It's one of those true stories that simply seem predestined to be turned into a movie: Towards the end of World War II, a German Wehrmacht soldier is captured by the British. They find out that he's a talented goalkeeper, and he is signed for Manchester City, a First Division club — the country's highest level of football — and, risking his life, helps the team win an FA Cup Final.
This storyline summarizes how an enemy was transformed into a celebrated football legend. Now a film portraying the unusual life of Bernhard Carl Trautmann (1923 - 2013), aka "Bert," aka "Traut the Kraut," is being released in German cinemas.
Decorated with the Nazis' Iron Cross
In 1940 and at the age of 17, Bernhard Trautmann joined the Luftwaffe, serving as a paratrooper and fighting on the Eastern Front for three years. Decorated with different medals, including Hitler's Iron Cross, he was transferred to the Western Front later in the war — and was captured by the British.
Trautmann was kept in a prisoner-of-war camp near Manchester. Unfamiliar with the German pronunciation of his nickname, Bernd, the English called him "Bert." Prisoners regularly played football matches for cigarettes, and Trautmann's playing was noticed by Jack Friar, a local trainer who hired the German to bolster his team.
A contract with Manchester City
Trautmann was not welcomed with open arms. Players and fans were hostile towards the former Wehrmacht soldier. He needed to work just as hard to convince Margaret, the trainer's daughter, to see him as a potential love interest.
The German goalkeeper not only managed to block every ball, securing the club's position in the division, but also to win Margaret's heart.
Trautmann further demonstrated his loyalty to the British when he refused to return to Germany after the PoW camp was closed down. That decision paved the way for his unique football career. Different professional clubs hoped to get Trautmann on their team; he finally signed with Manchester City.
Winning a Final Cup with a broken neck
Things weren't easier for the German when he started playing at the national level. At his first games as Manchester's goalkeeper in 1949, the 20,000 fans in the stadium protested against his presence by yelling "Nazi" and "Traut the Kraut" and with Hitler salutes.
Trautmann's goalkeeping skills nevertheless allowed him to establish his reputation and win over the fans. He played over 500 games for Manchester City between 1949 and 1964.
He reached the absolute highlight of his career in 1956 at the Football Association Cup Final. Even after breaking his neck through a save, he stayed in the goal for the last 15 minutes of the match and secured the team's victory in front of 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium.
From Nazi to goalkeeping legend
That established Bert Trautmann's legendary status in England. He was voted England's Footballer of the Year. Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the Order of the British Empire for promoting Anglo-German understanding through football.
The classic success story was brought to the big screen by German director Marcus H. Rosenmüller (Grave Decisions). In the lead role of The Keeper is the German actor David Kross (The Reader) and Trautmann's wife Margaret is portrayed by the Scottish actress Freya Mavor (from the TV series Skins). The German-British co-production premiered in October 2018 at the Zurich Film Festival and was also screened at the Berlinale in February.