The Kaiser's Giesing: In the footsteps of Franz Beckenbauer

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Franz Beckenbauer celebrates his 75th birthday on Friday. A Bayern icon, shining star, and Kaiser. Well-travelled but nonetheless rooted at home. He has seen and made his mark on the whole world - but he has always remained Franz from Giesing. To get ready for his landmark birthday, our members' magazine "51" has been on the hunt for his legacy in the working class district of Munich - with a renowned local and expert: his brother Walter Beckenbauer.

The hillside still slopes down steeply, down to where the Isar flows. But the slope around it is different today. Amongst people and in general - there weren't so many cars speeding down Giesing hill in those days, in fact, there were hardly any shortly after the war. Walter Beckenbauer stands at the top, his gaze sweeping across the city: so many memories! Here on the hillside they once fought mini battles as boys: one neighbourhood versus another. Those who didn't pay attention found themselves tied to a tree at the end - and abandoned. "In the evening, their parents would come out and call out: Maxl, where are you? Fritzi, come home!", Walter Beckenbauer recounts. Decades later, his brother Franz would moan at many a football match, even at the highest international level, if something didn't go his way: "That was just like Obergiesing against Untergiesing."

Giesing: Where Franz Beckenbauer grew up and developed into one of Germany's greatest ever footballers. (Illustration: Jan Steins)

Some stories you never believe, even if you see it with your own eyes. But there it is, clearly written, in capital letters: Kaiser. Doorbell sign, top right. Walter Beckenbauer smiles: In their old parents' house, where he and Franz grew up, there now lives someone actually called Kaiser. Would you believe it!

'In our square we want for nothing'

Otherwise, a lot here is new, yet everything is old and familiar. Golden doorbells, golden door handles, it wasn't like this in the past, says Beckenbauer. But the basement windows they used to shoot at are the same. It was an old house at the time, unaffected by the war, and yet there were broken tiles in the stairwell, where the two Beckenbauer boys slid down the banister from the fourth floor, before a nail sticking out of the wood interrupted their travels on the second floor. "The house was so old," says Beckenbauer, "and eerie and dark." It was an open house , with strangers sleeping in the corridor every now and then. "But it was wonderful, we had a wonderful childhood in general." In the area, "in our square", we wanted for nothing. And their little world was completely in their grandmother's flat, where they lived with their parents. Upstairs, above the roofs of Giesing, there were four windows from which you could look out onto SC München 1906's football pitch, a side that played in the highest level of semi-professional football and attracted up to 4,000 spectators.

Walter Beckenbauer points to the four windows on the top floor, where the family lived - with the best view of the neighbouring football pitch.

Two rooms, an oven in the living room, and in winter when it was cold, the family only stayed in the kitchen, Beckenbauer explains. In one room too, you had to watch out when you came in the door: There was a gaping hole in the floor, as the wood in many of the flats at the time was in a state of disrepair, and the thick carpet the family had laid out was not a particularly reliable protection against an accident: "If someone had stepped on it forcefully, he would have ended up on the third floor. That was how it was at the time."

Request Show on a wooden radio

They felt comfortable and safe in spite of everything - especially on a Friday evening, because that was the only time of the week the boys could bath in hot water; the running water was only outside; and was cold. Franz's mother Antonie, who always had to go to Walchenseeplatz to do the laundry, dragged a tub into the flat, and after Walter and Franz were clean, they were allowed to sit on the couch - where only father Franz Sr. was allowed to sit normally throughout the week. "We had such an old wooden radio, and on Fridays the 'Request Programme' with Fred Rauch was on, and we listened to old German hits for an hour. Freddy Quinn was on the radio at the time, and Beckenbauer briefly sings a song: "Und der Südwind, der weht," - before he starts to laugh, waving away: "From today's perspective, it's a terrible story. But for us it was simply wonderful back then".

"Gute Freunde kann niemand trennen“ ("Nobody can separate good friends"): Franz Beckenbauer had great success with this hit even off the football pitch.

Childhood after the war 

Franz Beckenbauer was born at a time when people needed very little to feel fortunate. Walter, four years older, still witnessed his mother's fears during air raids that the smoking chimney of the neighbouring wood factory might be bombed and the family home buried under it. "When I was born, no one was bothered with me," he says today with a smile, "in 1941, people had a lot of worries. When mother came home with Franz in September 1945, the war had been over for a few months, the whole house applauded. "Oh my, Mrs Beckenbauer, you have such a beautiful child," the neighbours said. "I looked into the cradle and said: "What an egghead!" - and then I disappeared for a few hours. I thought to myself: "Why didn't you all do that for me!" It was perhaps the only day that I as an older brother was ever angry with my little brother."

