Sun, Jun 12, 2016 - Page 14 News List

Adidas and Puma are brotherly rivals to core in divided town

By Romain Fonsegrives  /  AFP, HERZOGENAURACH, Germany

Helmut Fischer, former employee and archivist of Puma, poses with shoes of former international athletes at Puma headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany, on June 3.

Photo: AFP

Helmut Fischer will not be cheering for Germany during the Euro 2016. He comes from the Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach, where sport is a family affair that gets bitter and personal.

Fischer, 67, said he has always hated the jerseys worn by Die Mannschaft, which are made by Adidas.

“I never watch any of their matches, unless they’re facing a team wearing Puma shirts,” he said.

The pretty town of 25,000 in the southern state of Bavaria is where the Dassler brothers, Adolf and Rudolf, set up their rival sportswear empires, Adidas and Puma.

Fischer has worked for Puma for 38 years and the allegiance goes more than just skin deep. He is proud of his employer’s logo tattooed onto his calves and on his back.

And when he meets someone for the first time, he says he “automatically” looks at what they’re wearing on their feet before saying hello.

The habit is so widespread in Herzogenaurach that it has been nicknamed “the town of bent necks.”

For decades, everyone sported their trainers as a sort of flag: Adidas on the southern bank of the Aurach river that divides the town, and Puma to the north.

It has never been quite clear what caused Adolf and his older brother, Rudolf, to fall out in 1948.

However, there has never been a lack of theories — jealousies during the Nazi period, interference by the brothers’ wives, extramarital affairs.

“The secret has never been uncovered. All of the explanations up until now are just suppositions,” said Joerg Dassler, a grandson of Rudolf, who quit the sports industry to become an event manager.

“No one understood why they fell out,” said Georg Hetzler, an 85-year-old pensioner who was an apprentice tailor when the two brothers broke up their joint company, Dassler Brothers.

Initially hired by Rudolf, he was one of 13 adventurers who followed him to Puma.

Adolf held on to the equipment and most of the workforce and christened his firm Adidas, which combines the abbreviated form of his first name with the first part of his surname.

What ensued was a bitter family feud littered with betrayals and low blows.

During the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, Adidas had Puma’s shoes held up at customs.

In 1970, Puma broke a gentlemen’s agreement between the two to not hire Pele, taking him on for the World Cup.

“The family feud spread to the entire workforce,” said Joerg Dassler, who only met his grand-uncle Adolf once, in the stands during an athletics championship.

The two never spoke.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the “Pumeraner” and the “Adidassler,” as the respective workforces called themselves, “didn’t even sit next to each other in bars,” Georg Hetzler said.

“When I started at Adidas 30 years ago, we were forbidden from even mentioning the name Puma. We always had to speak of ‘the competitor on the other side of the Aurach,” Adidas chief executive Herber Hainer said.

“There were restaurants and bars only frequented by Puma employees and others only by Adidas employees, but that’s over now,” he said.

On Herzogenaurach’s market place, the 100-year-old bakery, Roemmelt, is staying neutral.

“My parents always had a pair of shoes of each brand in their car, which they would put on,” depending on which firm they were delivering to, said Klaus Roemmelt, 53.

A Dassler has not been in charge of either group since the early 1990s.

Adidas and Puma are both now listed on the stock exchange and attract employees from all over the world who are less inclined to carry on the feud.

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