Wolfgang Niersbach: ‘A pilgrimage site for fans’

Deutsche Welle
7 Min Read

In October, the German football museum will open in Dortmund and for German FA President Wolfgang Niersbach, it’s a project close to his heart. In an interview with DW, he revealed just how excited he was.
DW: Wolfgang Niersbach, what does this museum mean to you?

Wolfgang Niersbach: This is the realization of a great dream that was shared by many. My predecessor and the General Secretary already had the idea in their heads. To make this a reality is fantastic and the excitement starts to grow the moment you walk down the corridors.

What goes through your mind when you walk through the museum?

Great memories and emotions rise up in me. I just watched Uwe Seeler’s famous header at the 1970 World Cup in Leon. Every goal that Seeler scores, we always have a look at his half-bald head to see if any hair was still growing. And he always tells us the story of how it all happened back then. To watch it again today is great. Goosebumps for the price of an entry ticket is something that will strike the right cord with the fans, I’m sure of it.

Why was Dortmund chosen to be the museum’s location?

It’s quite a long story really and goes back to when we hosted the 2006 World Cup. We agreed with FIFA that a considerable part of the economic surplus would be invested in that area. Then, North Rhine-Westphalia contributed over 18 million euros, taking the total to 36 million. We made the decision to host in this region because football has an incredible tradition in these parts. Here in Dortmund, directly opposite the central train station, you only have to walk across the street and you’re in the midst of it all. In hindsight, I think our decision was the right one. It’s a landmark for the region.

The architect said the design was to be an “architecture of mutability.” What does that mean?

What that means is that nothing in this museum will be static. If someone visits and thinks I don’t need to come again in the next decade then that would be completely wrong. Things are constantly in transition here and always in connection with what is happening now. The plan is to have the weekend’s goals from the first and second division on show. There will be special exhibits, the first one of which we already have in mind: In November, we will have a “25 years of unity in football” exhibition, which is another reminder that there won’t be stagnation when it comes to the museum’s exhibitions. This museum is constantly moving.

How many visitors a year do you need in order for the museum to be worth it?

This is an important part of making sure that a museum like this can be profitable in the long-term. We believe that we need around 270,000 visitors a year to break even. We don’t want to make a loss, but are not orientating ourselves around profit. If we can convey this football feeling over decades, without any financial issues, then we will be happy.

Which exhibits in the museum stand out for you?

The ball from the 1954 final, definitely. Back then there was only one ball, not like today where there are eight, ten or 15 that are all quickly thrown back into play. It is a unique item and the German FA inherited it years ago out of Sepp Herberger’s possessions. He left us this ball in his will and it will definitely be a part of the museum. The trophies that both our national team and clubs have won are also great, of course. I got the signature of all the players at the 2006 World Cup, and I gifted this unique item to the museum.

Effectively, this is a monument for all football fans.

I don’t think it’s too bold to say this museum should be a pilgrimage site for the fans. The difficult gap between matchdays can be bridged with football by spending some time in the museum. It’s a place to remember and where you can enjoy the greatest moments. And not just the ones from the national team, but also those from club football. I just walked through and saw Lars Ricken’s goal in 1997 [in the Champions League final against Juventus]. There are plenty of memories and each one is an incentive to keep as close to all the current happenings in the football world.

So the countdown until opening day in October has started. What does this mean to you?

Even for me, the anticipation is great. I feel like it’s Christmas and I have the advent calendar in my hand and the doors are opening. On October 23, there will be a gala for the opening and from the 25th the doors will be open to the fans. I hope we can bring as much joy with the museum as we have done with most of the national games.

Since March 2012, Wolfgang Niersbach has been President of the German FA (DFB). The German FA has 6.8 million members and is the biggest single-sport association in the world. After working as a sports journalist for German sports news agency SID, Niersbach became German FA press officer in 1988 before he became General Secretary in 2007.

This interview was conducted by Philipp Engelhardt.

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