Popular German sports range from football to tennis to Formula 1, and stars like Mesut Özil, Steffi Graf and Michael Schumacher are famous all over the world. All kinds of sports are popular in Germany, each having its own community of passionate fans and players at a national and local level. Many Germans are even members of a Sportverein (a club or association).
Learning about, playing or watching sports can give visitors and expats a great insight into the culture of a country. In this article, we’ll look at nine of the most popular German sports for players and spectators.
1. Football (soccer)
We have to start the list with football. Football is far and away the most popular sport in Germany. Some may even call it the official national sport. The German football league, the Bundesliga, hosts games between world-famous clubs like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. On average, Bundesliga matches attract larger crowds than the English Premier League.
Germany’s national team has won the FIFA World Cup four times, making it one of the most successful in football history. And Germans all over the country – professional or not – enjoy playing soccer: An estimated six million Germans play football (nearly 10% of the population).
Handball isn’t a popular sport in the English-speaking world. However, it’s one of the few sports from Germany that’s played in schools and local communities across the country. The national team has enjoyed success in international competitions, with the men’s team winning the Men’s Handball World Championship in 2007.
3. Ice hockey
Ice hockey is a major winter sport in Germany. The Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) is the top professional ice hockey league in Germany, and is well-respected worldwide. The national men’s and women’s teams have had notable success in international ice hockey competitions. In 2023, the men’s team ranked fifth in the world and the women’s team ranked ninth.
4. Skiing and ski jumping
Now for more winter sports in Germany: skiing and ski jumping (the latter being more of a spectator sport). Germany has around 700 ski resorts, and approximately 14.6 million Germans take to the slopes every year. The German ski jumping team won four world championships in the late 2010s, and Katharina Althaus took the silver medal in the women’s competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
There are over 720 golf courses in Germany, with about 640,000 golfers associated with them. That is far fewer than the number of people who play football, but it is still a significant figure. Golf can be a bit stuffy in Germany, with strict dress codes and the requirement to have a golfing license before you play.
Moving on to a sport that’s much more accessible than golf, we have cycling. Cycling is not just a mode of transportation in Germany; it’s also one of the most enjoyed sports in the country. Germany hosts several professional cycling events, such as the Deutschland Tour (Tour of Germany). German cyclists often compete in the prestigious Tour de France, though only one German rider has won — Jan Ullrich in 1997.
Cycling is also a popular pastime. There are around 72 million bikes in Germany, and bike routes cover the country. Münster in Westphalia is a great place to hop on a bike as it has one of the country’s best network of cycle routes.
Tennis is another sport that holds a significant place in the hearts of many Germans. Several world-class German tennis players, including Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, have left an indelible mark on the sport. Germany hosts several major tennis tournaments, including the Hamburg Open, the oldest tennis tournament in Germany.
Ordinary Germans love picking up a racket themselves, too. There are almost 1.5 million members of the German Tennis Association, and that number is growing.
8. Formula 1
Formula 1 used to be near the top of a list of the most popular German sports, but it’s fallen in the rankings in recent years. There is no longer a Grand Prix in Germany, and there is a high price barrier to entry into the sport, which deters new competitors. However, the 2021 Formula 1 season still attracted around 2.5 million viewers on German television.
Basketball can’t hold a candle to sports like soccer in terms of popularity in Germany, but it had a breakthrough recently. In 2023, the German national team won the basketball World Cup for the first time and arrived home to huge celebrations. The team was led by the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Dennis Schröder, who plays for the Toronto Raptors.
Popular German sports to try
Football reigns supreme in Germany, and attending a Bundesliga match is a great way to get a feel for the nation’s sporting culture. If football isn’t your thing, try renting a bike or strapping on some skis depending on the season and getting among the Germans during their leisure time. And if you’d rather watch sport than play, tune into the latest handball or ice hockey matches for a glimpse of German greatness.