Police said goalkeeper Enke killed himself at a level crossing in the small town of Neustadt am Rübenberge, near Hannover, shortly before 6:00 pm on Tuesday. He was 32.
He leaves behind a widow, Teresa, and a daughter of eight months, Leila, adopted by the couple in May after their two-year-old daughter Lara tragically died of a heart defect in 2006.
According to Enke’s wife during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, the footballer suffered from depression for years, and had feared the couple would lose custody of their newly adopted daughter.
“I tried to give him hope again, to show him that football was not everything, that we had each other,” his wife Teresa said. “I was always by his side. I believed with love we could pull through this. But football meant everything to him.”
His doctor, also present at the conference, confirmed that Enke had been in treatment for the illness since 2003, and had refused clinical treatment on the day he killed himself.
In the suicide note he left, Enke apologised for the “intentionally hiding” his true emotional condition.
His doctor said he had not been aware his patient, who kept his depression secret from his teammates and the public, was in danger of harming himself.
As the tragic news swept through the country, around 300 of the club’s fans and several of his teammates gathered outside the club’s offices on Tuesday night. Many brought flowers and lit candles.
Large numbers of people were also present outside the grounds on Wednesday morning to pay their respects.
Football fan H. Bähre told news agency DDP he was stunned by the goalkeeper’s death. “I didn’t believe it at first,” he said while standing outside the Hannover 96 stadium wearing a team jersey shortly after midnight.
Meik B. said Enke had been an “icon” and an “example” to team supporters after “showing feelings” unlike other players.
“My immediate first thought was that we must go to the stadium and light a candle,” fan Bettina Stümpel told news agency DPA.
Enke, born in Jena in eastern Germany in 1977, was understudy to then first-team keeper Jens Lehmann during the 2008 European championships and took over goalkeeping for Germany when Lehmann retired in August 2008.
He was voted the Bundesliga’s goalkeeper of the season in 2008/09 and won eight caps for his country.
But an intestinal infection in September caused him to pull out of the national squad two days ahead of their 4-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Azerbaijan.
This allowed his rival Rene Adler to boost his chances of representing his country in June’s 2010 World Cup finals and Adler was in goal for the 1-0 win over Russia last month which saw Germany book their place in South Africa.
Enke only returned to play for his club Hannover 96 as team captain just last Sunday in their 2-2 draw with Hamburg and the shot-stopper declared himself delighted to be fit again.
His death was therefore a shock to those closest to him both personally and professionally.
“We’re in shock. I don’t know what to say,” said national manager Oliver Bierhoff, who along with head coach Joachim Löw informed Enke’s international teammates of the tragedy.
With Germany preparing for their friendly against Chile this weekend, Löw cancelled training on Wednesday and Enke’s club president Martin Kind was left stunned by the news.
“It is a total catastrophe. I am finding it hard to understand,” said Kind.
On Wednesday afternoon the German Football Association (DFB) cancelled a friendly between the national team and Chile scheduled for Saturday in honour of Enke.
DFB President Theo Zwanziger called the decision “without alternative,” adding that Enke had been an “excellent young athlete” with “great character.”
He also thanked Enke’s widow for speaking out about his illness before the press just one day after his death, a task he said must have required “superhuman strength.”