BERLIN, Nov 16 – Germany's football stars, including Michael Ballack and Jurgen Klinsmann, joined tens of thousands of mourning fans in Hanover on Sunday to pay their last respects to tragic goalkeeper Robert Enke.The 32-year-old, who had been set to travel with the Germany squad to next June’s 2010 World Cup in South Africa, flung himself under a commuter train at a small town near Hanover on Tuesday evening having suffered from depression.
An emotional memorial service was held at Hanover 96’s stadium, where Enke should have been in goal for the next home game against Bayern Munich.
Instead, his coffin lay in the centre-circle as many of the 35,000 fans wept openly on the terraces while others proudly held aloft their club scarves.
The tragedy has thrown football-mad Germany into mourning and highlighted the immense amount of pressure the game’s stars here are expected to shoulder.
Since his death, it has emerged Enke had been treated for depression since 2003 and German Football Federation (DFB) president Theo Zwanziger appealed to fans to show more understanding of the pressures their heroes face on a daily basis.
"Football must not be everything in life," said Zwanziger.
"A little more humanity, a little more courage in your convictions, a little bit more understanding of people’s dignity: this is what I wish from you (the fans)."
And Zwanziger appealed to the parents of the next generation of Germany’s stars.
"Dear parents, if you think of whether your children can one day become national players, think not only of the glory," he said.
Germany’s planned friendly against Chile on Saturday was called off as a mark of respect and the national squad joined coach Joachim Loew, plus his predecessor Klinsmann, to say goodbye to their former team-mate.
Enke leaves behind his wife Teresa and eight-month-old daughter Leila, whom the couple adopted in May after their two-year-old daughter Lara died from a heart infection.
After the service, Enke was buried next to his daughter in a private ceremony for the family.
Local politician Christian Wulff expressed his sympathy for the driver of the train which struck Enke and praised Teresa, who showed remarkable strength to speak publicly about her husband’s problems less than 24 hours after his death.
Close friend Jacques Gassmann and Enke’s advisor Joerg Neblung sat by her side throughout the emotional ordeal and the 33-year-old sobbed on occasion while key speakers offered her words of comfort.
"Mrs Enke, you have gone through so much more than we knew," said Wulff.
"We hope for you and your daughter Leila that one day you will be able to make peace with this and think gratefully about beautiful moments you had together."
"Robert Enke was a person who had a lot of time for fans, he took time to talk to them over and over again, but above all he always had time for children, his greatest admirers."
Before his Hanover team-mates carried out Enke’s coffin on the journey to his final resting place, the city’s mayor Stephan Weil paid tribute to the man whose death has affected football fans around the globe.
"Why does one single man’s death touch a whole town, a region and beyond?" asked Weil.
"We, here in Hanover, were always impressed with his performances and only last Sunday we celebrated his comeback here from injury.
"He was a role model for many, especially for children, and many of us would have liked someone like him as a friend."
And Weil echoed Zwanziger’s words by asking for more understanding for people suffering from the still-taboo illness of depression and said Enke’s death would not be in vain if it helps others seek professional help.
"He who shows fear is not weak, but strong," said Weil.
"We can learn something from his death, but that does not make it better – he will live on in our hearts."
A tribute on behalf of the Germany squad was printed in several newspapers here on Sunday and the service was screened live on five German television channels.