Football all day long

Their greatest happiness together came on the football pitch directly opposite. They loosened a few wooden slats in the fence, and then the boys kicked a ball around with neighbouring children from dawn to dusk. "Nobody kicked us out," Beckenbauer says, "and we had it good, we even ran in like the great players did. Of course, the grass wasn't as green as it is today, he says: "There used to be a blade of grass here and a blade of grass over there, but in the middle of the pitch was nothing but sand. It was at the time when the fathers went to church with a white shirt on Sundays, but when they returned home their wives discovered them to have been watching football in secret: The red dust from the ashes on their Sunday shirt betrayed the God of Creation."

Walter Beckenbauer and Helmut Heigl reminisce: Where SC 1906 once played on a few blades of grass, a modern astro-turf pitch has now been laid.

Helmut Heigl, one of Franz's oldest and best friends, has now joined the historical tour of the neighbourhood. He was there when they started collecting waste paper and scrap iron to sell for a few pennies. They set up stand at the pub on the corner, and that too brought a little reward, and in the end they had enough together to buy a real ball - before that they had always just made a ball from rags, paper and rubber. Every evening, says Heigl, someone else was allowed to take the new treasure home. "But everyone had an important task," adds Beckenbauer: to grease it nicely. He always slept with the ball in his bed afterwards, and his mother was not very pleased to have to deal with greasy sheets the next morning.

A special supporter

At first Franz had to be restrained in his role as a ball hogger, but he did not share the same fate befallen of the younger ones for too long. Soon the older boys took notice: "Look how he kicks the ball back! He can do something, and he's quick as a whip too." He, the one his father lovingly called "Stumpen" (Stumpy) at home because he was so small, suddenly was big on the pitch, and this did not remain for long as much of a secret from Franz Neudecker, a youth coach for 1906. "A very fine man," remembers Walter Beckenbauer, "he came back from the war with only one leg, but he continued to play football - and was faster with his crutches than those with two legs." Neudecker supported the young Franz, who had a talent for which his older brother still smiles wistfully about today: "If only I had ten percent of what he had, I would have been a pretty good semi-pro."

Brotherly duel: In 1971, Bayern competed in a friendly against 1906.

And he was not bad either, by no means. He appeared as a playmaker for FC Bayern's schools team, and the "Reds" were his favourite club - "at the age of eleven I walked to see them". Why was Franz initially more attracted to 1860? His brother smiles: "After a legendary incident, thank God he was done with it." After fisticuffs in a school game against 1860, FC Bayern came out on top.

Football was the be-all and end-all for the Beckenbauers; they only played ice hockey or built igloos on the 1906 pitch in winter when the street in front of their door was frozen over. They kept leaving kindergarten because they loved to play, and one day the nun came by with a bee in her bonnet: "Mrs. Beckenbauer, don't be angry with me - we're not going to have any luck with these two." Their mother was not angry, she let her two boys go, she had faith in them and in the fact that the values instilled by her parenting would bear fruit even without kindergarten - and she was right. "We raised ourselves - under her supervision," says Walter Beckenbauer, "she was a very special woman, a great woman, and what she told us is still inside us today."

Beckenbauer with a modern world view

For Antonie Beckenbauer - and consequently also for her sons - all people are equal. "That was her world view," says Walter Beckenbauer. "For her, one's race, religion or origins didn't matter. She always said: Only human beings count." To this day, the man who people have christened "Kaiser" treats everyone equally, from the secretary to the head of state. "She always taught us to behave that way - if everyone behaved that way, we would have a few less problems in the world," says Walter Beckenbauer. Where this attitude came from, he can only guess; his mother certainly had a very good relationship with a Jewish-owned shop in the neighbourhood, a relationship full of warmth, appreciation and appreciation - "I think she had a look that was a little different from others in these times, when German insanity hadn't been in history for that long". Her father's world view, "a clear social democrat", according to his son, also contributed to the way the family viewed what was going on around them - and how they lived their lives.

Here a young Franz learned life lessons: The Icho School in Giesing.

In the Icho School, which has a geographical history of more than 100 years standing opposite the Church of the Holy Cross, the Beckenbauer boys added new ideas to their view of the world; both were interested in the lessons ("our mother always said she would only interfere if our grades were bad - and she never had to interfere"), and what they liked best was geography: To learn something about the outside world, foreign countries, foreign cultures, that was interesting to them. There were 65 students in a class at the time, the teachers were harsh and tough, and Beckenbauer remembers a war veteran who was able to put a kid in the bin in such a way that it was almost impossible to get out.

