Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have combined for 19 of the past 23 Bundesliga titles, which is why "Der Klassiker" ranks high up among the best rivalries in world soccer. But it wasn’t always that way.
Here’s a look at how Bayern vs Dortmund became “a thing” in the first place, and the key moments that turned the rivalry into an international spectacle.
Before the rivalry
Bayern dominated the Bundesliga as early as the 1970s and ‘80s, but its main foes were Borussia Moenchengladbach, Hamburg and Werder Bremen, not Dortmund. The most memorable match between the two occurred in 1971, when Bayern demolished Dortmund 11-1 at home – still Bayern’s biggest Bundesliga win ever.
Dortmund's breakthrough (1994-96)
Having spent decades as a predominantly mid-table side, Dortmund first emerged as a serious Bundesliga contender under Ottmar Hitzfeld in the 1990s. After four consecutive top-four finishes under the new coach, Dortmund won its first title in 1995. They managed to repeat the following season, overtaking Bayern with four games to play to claim the rivalry’s first true title race.
Birth of the rivalry (1997)
Dortmund’s emergence did not sit well with Bayern, so the Reds reloaded and ultimately reclaimed the Bundesliga crown in 1997. The intensity also ratcheted up in their head-to-head battles. In the season’s second meeting, Bayern captain Lothar Matthaeus accused fellow Germany star Andi Moeller of being a crybaby, wiping imaginary tears off his face in what remains one of the rivalry's most iconic images. Moeller retaliated by slapping Matthaeus in the face.
But Moeller and Dortmund still managed to get the last laugh that season, beating Juventus in the Champions League final -- played in Munich’s Olympiastadion – while Bayern still waited for their first European triumph since 1976.
Power shift? (1998)
While promoted Kaiserslautern stunned everyone to win the 1998 Bundesliga title, Bayern and Dortmund ran into each other in the Champions League quarterfinals. Both ties ended 0-0 before Stephane Chapuisat scored an extra time winner in Dortmund, marking the second straight season in which Dortmund outshined mighty Bayern on the European stage.
This outcome is widely credited for pushing the rivalry into the international spotlight. Dortmund were no longer just a one- or two-hit wonder, and Bayern had found their new main rivals.
Kahn goes wild (1999)
Tempers flared twice during Bayern and Dortmund’s second meeting the following 1998/99 season, and the protagonist each time was Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. With Bayern trailing 2-0 and down to 10 men, Kahn first attempted a flying kung-fu kick at ‘98 hero Chapuisat, barely missing him, and later appeared to bite Heiko Herrlich in the ear. Kahn somehow wasn’t booked for either act, but he did appear to wake up his teammates. Bayern ended up salvaging a 2-2 draw to all but seal the Bundesliga title.
Height of the rivalry (1999-2002)
Hiring Hitzfeld away from Dortmund helped Bayern return to its glory days, winning three straight Bundesliga titles from 1999 to 2001 and the '01 Champions League to boot. Dortmund still hung around, though, finishing 3rd in ‘01 and winning their third league title in ’02, jumping Leverkusen on the penultimate matchday and edging third-place Bayern by just 2 points in an epic title race.
In the midst of that stretch, Bayern and Dortmund played out the most violent match in Bundesliga history that highlighted the increasingly fiery rivalry. On Matchday 28 of the ‘01 season, the two foes combined for 13 total cards– a league record to this day – including three reds.
Brilliant Bayern, dormant Dortmund (2003-10)
Bayern dominated the Bundesliga for the rest of the noughties, winning five of the next eight championships while starting to flex their muscle on the international transfer market, signing big stars like Roy Makaay, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
From 2003 to 2010, Bayern lost only 3 of 15 games against their rivals, who had fallen on tough times. Poor financial management since becoming the first publicly traded club on the German stock market nearly led Dortmund into bankruptcy in 2003 and again in 2005. A €2 million loan from none other than Bayern saved Dortmund from catastrophe.
Dortmund reignite the rivalry (2010-12)
With the arrival of Jurgen Klopp from Mainz, Dortmund were finally able to turn the tables on Bayern again. A young new generation of stars led by Mario Gotze, Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski powered Dortmund to the 2011 and 2012 Bundesliga titles, sweeping both season series against Bayern. It was the first time a club other than Bayern won back-to-back titles since Dortmund in the mid-90s.
For the icing on the cake, Dortmund then claimed the first double of their history by hammering Bayern 5-2 in the 2012 DFB-Pokal final behind a Lewandowski hat trick. One week later, Bayern also lost the Champions League final to Chelsea at their home ground.
The biggest Klassiker yet (2013)
Bayern licked their wounds from a hearbtreaking spring and stormed back with a vengeance, clinching the 2012-13 Bundesliga in record time and losing just one game. Bayern would win the DFB-Pokal as well, knocking Dortmund out in the quarterfinals, but not before facing their rivals one more time on the biggest stage of all - the Champions League final.
The first all-German European final proved to be an instant classic, with Arjen Robben scoring a dramatic 89th-minute winner at Wembley. Bayern would wrap up the first treble in their history a week later.
The Gotze Saga and Bayern's triple swoop
There’s no doubt Bayern’s appetite for their Bundesliga rivals' biggest stars has also been an important layer to their feud with Dortmund. In recent years, no transfer was more controversial than Bayern’s capture of Mario Gotze, who infamously announced an agreement just weeks before the 2013 UCL final. Of course, none other than Gotze then scored the winning goal in his first match back in Dortmund the following season.
Bayern’s subsequent moves for Lewandowski in 2014 and BVB captain Hummels this past summer only poured gasoline on the fire.
The Guardiola Era (2013-2016)
Pep Guardiola inherited Jupp Heynckes’ treble-winning side and turned it into an even bigger juggernaut. Though Dortmund were able to pick up a few results head-to-head, Guardiola’s Bayern proved close to invincible in the long run, putting together three straight record-breaking championship seasons with the Spaniard at the helm.
The Klassiker's biggest games during this time came in the DFB-Pokal. Dortmund were able to knock Bayern out on penalties in the 2015 semifinals before losing in the final, while Bayern returned the favor in last season’s final, also winning on penalties.