Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Town of Bent Necks

I live in Germany, in a Bavarian town called Herzogenaurach. 

Herzogenaurach, during a festival
I know, I know. Gesundheit.

Although you've probably never heard of the town, you have heard of the two famous companies which were founded here: adidas and Puma. That's right. Those two international companies both started in little Herzogenaurach, and their headquarters are still located here today.

It all began with two brothers and one business: The Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. Adolf Dassler and his brother Rudolf began making athletic shoes in the 1920s. Quiet Adolf—known as Adi by his friends—was the inventor. Outgoing Rudolf was the salesman.

With time, and through a series of misunderstandings, the two brothers had more and more trouble seeing eye to eye. If you'd like to know the entire story, which includes family tensions, business pacts and suspicion of collaboration with the SS, the book Pitch Invasion by Barbara Smit is a fascinating read.

Eventually, the two brothers had a bitter split, each forming their own companies. That was the birth of adidas, named by taking the first three letters of Adi's first and last names. Rudolf considered the same thing, but with two letters, but since Ruda sounded odd to him, he changed it to Puma after the fast cat.

Adi kept his factory on one side of the river. Rudolf set up his company on the other. Most everyone knew someone who worked for one of the brothers. And since socializing with the enemy wasn't allowed, everyone in town had to choose a side. Neighbors fought. Couples divorced over split loyalties.

To be safe, you always checked which side a person was on before speaking to them. A glance at the shoes they were wearing told all you needed to know. And that's how Herzogenaurach became The Town of Bent Necks.

Now, years later, neither company is owned by the Dassler family. Herzogenaurach is proud to be home to both firms, and soccer teams from both companies play friendly matches together. And when the mayor of Herzogenaurach gets into the game, he wears a mismatched pair of shoes.

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