Bert Trautmann is an unusual inductee into our Travel Hall of Fame. While the former Manchester City goalkeeper isn’t famous for his travels, they had a profound effect on his life, helping to transform the views of this former member of the Hitler Youth.
Born in Germany in 1923, Trautmann entered football legend when he played the last 17 minutes of the 1956 FA Cup Final with a broken neck, a moment that cemented a lifelong and reciprocal affection between Trautmann and the British public. Such affection would have seemed unlikely when he joined the club in 1949, sparking protests by 20,000 demonstrators against the signing of a captured German soldier.
Trautmann’s travels began when he volunteered at age 17 and served in the Luftwaffe as a paratrooper. He fought in Russia and France, winning the Iron Cross until his capture by the British with the words ‘Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?’ On his release in 1948 from a POW camp Trautmann rejected repatriation to Germany.
Interviewed in the Guardian in 2010, Trautmann said: “I feel British in my heart now. When people ask me about life, I say my education began when I got to England. I learnt about humanity, tolerance and forgiveness. Not to mention that Jews were human too.” Growing up in 1930s Germany, school racial biology and ideology lessons had left Trautmann with the view that the Jews and Poles were inferior peoples and Aryans were the master race.
After retiring from football he had a short career in management in England and Germany before the German Football Association sent him on a third-world initiative as a development worker to countries without national football structures. After two years as the national coach of Burma, he lived and worked in Tanzania, Liberia, Pakistan and Yemen, until 1988, when he retired and settled in a modest bungalow on the Spanish coast near Valencia.
He described those days as “Excellent times. I was teaching people how to be football coaches, but they all taught me a hell of a lot about life, about tolerance and thinking differently.”
Bert Trautmann died last week, aged 89.