Biographical films

Adidas vs. Puma: The Movies

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Adidas and Puma have been rivals ever since the Dassler brothers fell out.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The story of Adolf and Rudolf Dassler is one of Germany’s biggest family business dramas.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The German broadcasters ARD and RTL are both making films about the brothers, due to be released next year.
    • The Dasslers began making sports shoes at their family home in 1923 but fell out.
    • Adolf “Adi” Dassler went on to found Adidas, while Rudolf set up Puma.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

The spectacular fallout between the Dassler brothers is perhaps one of the biggest family dramas in German corporate history.

Adolf and Rudolf Dassler started making sports shoes in their mother’s laundry room in the 1920s. But they never really got on and this dislike eventually led to a bust-up and the emergence of two multi-national companies that are still major players in the athletic equipment sector: Adidas and Puma.

And now their story is due to be recorded in not one but two separate films, by German broadcasters ARD and RTL.

“The topic is so big that it’s enough for several films,” said Quirin Berg, who with Max Wiedemann is producing the film for ARD.

At RTL, meanwhile, producers are talking about an “emotional hero story.”

“We want to be as true to the real story as possible.”

Quirin Berg, Producer, ARD

Both channels have found something fascinating in the material. The ARD film, the first of two, starts in 1923, when the brothers, sons of a laundress and a weaver, decided to start a shoe factory at their home in Herzogenaurath, Bavaria. Each brought personal characteristics to the business that couldn’t have been more different.

Adolf “Adi” Dassler experimented with running shoes designed to be especially light and durable. He gathered together leftovers from the First World War, cutting and gluing leather straps from uniforms, fabric nets from bread sacks and reinforcements from steel helmets in his search for the right combination.

If Adi was the mad inventor, Rudolf “Rudi” Dassler was the smooth operator, more outgoing and communicative, an ideal salesman who earned the nickname “Puma.” He hit the road with a pair of new shoes from the little factory and always sold them.

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The Dassler brothers as played by Ken Duken and Torban Liebrecht. Source: DPA

 

Initially, the talents of the brothers complemented each other. When they married, however, a rift between them grew. Rudi’s wife took care of the family, while Adi’s wife got involved in the business.

The Second World War drove the families further apart. Rudi went off to war, while Adi stayed at home because the Nazis declared the sports-shoe maker indispensable.

After the war in 1948, the families separated and a single company became two – one on the left side of the Aurach river in Herzogenaurath, the other on the right. Both viewed each other with distrust and the eternal duel between Adidas and Puma began.

The two brands made their international debut at the 1954 soccer World Cup in Switzerland. When the next generation of Dasslers reached the top, they continued the battle for sneaker supremacy with unabated harshness.

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The real brothers, with Adolf on the left. Source: DPA

 

“The history of the Dassler brothers, who were torn asunder, is on the one hand tragic,” said Mr. Berg. “However, on the other hand, it also is one of the biggest German success stories.”

Both ARD and RTL, concentrating on the post-war era, have researched the archives of Adidas and Puma and dramatized the material. “We want to be as true to the real story as possible,” said Mr. Berg. “The emergence of myths and brands has always fascinated us, perhaps because the success stories of others can motivate us.”


Video: A brief history of the Dassler brothers.

 

The broadcasters have cast prominent actors in their films. Ken Duken and Torban Liebrecht play the mismatched brothers on RTL. Mr. Duken has starred in several German and English language films, and had a part in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

In the two-part ARD series, Christian Friedel, who most recently starred in Elser, a film about Hitler’s would-be assassin, and Hanno Koffler, will play the brothers. Both films will be released next year.

 

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Oliver Stock is deputy editor in chief of Handelsblatt. To contact the author: stock@handelsblatt.com

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