65 pupils in one class - but Franz Beckenbauer made his way and became an international player at the age of 20.

The teacher later became a Bavarian boxing champion, he says with a grin. To this day the Beckenbauers jokingly say that this was "the University of Giesing". Walter was there himself, as Franz once explained to the great Pelé during his time at Cosmos New York, that Giesing was a famous university town, and that the two brothers had studied diligently. The Brazilian had made wide eyes before Franz cleared up that it was a joke. "Pelé laughed his head off. I think he will have grown up in similar circumstances to us - even though it was on the other side of the world."

Camera-shy boys

There are hardly any family photos from this time, a time in which the Beckenbauer boys always ran around barefoot up until the age of 13, even when playing football, and wore short leather trousers with shirts in summer and long leather trousers in winter. One aunt had a camera, but the boys considered it a huge punishment to have to pose for her. Now and then the arcane monstrosity was set up at the back of 1906's square, but it took hours to shoot a photo, and it was much more interesting to watch the wrestlers in the neighbouring log shed - it was the top division after all! The two could not be kept still as a result - and certainly not captured by a photo for posterity.

Rare family photo: Family Beckenbauer in the living room, Franz shyly lowers his head between his mother and grandmother, Walter is standing right behind them.

What remains, however, are the stories: How they filled up their father's beer mug in the pub on the next corner, secretly tasted it themselves on the way home and poured water in to top it up and cover up their sips. How their mother once got into an argument with the hairdresser after Franz went to the barber's and the hairdresser suddenly demanded 30 pfennigs instead of 20 ("a lot of money back then"). How they preferred to sit down in the "Wendelstein" cinema from 4:30 pm. onwards, because then you were allowed to stay until the end without paying again - "Ben Hur" was playing then as well as some Spaghetti Westerns. And how it was always something special when their aunt brought a tangerine or a banana at Christmas - such fruits were not seen around much at all. 

Apples or sandwiches a luxury

If the boys saw one of the wealthier boys leave their house with an apple, the one who said "Butz" first was allowed to walk beside the person and wait until the leftovers were handed over to him - even today the "Kaiser" eats every apple he has completely. There was a similar game if someone had a sandwich with him. The first one to say "Schugg" secured the right to get the leftovers. And if their father ever smeared his shoes with cod liver oil, Walter had to drink the horrible brew afterwards - with the threat of punishment if not. The younger Franz was lucky; in his day, the much sweeter Sanostol was by then available - and he even received two pennies reward for swallowing it nicely.

"Nothing comes from nothing"

Walter Beckenbauer has much to laugh about when he remembers his childhood with brother Franz. Even of the time when the "Kaiser" was an altar boy in the Church of the Holy Cross on Giesing hill.

But was Franz a child of good fortune, from his childhood onwards? Walter Beckenbauer shakes his head emphatically. "I love my brother to this day - and I know him very, very well: he has always known what he can do. But he also knew: Nothing comes from nothing. Franz has always worked hard throughout his life, driven by great ambition and a penchant for perfection. At the end of the walk through Giesing, Walter Beckenbauer is now standing at the Church of the Holy Cross; Franz was an altar boy there for a year, and Helmut Heigl remembers exactly how the boys secretly watched the girls at the May devotions. Faith was always there for Franz, the two say. "But I think faith in mankind itself is more pronounced with him than faith in the church. It's more a belief in the society," says his brother, "Franz is one of the most generous people of all - he gives willingly. That is deeply ingrained in him." 

How much Giesing is there in the shining light?

And how much Giesing is in him - despite his long journey, mentally and physically, in which he has matured into an emperor, a shining light, a citizen of the world? "The fibre of his whole being is made of Giesing," says Walter Beckenbauer, "that will always be in him, no one can get that out, and that's a good thing. Heigl nods: "To this day he tries to come to every class reunion. And after five minutes, everything between us is always exactly the same as it was before." He thinks that says it all. His brother was "probably the best known German in the world for many years," says Walter Beckenbauer- "perhaps he still is today. But he knows exactly where he from. He will never forget this conscious understanding of where everything began for him. At the beginning of the 1990s, Franz wanted to buy his parents' house, but it didn't work out. His plan was to turn it into a home for single mothers. That would have been a great idea for this building, which is still good for stories about the Kaiser today in a Giesing where many things look different than before - and yet some things have still stayed the same.

Photo credits: Sigrid Reinichs

In an interview, Franz Beckenbauer himself talks about his childhood, the future of FC Bayern - and his definition of happiness:

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