born Janurary 13, 1873 in Berlin – died November 12, 1934 in Montreux (Switzerland)
Every (German) football fan knows the magazine Der Kicker. But how many know that the magazine has been in publication since 1920, and that Walther Bensemann is the founder? Bensemann had to leave his life’s work behind in Germany when he fled to Switzerland in March 1933.
Walther Bensemann was a pioneer of German football. A visionary, he believed that football possessed the power to connect people and promote peace. At the age of ten his father sent him to an English school in Montreux, Switzerland where he discovered the sport of football, the existence of which was previously unknown to him. When he was 14 years old he co-founded the Football Club Montreux with his fellow classmates. A few years later he transferred to a college preparatory school (Gymnasium) in Karlsruhe. This is where his football mission in Germany began: shortly after his arrival he established the first football club in southern Germany: the International Football Club. Bensemann remembered: “In September 1889 I had a football sent to me from Switzerland; in the morning before school, the ball was filled with air and during the 10 o’clock break a window of the school was sacrificed. (…) School director Wendt agreed that the window would be paid for and sent us to a playing field, known as the Engländerplatz.” Two years later on November 17 1891, Bensemann founded the Karlsruher FV, and in 1910, with two Jewish German and future national team players Julius Hirsch and Gottfried Fuchs on the roster, they won their first German championship.
Walther Bensemann graduated from prep school in 1892. The following years, during his time as a student of English and French philology at various universities, are known as his wandering football years: Bensemann was involved in the establishment of football clubs in Straßburg, Baden-Baden, Frankfurt, Freiburg, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Marburg, and Munich. Today, well-known clubs such as Eintracht Frankfurt or FC Bayern München can be traced back to clubs originally founded by Bensemann. Additionally, he organized international matches for German teams against teams from France and England. He was also a crucial figure in the founding of the German Football Association (DFB) in Leipzig in January 1900. At the founding meeting in Leipzig “Mariengarten”, it was at Bensemann’s suggestion that the name “Deutscher Fußball-Bund” was made the official title of the single biggest sports association in the world today.
His experience in World War I reinforced his belief that football could promote peace; “Sports is a religion, and perhaps the only thing capable of connecting people and classes.” The mouthpiece of these “pacifist sports ideas” was Der Kicker. Thanks to his positive international connections, Bensemann was able to provide foreign competitors and trainers for german teams. His initiatives had an important impact on the development of German football. His actions, however, were observed with suspicion by the nationalist oriented DFB leadership. He frequently became the object of ridicule in DFB publications.
Following the political takeover of the Nazi party in 1933, Walther Bensemann fled to Switzerland. His life’s work, a liberal, cosmopolitan, and peace promoting idea of the football related magazine did not correspond with the views of the Nazi powers. Walther Bensemann died at the age of 61 on November 12, 1934 in Montreux.