Sports play an important role in Germany’s culture, society and national identity. Due to the country’s strong passion for everything athletic, there is a well-developed grassroots sports culture, with many Germans enlisted as members of a Sportverein (sports club). It goes without saying that the extraordinary success of German athletes in international competitions is a source of national pride and admiration.
Germany has produced a huge number of world-class athletes, many of whom have brought home their share of accolades. From the World Cup to the Olympics, there are few competitions in which German athletes haven’t shined brightly. Here are the best German athletes across the decades.
- Franz Beckenbauer (Football)
- Steffi Graf (Tennis)
- Michael Schumacher (Formula 1)
- Boris Becker (Tennis)
- Katarina Witt (Ice skating)
- Nadine Angerer (Football)
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1. Franz Beckenbauer (Football)
Franz Beckenbauer, known by his nickname Der Kaiser (The Emperor), is world-renowned as one of the best players ever to have graced a football pitch. Born in Munich, he went on to play most of his career with his home team of Bayern Munich. He captained the West German team to World Cup victory in 1974 and later served as the team’s manager for their 1990 World Cup win, making him the only man to have both played for and managed a victorious team at the World Cup.
2. Steffi Graf (Tennis)
Steffi Graf is undoubtedly one of the most successful tennis players of all time. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranked Graf as world number one in women’s singles for a record of 377 weeks. In 1988, she became the first and only tennis player to win a “Golden Slam” (all four major world singles titles and the Olympic gold medal) at just 19 years old. Even decades later, she is considered one of the most famous and admired German female athletes.
3. Michael Schumacher (Formula 1)
Michael Schumacher is a familiar name around the world, even to those who don’t follow Formula 1 (F1) racing. Schumacher won seven world titles between 1994 and 2004, a record achievement he shares only with Lewis Hamilton. Racing with the Ferrari team, he won the world championship five times in a row, making him perhaps the most successful F1 driver of all time.
Schumacher’s fame comes not just from his incredible racing achievements but from his magnanimous personality. In 2013, his career came to an abrupt and tragic end — not in a motor racing crash, but rather in a skiing accident that left him with a serious head injury.
4. Boris Becker (Tennis)
In 1985, Boris Becker put his name in the history books by becoming the youngest-ever Wimbledon champion at the age of just 17. Over the course of his career, Becker went on to win six Grand Slam titles, three Wimbledon tournaments and an Olympic gold medal in men’s doubles. Decades after his retirement, Becker remains one of the most famous German sportsmen in the world, though recent legal troubles and a prison stint in the UK have tarnished his legacy in the eyes of some.
5. Katarina Witt (Figure Skating)
Born in 1965 in East Germany, Katarina Witt is a retired figure skater. She won Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988 and secured four gold and two silver medals at the World Championship from 1982 to 1988. Witt also won the European Championship six times in a row from 1983 to 1988. These incredible achievements make her one of the most successful figure skaters of all time. She was famous for her elegant, gracious and provocative performances.
6. Nadine Angerer (Football)
Nadine Angerer is one of the most renowned goalkeepers in the history of women’s football. She played for the German national team for an impressive 19 years, during which the team secured victories in the 2003 and 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, in no small part as a result of Angerer’s defensive prowess. For her accomplishments she was named the FIFA World Footballer of the Year in 2014, becoming the first goalkeeper — male or female — bestowed with that title.
The best of the best
These incredible athletes hold a special place in the hearts of the German people and sports fans the world over. Whether in the Kneipen (bars) of Berlin or the beer gardens of Munich, Germans love to come together to watch their favorite sports and to cheer on the football clubs and individual sports stars they follow.