What do Olympic swimmer Henning Mühlleitner and the handball players of the Neckarsulmer Sport Union have to do with neo-Nazi terror? Right, nothing – except for the abbreviation NSU! That is why the association is now changing its name.
The Neckarsulmer Sport-Union was just two years old when the so-called National Socialist Underground was exposed on November 4, 2011. Since then, “NSU” has been known to almost everyone. But in Germany almost nobody thinks of the successful swimmers who set out to step onto the Olympic stage at the time, or the handball players who fought their way bit by bit from the 3rd league to almost the European Cup. Nationwide, the abbreviation NSU stands for racism, neo-Nazi terror and traumatized survivors, whom the German majority society also rammed the proverbial knife in the back after they had already lost their loved ones.
Not so in Neckarsulm. NSU has a completely different meaning here. Ever since “NSU Motorenwerke” settled in Neckarsulm in 1880 – at that time under a different name – the abbreviation has stood for home, progress and good jobs. It is true that the name disappeared bit by bit after the takeover by the car manufacturer Audi. But when the Neckarsulm Sports Association and the Sportfreunde Neckarsulm merged to form one club in 2009, it liked to call itself NSU – until November 4, 2011.
The Sport-Union was overwhelmed with the situation
Even then, the athletes (today there are around 3,000 in 15 departments from badminton to volleyball) were concerned with the question of whether they could still call themselves NSU from now on. “At that time, the association tried to counter this together with the Audi company and to protect the abbreviation,” says today’s managing director Kai Stettner. “However, the company didn’t consider it to be that important. And honestly, as a small club back then, you didn’t really dare to do it alone.”
The effort to give itself a new name also seemed too great for the young club at the time. After all, a fancy new logo is not enough. The “new” club would have needed a new website, new flyers, new signs, new posters, new jerseys – even new contracts and a new entry in the club register. At some point the topic calmed down again, says Stettner.
Sporting success brought the renaming back on the agenda
But now, ten years later, the subject is virulent again. “I think the reasons for this are twofold,” says Stettner, “on the one hand due to the corona situation, where there were a number of dissatisfied people, and on the other hand because of the sporting successes we had over the past year and a half.” Because suddenly television came to Neckarsulm. “We had live broadcasts on Eurosport of the home games of our handball players and had more appearances by our swimmers on ARD and ZDF. And the argument often came up: ‘We can’t show your logo’ or ‘we don’t want your logo demonstrate’.”
Athletes were approached about NSU outfits
“We then also looked for a conversation with our departments. And only then did it actually emerge that many of our athletes were also approached in a wide variety of situations,” says Stettner. “Be it with very mundane things, when people in NSU training sweaters were bullied in the supermarket, be it at competitions where we achieved some great successes; but the first question then was: ‘Why do you have the abbreviation NSU on your chest? ‘ And not: ‘How did you accomplish this feat?’ ”
That gnaws – the self-image of the athletes and the self-image of the club. Psychologists speak of “microtraumas” in this context. Each of them is not worth mentioning in and of itself. But at some point it sucks. “And then there are simply many points that ultimately led us to a) change our logo and b) discuss the change of name in the second step,” says Stettner, describing the motivation.
The new logo has been around since summer. The Neckarsulmer Sport-Union is already called Sport-Union Neckarsulm. For the new corporate design, the association “invested a mid-six-figure sum”, says Stettner. At the general meeting on November 3rd, the association will also formally adopt the new name in its statutes. “That will certainly lead to another controversial discussion, but I assume that there will still be no contradiction. Ultimately, it is only a matter of rearranging our name so that we do not get into trouble anymore, the abbreviation NSU to use.”
Many in the club still have the NSU in their hearts
People like Rolf Härdtner blew their hearts at the news. The chairman of the board, who had a major impact on the association and who also has Neckarsulm in his heart, found it difficult to say goodbye to the NSU – even if “only” a few letters were pushed back and forth in the end. One of the arguments that Stettner often heard when discussing the idea with critics was whether the logos of all NSU motorcycles would have to be masked off from now on because a couple of neo-Nazis ran amok. In the meantime, however, most of them have been convinced, “after all, some sponsors also had a hard time appearing as ‘proud partners of the NSU'”, says Stettner.
Olympic swimmer Henning Mühlleitner sees things more pragmatically: “I never saw what NSU meant for the city back then – from the first bicycle to vehicle production to the takeover by Audi. That is so far in the past for me that I don’t have much connection there, “says the 24-year-old. He calls the new logo “a refreshing change”.
When the Nazi terrorists were exposed in 2011, he was 14 years old. “I think the majority of the people who run around in swimming competitions have no idea what NSU could mean. Their coaches maybe. But I didn’t have any serious confrontations with it,” said the Olympic fourth in the 400 meter freestyle in Tokyo 2021 . “And if one did arrive, it was usually very ironic.” He only noticed the problems with the live broadcasts afterwards.
A painful step towards a better future
However, managing director Kai Stettner felt the full anti-NSU broadside after the big TV appearances. Be it through letters and emails to the board of directors or in comments on the various social media channels. “And that hurts at some point when you have great successes but can’t present yourself as you actually are.”
But for the Neckarsulmers it’s not just about origin, identity and political correctness. In the end, it was also the little toddler of daily work that spoke against the old name. For example, the Neckarsulmer homepage could no longer be linked because the NSU abbreviation was blocked. The abbreviation also had a technical blocking notice on social media. An ambitious company cannot be run in this way in the long term. Stettner knows that too: “We want to continue to be successful in sport and become even more successful. And in the end we had no choice but to break with the abbreviation NSU, even if the step is painful for many.”