legendary goalkeeper Oliver Kahn is the ‘Latvian quarterback’ / Article
No one really believed it at first. But then the football titan cleared things up himself. “Yes it’s true. My grandmother is Latvian and my father was born there,” explained Oliver Kahn in June 2004, before the match between Latvia and Germany at the European Championship in Portugal.
Kahn’s grandfather, Rolf, a Baltic German, was an accountant at the Rīga Maritime Authority and later at the German Sea Fleet in Liepāja, where he lived with his Latvian wife, Ērika Alksne, born in Valmiera. Kahn’s father, also named Rolf, was born on December 9, 1943. During World War II, the family moved to Karlsruhe, where Kahn was born in the summer of 1969.
“The Kahns. From Liepāja to Karlsruhe” – this was the title of a full broadcast in the Kurzemes vārds newspaper published 30 years later and relating the history of the Kahn family. Among others, Ērika Kahn used the play to recount how, amid the disorder of war, her family left Kurzeme on a boat with other German civilians, fleeing the advancing Red Army.
Ērika’s father-in-law, Paul Kahn, was also on board, along with little Rolf. Paul was the owner of the Baltic Lloyd travel agency. It was formerly located in Liepāja’s 11 Rožu laukums, which were destroyed during the war. Meanwhile, Ērika’s husband, Rolf, was called up for military service and ended up as a prisoner of war. The family was only able to reunite in Germany after the end of the war.
The news of the Germany goalkeeper’s Latvian roots has also been a hot topic in other media. At the time of the match between the two teams, photos of Oliver Kahn and the famous Latvian striker Māris Verpakovskis were on the front pages of Latvian newspapers. In Germany, too, press reports referred to Kahn as a “Latvian quarterback”.
“My parents have visited Latvia twice since the country regained its independence. They still have contacts in Latvia, to whom they send postcards with Oliver’s autograph,” Rolf Kahn junior told the German press at the time. In Latvia, a friend from Ērika Kahn’s youth told stories about Ērika’s lasting interest in her former country. At one point, Rolf Kahn senior wrote a letter in Latvian to the mayor of Liepāja, to which he attached family photos and press clippings about his footballing grandson.
Oliver Kahn himself was more reserved about this. Asked about his Latvian roots, the former captain of the German team replied: “It’s true. I have a connection with Latvia. Especially when I visit my grandparents who still speak German with a Latvian accent. I consider myself German, however.
So far, the three-time IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper and 1996 European Champion has shown very little interest in this part of his family history. “At the end of the day, I have no memory of Latvia,” Kahn stressed. The land of his ancestors still awaits his visit.
In the championship, organized in Porto, Oliver Kahn denied all Latvian attempts to score. The match ended in a draw of 0:0. Nevertheless, a draw against Germany was a ‘victory’ for Latvia and many people still maintain that they were denied at least a clear penalty. It was the team’s first-ever point in a European Championship and to this day is considered the greatest achievement in Latvian football history.
The German Traces series was first published as part of the project of the Goethe Institut Rīga “German Footprints in Latvia” (“Vācu pēdas Latvijā” www.goethe.de/vacu-pedas). The linked mobile application “German footprints in Latvia” can be downloaded at www.ej.uz/vp-iOS and www.ej.uz/vp-android.
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