A MAT­TER OF NA­TIONAL PRIDE

Some Ger­mans re­luc­tant to ex­press pub­lic sup­port, in light of coun­try’s his­tory

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTSBRIEFING - By Kirsten Grieshaber

BER­LIN — Youssef Bas­sal’s heart swelled with pride when he draped an enor­mous Ger­man flag on the build­ing where he runs a cell phone store.

So the Le­banese im­mi­grant, a sup­porter of Ger­many’s World Cup team, was stunned when Ger­man left­ist groups tore down the 1,000-square-foot flag. The next day, he cheer­fully put the flag up again — and they ripped it down again.

“I don’t un­der­stand them at all — ev­ery Amer­i­can or French­man would be proud to show their flag and root for their foot­ball team,” the 39-year-old said at his store, in a neigh­bor­hood that’s home to many Arab im­mi­grants.

“It’s not like there’s still a swastika on Ger­many’s flag.”

It’s a para­dox rooted in Europe’s mul­ti­cul­tural world. Im­mi­grants are ral­ly­ing around Ger­many’s di­verse foot­ball team that in­cludes play­ers with roots in Turkey, Ghana, Poland, Tu­nisia and other coun­tries. But 65 years af­ter the end of World War II, some Ger­mans are still adamantly against any ex­pres­sion of na­tional pride and feel un­easy about cheer­ing “Deutsch­land, Deutsch­land” dur­ing a World Cup match.

There are many Ger­mans, es­pe­cially from the younger gen­er­a­tion, who don’t hes­i­tate to paint their faces with the Ger­man tri­color on game day. Large gath­er­ings have watched out­doors in ma­jor cities. But it only be­came widely ac­cept­able to show such overt ex­pres­sions of na­tional pride four years ago when Ger­many hosted the World Cup.

Strik­ingly, what has caught the eye dur­ing this World Cup is that Ber­lin’s im­mi­grant neigh­bor­hoods sport many more black-red-golden flags on cars, bal­conies and store fronts than more tra­di­tional Ger­man quar­ters like Mitte or Pren­zlauer Berg.

No longer is the Ger­man na­tional team a col­lec­tion of blonde-haired, blue-eyed play­ers. It is a cel­e­bra­tion of the nation’s mul­ti­eth­nic mod­ern-day makeup. The team of 23 in­cludes 11 play­ers with a va­ri­ety of im­mi­grant roots. It re­flects the coun­try’s tran­si­tion: 15 mil­lion out of 82 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants claim im­mi­grant back­ground.

“These play­ers, who are the chil­dren of for­mer guest­work­ers and bi­na­tional par­ents, rep­re­sent Ger­many in South Africa on the world’s stage,” Cem Ozdemir, co-leader of the Green Party and the son of Turk­ish im­mi­grants, told daily Die Welt.

While the en­tire nation has ral­lied be­hind the World Cup team, re­la­tions be­tween im­mi­grants and Ger­mans are not al­ways easy.

Just a few days ago, a low-level politician in Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian Demo­cratic party sug­gested an in­tel­li­gence test for prospec­tive new­com­ers to as­sure that they “re­ally ben­e­fit our coun­try.” The idea was quickly shot down.

While many im­mi­grants com­plain about racist re­marks and xeno­pho­bic be­hav­ior, many Ger­mans fear ter­ror­ist attacks by home­grown ter­ror­ists, es­pe­cially Mus­lim ex­trem­ists, af­ter a hand­ful of failed at­tempts.

To fur­ther com­pli­cate things, the legacy of the Holo­caust still looms large — even when it comes to sport­ing events.

Heide Schwartz, a 58-year-old Ger­man teacher, said even though she liked watch­ing the World Cup, she would never adorn her car with a flag, be­cause “Ger­many did too many hor­ri­ble things dur­ing the Third Re­ich to be able to cheer out loud for this coun­try.” Friede Schulze, a 56-year-old banker, said, “I root for Ger­many with my fam­ily, but I do not feel good about join­ing those large crowds of flag-wav­ing fans.’’

The Ger­man rad­i­cal left­ist group “Au­tonome WM-Gruppe” went a step fur­ther and pub­lished a post on the In­ter­net call­ing for the de­struc­tion of Bas­sal’s flag.

Bas­sal, who moved to Ger­many 25 years ago, has or­ga­nized a group to pro­tect the Ger­man flag at night. He has also pressed charges against those be­lieved re­spon­si­ble for tear­ing it down.

“This flag has noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics,” Bas­sal ex­plained. “It’s about cel­e­brat­ing our great Ger­man team, which is half im­mi­grant any­way.”

In­deed, while the team has play­ers like Thomas Mueller and Bas­tian Sch­we­in­steiger with deep Ger­man roots, it also has Sami Khedira, whose fa­ther is Tu­nisian; Pol­ish-born Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podol­ski; Gha­nian-rooted Jerome Boateng; and Me­sut Oezil, whose par­ents are Turk­ish.

“Our team is a suc­cess­ful mix,” Khedira said. “We are play­ing with this typ­i­cal Mediter­ranean ease, but also have a very strong dis­ci­pline.”

Oezil, one of the biggest stars, is re­ported to mur­mur Ko­ranic verses be­fore games. His girl­friend, Anna Maria Lagerblom, made head­lines re­cently for re­port­edly con­vert­ing to Is­lam.

As Ger­many re­de­fines its iden­tity, im­mi­grants may be lead­ing the way in teach­ing Ger­mans how to feel good about them­selves. Said Bas­sal: “In the end we’re even go­ing to teach the Ger­mans how to cheer for Ger­many again.”

Markus Schreiber

Fans at a pub­lic view­ing area in Ber­lin re­act af­ter a Ger­man goal. Younger Ger­mans seem less re­luc­tant than some el­ders to show en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port for the na­tional team.

Matt Dun­ham

Me­sut Oezil, left, and Lukas Podol­ski cel­e­brate a quar­ter­fi­nal win over Ar­gentina. They are two of the Ger­man na­tional play­ers with fam­ily roots that ex­tend out­side the coun­try.

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