The Oberliga (Plural: Oberligen) (English: Upper league) is currently the name of the fifth tier of the German football (soccer) leagues. Before the introduction of the 3. Fußball-Liga in 2008, it was the fourth tier. The word Oberliga is equivalent to Premier League in English, however, its literal translation would be Upper League. At the end of the 2011–12 season the number of Oberligas was increased from eleven to fourteen.
The term Oberliga was also used prior to the establishment of the Gauliga system in 1933 and again between the end of World War II and the formation of the Bundesliga in 1963 for first division leagues in Germany. Between 1978–94 the term Amateuroberliga was used for third tier leagues, which were then the highest level of amateur play in the country. The current usage of the designation Oberliga was introduced in 1994. In East Germany a separate league structure was in place from 1948–1990 and the top flight division there was known as the DDR-Oberliga.
Based on criteria outlined by the German association in October 1962 an evaluation system covering the last 12 seasons was established through which the sixteen clubs from these five leagues were established which were to form the new nationwide first division Bundesliga, with the others going to the new second tier Regionalligen.
Oberliga champions are usually promoted to Regionalliga which is directly below the 3. Fußball-Liga. The Oberliga Nordost has two divisions ("Süd" and "Nord").
If the champion of an Oberliga is the B-team of a club which already has a team in the Regionalliga, or which has a team which will be relegated to the Regionalliga, the B-team cannot be promoted, and the next highest qualified team will be promoted instead.
There are fourteen "Oberligen", based on states and regions of Germany.
Promotion from the Oberligas to the 2nd Bundesliga
From 1974 to 1994, the Oberligas, originally called 1st Amateurliga, were set right below the two 2nd Bundesligas, North and South. Originally there was 15 Amateurligas which were reduced to 8 Oberligas in 1978. From 1981 the 2nd Bundesliga was reduced to one single league. Because there always were more Oberliga champions then promotion spots, these clubs had to determine the promoted teams by the way of a promotion play-off to the 2. Bundesliga, called "Aufstiegsrunde zur 2. Bundesliga".
The Oberliga Baden-Württemberg was formed in 1978 to provide a single-division 3rd tier league for the state of Baden-Württemberg. Previously, the clubs in the state had played in four separate Amateurligas; Nordwürttemberg, Schwarzwald-Bodensee, Nordbaden and Südbaden. Two of those were merged, the Amateurligas Nordwürttemberg and Schwarzwald-Bodensee to form the Verbandsliga Württemberg.
The Fußball-Bayernliga was formed in 1945. In 1946–47, 1947–48 and from 1953–54 till 1962–63 it was split in a northern and a southern division. From 1963 to 2012 it played in the single division format. Since 2012 it again plays with a northern and a southern division.
The Hessenliga was formed in 1945. In its first two seasons, 1945/46 and 1946/47 it played in two separate divisions, east and west. Since then it has been a single league and is the oldest Oberliga to operate continuously in this format.
The participating teams are redistributed between the northern and the southern division based on geographical needs. If possible, teams from Berlin, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern promote to the northern division, whereas teams from Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia promote to the southern division.
The Oberliga Rheinland-Pfalz/Saar, named Oberliga Südwest until 2012, was formed in 1978 to provide a single-division third tier league for the two states Saarland and Rheinland-Pfalz. Previously, the clubs that make up this Oberliga played in three separate leagues; the Amateurligas Südwest, Saarland, and Rheinland.