Connect to share and comment

World Cup 2010: Germany's brotherly love

Germany's World Cup soccer team builds bridges between Germans and migrants.

German World Cup teammates celebrate
German World Cup teammates Mesut Oezil and Lukas Podolski highlight the multiethnic makeup of the team. Here the two celebrate victory over Argentina on July 3, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

(Editor's note: Spain beat Germany 1-0 to reach the World Cup finals. Germany will play Uruguay in the consolation round on Saturday, July 10. )

BERLIN, Germany — At the kiosks in Berlin’s heavily migrant neighborhood of Kreuzberg, the contrasting headlines of the German and the diaspora Turkish newspapers long seemed to reflect the incongruent worlds inhabited by everyday Germans and the three million-strong Deutschtuerken (German Turks) who live in Germany.

But the day after the German soccer team’s thrashing of England, the front pages shared a rare identical image: the boyish face of Germany’s 20-year-old forward Mesut Oezil, mouth wide-open and eyes bulging as he celebrated scoring the game’s first goal. 

Oezil, the son of Turkish migrants, was born and grew up in Germany, and he holds both German and Turkish citizenship.

(Read about what the World Cup means to each nation.) 

In Kreuzberg, with its ubiquitous kebab stands and Mediterranean grocery shops, the cars were decked out in the German national colors of red, black and gold, and the republic's flags hung from tenement housing windows — sometimes side by side with the red-and-white Turkish flag.

“Finally, this is a German team I can root for,” said the Green Party’s Ozcan Mutlu, at a talk later that evening. Mutlu, who has Turkish heritage, went on: “The fact that even migrants and their offspring fly the German colors is an overt symbol of how many people with hybrid identities have now, mentally at least, finally arrived in this country."

Never before has there been a German national team as "multikulti" (multicultural) and reflective of Germany’s post-Wall demographics as this year’s World Cup squad.

Of the 23 players, 11 have foreign roots — or "migration backgrounds" as Germans put it — from Poland, Turkey, Brazil, Bosnia, Ghana and Algeria. The Oezils, Botengs and Trochowskis are the products of labor migrations, mixed marriages, Balkan pogroms and world wars.

This is the first German team to manifest the postwar migration flows that have transformed Germany from a land of Schmidts and Muellers into one in which 20 percent of the population has foreign heritage. 

In cities like Frankfurt and Berlin, half the kids in the school systems have immigrant backgrounds, the largest number Turkish.

Read more GlobalPost World Cup Coverage

But unlike the case in France or the Netherlands, which have long had inclusive notions of citizenship (thus the Zidanes and Gullits who powered those countries to prominent soccer titles in the past), Germany’s naturalization laws remained blood-based and highly exclusive until 2000.

Because the center-left government at the time revamped nationality requirements, over a million foreign nationals living in Germany finally became German. In fact, the legislation changed the very definition of German-ness, opening the previously closed nation in an unprecedented way.

Even though almost half of the German Turks, the country’s largest migrant nationality, now carry German passports, their integration into the German mainstream has been less dramatic than the overnight rise of Mesut Oezil to national stardom.