany legend Beckenbauer, who chose the reds after a dispute in a youth game when considering which Munich team to join.
However, they became the second former champion to be relegated when they went down in 1970 and would flit between the Bundesliga and third tier over the coming decades, with financial issues also plaguing the club. Die Löwen returned for a decade-long stint in the top flight in 1994, which peaked with a fourth-place finish and UEFA Champions League qualification in 1999/2000, which also saw them do the double over Bayern for the first time in the professional era.
Yet by the time they moved into the new Allianz Arena with Bayern in 2005, they were back in the second division and haven’t been in the Bundesliga since. Their automatic drop from Bundesliga 2 to the fourth tier in 2017 due to licence issues saw them leave the Allianz Arena and return to their old home at the Grünwalder Stadion as they seek to rebuild once again.
Although famous for their sky blue and white kits – plus some interesting looking Oktoberfest special editions – 1860’s official club colours are in fact green and gold. The lion on their crest and therefore nickname of Die Löwen was chosen in the 1870s and adopted on 13 March 1880. A common symbol of Bavarian heraldry, the badge has had to be adapted a number of times over the years, including to avoid confusion with the Löwenbräu brewery. It’s mostly seen the shape of bicaudal tail changed.
DSC Arminia Bielefeld
Years in Bundesliga: 19 (1970-72, 1978/79, 1980-85, 1996-98, 1999/2000, 2002/03, 2004-09, 2020-22)
Most appearances: Rüdiger Kauf (170)
Most goals: Artur Wichniarek (45)
Youngest player: Burak Ince (18 years, one month, 21 days)
The city of Bielefeld is best known for three things: the home of the Dr. Oetker group, the home of Arminia the football club, and for apparently not existing. A conspiracy theory from the 1990s suggests that nobody has in fact ever been to Bielefeld, nobody knows anyone from Bielefeld or anyone who has ever been, because the place doesn’t exist. Football fans can confirm it does, however, after 19 seasons in the German top flight.
Arminia hold the record for most promotions to the Bundesliga together with Nuremberg (eight), correctly suggesting that they have been a classic yo-yo team. Two five-year stints is the best they’ve managed at the top table as they’ve flitted between there and the third tier.
It could have been nine promotions had they not famously blown a 4-0 first-leg lead over 1860 Munich in the 1976/77 play-off. A win by the same score over Bayern Munich in March 1979 under Otto Rehhagel goes down as their most famous in the Bundesliga, but it was also later blamed for their relegation that season as DSC claimed just two more wins in their following 15 games.
Back-to-back eighth-place finishes in the 1980s are the best Arminia can record in the Bundesliga, but they have had some notable names pull on the shirt. Stefan Kuntz in 1996 became only the second Bielefeld player to represent Germany, after Walter Claus-Oehler 73 years earlier.
Ronald Maul and Patrick Owomoyela are the only other pair. Arminia were also the first Bundesliga club to sign players from Iran, bringing in Ali Daei and Karim Bagheri in 1997/98. Their 5-0 win away at Preußen Münster in November 1925 was also the first to be broadcast live on German radio. However, they were also part of one of the Bundesliga’s darker episodes when found guilty of match fixing in 1971. It saw them relegated in 1971/72, having had all their points taken away.
Their home of almost 100 years, now known as the SchücoArena, is commonly referred to as the Bielefelder Alm, with Alm being the word for an Alpine mountain pasture. It was quite literally a farm when they first moved there in 1926, uneven and prone to flooding. The joke is that the name is because the stadium is the highest in the Bundesliga since it takes a year to climb up there (promotion) and another year to come back down (relegation), in reference to the club’s yo-yoing.
The name Arminia comes from the chieftain of the Germanic Cherusci tribe, Arminius, who defeated the Romans at the nearby Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD. His statue at the Hermannsdenkmal earned the club a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999 when shirt sponsor Herforder Brauerei dressed the statue in a giant Arminia Bielefeld jersey. Using 130 square metres of material, it was the biggest football shirt in the world and bore the number 9 to mark the year of the battle.
As the name suggests, Mainz trace their history back to 1905. The 05ers found themselves in the second-tier Oberliga following the Bundesliga’s formation in 1963 and qualified for the newly formed Bundesliga 2 in 1974. They finished an entertaining 12th in their second season there, as the division’s top scorers but also with the second-leakiest defence. They then became the first club to voluntarily forego a licence for the second division due to financial reasons and dropped down to the third tier. It wasn’t until the end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s that they returned to Bundesliga 2 and established themselves at that level.
Mainz as a city is most famous for Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, and its Carnival celebrations. It was at the latter in 2001 that a history-defining decision was made to replace coach Eckhard Krautzun with an at the time injured defender called Jürgen Klopp.
The new coach kept them up and there followed two agonisingly close promotion pushes, before finally reaching the Bundesliga for the first time in 2004. Klopp’s side earned many admirers but were still relegated after three seasons. When the current Liverpool coach missed out on an immediate promotion back – again falling agonisingly short – he left for Borussia Dortmund in 2008.
Jorn Andersen did bring them back up the next year but didn’t get to take charge in the Bundesliga. He was dismissed four days before the start of the season and replaced with another era-defining coach, Thomas Tuchel, who had just led the club’s U19s to the national title.
The later Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Bayern Munich boss would establish the 05ers as a top-flight club during his five years, setting the team’s best two points hauls in the Bundesliga and earning them sporting qualification for Europe for the first time with fifth place in 2010/11 (Klopp’s team competed in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup as Germany’s fair-play representative).
Mainz have earned a reputation as a coaching cradle thanks to their ability to produce numerous top coaches in recent years. Since Tuchel, Martin Schmidt, Sandro Schwarz, Jan-Moritz Lichte and incumbent Bo Svensson have all either been an assistant or previously in charge of one of the club’s youth/reserve teams.
That has led to the coining of the “Mainz DNA”, with coaches, officials and players all buying into the club’s way of playing, knowing that a dogged, determined style is their only way of competing with teams in possession of much greater budgets. It’s seen them enjoy 15 unbroken years in the big time.
FSV also hold a unique record in the Bundesliga for the longest run without missing a penalty. They converted 36 straight spot-kicks between Matchday 28 of 2012/13 and Matchday 3 of 2022/23. They are also the only team ever to score four goals away from home when down to 10 men, doing so in a 5-1 win at Hoffenheim in November 2019.
Like many modern football clubs in Germany, Hoffenheim were created as a gymnastics club - a Turnverein - in 1899 in the eponymous district of the city of Sinsheim. Football became a part of life later on and TSG were at the very bottom of the pyramid after World War II. Things changed at the club after relegation to the eighth tier in 1989 when local business man and former striker for the team Dietmar Hopp decided to invest. Four promotions followed up to 2000 when former Bayern Munich and Cologne midfielder Hansi Flick was appointed as coach after promotion to the fourth-tier Oberliga. He guided them to a second successive promotion up to the Regionalliga and would establish the side there over the next four-and-a-half years.
The next big moment in Hoffenheim’s history was the 2006 appointment of ex-VfB Stuttgart, Hannover and Schalke coach Ralf Rangnick. He secured promotion from the third tier at the first attempt and, with a team led by African strike duo Demba Ba and Chinedu Obasi, made it back-to-back promotions as TSG reached the Bundesliga in 2008 after only one year in the second division. The rise didn't stop there, as the top-flight newcomers shocked the Bundesliga by claiming top spot at the midpoint of their maiden campaign. Germany coach Joachim Löw was so impressed that he made defender Marvin Compper the first Hoffenheim player ever to represent the national team in November 2008.
The Sinsheimers have since established themselves as a Bundesliga side and a club built on innovation and bold decisions. Hopp's position as the founder of software company SAP meant technological advances were commonplace at the club's training ground, such as with the Footbonaut and giant screens to allow quick analysis of training. The 2016 appointment of Julian Nagelsmann - the youngest permanent head coach in Bundesliga history at 28 - also proved a masterstroke, taking the side from relegation strugglers to European qualifiers with fourth and third-place finishes in his first two full seasons.
Sinsheim may be the smallest city to play host to Bundesliga football, but Hoffenheim has put it on the domestic and European footballing map. The club is also a founder of 'Sports for Future', which promotes the battle against climate change within sport. It's PreZero Arena home, first opened in 2009, has been at the heart of the club's sustainability campaigns, with the ground becoming the first stadium in Europe to receive bronze zero-waste status from TÜV Süd.
