A Question of Integration? Born and Raised in Germany -- But Playing for Turkey

Two key players for Turkey's national team were born and raised in Germany. Now, one German politician is wondering aloud why they aren't on the German national team. Is it yet another sign of integration shortcomings?

What makes a German? It is a question the country has been dealing with for decades, ever since large numbers of foreigners began coming to Germany to seek work in the 1950s.

This week, though, with the German national football team meeting the Turkish side in the Euro 2008 semi-finals on Wednesday, the question has suddenly been infused with added relevance. After all, as many have pointed out, two key players on the Turkey team -- Hamit Altintop and Hakan Balta -- were born and raised in Germany.

Now, Claudia Roth, co-head of Germany's Green Party, has waded into the discussion, saying that Germany's broken integration policies are to blame for the fact that Altintop and Balta will be playing against the Germans on Wednesday instead of for them.

"Why shouldn't such talented players as Hamit Altintop and Hakan Balta play for the German national team?" Roth wondered to the Turkish daily Hürriyet. "We have to be able to naturalize young people. We have to give them the feeling that they belong here."

She went on to criticize Germany's immigration policy. "Germany's citizenship policies are wrong," she said. "If you look at the economic and demographic facts, it is obvious that these policies are wrong. Making naturalization more difficult is no solution for a country."

She was echoed by her Green colleague Omid Nouripour in the tabloid Bild on Tuesday. "It is apparent even on the football pitch how we handle the many talents from all nationalities," he said. "Germany has a lot of improvements to make."

Roth's comments come in a year when many of those teams in the Euro 2008 soccer championships entered the tournament with a number of foreign-born players on their rosters. Both Croatia and France, now out of the tournament, had seven each and Portugal had five. Four of the five strikers on the German team are foreign born as well -- with the fifth, Mario Gómez, the offspring of a Spanish father and German mother.

Indeed, conservative politicians in Germany used this fact to challenge Roth's statement that integration in Germany needs help. "What Ms. Roth says is nonsense," said Hartmut Koschyk of the conservative Bavarian party Christian Social Union. "(Lukas) Podolski, (Miroslav) Klose and (Kevin) Kuranyi are all counterexamples. They could have opted to play in other teams but they all chose to play for the German national team."

Podolski and Klose were both born in Poland while Kuranyi was born in Brazil and grew up in Panama. Another German striker, Oliver Neuville, was born in Switzerland.

But even as the politicians try to use Wednesday's match in Basel to score political points, the players themselves are also aware of the immense attention being paid in both Turkey and Germany to the game, over and above its meaning for the tournament.

In a Monday interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Altintop said that he hopes the match -- the first time Germany and Turkey have played against each other in a major football tournament since the 1950s -- can promote further integration of Turks in Germany.

"It will be a very special game for me," Altintop said. "I have Germany to thank for a lot -- actually for everything…. I would be very happy if every fan were to see Wednesday's game as a huge folk festival between the two countries. Regardless of the result, the game is an excellent opportunity to take another step toward the much-discussed goal of integration."

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With reporting by Cathrin Gilbert and Leyla Dere

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