Kempa, Bernhard

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


Every sport has its idols. Amongst handball fans - a sport that is popular all over the world, especially in his native Germany and Upper Silesia - Bernhard Kempa is considered to be the most important sportsman from Opole. He died on 20 July 2017 at the age of 96.

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.

The hand of the trainer

Bernhard Kempa played 131 games for the German national team, during which time he scored 31 goals. In 1954, he also added the runner-up World Championship title to the two world championship titles mentioned above. In addition to his successes in the national team, he was four times German champion as a player, twice outdoors in 1954 and 1955, and twice indoors in 1954 and 1957. but it is also remarkable that in 1947 he was already a coach at Frisch Auf Göppingen.Deutschland: His first period as a trainer lasted until 1961, during which time he won seven German championships in 1954,1955,1957,1958,1959,1960 and 1961, including field handball in 1954 and 1957. In 1960 he and his protégés won the European National Champions' Cup, after reaching the final of this competition in 1959. Later Bernhard Kempa was again the coach of Frisch Auf Göppingen from 1966 to 1971, when the club won the German championship in 1970.

Some interesting details

Bernhard Kempa will remain in the memory of handball fans as the inventor of the so-called Kempa trick. This is a timelessly popular, impressive move that many first-class teams with outstandingly trained players have mastered. The name of Bernhard Kempa is also used by a handball distribution company as well as a manufacturer of handball outfits. It is also worth noting that after his coaching career came to an end, Bernhard Kempa embraced his two hobbies, tennis and skiing. He also showed his outstanding talent when he became the world and European champion in senior tennis!


Krzysztof Świerc

This article was first published in the Polish internet newspaper punkt. media ( handball player and coach, twice world champion and eleven times German champion.