Bayer 05 Uerdingen/KFC Uerdingen 05
Years in Bundesliga: 14 (1975/76, 1979-81, 1983-91, 1992/93, 1994-96)
Most appearances: Friedhelm Funkel (254)
Most goals: Friedhelm Funkel (59)
Youngest player: Marcel Witeczek (17 years, nine months, 21 days)
Bundesliga fans nowadays are more than familiar with Bayer 04 from Leverkusen, but whatever happened to Bayer 05 from Uerdingen? The numbering is nothing to do with Uerdingen being the latest model, but from their founding in 1905 as FC Uerdingen 05. And if you’re looking for Uerdingen on a map, once a city in its own right, it is now a part of the city of Krefeld, itself just to the northwest of Düsseldorf and across the Rhine from Duisburg. It was the site of Bayer AG's second-biggest plant, hence the decision in 1953 to merge with the chemical giant's sports team and create FC Bayer 05 Uerdingen.
At the time in the fourth tier, the team reached the second level Regionalliga West in 1971 before a maiden Bundesliga promotion in 1975. Their top-flight stay only lasted a year as they yo-yoed before coming back up for the third time in 1983, beating Schalke in the play-off to kick off their best era. Under Karl-Heinz Feldkamp, who later led Kaiserslautern to Bundesliga glory, Uerdingen beat Bayern Munich 2-1 to win the 1984/85 DFB Cup and finished third behind the Bavarian giants and Werder Bremen in the following league campaign.
That same year, they won what readers of 11 Freunde magazine voted as the greatest football match of all time, beating East German rivals Dynamo Dresden 7-3 in their UEFA Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final second leg, having lost the first game 2-0 and even trailed 3-1 at half-time back home. They enjoyed an eight-year unbroken spell in the Bundesliga, as well as 11 out of 13 seasons between 1983 and 1996. The 1994/95 campaign was their last as Bayer 05 Uerdingen, with Bayer AG announcing they would be withdrawing sponsorship from the football team.
Their last Bundesliga season in 1995/96 therefore saw them play as KFC Uerdingen (not a fast food sponsor, just Krefelder Fußballclub), which is the name they still bear now. They finished bottom and have since tumbled down the divisions, going as low as the sixth tier between 2008 and 2011. A mini revival saw them return to the 3. Liga and professional football in 2018, but the club went into administration in 2021, which saw them automatically demoted to the fourth tier. A second straight drop means they now ply their trade in the fifth-tier Oberliga Niederrhein, making them the longest-serving Bundesliga club not currently playing at professional level.
Years in Bundesliga: 13 (2011-present)
Most appearances: Daniel Baier (274)
Most goals: Alfred Finnbogason (37)
Youngest player: Simon Asta (17 years, three months, 17 days)
Augsburg travelled a seemingly familiar path of being a club from a smaller city that has experienced many ups and downs, partially associated with finances. Multiple mergers and splits between clubs in Augsburg define the history of football in the Bavarian city. The team now known as FC Augsburg traces its story back to 1908. A 27-0 defeat to TV Augsburg didn’t bode well for their future, but they would emerge as the dominant force following a 1969 merger with Schwaben Augsburg, after the realisation that neither club could establish themselves in the new Bundesliga while also competing with each other at home.
Financial problems at the end of 1990s saw them demoted to the fourth tier but it prompted investment and a cleaning up of the club. Their 23-year absence from professional football was ended with promotion to Bundesliga 2 in 2006, while a modern new stadium was opened in 2009. Two years later, an 85th-minute winner from Stephan Hain against FSV Frankfurt saw them reach the Bundesliga for the first time ever. And they’ve remained there ever since.
Although top-flight survival has always been the name of the game, Die Fuggerstädter enjoyed their best finish in history with fifth in 2014/15 to qualify for the UEFA Europa League, where only a narrow 1-0 aggregate loss to Liverpool in the round of 32 saw their European adventure end after games against Athletic Bilbao, Partizan Belgrade and AZ Alkmaar.
Augsburg count Julian Nagelsmann among their former players, while he also made his first steps into coaching there as a scout for Thomas Tuchel when he worked with the youth teams there. However, Augsburg’s most famous son is undoubtedly Helmut Haller. The forward went to three World Cups with Germany and achieved fame in Italy, winning the league with Bologna and Juventus. His return in 1973 sparked such excitement that an estimated 90,000 spectators packed into Munich’s Olympic Stadium to watch Augsburg take on 1860. It remains the highest attendance at any second-division game in Germany and, depending on sources, the highest of any non-top-flight league fixture in the world.
Years in Bundesliga: 12 (1991/92, 1995-2005, 2007/08)
Most appearances: Timo Lange (165)
Most goals: Magnus Arvidsson (27)
Youngest player: Sven Oldenburg (18 years, four months, three days)
Rostock took their place in history alongside Dynamo Dresden as one of the first teams from former East Germany to play in the Bundesliga, with the league expanded in 1991/92 to accommodate the influx of teams in a reunified Germany. However, they were by no means big hitters in East German football, with a string of runners-up finishes in the 1960s about as good as things got. Yet they won the league and cup double in the final season before reunification, earning themselves a place in the Bundesliga and also the European Cup, going out to Barcelona in the first round despite a second-leg win.
Although the last East German champions were relegated in their maiden Bundesliga season, Hansa are still the longest-serving team from the former East in the Bundesliga after 12 campaigns at the top level. Their best period was a 10-year spell in the division that included two sixth-place finishes. They have bounced around leagues since their 2005 relegation, spending the majority of the 2010s in the third division after financial struggles, but currently reside in Bundesliga 2 again.
Like many clubs from East Germany, Hansa Rostock is not the original name. The club was first created by the East German government in 1954 as SC Empor Rostock and provided seven different sports. The football team was bolstered by the decision to move the majority of the team from Empor Lauter to Rostock. It was only in December 1965 that the football section left Empor to form FC Hansa Rostock. The name was the majority suggestion of fans and in reference to Rostock’s history as a Hanseatic city on the Baltic Sea. The Kogge (cog), a typical ship in the Hanseatic League, was chosen as the club emblem. Seafaring references are still common in the club’s media output today.
Years in Bundesliga: 8 (1977/78, 1988-91, 1995-97, 2001/02, 2010/11)
Most appearances: Andre Trulsen (177)
Most goals: Andre Golke (25)
Youngest player: Christian Rahn (17 years, 11 months, nine days)
Although they have only actually spent eight seasons in the Bundesliga and never finished higher than 10th, St. Pauli are one of Germany’s most popular clubs – both at home and abroad. Based in the eponymous district of the city of Hamburg also famous for the Reeperbahn, Pauli are better known for the club’s social culture than on-field success, but have enjoyed promotion to the top flight five times since first coming up in 1977. Like that occasion, their stays have tended to be short-lived – never longer than three years at a time – and their 2002 relegation was followed by another down to the Regionalliga, with financial issues often proving the club’s biggest stumbling block and resulting in a number of demotions down the divisions.
Their most famous campaign to raise funds came after their 2003 relegation as they sought to avoid further drops. Almost €1 million was raised through the sales of “Retter” (saviour) T-shirts, around €170,000 through the sales of beers at local bars, and another quarter of a million thanks to a charity match against Bayern Munich. It was given the catchy headline of ‘Weltpokalsiegerbesieger gegen Weltpokalsieger’. The former term – a now famous example of German compound nouns – was coined after Pauli – bottom of the table at the time – won 2-1 at home to Bayern, who had just won the Intercontinental Cup, known in German as the Weltpokal. So, literally, ‘beaters of the Intercontinental Cup winners’, and printed onto many more T-shirts featuring the names of the players who got that result.
Pauli’s arch-rivals are, unsurprisingly, city giants Hamburger SV. Die Kiezkicker have historically portrayed themselves as the working-class club taking on much wealthier teams. Supporters have seen the Millerntor – the first stadium in the Bundesliga to include bans for sexist or racist comments in its relegations – as a safe haven for those who felt different and wanted to get away from hooliganism and right-wing beliefs that were spreading in football in the 1980s. It was around that time that the skull and crossbones, previously only really known from pirate films, became a symbol of the club when a fan nicknamed Doc Mabuse first started bringing a large flag to games.
The stadium had to undergo some works when the club returned to the Bundesliga in 1988, but they refused to add corporate VIP areas and also kept trees behind the ground that fans – nicknamed ‘Football Koalas’ by a local newspaper – used to climb to watch games.
