Although sports clubs were organized by the mid 1800s (usually gymnastics), they were usually dominated by upper or middle classes. The growing Socialist movement among German workers led to the foundation of many social organizations, including sports clubs. Reichskanzler Otto Bismarck attempted to stem the tide, by banning all workers organizations in 1878, but by 1890, he was forced to relent. The German Socialist Party (SPD), which had gone underground, emerged stronger than ever. SPD sponsored workers groups popped up in heaps and bounds. However, the first organized sports groups formed in gymnastics (Turnen) rather than soccer. This was partially a reflection of the prevailing attitude that gymnastics was a more "German" form of sport. In May of 1893, the Arbeiter Turnerbund (ATB) was founded, a direct challenge to the established Deutschen Turnerschaft (DT). The DT was dominated by nationalistic-conservative views. The ATB immediately announced gymnastics for the Proletariat, with the goal of building sound minds and bodies for the class struggle. The movement grew from under 2,000 members in 1894 to almost 160,000 by 1910.
Unfortunately, the vanguard of the proletariat exhibited the same muddle headed thinking prevalent of their reactionary brethren in the DT, and basically banned soccer from their organization. Working class soccer players had no choice but to join the bürgerlich (bourgeois) soccer clubs if they wanted to play. It wasn't until 1911, alarmed that socialist youth were joining forces with the bourgeoisie, the the ATB even admitted soccer players. However, events were about to change politics, society and sport.
World War I
When der Kaiser launched the First World War, the SPD for the most part jettisoned the "Proletariat of the World, Unite!" crap and instead switched over to "Deutschland Über Alles." How they justified this flip-flop is for the history books, but in terms of sport, it also had an impact. For the most part, much of the leadership and older members of the ATB shipped off to war. The youngsters, already thrilled about soccer, filled in the gap. Stories abound of the youngsters selling off the crappy gymnastic equipment and buying soccer balls. By the end of the war, soccer players dominated the ATB, and forced a permanent change: in 1919, the ATB was renamed as Arbeiter Turn- und Sportbund (ATSB). The SPD's support of the war had led to a split in socialist movement as well; the USPD eventually grew into the Communist KPD. The ATSB had a hard time preventing a split within the sporting organization as well. The SPD wing eventually prevailed; the ATSB kept it's links with the SPD.
Further growth and Championships
As the 1920s and the Weimar Republic rolled around the ATSB began another period of growth, leading to organized regional league play and even official championships. TSV Fürth won the first title, defeating Forst in front of some 4,500 fans. And the worker's soccer activity was not only limited to domestic competition. By 1924, the ATSB was organizing international competition. That year, the ATSB Selection travelled to Paris to thump their French brothers (in solidarity of course) 3-0. Altogether, the ATSB played some 45 internationals over the years, winning about 30. They pulled off some decent success as well, winning the "Workers Olympiad" title in 1925.
However, despite the success, there were also weaknesses. One thing that is noticeable is that one of the worker's strongholds, the Ruhr, is not represented in the list of champions. Although there were ATSB clubs in the region, most workers played for and followed the bourgeois clubs, like Schalke or Fortuna Düsseldorf. (Of course, a club like Schalke was made up entirely of working class players and fans, but they joined the DFB instead of the ATSB.) Certainly the greater financial resources played a major role. But the Reds also made it easier for their sports-only rivals to gain at their expense. The ATSB managed to stab itself in the foot and make everything difficult to attract maximum support. Until 1918, youth players had been banned from joining, so many were lost to real soccer clubs. ATSB members were also forced to participate in political action, whereas most players just wanted to play soccer. Furthermore, in an extreme method of enforcing the "collective" and avoiding a "star-cult", individual achievement was totally downplayed. Throughout much of the 1920s, players names were not even mentioned. By the late 1920s, most of these policies were changed, but the by then most of the talented players had left. And even those that developed in the ATSB were soon on their way. A good example is Erwin Seeler, the father of famed Uwe Seeler. He was a great player for Lobeer Hamburg, leading them to titles in 1929 and 1931. He then switched to Viktoria and eventually Hamburger SV, and was villified in the ATSB press as a class traitor and whatnot.
Split and The End
By the 1930s, the split bewteen the SPD and KPD had led to extreme acrimony, as the KPD basically attacked the SPD as an enemy. This also led to a split in the worker's sport movement, as the KPD sponsored a breakway organization from the ATSB, the Kampfgemeinschaft für Rote Sporteinheit (KG), led by Ernst Grube. (He later got the Magdeburg stadium named after him in the GDR.) Many of the clubs split into Socialist and Communist teams and leagues. However, as the Reds fought among themselves, the Brownshirts marched in and ended it all. By mid 1933, the Nazis had banned all 7,000 worker sports clubs, leaving some 800,000 members without a club. ATSB and KG bureaucrats usually got shipped off to concentration camps. The players joined regular sports clubs, provided they evidence recommendations from "non-Red" citizens.
After the Allied victory in World War II, the ATSB and KG briefly attempted a revival. Whereas much of the same political crap would be repeated in the GDR, the ATSB decided not continue the class struggle on playing field.
Ironically, nobody these days knows about this very influential movement in German soccer history. Ask an average German soccer fan about ATSB, ("huh?") or 6 time champion Dresdner SV 1910 ("You must mean Dresdner SC"), and you will get mostly blank stares.
While it would be unfair to rank the ATSB on equal level with the DFB clubs, there is no doubt that they were a significant factor in soccer's pre-Nazi days.
German Workers Championship Finals 1920 TSV Fürth - SC Süden Forst 3:0 1921 VfL SO Leipzig/Stötteritz - Nordiska Berlin 3:0 1922 VfL SO Leipzig/Stötteritz - SV 06 Kassel 4:1 1923 VfL SO Leipzig/Stötteritz - Alemannia Berlin 1:0 1924 Dresdner SV 1910 - Stern Breslau 6:1 1925 Dresdner SV 1910 - SV Stralau Berlin 7:0 1926 Dresdner SV 1910 - SC Süden Forst 4:1 1927 Dresdner SV 1910 - Nürnberg/West 4:1 1928 Adler Berlin - Frankfurt/Westend 5:4 1929 Lorbeer 06 Hamburg - FT Döbern 5:4 1930 TSV Nürnberg/Ost - Bahrenfelder SV 6:1 1931 (ATSB) Lorbeer 06 Hamburg - SV Pegau 4:2 (KG) Dresdner SV 1910 - Sparta 11 Berlin 3:2 1932 (ATSB) TSV Nürnberg/Ost - Cottbus 93 4:1 (KG) Dresdner SV 1910 - Sparta 11 Berlin 3:2