German Leagues - 2 Bundesliga match ball

More German Leagues in Football

German football has always stood apart from the other major European leagues. Whether that be its ‘late’ turn to professionalism, the fan-first priority in club ownership and culture, or the German game’s ability to both adapt to contemporary on-field tactics and progress it.

The German leagues also stand apart from those in England, Italy, Spain, and France. Whereas lower leagues in other nations are often plagued by financial issues and, in some cases, utter turmoil, German lower-league clubs have enviable stability. 

But how are the German leagues structured, and has it helped produce a highly competitive professional and non-professional sport?

German Leagues: 101

  •     There are three distinct ‘levels’ to the German football pyramid. At the top sits the professional leagues, organised by the German Football League: Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga. The DFB  run 3. Liga. Below these are the non-professional leagues, which are split into two ‘levels’. From the fourth tier to the sixth tier are the leagues organised by regional associations. From the seventh tier down as low as the fourteenth tier – how low depends on the state – are the leagues organised by state associations.
  •     The Bavaria non-professional leagues are an exception in the pyramid. This state association league system begins in the fourth tier. While states like Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, and Lower Saxony – in addition to five other states – begin at the fifth tier, the rest begin in the sixth.
  •     Overall, there are well over 2000 German leagues in football, which house in a promotion-and-relegation system over 30000 teams.

The Relatively Youthful History of the German Leagues 

German football began professional life in 1963. Despite the success of its national team – winning a World Cup in 1954 – there had been no professional league to support its excellence before then. Regional leagues and their amateurism had been preferred; professionalism decried. This feud between whether or not to organise and enable professional football was encountered across England, Italy, France, and Spain closer to the beginning of the 20th century, before their professional leagues were founded. 

Before 1933, seven regional-associated German leagues fed into a national championship. Each region’s league system would have its champion, who would then go on to compete against other regional champions to determine the German national champion. 1. FC Nürnberg won five titles throughout this period, making them the most successful team at this time. Bayern Munich won their first in 1932, right before German football changed as the Nazi party came to power.

Under the new government, from 1933 to 1944, a new league system was in place. 16 Gualigen – new regional leagues based on the new Gaue (regional administrations) – came to the fore. This narrowed down the number of leagues and teams that previously competed before 1933. Similar to the old system, these German Leagues fed into a championship tournament. Schalke 04 dominated this period with 6 title wins.

After World War II

Due to occupation, in 1947 when German football resumed, a new German league system was erected – the Oberliga system. Five regional leagues fed into a German championship. Eastern German football had its own system – a much more easily recognisable pyramid system, not divided into regions, as the travel times and costs were less than West German football.

It was finally in 1963 that a national top-division was established in West Germany, following a World Cup Quarter Final defeat to Yugoslavia. The Oberliga system previously in use since World War II ended became the pyramid’s second tier, with the Bundesliga sitting above it. The Oberliga was renamed Regionalliga, consisting of Berlin, Nord, West, Südwest, and Süd. Winners and runners-up of the Regionalliga leagues qualified for a tournament to determine who would be promoted to the Bundesliga.

Soon, though, money talked. Bundesliga clubs were generating much more revenue than those in the Regionalliga and the other supporting German leagues– understandably. As such, promoted teams were struggling to compete when entering the Bundesliga and relegated clubs were flirting with bankruptcy when dropping into the Regionalligen. To combat this, in 1974, 2. Bundesliga Nord and Süd were inserted between the Bundesliga and the Regional divisions below. The Regionalliga was dissolved upon the creation of the 2. Bundesliga divisions and amateur premier leagues took their place, to again make the gap between professional, semi-professional, and amateur clubs closer than before.

By 1981, 2. Bundesliga Nord and Süd were merged, with regional amateur leagues winners and runners-up qualifying for a promotion tournament to the 2. Bundesliga, much like the Oberliga promotion tournament.

Upon German unification in 1991, East German clubs entered the West German system. It reshuffled the number of teams competing in each league but, importantly, added two extra amateur leagues. This was until 1994 when five Regionalliga divisions were reinstated between 2. Bundesliga and the amateur leagues. No promotion tournaments were used. Instead, it was a direct promotion from amateur leagues into the Regionalliga based on their regional structure, and then another direct promotion from the Regionalliga into the 2. Bundesliga.

The New Millennium

From 2000 to 2017, three important structural changes happened. 

Firstly, in 2000, the Regionalliga tier was simplified into Nord and Süd divisions. 

Secondly, in 2008, another nationwide league was introduced. 3. Liga was founded to sit between the 2. Bundesliga and the Regionalliga Nord, West, and Süd. Amateur leagues and their direct promotion routes were shuffled accordingly.

Thirdly, in 2012, the Regionalliga tier was expanded again, returning to five separate divisions – Nord, Nordost, West, Südwest, and Bayern. To determine promotion to 3. Liga, the promotion tournament returned.

Since then, things have stabilised within the supporting German leagues. 

German Leagues: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz

The German football pyramid’s complex, ever-evolving history has not stifled the success of teams and players. Below, we will introduce notable names in a classic pop quiz format!

Who is the most successful 2. Bundesliga club?

This is a funny question, since being in the 2. Bundesliga enough to be its most successful team is a very relative success. Nonetheless, many clubs would love to call it home and others are happy to call it home. 

Greuther Fürth is likely one of those teams that loves to call it home because it has long ruled it. Since the 2. Bundesliga’s founding in 1974, the Bavarian team have won 1667 points, as of the 2021/2022 season (when they were relegated from the Bundesliga, returning to 2. Bundesliga). They’ve also notched the most goals in the league: 1674. Hilariously, they’ve only won one title, in the 2011/2012 season. 

How many clubs have won back-to-back promotions from 3. Liga to the Bundesliga?

8 clubs have completed an unrelenting march to the top of German club football: SC Paderborn, Darmstadt 98, 1899 Hoffenheim, SSV Ulm 1846, 1. FC Nürnberg, Arminia Bielefeld, Fortuna Düsseldorf, and 1860 Munich. 

Who has scored the most goals in 3. Liga?

Anton Fink, who played for VfR Aalen, Chemnitzer FC, SpVgg Unterhaching, and Karlsruher SC, scored 136 during his career. While he’s not yet retired, he’s currently playing his trade at FC Nöttingen in the Oberliga tier, meaning his time in the professional leagues is likely over.