Pauli supporters remain explicitly left wing, often speaking out on political matters and launching campaigns, while nurturing the underdog nature of the club. That has all created the St. Pauli ‘brand’ known around the world. But don’t dare call it a brand around fans who still shun the profit focus and commercial nature of modern football…
Watch: 5 things on St. Pauli
Leipzig as a city has a long and great footballing history. It was where the German FA (DFB) was founded in 1900, while four clubs from the city were amongst the first to register with the FA, and VfB Leipzig were the first national champions. Fast-forward over 100 years to the creation of RasenBallsport Leipzig and the Saxony city’s new premier club. They first started playing in 2009 when Red Bull purchased the playing rights for SSV Markranstädt in the fifth tier after failing in attempts to buy into Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs.
The goal was to climb the divisions quickly, which they did, reaching the Bundesliga in 2016 after just seven seasons. Among the architects of the project was Ralf Rangnick, who came in as sporting director in 2012 while still in the fourth tier and signed now household names like Yussuf Poulsen (the club’s record appearance holder) and Joshua Kimmich (now of Bayern Munich) while back in the third division.
Rangnick’s time in charge saw Leipzig race to a runners-up finish in their maiden Bundesliga campaign and into the UEFA Champions League. Die Roten Bullen would even reach the semi-finals in Europe in 2019/20, having competed in a first DFB Cup final the year before.
The club’s strategy has always been to sign young, promising players and mould them into top-class talent. Prime examples are club record goalscorer Timo Werner, now Bayern defender Dayot Upamecano, Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konate and Dominik Szoboszlai, and Chelsea’s Christopher Nkunku, who in 2022/23 became the first Leipzig player to finish as Bundesliga top scorer.
The list goes on and even extends to the coaches with appointments of Julian Nagelsmann and Jesse Marsch in recent years. Leipzig have finished in the top four in all but one of their seven Bundesliga campaigns to date and now also have the silverware to underline their approach, having won back-to-back DFB Cups in 2022 and 2023, also appearing in four of the last five finals.
Watch: All about RB Leipzig
SV Waldhof Mannheim
Years in Bundesliga: 7 (1983-90)
Most appearances: Uwe Zimmermann (215)
Most goals: Fritz Walter (55)
Youngest player: Christian Wörns (17 years, three months, 30 days)
The city of Mannheim – officially the University City of Mannheim – may often be referred to Germany’s Havard, but they’ve not quite been Ivy League standard when it comes to football, with only seven seasons in the Bundesliga to boast about.
It was an unbroken spell between 1983 and 1990 that saw a best finish of sixth in just their second campaign.
Waldhof established themselves thanks to their academy work, promoting young players such as Jürgen Kohler, Christian Wörns and Maurizio Gaudino, who all went on to represent Germany.
Karlheinz Förster, who earned 81 international caps, was a previous academy player but never featured for the senior side and made his name at VfB Stuttgart. More recently, Turkey’s Hakan Calhanoglu came through the youth system.
Following relegation in 1990, Mannheim came close to bouncing back a number of times but ultimately always fell short and in fact dropped to the third tier in 1997, just three years after their new Carl-Benz-Stadion was opened.
Financial issues have continued to plague the club, which saw their demotion to the fourth tier in 2003 and even the fifth in 2010, where they set a fifth-tier attendance record of 18,313 as they achieved promotion back up. They have since recovered to consolidate in the 3. Liga.
Problems with finances were nothing new, however. Even back in the 1970s, following promotion to the second tier, the club opted to rename itself to Chio Waldhof 07 to bring in 190,000 Deutschmark from snack company Chio Chips. They reverted to their current name of SV Waldhof Mannheim 07 in 1978.
Years in Bundesliga: 7 (1968/69, 1970/71, 1972-76, 1983/84)
Most appearances: Sigfried Held (133)
Most goals: Erwin Kostedde (52)
Youngest player: Michael Bordt (18 years, 24 days)
Ask anybody associated with Offenbach and they will tell you they should have been one of the 16 founding members of the Bundesliga. They were ranked fifth in the 12-year ranking for the Oberliga Süd, which was granted five places in the new league, but were denied by 1860 Munich’s title win, despite them ranking seventh. The club launched appeals and even accused local rivals Eintracht Frankfurt of blocking their entry, but it was all to no avail.
The Kickers finally reached the big time in 1968 but went straight back down, back up, back down and back up again before enjoying a four-year stint that produced a best finish of seventh in 1972/73.
They were implicated in the Bundesliga match-fixing scandal in 1970/71, when they were relegated anyway. That came a year after they’d just made history as the first team from outside the top tier to lift the DFB Cup. Yet even that wasn’t quite what it seemed.
They had started the 1969/70 season in the second tier, but the 1970 World Cup meant the latter rounds of the cup took place in the weeks before 1970/71 kicked off. It meant that they were already a Bundesliga team then and could use their new squad. As a result, Winfried Schäfer held the unusual honour of being Bundesliga champion with Borussia Mönchengladbach and DFB Cup winner with Offenbach in the 1969/70 season after he’d switched in the summer.
There was no asterisk attached to their 1971/72 record, however, as they became German football’s Invincibles by remaining unbeaten in all 36 league games in the Regionalliga Süd campaign. No other team in Germany’s top two divisions has ever enjoyed a defeat-free league campaign. They also remained unbeaten in all six play-off fixtures to seal their Bundesliga return.
Offenbach made their mark in the Bundesliga on the opening day of the 1974/75 season when, under Otto Rehhagel, they thrashed reigning domestic and European champions Bayern Munich 6-0 – their biggest Bundesliga win – to go top of the table for the first time ever. Revenge followed on their one-season return in 1983/84 when thumped 9-0 in Munich for their heaviest defeat in history.
The Kickers then made unwanted history as the first team to suffer back-to-back relegations from the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 via table positions (two other clubs had dropped down after having licences revoked) and found themselves in the third tier in 1985 for the first time in their history. Financial issues have seen Offenbach since flit between the second and fourth levels, where they’ve spent the last decade.
Years in Bundesliga: 7 (1966/67, 1969-71, 1973-77)
Most appearances: Willi Lippens (172)
Most goals: Willi Lippens (79)
Youngest player: Wolfgang Patzke (18 years, two days)
Rot-Weiss Essen are an excellent pub quiz question if you’re ever in need of one. As the 1954/55 champions, they became the first German team to appear in the European Cup, although Saarbrücken also featured in 1955/56 but as the representative of the then independent Saarland Football Association.
The city of Essen – nothing to do with the German word for ‘food’ – in the heart of the Ruhr is also one of only four to have two clubs to have won the DFB Cup, after Munich, Leipzig and Vienna. You'll be the talk of the pub showing off those facts.
As the club name suggests, the colours and kits are red and white – and yes, the correct spelling is Weiss, despite German rules suggesting it has to be Weiß – but they were absent from the first Bundesliga season and only joined the big time in 1966 and only for a single season, finishing bottom.
Their ensuing six campaigns also failed to set the world alight, with eighth in 1974/75 their sole top-half finish. They came close to returning in the following years but have never recovered since and were in the fifth tier as recently as 2010/11 following financial issues. But Essen are once again in the 3. Liga after over a decade in the Regionalliga.
The club boasts 10,000 members as of June 2023 and also had one very famous honorary member in Brazilian legend Pele, who was given membership number 23101940. Upon receiving his certificate, the great man said: “It’s a great honour for me to now belong to the club where the Boss played”, in reference to Helmut Rahn.
Years in Bundesliga: 6 (2000-03, 2006-09)
Most appearances: Timo Rost (129)
Most goals: Vasile Miriuta (15)
Youngest player: Arne Feick (18 years, seven months, 25 days)
The town of Cottbus in Brandenburg was known for its energy production in East Germany, hence the decision to call the club created in 1966 Energie Cottbus. They only spent seven years in the top division behind the Iron Curtain, and only twice was that for more than one season due to the government forcing them to give up their best players to BFC Dynamo. Their best finish in the East German pyramid was in the final season before reunification when they came seventh.
However, their finish in the following season meant they joined the reunified German system in the third tier. Against all the odds, they were promoted to Bundesliga 2 in 1997 – the year they became the second team from outside the top two divisions to reach the DFB Cup final, losing to VfB Stuttgart – and then to the Bundesliga in 2000 as only the third former East German club to achieve promotion to the top flight since reunification. Cottbus made history in April of that season against Wolfsburg as the first Bundesliga team to name a starting XI that didn’t feature a single German player.
