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World Cup 2010: Germany's brotherly love

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

The German Turks remain on society’s margins, unable to climb the social ladder beyond its lowest rungs. Discrimination factors into most of their daily lives: two-thirds of working people with Turkish backgrounds say they have experienced bias at their job.

In schools, the high school graduation rate and the numbers of Turks advancing to higher education pale in contrast to mainstream Germans.

“I wish German society were as successfully integrated as the soccer team,” quipped Mutlu, a staunch critic of the conservative government’s integration policies, which he views as timid.

But this team’s irresistible charm may be breaking down some of those barriers that have hampered integration in the past. In contrast to the classic German virtues of past national teams — like iron discipline and a teeth-bared fighting spirit — this team, said manager Joachim Loew, shows "exuberance, constant motion, and explosive enthusiasm.”

The team's flat hierarchy — with no one superstar or super-vain primadonna – is unlike any past team: Everyone on the field is more or less equal, as important to the victories as the next player.

Germany’s cabinet minister for integration, Maria Boehme, said that this mixing of cultures and youthful dynamism is a model for Germany as a whole and is exactly what Germany’s economy needs to stay globally competitive.

At his inauguration last week, Germany’s new president, Christian Wulff, a conservative Christian Democrat who had in the past resisted immigration, gushed about the winning team and the new-look Deutschland. Specifically, he mentioned "our colorful republic of Germany" and talked about the potential of combining "German discipline and Turkish dribbling."

The “national eleven,” as they’re called, seems to have won over even long-time skeptics of integration.

“Soccer World Cup makes Germans and Turks into Super Friends,” exclaimed the mass circulation Bild-Zeitung, a paper that in the past was no special friend to underprivileged immigrants. The daily bubbled over about the team’s exemplar ethnic diversity and the wonder of young Turkish kids burnishing German flags.

It wasn't all that long ago that even everyday Germans cringed at flag-waving, an anti-nationalist reflex ingrained in postwar Germans.

And it was by no means a given that a player like Oezil would choose to play for the German team rather than the Turkish national squad, an option that he had. “We made it clear that you’re wanted here and you’re at home here,” said integration minister Boehme.

Although one study after another shows that many people with migrant backgrounds in fact don’t feel at home in today's Germany, the burst of brotherly love that has accompanied the multikulti soccer team’s mesmerizing advance to the semifinals might just rub off on Germany as a whole.