Thousands gather for Robert Enke’s memorial

Tens of thousands of 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, 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 pitch. Many fans wore black together with the club’s green, white and black scarf.

Before the start of the ceremony, the fans stood and applauded when Teresa Enke walked up to the coffin together with a friend. Several members of the German national team also approached the coffin to say goodbye to their teammate.

In addition to more than 45,000 fans, German politicians and personalities from the sports world were also present at the stadium.

In a country riveted by football, 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 when she was two in 2006.

Speaking at the ceremony, the governor of Lower Saxony, Christian Wulff, said that Enke’s death should make people rethink society’s values.

“We don’t need flawless robots. We need human beings with rough edges, with all their weaknesses and wonderful qualities,” Wulff said. “We can only guess how big the pressure was that weighed on him.”

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 open up and talk about his depression.

Dirk Enke also said that his son had been much more affected by his daughter’s death three years ago than was known.

“It took him very long to get away from her,” Dirk Enke said.

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, the doctor who treated him.

Enke’s ailment was not known to his teammates or coaches.

Enke had a good chance of being Germany’s starting goalkeeper at next year’s World Cup in South Africa. He is the second Germany player known to have suffered from depression. Bayern Munich midfielder Sebastian Deisler quit football in January 2007 after several bouts of depression and five knee operations.

After the service, the German team will gather in Duesseldorf to prepare for Wednesday’s exhibition against Ivory Coast.

Enke will be buried later in the day next to his daughter Lara in a small ceremony near Neustadt, outside Hannover.