Duell der Brüder is a welcome entry in my list of football films. Titled Adidas vs Puma for Amazon, it covers a small but significant piece of sports history along with the drama of two brothers turned personal and business enemies amid the effects of World War 2.
Most of us in the USA probably don’t even realize that the Adidas and Puma companies are both headquartered in the little Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach and derive from one family. Brothers Adi and Rudy Dassler formed the original Gebrüder Dassler Sportschuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Sport Shoe Factory) in 1924.
The film shows how Adi the shoemaker (Ken Duken) and Rudi the marketer (Torben Liebrecht) built their company up from literally their backyard. In the story, we watch the young men meet their wives, struggle for business loans, and network within the Nazi party to promote their product’s ability to improve athletic performance. The film also shows growing disagreements in how the brothers solve business problems, which is exacerbated as Hitler rises to power.
A key fracture is when Adi surreptitiously gives Jesse Owens cleats that help him win 4 gold medals in the Berlin Olympics. This affront to Hitler’s platform of Aryan superiority seemingly curtails their license to manufacture sport shoes. The company resorts to weapons manufacturing, but when the war ends and American soldiers occupy the town, it is Jesse Owens’ photo that saves the Dassler factory from demolition.
Mutual recriminations from the war and accusations of Rudi’s having slept with Adi’s wife Käthe (Picco von Groote) lead to the brothers’ break up of the company in 1948. The resulting two companies, Adidas and Puma, compete fiercely for athletic shoe dominance. The film begins and ends with scenes at the 1954 World Cup Final known as The Miracle of Bern. At halftime, the switch to Adidas long screw-in studs helps the German National Team come back to win.
The real story
The websites of Puma and the Adi and Käthe Dassler Foundation recite the history of both brothers. Many articles and even another movie have been made about their conflict. Once the company split, the brothers never spoke again. Their enmity spread to the entire town and lasted for decades.
The film compresses the real histories quite a bit and eliminates a few children and siblings. The characters also age very little, even though the depicted events occur over a 30 year span. In real life, the brothers began their business in 1924 and had success at both the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. The brothers were 48-50 years old by the time the company split, and Adi was 54 when he achieved his World Cup success.
In the film, I didn’t understand why American soldiers occupied such a small town and took over the Dassler villa (where almost the entire family lived). It turns out that Herzogenaurach had a military airfield. According to what I read, either the Allies intentionally spared the airfield from bombing as they intended to use it themselves after invasion, or else a German electrician sabotaged the Nazi detonation order that had been issued to prevent it from falling into the Allies’ hands. Either way, this airfield became Herzo Base until 1992.
A splendid production
There is not a lot of soccer in the film, but it communicates the significance of football to the two companies’ success. Although this period piece was made for television, it has the production values of a theatrical release. Director Oliver Dommenget achieves wonderful cinematic authenticity just as in the best BBC period productions. I particularly enjoyed the segments that alluded to life during the war and membership in the Nazi party.
There are conflicting views on how much the Dasslers supported Nazism, and at this point we’ll probably never know the truth of how much one brother betrayed the other in order to minimize his own party affiliation. What’s more important in this story is to see how every individual suffered and yet emerged resilient. And if the two brothers had forgiven each other, perhaps they would not have risen to such fortune.
Adidas vs Puma is a lovely 2 hours that will increase your knowledge of the business side of the game. For a quick synopsis of the entire plot, watch the English language trailer.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8
- Released: 2016-03-25 (German TV)
- German title is Duell der Brüder – Die Geschichte von Adidas und Puma
- Amazon title is Adidas vs Puma: The Brother’s Feud
- Also known as Adidas vs Puma: That’s the Name of the Game!
- 1 hr 55 mins
- In German with English sub-titles
- I watched this on Amazon
- Director: Oliver Dommenget
- Stars: Ken Duken (Adi), Torben Liebrecht (Rudi)
- Watch the Trailer in German
- Watch the Trailer in English (encapsulates the entire plot!)