Thanks to the Associated Press for this article.
East, West German Dog Breeders Divided
By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER
BERLIN (AP) Gerlinde Schultze beamed as she lifted up her week-old puppy.
“This is Xaver, a purebred East German shepherd,” she said proudly, kissing the dark whelp on its wet snout.
“You can’t possibly find a better bloodline anywhere especially not in West Germany.”
As the country celebrates 17 years of reunification on Wednesday, some animosities between the formerly communist East and capitalist West remain and few are as doggedly contested as the fight over whose shepherds are superior.
One thing nobody denies is that in the more than four decades of Germany’s division, the dogs did develop different looks: Eastern shepherds are mostly dark gray or black, while the Western dogs have the better-known yellow-and-black appearance.
West German shepherds also have a characteristically sloped back, while their East German counterparts have a straighter back which their proponents claim is less prone to the hip problems that can plague the breed.
Schultze, 46, has been breeding shepherds on the eastern outskirts of Berlin for more than 20 years and is convinced that the East German bloodlines are better than those of the West.
“Our dogs are healthier and have a better personality,” she said. “Those overbred shepherds in the West are merely about good looks.”
Heiko Grube, a west German shepherd aficionado and the spokesman of the national German Shepherd’s Club, strongly disagrees.
“It is absolutely not true that the bloodlines of the East are better,” he said. “After all it was the East Germans who weren’t allowed to leave their country while in the West we had an open market for the fresh blood that’s needed for successful breeding.”
While German shepherds are also very popular in the United States, the American Kennel Club was not aware of a similar debate there.
“In the U.S., there’s only one standard and one breed of German shepherd dogs,” said Lisa Peterson, a spokeswoman for the AKC.
First bred by Max von Stephanitz in 1895, the dog is Germany’s most popular canine with more than 2,200 local shepherd dog clubs across the country, according to the national German Shepherd’s Club.
The debate over which type is superior is fueled by the near mythical status the shepherd has in Germany, where it is celebrated for embodying traditional German virtues like loyalty, reliability and resilience.
Because of this, the claim for the better dog at times sounds more like a battle over moral superiority between the East and the West than breeder rivalry.
Grube called the claims from the East German breeders an “obvious case of Ostalgie” a sentimental nostalgia about life in former East Germany, which went out of existence at reunification in 1990 at the end of the Cold War.
East German breeders get particularly upset when confronted with the widespread assumption that most of their dogs were used at the border to keep citizens from fleeing to the West.
“The army and the police only got the scum the best ones went to dog lovers,” said Werner Dalm, the former government official for shepherd dog breeding in communist East Germany. However, he acknowledged that the East German army asked particularly for those “that could really bite well.”
Today, Dalm, who is still breeding shepherds at age 81 and is also convinced of the East German dogs’ superiority, believes that pure East German bloodlines are all but extinct.
“Since the unification in 1990, we’ve been mixing bloodlines,” he said. “Even my dogs don’t have pure East German pedigrees any longer.”
Whatever the truth, it does seem like the East German shepherd is making a comeback among the 75,000 members of the German Shepherds’ Club and even abroad.