45,000 fans, pay last respects to Robert Enke

More than 45,000 fans gathered Sunday at the Hannover stadium for a memorial service for Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke, whose suicide has shaken the country. “Robert Enke will never come back to this stadium, the place where he conquered our hearts,” Hannover club president Martin Kind said at the beginning of the ceremony. “But it wasn’t only his success that made Robert Enke so popular, it was the man, his personality.”

The 32-year-old player, who played for Hannover 96 and had a good chance of being Germany’s starting goalkeeper at next year’s World Cup in South Africa, stepped in front of a train near his Hannover home on Tuesday evening. His widow, Teresa, appeared on national television a day later to say her husband had been suffering from depression for six years but did not want it known.

Enke’s coffin was covered with white roses and was placed in the center of the field. German politicians and sports stars were also at the memorial, where many of the fans wore black and the club’s green, white and black scarf. Before the start of the ceremony, the fans stood and applauded when Teresa Enke walked to the coffin together with a friend. Several members of the German national team also approached the coffin to say goodbye to their teammate.

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In a country riveted by soccer, Enke’s death has prompted a debate about whether players receive sufficient psychological support. Teresa Enke said her husband had kept his depression secret from the public because he had been afraid the couple’s adopted 8-month-old daughter would be taken away from them if his illness was known. The couple’s biological daughter, Lara, died of a heart ailment in 2006 when she was 2.

Enke’s father told weekly magazine Spiegel on Sunday that his son had suffered for a long time. “I think that his disease did not arise from something inside of him, but was triggered by his life’s circumstances,” said Dirk Enke, a psychotherapist, who said he tried to talk to his son several times but could not get him to talk about his depression. In a farewell note, Enke apologized to his family and the staff treating him for deliberately misleading them into believing he was better, which was “necessary in order to carry out the suicide plans,” said Valentin Markser, his doctor.

Enke was buried later in the day next to his daughter Lara in a private ceremony near Neustadt, outside Hannover.