They enjoyed three seasons in the Bundesliga, which would become a feature of their history, with fans referring to the ‘three-year rule’. It saw the club change league every three years over a span of 25 years, either via promotion, relegation or qualification for a newly formed league level. The cycle finally ended in 2012 when they extended their stay in Bundesliga 2 to a fourth and subsequently fifth year. Cottbus then spent two years in the 3. Liga and two in the fourth tier, which is where they still play after missing out on promotion in the 2023 play-offs.
Notable former players to ply their trade at the Stadion der Freundschaft include former USA international and later USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter, current Cologne boss Steffen Baumgart, Canada’s Kevin McKenna, Thomas Tuchel’s assistant Zsolt Löw, ex-goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel and the Bundesliga’s all-time top-scoring substitute Nils Petersen.
1. FC Saarbrücken
Years in Bundesliga: 5 (1963/64, 1976-78, 1985/86, 1992/93)
Most appearances: Egon Schmitt (68)
Most goals: Roland Stegmayer (19)
Youngest player: Fritz Kress (19 years, 11 months, 16 days)
Saarbrücken isn’t necessarily the place you’d look for on a map of Germany for footballing history, but the club has one of the most storied histories of all the one-time Bundesliga teams, and was once called “Europe’s most interesting football team” by former FIFA president Jules Rimet.
Between 1948 and 1951, they were actually part of the French league system after the Saarland Football Association had to leave the German set-up following World War II. They were forced to play in the second division as FC Sarrebruck, but weren’t part of the standings, so opted to play friendly matches instead, famously becoming the first German team to beat Real Madrid (4-0). They were also the first German club to play in the European Cup, alongside Rot-Weiss Essen, as the Saarland representative in 1955/56. They won 4-3 away at AC Milan but then lost 4-1 at home to be knocked out in the first round.
Consistently strong finishes in the Oberliga Südwest saw Saarbrücken earn a place in the first Bundesliga season in 1963/64, but they finished bottom and would remain in the second tier until a return in 1976. They lasted two years on that occasion before dropping to the third tier, but a revival meant they were back again in 1985. Again, their time on the big stage lasted only a year, yet they returned once again in 1992. And they finished bottom once more.
That and ensuing financial issues saw forced demotion to the third tier in 1995. A mini revival failed to materialise into more as they fell from Bundesliga 2 in 2006 to the fifth tier in 2008. The team that once enjoyed such unique status in Europe, and brought the likes of Anthony Yeboah and Eric Wynalda to German football, have since flitted between the third and fourth tiers.
As fast-moving as life has been at Union in recent years, things haven’t always been like that in the Berlin district of Köpenick, located in the southeast corner of the capital. Their history goes back over 100 years, starting as Olympia Oberschöneweide and moving into their current home at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei in 1920.
They reached the final of the national championship in 2023, losing 3-0 to Hamburg. It was during that era that the famous call of ‘Eisern Union’ (Iron Union) came about, reportedly first heard in a derby against Hertha Berlin and based on the blue Union kits, which looked like uniforms worn by local metal workers.
After World War II, the club struggled and would drop to the third tier in East Germany, undergoing several name changes and amalgamations with other clubs or even state-run industries, based on the government’s desire at the time. Among those changes was the switch of club colours from blue to red.
Finally, on 20 January 1966, 1. FC Union Berlin was created as a civilian football club, with the badge – barely changed since then – designed in a competition by Peter Gribat. They won the East German Cup two years later, but that was the highlight of an up-and-down time prior to reunification, continuously drifting between divisions.
Union ended up in the third tier once the league systems were combined, but failed to climb up, either by missing out on promotion or being denied a place in Bundesliga 2 due to poor finances. The 2000/01 season looked to be a turning point as they finally went up and made headlines by reaching the DFB Cup final.
Although they lost to Schalke, they got to compete in the UEFA Cup and reached the second round. Their Bundesliga 2 stay lasted three years before back-to-back relegations. Again, the club recovered and would spend a decade in Bundesliga 2 before their historic Bundesliga promotion via the play-offs in 2019 under Urs Fischer.
Things have truly taken off since then, with finishes of 11th, seventh, fifth and now fourth seeing Die Eisernen improve every year, qualifying for the UEFA Europa Conference League, then the Europa League and now, for the first time ever, for the Champions League. Union were already known as a Kultklub, but support for Die Köpenicker has exploded with that recent success.
Their 22,000-capacity Alte Försterei is packed every home game, creating one of world football’s best and most unique atmospheres. Over the three seasons prior to 2023/24, they have lost only three Bundesliga games at home (against Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Augsburg).
Their position as a cult club goes back to the days behind the Berlin Wall. Their supporters were traditionally working class from the district of Oberschöneweide, but in the 1970s it also attracted political dissidents and more marginalised groups. There was a famous chant of “Rather be a loser than a dumb Stasi pig”, while you’d often hear “The Wall needs to go” at free-kicks, in reference to the Berlin Wall.
Fan culture has been a huge part of the club’s continued survival, with supporters often raising funds to keep the club afloat. That included the famous ‘Bleed for Union’ campaign. Since blood donors in Germany get paid, fans flocked to donate and then give the money to the club. Groups of supporters also volunteered over 140,000 hours of free labour to help rebuild the stadium across 2008 and 2009. The ground is considered a home for fans, who have gathered almost every year since 2003 to sing Christmas songs. Crowds often exceed the official capacity. As it did in 2015 when Linkin Park played in front of 25,000 at the Alte Försterei.
Watch: This is Union Berlin
SV Darmstadt 98
Years in Bundesliga: 5 (1978/79, 1981/82, 2015-17, 2023-present)
Most appearances: Marcel Heller (65)
Most goals: Peter Cestonaro (21)
Youngest player: Silas Zehnder (17 years, 10 months, 20 days)
Their part-time status led to media referring to them as the Feierabendfußballer vom Böllenfalltor – more or less the ‘post-work footballers from the Böllenfalltor’, which has been their home ground since 1921. They finished their maiden Bundesliga campaign – and first in a top division since 1950/51 – bottom but were back again after two seasons, this time going one better in 17th place.
Their pushes for a third Bundesliga return came up short on a number of occasions. And with heavy debts resulting from their 1981/82 campaign in the top flight, they slipped out of the professional divisions in 1993 after 22 years. The Lilies – so named for the flower on the city and club’s crests – would also spend six seasons in the fourth tier before a resurgence saw them go from the Regionalliga in 2010/11 straight back to the Bundesliga by 2015.
They finished 14th under Dirk Schuster for their best position to date to secure top-flight football for a second straight season for the first time ever. However, they came bottom again the next campaign to return to the second division in the year they temporarily renamed their stadium the Jonathan-Heimes-Stadion am Böllenfalltor in memory of fan Jonathan Heimes, who had helped bring the fans and team together before dying from cancer in March 2016.
Darmstadt’s list of youth products isn’t long but does include some notable names, such as Bruno Labbadia – whose first coaching job was at the Böllenfalltor while in the lower leagues – Niklas Süle, Sebastian Rode and recent Germany U21 captain Jonathan Burkardt. After relegation in 2017, the Lilies established themselves back in Bundesliga 2 before emerging as promotion contenders again in 2021/22. They finally made their return to the big time in 2023 under Torsten Lieberknecht as they embark on a fifth season in the Bundesliga.
SG Wattenscheid 09
Years in Bundesliga: 4 (1990-94)
Most appearances: Thorsten Fink (125)
Most goals: Souleymane Sane (39)
Youngest player: Robert Trenner (18 years, four months, 26 days)
A district of the city of Bochum, Wattenscheid occasionally caught the national eye with the odd DFB Cup run, but they spent most of their pre-Bundesliga era days outside of the top regional divisions. They came up to the second-tier Regionalliga West in 1969 and established themselves at that level, joining the newly created Bundesliga 2 in 1974. They had some luck in 1981/82 when they survived relegation thanks to 1860 Munich’s forced demotion. However, they made history in 1990 with promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time ever.
The club was often referred to as a ‘plain Jane’, while Bayern general manager Uli Hoeneß even called them “the worst thing that can happen to the Bundesliga”. A 7-0 defeat in Munich didn’t help their cause, but a 3-2 win in the reverse fixture perhaps silenced some critics, as Wattenscheid ended their maiden top-flight campaign in 11th. The following three seasons were more of a struggle, with finishes of 16th, 14th and finally 17th as their four-year Bundesliga stay came to an end in 1994.
