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German soccer only professionalized in 1963, much later than in England, Spain, Italy, France, and even the United States. Plans had been in motion since the 1920s, but it was only after West Germany’s quarter-final defeat by Yugoslavia at the 1962 World Cup that the country’s soccer authorities decided to launch a nationwide, professional league for the first time.
Since the establishment of the Bundesliga almost 60 years ago, only 12 teams have got their hands on the trophy. We have ranked all the Bundesliga champions by their number of titles.
Bayern Munich’s local rivals won the Bundesliga before they did. 1860 Munich came out on top in the 1965/66 campaign, finishing three points clear (in the days when only two points were awarded for a win) of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern. 1860 lost only four games that season and scored a league-high 80 goals to get their hands on the prize.
A second title is not exactly on the horizon, with the club currently languishing in the third division.
Wolfsburg’s sole success came in 2008/09, when Felix Magath made history by guiding the club to top spot ahead of Bayern. It was a close-run thing, with Wolfsburg amassing just two more points than the Bavarian giants, but a 5-1 thrashing of Bayern in April proved both pivotal and symbolic.
The Wolves finished as runners-up in 2014/15 but in truth they never got close to Bayern, finishing 10 points adrift of that season’s Bundesliga champions.
Eintracht Braunschweig are another side to have been crowned Bundesliga champions on just one occasion. They were also one of the early winners, finishing ahead of a chasing pack led by 1860 Munich in 1966/67.
Forty-three points – the equivalent of 60 today – was all it took for the Lions to get hold of the trophy. By way of comparison, 60 points was fewer than fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen amassed in 2019/20.
The season after Eintracht Braunschweig were kings of German soccer, Nurnberg claimed the crown. They have not been Bundesliga champions since 1967/68, and are another team who now find themselves outside the top tier.
Nurnberg were hugely successful before the creation of the Bundesliga. They won eight titles before 1963, when German soccer was predominantly regionalized with local champions then going forward to a national knockout competition. If we include championships from that era, Nurnberg are the second-most successful club in German history.
Koln were the penultimate champions before the Bundesliga era, beating Nurnberg 4-0 in the final of the knockout tournament that decided the destination of the 1962 title. Two years later, they became the first ever Bundesliga champions by finishing six points in advance (the equivalent of 10 today) of Meidericher.
Koln were back on top of the Bundesliga in 1977/78, when a team starring Dieter Muller edged out Borussia Monchengladbach on goal difference.
Another fallen giant in the German game, Kaiserslautern are currently mid-table in the third division. Becoming Bundesliga champions for a third time is far from their minds right now, but Kaiserslautern can at least reflect on the two times they did finish on top of the pile.
The first of those triumphs came in 1990/91, when they finished three points clear of Bayern Munich despite scoring fewer goals and conceding more. Kaiserslautern also beat Bayern to the 1997/98 prize by a slender two-point margin.
Stuttgart won the title in 1950 and 1952, before becoming Bundesliga champions three times in the post-professionalization era. They won one of the most entertaining title races in German soccer history in 1983/84, finishing ahead of both Hamburg and Borussia Monchengladbach on goal difference, as well as one point clear of Bayern and three in advance of Werder Bremen.
Stuttgart were also successful in 1991/92, again finishing ahead of their closest challengers – this time Borussia Dortmund – on goal difference. Things were a little more comfortable in 2006/07, when Stuttgart amassed two more points than runners-up Schalke.
Werder Bremen’s most recent title came in 2003/04, when Thomas Schaaf led them to top spot with a six-point gap separating them from Bayern. Home and away victories over the Bavarians proved decisive, with Werder sealing the championship by beating their closest rivals 3-1 on matchday 32.
Werder were also Bundesliga champions in 1964/65, when they edged out Koln, and 1987/88, when Bayern finished four points behind the Green-Whites.
Hamburg won the German title in 1923, 1928 and 1960, and then won three championships during the Bundesliga era. The first of those victories came in 1978/79, when they finished a point clear of Stuttgart in second place.
Hamburg were then back-to-back champions 1981/82 and 1982/83. That was a significant achievement, with only three other clubs having lifted the trophy in consecutive years. Hamburg also reached the European Cup final in 1980, losing 1-0 to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.
Widely regarded as the second-biggest club in Germany, it is perhaps surprising that Borussia Dortmund have been Bundesliga champions on only five occasions. Many fans will remember their back-to-back triumphs in 2010/11 and 2011/12, when the rest of the division had no answer to Jurgen Klopp’s brand of heavy metal soccer.
BVB were also the kings of German soccer in 1994/95, 1995/96 and 2001/02. It was during that eight-year run that Dortmund won the Champions League for the only time in their history, as a side led by Ottmar Hitzfeld beat Juventus in the 1997 final.
All five of Borussia Monchengladbach’s titles came in an eight-year period. Their glory days began when they have crowned Bundesliga champions in 1969/70 when a rock-solid defense helped them beat Bayern to first place. They retained the title the following year, again holding off the challenge of Bayern.
After a three-season drought Gladbach were back on top in 1974/75. They remained there for two more campaigns, completing a three-year run that has only been matched by one other club.
Bayern Munich’s position in this ranking will not come as a surprise to anyone who follows the Bundesliga, but the extent of their dominance is eye-catching. The gap between the first and second-most successful teams in Spain is eight titles. In England, it is just one, and in France, it is zero. Even Italy’s figure of 18 is not as wide a margin as Germany’s 25.
To put it another way, Bayern has won the title more often than all the other Bundesliga champions put together. Their first success came in 1968/69 and their most recent was in 2019/20, which was also their eighth title in a row.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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