Bernhard Kempa

Bernhard Kempa at the World Championship in Field Handball 1952
Bernhard Kempa at the World Championship in Field Handball 1952

Upper Silesian handball phenomenon. Bernhard Kempa. The "Emperor" of handball


The list of famous sportsmen from Opole and its surroundings is long. It boasts world champions and Olympic gold medalists, but also European champions and German and Polish champions. For most fans, by far the brightest star is Miroslav Klose, the 2014 football world champion.

But quite honestly, is the darling of the masses "Miro", (also known as "The Ice Man") really the most famous athlete who was born in Oppeln? Well, each sport has its particular idols, whom fans view with their own criteria and from different perspectives. Thus it is not entirely clear that Miroslav Klose should be the absolute number one.  For handball fans all over the world, especially in Germany, the birthplace of the sport and especially in Upper Silesia, Bernhard Kempa is the greatest sportsman in his city. He died on 20 July this year at the age of 96. This handball phenomenon is a byword for handball experts, but  fans of other sports need further information.

Immense tactlessness

This is all the more worthwhile since Bernhard Kempa can indeed compete with Miroslav Klose for the honorary title of the most famous athlete from Opole, since he was one of the absolutely outstanding representatives of his discipline. This is shown by the words of the President of the German Handball Association, Andreas Michelmann, on his death: "We mourn the loss of one of the greatest sportsmen and women in Germany"; whereby his achievements in handball were honoured during his lifetime, in 2011, when he was admitted to the "Hall of Fame of German Sports". Thanks to this award, his picture now hangs next to legends like that of "Emperor" Franz Beckenbauer! For this reason, but especially because of his achievements and services to his sport, Bernhard Kempa is also called the "Emperor" of handball. However, the popularity he enjoyed in Germany was not reflected in Poland or Opole. What is more, his death almost went unnoticed in the Polish media. Even in his hometown, most of the media (except for the Internet portal "Wochenblatt. pl"), and local politicians did not say a word. What a faux pas!

The key player in the German national team

This reaction was all the more tactless when one considers that Bernhard Kempa spent his entire youth in the Opole region, discovered his passion for handball there and began his sports career at the age of 14. In the turmoil of war he was forced to leave Opole like many other Germans and fled with his family, including two brothers to Bavaria, until he finally found a new home in Baden-Württemberg. Together with the brothers Gerhard and Achim he took up handball again and eventually became a professional in the small club Frisch Auf Göppingen. Thanks to his enormous talent he soon made it to the top - first in Germany and then in Europe. It should be noted that Bernhard Kempa led the provincial club to the German championship, an achievement he later repeated on two more occasions. In the course of these successes, the man from Opole was named Germany's best handball player and was chosen for the national team, whose key player he became and with whom he won the world championship title in 1952 and 1955. It is also worth mentioning that handball was then played outdoors on a football field. However, these were not the only successes of this exceptional athlete.