Things since have been more down than up, bouncing between divisions and dropping as low as the sixth tier in 2010. They recovered to return to the fourth tier, before insolvency in 2020 meant demotion to the fifth level again, which is where they will play in 2023/24.
Despite playing second fiddle in the city to Bochum, a number of household Bundesliga names have come through at Wattenscheid, like Thorsten Fink, the Altintop twins of Halil and Hamit, Kerem Demirbay, Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Leroy Sane. The latter name has played a big part in Wattenscheid’s Bundesliga history. Leroy’s father Souleyman spent all four top-flight years at the Lohrheidestadion and is the club’s Bundesliga top scorer with 39 goals in 117 games. The Senegal international’s Wattenscheid and Bundesliga career was complete almost two years before Leroy was born.
Years in Bundesliga: 4 (1991-95)
Most appearances: Matthias Maucksch (118)
Most goals: Torsten Güteschow (12)
Youngest player: Alexander Zickler (18 years, seven months, 25 days)
Dynamo Dresden as we know it today was officially formed on 12 April 1953, being affiliated with the East German security forces. They won their first league title in that same 1952/53 season, but a drop to the fourth tier followed by 1957. The recovery was slow, yo-yoing between divisions before a final top-flight return in 1969 and their second title in 1970/71 – the year they became the first team to win the league and cup double in East Germany.
With eight league crowns and seven cups, plus 98 matches in UEFA competitions, Dynamo were one of the most successful teams in East Germany. Their final title-winning team of 1989/90 included future stars like Matthias Sammer and Ulf Kirsten. In 1973, they faced Bayern Munich in the first competitive meeting between two teams from East and West Germany. It ended in a thrilling 7-6 aggregate win for the Munich club in the European Cup second round. No team has ever scored more goals against Bayern in a European knockout tie.
As a result of finishing runners-up in the final season before German reunification, Dresden qualified for the Bundesliga alongside Hansa Rostock. They battled against the drop in all four years of their Bundesliga stay, finishing 14th, 15th and 13th before coming in last place in 1994/95. Financial mismanagement from the times of reunification meant they were denied a place in Bundesliga 2 and dropped straight to the Regionalliga Nordost.
Despite spending the ensuing years bouncing between the fourth and second divisions, Dresden still boast one of the largest memberships in Germany and are second only to Union Berlin among clubs in the former East. Fans are renowned for their often giant Tifos, including a famous one in the third division against Magdeburg in October 2015 that covered every seat in the stadium except the away block. Measuring around 13,000m2, it’s the largest recorded at a game in Europe and the second biggest in the world.
Years in Bundesliga: 4 (1967-70, 2006/07)
Most appearances: Erwin Hermandung (98)
Most goals: Erwin Hermandung (19)
Youngest player: Manuel Junglas (18 years, one month, 14 days)
Formed by schoolboys in December 1900 and named Alemannia after the Alemanni tribe of Roman times to stress the club’s Germanness in the nation's westernmost city, Aachen were the only team alongside Schalke and Borussia Dortmund to be ever-presents in the Oberliga West from its post-war formation in 1947 to the Bundesliga’s creation in 1963. However, they missed out on a place in the new top flight, despite protests to the DFB and legal appeals, where president Gerd Heusch presented a 12-point catalogue of reasons why his club deserved to be included.
They finished in the top three of the second tier three times but missed out on promotion each year, although they reached the final of the DFB Cup in 1965. They finally came up in 1967 and finished a comfortable 11th. Their second campaign was remarkable as they claimed a sensational runners-up spot behind runaway champions Bayern. Notably, the gap to the top was eight points, but the gap from second to 18th was only 10. Things went very downhill after that as Alemannia finished bottom the next season, picking up only one point on the road.
Twenty years followed in the second division before financial difficulties got too much and the club dropped to the third tier for the first time ever in 1990. It took nine seasons to get back to Bundesliga 2 before a long-awaited second Bundesliga promotion in 2006 – 36 years since they last featured in the top flight, despite having played in the UEFA Cup the previous season after finishing runners-up in the DFB Cup in 2003/04 – the third time in as many appearances that they’ve lost the cup final. But Aachen went straight back down in 17th place and have been in the fourth tier since 2013, twice filing for insolvency.
Years in Bundesliga: 4 (1969-73)
Most appearances: Friedhelm Dick (126)
Most goals: Lothar Kobluhn (36)
Youngest player: Ditmar Jakobs (18 years, eight months, eight days)
Oberhausen slotted into the second tier after the Bundesliga was created, always finishing in the top half of their league before finally getting promoted in 1969. Their four-year stay was tough, never finishing higher than 14th, but historic in a way thanks to Lothar Kobluhn.
The defensive midfielder remains the only non-forward to be the Bundesliga’s top scorer thanks to his 24 goals in 1970/71, preventing Gerd Müller from making it five Torjägerkanone in a row. However, since Oberhausen were implicated in a match-fixing scandal at the time, Kicker refused to hand over the usual trophy for the division’s top scorer. It was only in 2008 to mark Kobluhn’s 65th birthday that they finally presented him with the award. Rot-Weiß are one of just 18 clubs in 60 seasons to produce a Bundesliga top scorer – and no club has done so with so few years in the top flight.
Their time in the Bundesliga came to an end in 1973. By 1989/90 they were in the fourth tier and only avoided dropping further thanks to goal difference. They returned to Bundesliga 2 in 1998 and enjoyed eight straight years there before back-to-back relegations in 2005 and 2006. They followed that with back-to-back promotions in 2007 and 2008, before consecutive drops again in 2011 and 2012 returned them to the fourth tier, where they currently play.
Years in Bundesliga: 3 (1972-75)
Most appearances: Gustav Jung (97)
Most goals: Günter Pröpper (39)
Youngest player: Wolfgang Keuken (19 years, nine months, 19 days)
Founded in 1954 after a series of mergers, Wuppertal were always around the top end of the second-tier Regionalliga but only managed to earn Bundesliga promotion in 1972 after Günter Pröpper scored 52 of their 111 goals to qualify for the play-offs that would finally earn them a place in the top flight. The Bergische Löwen (Bergish Lions) surprised all and finished fourth thanks to Pröpper’s 21 goals. Only Gerd Müller and Jupp Heynckes scored more that season. The club mascot Pröppi is unsurprisingly named after the striker.
It saw Wuppertal qualify for the UEFA Cup and taste European football for the first time ever. Despite winning the only continental fixture to take place at their Stadion am Zoo 5-4, they were unable to overturn a 4-1 first-leg loss to Ruch Chorzow of Poland in the first round. That same year, it took an 82nd-minute goal from Heinz-Dieter Lömm away at VfB Stuttgart on the final day to keep them up on goal-difference, before the dream came to an end in 1974/75 when they finished rock bottom with just 12 points – the second-lowest total in history – and equalled Tasmania Berlin’s unwanted record of fewest wins in a Bundesliga season (two).
It's generally been down since then, spending seven years in Bundesliga 2, 24 in the third level and seven in the fourth tier before filing for insolvency in 2013. That saw demotion to the fifth tier. They have been back in the Regionalliga since 2016.
FC 08 Homburg
Years in Bundesliga: 3 (1986-88, 1989/90)
Most appearances: Uwe Freiler (66)
Most goals: Uwe Freiler (15)
Youngest player: Thorsten Lahm (18 years, six months, three days)
Homburg first appeared in the Bundesliga in 1986 after two decades in the second tier, but their top-flight existence was always precarious. They only survived the drop via the play-off against St. Pauli in their maiden campaign before going down in 17th the second year. Not too much to write home about, but they did make headlines in that 1987/88 campaign when president Manfred Ommer brought in condom producer London as the club’s main sponsor for 200,000 Deutschmark.
The DFB weren’t particularly pleased and threatened the team with a points deduction, so the sponsor’s name had to be covered with black strips on the players’ kits. Eventually, a court in Frankfurt ruled that the condom advertising on the jerseys did not violate morals or morality, allowing the players to wear the name uncensored. However, it didn’t provide the team with much protection on the pitch as they finished second-bottom and were relegated. They were back for another go a year later in 1989/90 but this time came last with a team that included current Freiburg coach Christian Streich for the only 10 Bundesliga games of his playing career.
While the likes of German legend Miroslav Klose and former USA captain Thomas Dooley have made their break at Homburg, the club hasn’t played in one of the professional leagues since Bundesliga 2 relegation in 1995 and not been in the third tier since 1999. Four seasons in the fifth tier have punctuated an almost unbroken stint at the fourth level since the turn of the millennium.
