Gerhard Fritz Kurt Schröder was born on 7 April 1944 in the village of Mossenberg, in what is now the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. His father, a German soldier in the Wehrmacht, was killed in Romania in the Second World War while Gerhard was still an infant. He, his sister, and their three half-siblings grew up in poverty. The family first lived in a plain shack in the village of Bexten; later they moved to Talle, a small settlement in the Lippe district. His mother, Erika Vosseler, worked as a cleaning lady, while the children had to help local farmers in the fields and stables. When Erika died, at the age of 99, the family wrote in her obituary, “We called her a lion, because she fought her whole life for us.” In his youth, Gerhard Schröder was a passionate soccer player, and played forward for the club TuS Talle, where his teammates called him Acker, a nickname meaning “the plough.” As Schröder would later recall, success in soccer was an important source of social recognition for him.