As German as Özil and Boateng
Germany can be proud of its multicultural football team and how it's helping change the country's national identity, writes The Local's Marc Young. But sport alone won't be enough.
Despite playing some of the most dazzling football of the tournament, Germany’s grasp for World Cup glory came up short this summer.
Turfed out of the semi-finals by a much more mature Spanish side that would eventually go on to hoist the trophy, it was a bittersweet end to a German Sommermärchen, or summer fairy tale, for coach Jogi Löw’s young team.
Still, Germans took heart as exciting new players like Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Jerome Boateng stepped on to the pitch and made the world take notice. Others, like the immensely impressive Bastian Schweinsteiger, filled the vacuum left by the national team’s injured captain Michael Ballack with aplomb. Playing a combination of stylish and effective football, they are certain to be a force to be reckoned with at the European championship in two years’ time.
But even more importantly, Löw’s multicultural team – 11 players have foreign roots – have come to reflect the diversity of modern German society. Just years ago it would have been unthinkable for Die Mannschaft to be made up of players with Polish, Turkish, Ghanaian and Tunisian backgrounds. That they are now considered “German” enough to take to the pitch for their country proves that more and more Germans are realizing theirs is a land of immigration.
On Saturday morning, I saw two little blond boys head back from a Berlin corner shop with milk and the newspaper for their parents. They both wore self-made German football jerseys – white t-shirts with player names and numbers in black ink. The older boy, maybe six, had “Neuer” in honour of Germany’s equally blond goalkeeper. But his younger towheaded brother was proudly sporting a misspelled “Ösil” on his back.
Considering Özil and Boateng probably would have chosen to play respectively for Turkey or Ghana only a few years ago, such heartwarming scenes can only help speed the integration of foreigners into German society. For only when immigrants feel both wanted and accepted will they have a real incentive to become happy and productive citizens. Unfortunately, it appears many still don’t.
That’s because amid all of the positive headlines about the diversity of the national football team, two worrying developments also came to light in recent weeks.
First, it was announced the number of foreigners becoming nationalized German citizens is dropping. Clearly people either don’t want a German passport or the government is not doing enough to encourage foreign residents to apply for one. Both should worry proponents of integrating immigrants into German society and encourage Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-wing government to drop its antiquated opposition towards dual nationality. By the same token, hysterical leftists need to stop harassing patriotic immigrants for supporting the German national team by displaying the country’s colours.
Second, a survey showed the overwhelming majority of immigrant children face severe disadvantages in the German school system. Though it’s always tough for newcomers to adjust to a new country, education is the key to ensuring their children can improve their lot while giving something back to society. Naturally, not everyone can play dazzling football for the national team like Mesut Özil.
But people like Özil and Boateng can still be immensely important role models to kids from both German and immigrant families.
Their message? It doesn’t matter where you come from – everybody in Germany is playing on the same team.