Years in Bundesliga: 3 (1964-66, 1967/68)
Most appearances: Dieter Schock (88)
Most goals: Günter Kuntz (21)
Youngest player: Jürgen Müller (18 years, six days)
Despite a decent record in the Oberliga Südwest, Neunkirchen missed out on a spot in the inaugural Bundesliga to rivals Kaiserslautern and Saarbrücken. However, they would top their league and then also beat the likes of Bayern Munich and St. Pauli in the promotion group to come up in 1964.
As the smallest city in the top flight at the time, they lost only twice at their Ellenfeldstadion home to finish an impressive 10th on their Bundesliga bow, doing so with a squad of players almost exclusively from Neunkirchen and the surrounding areas. However, they were relegated the following year but bounced back immediately as the first club to gain Bundesliga promotion twice. Again, they finished second-bottom and went down, just falling short of another return on a number of occasions.
Although Borussia produced Neunkirchen native Stefan Kuntz in the 1970s and 80s, and introduced Jay-Jay Okocha to Europe in 1990, they have been on a seemingly endless slide down the divisions and have been in the sixth-tier Landesliga Saarland since 2017. It makes them the lowest-ranked former Bundesliga club still in existence.
Years in Bundesliga: 2 (1988/89, 1991/92)
Most appearances: Ralf Vollmer (62)
Most goals: Marcus Marin (13)
Youngest player: Dirk Fengler (19 years, eight days)
The Kickers were once the preeminent team in Stuttgart and the region, being Württemberg champions 14 years in a row between 1901 and 1914. They were also national runners-up in 1908 to Berliner Viktoria – the team upon which the Kickers had based their colours of blue, white and black in 1899.
They and VfB Stuttgart proved equally popular locally until the Kickers’ fortunes went downhill after World War II. They were in the second tier at the time the Bundesliga was formed in 1963, being allocated to the Regionalliga Süd.
The Kickers remained in the division below the Bundesliga for a quarter of a century and notably reached the DFB Cup final as a second-tier side in 1986/87. The following year, they topped the Bundesliga 2 table to reach the top flight for the first time in 1988, but were immediately relegated again – only on goal difference behind Eintracht Frankfurt – in 17th. After two seasons in the second division, they were back again after beating St. Pauli in a deciding third play-off match.
Their return in 1991/92 saw them compete in the only 20-team Bundesliga season following reunification. Again, they finished 17th – this time fourth from bottom – and again it was close, falling just a point short of Wattenscheid in safety, but again they went straight back down. The following 15 years would be spent between Bundesliga 2 and the third tier, while they had been stuck on the fifth rung of the pyramid for the last five years before a return to the Regionalliga in 2023.
The Kickers’ Waldau-Stadion is the oldest stadium in Germany where football is still played, having been their home since 1905. No club has played their home games at the same place for as long, but no Bundesliga matches have actually been hosted there. Security reasons meant their fixtures in 1988/89 and 1991/92 had to be played across the city at VfB’s Neckarstadion.
The two clubs have also shared some prominent players. Although best known for their spells at VfB, the likes of Karl Allgöwer, Jürgen Klinsmann and Fredi Bobic all previously played for the Kickers. Klinsmann was even the youngest player to make a senior appearance for the club, aged 17 years and 240 days when he faced Freiburg in Bundesliga 2 in March 1982. He held that club record for 35 years.
Years in Bundesliga: 2 (1999-2001)
Most appearances: Danny Schwarz (68)
Most goals: Andre Breitenreiter (15)
Youngest player: Gerhard Tremmel (21 years, four months, 22 days)
Unterhaching is the smallest town to play host to Bundesliga football, being a suburb of the city of Munich. They steadily climbed the pyramid over the years before finally reaching the top level in 1999 and competing alongside local big boys Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich.
They exceeded all expectations, beating the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Schalke to finish above them both in a proud 10th. Their most famous win, however, was against Bayer Leverkusen on the final day of the 1999/2000 campaign.
Bayer only had to avoid defeat to be champions, with DFB representatives present at the Sportpark Unterhaching with the Meisterschale, but Die Werkself lost 2-0 after a Michael Ballack own goal that ultimately handed the title to Bayern, playing on the other side of Munich against Werder Bremen, who only lifted a replica trophy.
Even though they got famous home wins against both city rivals in the next season, they were relegated in 16th. That was followed by a second consecutive drop down to the Regionalliga. Haching had a mini recovery of four years back in Bundesliga 2, but have spent most of the last two decades in the third and fourth tiers. They are the only other club in Germany alongside Dortmund to be floated on the stock exchange.
Unable to compete long term with their bigger Munich neighbours, Unterhaching have turned themselves into a club that focuses on producing young players. Current Bundesliga players who first emerged at Haching include Karim Adeyemi, Janik Haberer and Florian Niederlechner, while Bastian Schweinsteiger’s brother Tobias (now coach of newly promoted Bundesliga 2 side Osnabrück) spent two years there.
It’s also been a springboard for a number of coaches, such as Ralph Hasenhüttl, Heiko Herrlich, Manuel Baum and, most recently, Sandro Wagner.
FC Ingolstadt 04
Years in Bundesliga: 2 (2015-17)
Most appearances: Marvin Matip (66)
Most goals: Moritz Hartmann (13)
Youngest player: Maurice Multhaup (18 years, 11 months, 27 days)
The city of Ingolstadt is best known as the home of carmaker Audi, as well as the founding location of the Illuminati in 1776. Although there have been football clubs there since the early 20th century, the club we now know as FC Ingolstadt was only formed in 2004, as a merger between ESV Ingolstadt and MTV 1881 Ingolstadt.
They began life down in the fourth-tier Bayernliga but were quickly up to Bundesliga 2 by 2008. Back-to-back relegations and promotions followed before Die Schanzer established themselves in the second division.
Having never even finished in the top half of the Bundesliga 2 table, they then shocked German football by topping the league under Ralph Hasenhüttl in 2014/15 to earn promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time ever. They became the first promoted side ever to win their first three away games and would finish in an impressive 11th place, never at risk of relegation.
There was no repeating the heroics in their second season as they went down in 17th, but did make their mark as the first team to inflict a Bundesliga defeat on RB Leipzig – coached by Hasenhüttel as of the start of the campaign – on Matchday 14.
It was one of only eight wins all season. As a result, it allowed Bayern Munich to retake top spot from newly promoted Leipzig. The champions later sent a “truckload of Weißwurst” to Ingolstadt as thanks to their Bavarian neighbours. Since 2017, Die Schanzer have flitted between Bundesliga 2 and the 3. Liga.
SC Paderborn 07
Years in Bundesliga: 2 (2014/15, 2019/20)
Most appearances: Uwe Hünemeier (48)
Most goals: Elias Kachunga (six)
Youngest player: Mirnes Pepic (19 years, one month, 19 days)
SC Paderborn trace their history back to 1907, but the club as it’s known now was the result of a merger in 1985 that saw the team begin life in the third tier. Bar the 2000/01 season, which was spent at the fourth level due to a restructuring of divisions, they remained on the third rung until promotion to Bundesliga 2 in 2005. They played in the second division for eight of the following nine campaigns before a historic first Bundesliga promotion in 2014 under Andre Breitenreiter. They even topped the table after four matchdays, but the joy was short-lived as they finished bottom and went straight back down in 2014/15.
And down and down they went for what turned out to be the start of the ultimate footballing rollercoaster. Paderborn came bottom in Bundesliga 2 in 2015/16 for back-to-back relegations. It was so nearly three in a row in 2016/17, finishing in the bottom three for what should have been demotion to the Regionalliga, but they were handed a lifeline thanks to 1860 Munich’s licencing issue that saw them demoted to the fourth tier and Paderborn given a reprieve.
They took it with both hands under coach Steffen Baumgart, finishing runners-up in the 2017/18 3. Liga and 2018/19 Bundesliga 2 campaigns to secure back-to-back promotions to the Bundesliga once again. They are one of eight teams to have achieved the feat of reaching the top flight after only one year in the second division. Again, the Bundesliga fun was short-lived as they finished bottom once more. This time there was no freefall as they re-established themselves in Bundesliga 2.
