06/25/2008 12:55 PM

2-1 for Friendship

Germany-Turkey Clash Shines Spotlight on Integration

By in Berlin

Turks in Germany insist it is just another football match. But with the two countries meeting in the Euro 2008 semifinals on Wednesday night, peace and friendship are at the top of everyone's wish list.

You can tell a lot about someone’s loyalties by how they predict the outcome of a football match. If they say 2-0 for their team, they think their squad is clearly superior. While 1-0 tells you they aren’t too confident in their own side, but likewise aren’t that afraid of the other. And a true fan, of course, almost never forecasts a loss.

Should they say 2-1, though, it’s almost like a small prayer. It’s like saying: "We know the other team is going to score, but if all goes well and the gods are on our side, we’ll score more." And a 2-1 victory for the Turkish team over the Germans is what the Turkish population of Berlin is predicting.

That, though, is about all they’ll tell you about where their deepest loyalties lie as Turkey goes up against Germany on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Euro 2008 football tournament. It is the first match-up between the two teams in a major tournament since 1954 -- when Germany won both head-to-heads in that year’s World Cup by a combined score of 11-3. But a lot has changed since then, including the demographic make-up of Germany. Many, in fact, even fear that Wednesday’s game could bring long suppressed feelings of frustration to the surface among Germany’s large Turkish and Turkish-German population.

"The main thing is that it stays friendly. It's just a normal game," said Kandemir Mehmet, 48, who owns a material and clothing stand at the Turkish market on Maybachufer in West Berlin.

A quick glance around Kreuzberg, the Berlin neighborhood where Mehmet and tens of thousands of others with Turkish background live, is enough to see that Mehmet is wrong. The bright red of the Turkish flag is everywhere to be seen -- hanging from windows, fluttering from car antennas, on T-shirts, and draped over vegetable stands at the Tuesday market. Indeed, whereas just a month ago, one would have been hard put to find a single Turkish crescent and star, this week, Turkish neighborhoods in Berlin have turned almost entirely red.

Still, despite the outpouring of pro-Turkey sentiment, Kreuzberg is on its best behavior -- aware that many in Germany are using the game as a barometer to gauge just how integrated Germany's Turkish population has become. Indeed, alongside the Turkish flag in many of the windows and on many of the cars, a German one is also flying. Even the hard-core Turkey fans in Germany are careful to water down their zeal.

"The best team should win," said Pinar Celik, 23, while trying on shoes at the market on Tuesday. Celik, of Turkish background but born and raised in Germany, was decked out in a shirt emblazoned with the Turkish flag. She was likewise wearing a Turkish flag bandanna, hat and necklace. But, she claimed, "If Germany wins, it's OK. I want Turkey to win and if they do, I'll be happy. But if Germany wins, I'll be happy, too." Her prediction? Turkey over Germany 2-1.

The feel-good offensive isn't just limited to Germany's Turkish neighborhoods. Whereas prior to the Germany game against Poland at the very beginning of the tournament, Germany and Polish tabloids fought a brief newsprint skirmish, this time around, friendship is the name of the game. The tabloid Bild on Wednesday devotes its entire front page to images of fans for both sides and inside includes a "Poster of Friendship" depicting a football with both the Turkish and German flags on it. "Bild wishes for a fun and fair football festival," it says.

Not to be outdone, the Germany edition of the tabloid Hürriyet also tucks a poster into its Wednesday paper. "Friendship should be the victor," it says. The Berliner Morgenpost has an article about the game right at the top of its Web site -- in Turkish.

The demonstrative cross-cultural love fest is striking -- not least because, as opposed to other countries in Europe, Germany has almost never had major problems with its Muslim minority. Turks have occasionally been the target of neo-Nazi attacks, some of them brutal and deadly. Germans have likewise occasionally fallen victim to assaults by Turkish youths. Even ahead of Wednesday's game there have been issues, with a number of Turkish flag-flying cars in Kreuzberg having their tires slashed over the weekend.

Mostly, though, the complaints center around questions of integration and the so-called Turkish "parallel society." Quite simply put, many claim that those with Turkish backgrounds and ethnic-Germans simply don't have that much to do with each other.

It is a viewpoint that has become less and less true the more deeply rooted Germany's Turkish community becomes. And this week, many loyalties in Kreuzberg and other Turkish communities across Germany are genuinely split. Now, it seems almost as though Kreuzberg at least would like to use this game to put to rest integration concerns.

"This game is the best of both worlds!" yells vegetable seller Riza Isler, who was born in Turkey but who has lived in Germany most of his life. "No matter who wins, I will have a team to support in the finals!"

Still, no matter how ambivalent many no doubt are, Kreuzberg's true passions aren't terribly well hidden. Clothing seller Mehmet decided not to miss a bet and bought huge quantities of Turkish and German football T-shirts to sell at the market. By Tuesday afternoon, he only had three Turkey T-shirts left, leaving his table piled high with Germany shirts. "I sold them all today," he said of the bright red T's.

At Isler's vegetable stand, his friend cringed upon hearing that Isler would support Germany in the finals. "I will hide in the corner and wail if Turkey loses," he yelled -- before claiming he was going to sell all of his vegetables in the last two minutes the market was open, a reference to Turkey's habit in the tournament of stunning its opponent with last minute goals.

And across the market, four vegetable hawkers, all wearing Turkey shirts, claimed with a grin that they supported "Turkey … and Germany." Who did they think would win? Turkey of course -- 2-1.


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