While Paderborn’s impact on the Bundesliga may appear minimal, with two 18th-place finishes, but they do hold a record that will take some beating. On 20 September 2014, a capacity 15,000 crowd at the Benteler-Arena witnessed Moritz Stoppelkamp score from the furthest distance ever seen in the Bundesliga, finding the back of the Hannover net from 82.3 metres in added time to wrap up a 2-0 win and send Paderborn top of the table as mentioned above. It was voted German football’s Goal of the Month by broadcaster ARD but only came second in Goal of the Year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was beaten by Mario Götze’s winner in the World Cup final. The ‘Stoppelkamp-Allee’ in front of Paderborn’s stadium was named in memory of the goal and measures exactly 82.3 metres.
Watch: Stoppelkamp's record-setting goal
Tennis Borussia Berlin
Years in Bundesliga: 2 (1974/75, 1976/77)
Most appearances: Jürgen Schulz (67)
Most goals: Benny Wendt (20)
Youngest player: Detlef Bruckhoff (18 years, four months, 20 days)
As the name suggests, Tennis Borussia Berlin was originally a tennis (and ping pong) club from Berlin, eventually including football in 1903. TeBe were regulars at the top end of Berlin’s state league and were coached in the 1920s by later Germany head coach Otto Nerz and also saw Sepp Herberger – the man who led Germany to 1954 World Cup glory – spend four years as a player in Berlin. However, the club missed out on the inaugural Bundesliga season in 1963.
While many capital teams started to fade away in the following years, TeBe remained a top side in the Regionalliga Berlin and competed in the promotion play-offs four times before finally making it to the big time in 1974. It meant the 1974/75 campaign gave us the first Berlin derby in the Bundesliga as Tennis Borussia took on Hertha. Both games were played at the Olympiastadion and were won by the Old Lady. Five points in the first half of the season was never going to be enough, but TeBe did at least finish second-bottom.
And like a tennis ball, they bounced straight back the year after, winning the second edition of the Bundesliga 2 Nord ahead of Borussia Dortmund under Helmuth Johanssen, who had guided Eintracht Braunschweig to their 1967 Bundesliga title. Johanssen left and was replaced by Rudi Gutendorf for their 1976/77 Bundesliga return. And although new signing Benny Wendt would score 20 times and Borussia would claim wins over city rivals Hertha, European champions Bayern Munich and league leaders Cologne – which all saw attendances grow for Berlin’s ‘other club’ – TeBe still finished 17th again.
Up to the turn of the millennium, they would flit between the second and third tiers – mostly playing in the latter – until financial and licencing issues saw them tumble and go as low as the sixth tier in 2011. A mini revival saw them return to the fourth-tier Regionalliga in 2020, but they will again compete in the fifth tier in 2023/24. Their position in Berlin now sees TeBe mostly as a club for youth players before they (mostly) get hoovered up by Hertha. Former youth players in recent years include Jerome Boateng, Ashkan Dejagah and Muhamed Besic.
SpVgg Greuther Fürth
Years in Bundesliga: 2 (2012/13, 2021-present)
Most appearances: Branimir Hrgota (34)
Most goals: Branimir Hrgota (nine)
Youngest player: Abdul Rahman Baba (18 years, two months, 23 days)
Fürth are three-time champions of Germany and were in fact once the longest reigning champions. That is a slight technicality since they were the last team to win the title – beating VfB Leipzig 3-2 in a marathon 153-minute encounter – before World War I, which resulted in no title being contested for six years. But they would win it again in 1926 and 1929 during a golden era that even saw them claim international wins over Real Madrid (1923), Barcelona (1926) and Juventus (1930). Fürth were almost always in the top tier prior to the Bundesliga’s introduction in 1963, before an unbroken 20-year stint in the second-tier Regionalliga and Bundesliga 2.
Debts saw the team struggle and drop to the fourth tier by 1983. A turning point is seen as August 1990 when they beat Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Cup despite playing with 10 men for 88 minutes. That season they returned to the third tier and in 1996 they merged with TSV Vestenbergsgreuth – a lower-league club famous for knocking Bayern Munich out the DFB Cup in 1994/95. The new team, the one now known as SpVgg Greuther Fürth, then came up to Bundesliga 2 in 1997. No club has spent as many seasons in Bundesliga 2 as the Clover Leaves. A fact that saw them sometimes mockingly called the ‘unpromotables’, but they finally did it in 2012 under Mike Büskens.
However, the joy around the Bavarian city of facing Bayern first up and getting a maiden Bundesliga win at Mainz on Matchday 2 was short-lived. They finished rock bottom with only four victories and the first team ever to complete a Bundesliga season without winning a single game at home. They almost came straight back up but were beaten on away goals by Hamburg in the play-off. A barnstorming 2021 in Bundesliga 2 saw them finish runners-up and earn promotion once again. Their historic first Bundesliga home win came in December of that year – at a record 24th attempt (1-0 vs. Union Berlin) – but it couldn’t spare them from another rock-bottom finish.
Although the city of Fürth is often dwarfed by neighbour Nuremberg, the club does have one internationally renowned former player and fan. Heinz Alfred Kissinger, better known as United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, was a child when the club won their last two championships and played for them in his youth. He remained a fan even after his family fled the Nazis to the US and in the pre-internet days would find out about results via the German embassy in the States. After Fürth earned Bundesliga promotion for the first time in 2012, he fulfilled a promise to himself and went to watch their second home game in the top flight against Schalke on 15 September 2012.
SSV Ulm 1846
Years in Bundesliga: 1 (1999/2000)
Most appearances: Philipp Laux (34)
Most goals: Hans van de Haar (10)
Youngest player: Ünal Demirkiran (20 years, three months, one day)
Ulm is the club that gave the world the Hoeneß brothers, Dieter and Uli, and was also where Thomas Tuchel spent a good part of his youth career as a player. The team we know now was the result of a 1970 merger between TSG Ulm 1846 and 1. SSV Ulm 1928 that created Germany’s largest sports club at the time with some 8,300 members.
What was hoped would be a rapid ascent didn’t quite pan out and they remained stuck in the third tier until promotion to the Bundesliga 2 Süd in 1979. They would flit between those divisions over the next two decades. Things changed in 1997 with the appointment of a previously unknown coach called Ralf Rangnick, who kickstarted the first of what would become several rapid ascents at clubs over his career. He led them to the Regionalliga Süd title and promotion in his first full season. He stood down late in 1998/99 with the team fifth in Bundesliga 2, but Martin Andermatt took them over the line in third and into the Bundesliga for the first time ever for 1999/2000.
Die Spatzen – so called for the famous Ulm sparrow – were looking safe 24 games into their top-flight existence, sitting 12th and closer to a European place than the drop zone. But a 9-1 loss at home to Bayer Leverkusen sparked a decline that left them needing to win on the final day. A 90th-minute penalty from Eintracht Frankfurt would seal their relegation in 16th place with 35 points. Continuous financial issues saw the club then tumble down the leagues, being automatically demoted from Bundesliga 2 to the fifth tier just a year after their season in the Bundesliga. They’ve spent most years since in the fourth-tier Regionalliga, with four in the Oberliga, before finally achieving promotion to the 3. Liga in 2023.
Ulm continue to hold an unusual Bundesliga record from their single season at the top table. It’s for the most sendings-off in a single game as four players were dismissed in a 2-1 loss at Hansa Rostock. Coach Andermatt was also given his marching orders. More recently, they are the only club from the fifth tier to beat a Bundesliga side in the DFB Cup, knocking out Nuremberg in 2001/02 (2-1).
SC Fortuna Cologne
Years in Bundesliga: 1 (1973/74)
Most appearances: Wolfgang Fahrian (34)
Most goals: Rolf Kucharski and Karl-Heinz Struth (both nine)
Youngest player: Lothar Wesseler (19 years, 10 months, 17 days)
Fortuna were founded just eight days after 1. FC Köln as the city of Cologne tried to create at least one powerful team from all the local district sides in the Cathedral City. It was ultimately Effzeh that became the region’s dominant team, with Fortuna being somewhat restricted to prominence in the south of the city around their Südstadion home. They only emerged from the shadows in 1973 with Bundesliga promotion.
They finished 17th, only behind Wuppertal on goal difference, to be relegated in their first and only season. In contrast to many teams, Fortuna stabilised in Bundesliga 2 and spent 26 uninterrupted years at that level. They would reach the 1983 DFB Cup final, losing 1-0 to arch-rivals Cologne. The pair were reunited in Bundesliga 2 in 1998/99, with Fortuna winning both games (4-2 and 3-0) but still finishing below them in the table. The hopes of creating any sort of shift in the local footballing landscape were ended the year after when Effzeh earned promotion and Fortuna were relegated.
And when financial backer Jean Löring declared bankruptcy, the club fell into trouble as well and was on the verge of insolvency in 2003. To help try and stave off the financial demise, fans started a telethon and had artist Cornel Wachter come up with ideas. One of the most famous was a naked photo of the team and coaches that prompted mass donations. Wachter also tried a fundraising campaign and organised the Fortuna Kart Cup with Rolf and Michael Schumacher at their indoor track in Kerpen.
However, they’d still drop to the fourth tier and midway through 2004/05 had to withdraw the first team from the league. They started afresh in the fifth tier the following year and climbed back to the 3. Liga in 2014, but have been back in the Regionalliga since 2019.
Blau-Weiß 90 Berlin
Years in Bundesliga: 1 (1986/87)
Most appearances: Karl-Heinz Riedle (34)
Most goals: Karl-Heinz Riedle (10)
Youngest player: Peter Saternus (19 years, nine months, 15 days)
Blau-Weiß were a middling team in Berlin from the district of Mariendorf before and after the Bundesliga’s creation, even playing in the fourth tier in 1978. Things changed in 1983 when businessman Konrad Kropatschek got involved. He wanted to buy players for the club, who would then be sold for a profit, with the funds going straight back to him. The club agreed to this despite Kropatschek previously being found guilty of loan fraud in 1976.
Nevertheless, it worked and the club achieved back-to-back promotions to the second tier by 1984. In 1985/86, they played alongside Hertha and Tennis Borussia in Bundesliga 2, marking the only time in the division’s history that there have been three clubs from one city competing in the same season. It was also the year they turned Berlin football on its head as they went up to the Bundesliga and both Hertha and TeBe were relegated to the Oberliga.
Blau-Weiß would get their first Bundesliga victory on Matchday 3 against Borussia Mönchengladbach but then go 21 games without a win. Despite 10 goals from summer signing Karl-Heinz Riedle, they’d win only three of their 34 games and finish bottom. After being refused a licence to continue in Bundesliga 2 for the 1992/93 season, the club went into liquidation in June 1992. A new club was formed (SV Blau Weiss Berlin), which was not the legal successor to the original club but was eventually able to take on the name Blau-Weiß in 2015. They can also lay claim to having produced a US international, with John Brooks having spent a few years in the youth teams.
Years in Bundesliga: 1 (1993/94)
Most appearances: Frank Edmond (33)
Most goals: Dirk Anders (eight)
Youngest player: Rene Schmidt (18 years, 10 months, five days)
As the city where the DFB (German FA) was founded, Leipzig holds a special place in German football. And VfB were big players in the early years, in fact being the country’s first champions in 1903 and winning the title a further two times up to 1914. They would go through several names following Germany’s partition, finally emerging as Lokomotive Leipzig in 1966.
Although they never won the East German title, finishing as runners-up three times, Loko were known as a knockout team with five East German Cups and reaching the 1986/87 European Cup final, where they lost 1-0 to Johan Cruyff’s Ajax in Athens through a Marco van Basten goal. After reunification in 1991, they joined Bundesliga 2, reverting to the original name of VfB Leipzig. And in 1992/93 they achieved a surprise third place to become the first East German team to be promoted to the Bundesliga.
They celebrated their 100th anniversary in that solitary Bundesliga season but managed just three wins – including a notable one away at Borussia Dortmund – and finished bottom of the table, before slipping to the third tier after four years in Bundesliga 2. VfB declared insolvency in 2000 and the men’s first team withdrew from competition in 2004. Founded just months earlier by 13 VfB fans, 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig took over as the team started again in the ninth tier. Four straight promotions brought them back to the Oberliga in 2008 and the Regionalliga in 2012. And in October 2021, Lokomotive formally merged with the remainder of VfB. The current club can trace a history back to 1893 and as of 2022 is allowed to wear a star above its crest for the three titles won by VfB.
SC Tasmania 1900 Berlin
Years in Bundesliga: 1 (1965/66)
Most appearances: Hans-Günter Becker (33)
Most goals: Wulf-Ingo Usbeck (four)
Youngest player: Volker Becker (19 years, 19 days)
Tasmania from the district of Neukölln were the second of so far five Berlin clubs to play in the Bundesliga, but they go down in history as the worst team ever to feature in the top flight (not just among capital clubs). They hold the season record for fewest goals scored (15), most conceded (108), worst goal difference (-93), fewest wins (two, jointly held with Wuppertal), most defeats (28), longest winless run (31 games), heaviest home defeat (9-0 vs. Meiderich) and more. They also remain the only team to have never won an away game in the Bundesliga.
Tasmania had previously been among Berlin’s top teams, but were frankly ill-equipped for Bundesliga life. After Hertha had their licence revoked for breaking salary rules, the DFB wanted a West Berlin club in the Bundesliga for political reasons. This wasn’t without opposition, and the mayhem of summer 1965 led to the league’s expansion to 18 teams. And after Tennis Borussia missed out in the play-off rounds and Spandau declined promotion, Tasmania – who had come third in the Berlin Regionalliga – were given a Bundesliga berth for 1965/66 on 23 July.
Their first game was on 14 August, with players being recalled from holidays via radio messages and the club trying to piece together a competitive squad. Many players had to quit their day jobs for what was meant to be a professional league. They did in fact win their debut fixture, beating Karlsruhe 2-0 in front of 81,500 at the Olympiastadion. But that was followed by the 31-game winless run, and attendances also fell away rapidly to below 10,000.
They remained competitive in the Regionalliga after relegation, always being in the top five before declaring bankruptcy in 1973, becoming the first former Bundesliga club to go out of existence.
Years in Bundesliga: 1 (1963/64)
Most appearances: Dagmar-Ernst Drewes and Klaus Bockisch (both 30)
Most goals: Hermann Lulka (nine)
Youngest player: Heinz-Rüdiger Voß (20 years, nine months, 27 days)
Münster are the Bundesliga’s original one-season wonders. They earned the right to compete in the inaugural season as one of five teams from the Oberliga West. Preußen had gone on tours of South America in 1962 and the USA in 1963 and were the first Bundesliga team to host a sell-out crowd, drawing 1-1 with Hamburg in front of 38,000 at the Preußenstadion.
They won seven of their 30 games but finished second-bottom, just a point shy of safety. As a result of playing in the 16-team season, they will hold the record for fewest Bundesliga games played (30), unless the league were to be reduced from 18 again or they were to come back up. As a consolation, they hold the record for fewest overall defeats (14) and fewest goals conceded (52) of all clubs to have played in the Bundesliga. They also hold a unique place as the only one of the 55 clubs prior to 2023/24 to have been in the Bundesliga but never faced Bayern Munich.
They did take on the Munich (not necessarily at the time) giants in 1966 in a friendly match to mark Preußen’s 60th anniversary, winning 2-1. Things have been steady but with some ups and downs since the one-year Bundesliga cameo. A reordering of divisions took them to the third tier for the first time in 1981. It wasn’t until 2006 that they dropped to the fourth but are now back into the 3. Liga for 2023/24.
1. FC Heidenheim 1846
Years in Bundesliga: 1 (2023-present)
Most appearances: N/A
Most goals: N/A
Youngest player: N/A
Heidenheim are the Bundesliga’s newest, but by no means youngest, club following their historic promotion in 2023. The club itself traces a history back to 1846 and TG Heidenheim. Football was introduced in the 1910s, multiple clubs have merged/split, and there have been name changes – but the city of Heidenheim an der Brenz had never played home to top-flight football.
Watch: Get to know Heidenheim
The club in its current form was created in 2007 with the first team in the fourth tier and pushing for promotion. It was on 17 September that year that current head coach Frank Schmidt, a former player at predecessor club Heidenheimer SB, was handed the reins from Dieter Märkle. Come the same date in 2023, when Heidenheim hosted Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, he became the longest-serving coach in German professional football history at 16 years, surpassing Freiburg’s Volker Finke.
Schmidt took Heidenheim to the 3. Liga in 2009, Bundesliga 2 in 2014 and now the Bundesliga in 2023 after a hugely dramatic finish to the season where Heidenheim were missing out on automatic promotion when the clock reached 90 minutes, before two late goals saw them snatch the division title and reach the big time. The club’s Voith-Arena home is the highest stadium in Germany’s top three divisions at 555 metres above sea level.