Two Germans called Özil and Khedira – Football is just the Beginning …
Generation M gave a kick-start to this year’s World Cup in South Africa and, at a stroke, changed Germany’s image. No longer is “Germany” a collection of serious white men determined to destroy the opposition with almost scientific thoroughness. An apostil from Roger Boyes
No, in the eyes of the world, Germany has some of the most exciting players on the planet. So who exactly are Generation M? Look at the goal-scorers in the country’s opening match against Australia: two Germans born in Poland, one German German, one Brazilian German. And the goals were set up by a Turkish German, Mesut Özil. “M” stands for “multi-culti” – multi-cultural.
In 2006, Germany demonstrated that it could be a good World Cup host by being both well-organised and relaxed. The relaxed bit came as a shock to foreign visitors and Germans alike; until then, it had seemed, an oxymoron. How could you be both efficient and laid-back? Germany managed it and its global image changed for the better. Naturally, German character did not change and the nation still frets about whether it is doing the right thing and constantly worries about whether it is loved or respected or secretly despised by its neighbours and partners.
That, I’m afraid, is typisch deutsch, and it will take another ten World Cups for that to change.
This is more than German football becoming less boring
But the 2010 World Cup has made a different impact on foreigners and on Germans. This is more than German football becoming less boring. Suddenly, outsiders have realised that you don’t have to be blond to be a German hero. German society has woken up to how much has changed in the past decade. I have been a correspondent in Germany, on and off, since the 1970s and there has never been a time when the country did not see itself as having some kind of immigration or integration problem. These debates, which hog the arts pages of the serious press, became more intense after German unification. Somehow, in the rush of incorporating eastern Germans into an expanded (but barely altered) West Germany, the question of whether immigrants could and should also become Germans was too complex to answer. By 1990 every thoughtful commentator had accepted the fact that the so-called “guest workers” – imported to plug the manpower gap of the 1960s and 1970s – were here to stay. And they had duties and responsibilities towards the German state, just as the Germans had responsibilities towards them. But there was something of a taboo about talking openly on this subject. The result was more and more tortured discussion about “Leitkultur” – the need for German culture to take precedence – and about the future of patriotism.
A political and social success
Now, thanks to the special alchemy of the football field, it all looks far more simple. A recent survey by the SVR immigration think tank showed that German Germans and Germans with a migrant background are relatively happy with each other. It all depends on what questions you ask, but if you look at the practical issues of everyday life, native Germans seem happy with the situation apart from schooling and non-native Germans are happy apart from restricted job opportunities. “Despite some problematic areas, integration in Germany is a social and political success,” says Klaus Bade of SVR, “Compared to other nations, things are actually a lot better here than they are reputed to be inside other countries … the person on the street does not pay any attention to the thunder and lightning of the discussion going on in the media. They just get on with their lives.”
The integration of people with foreign backgrounds is pragmatic rather than ideological in Germany. There is no great heated debate about banning the Burka, as there is in France and Belgium, because Germans know that in reality very few women actually wear the Burka. So why go on the barricades? Let the newspaper columnists fight it out. More important for the average German is the quality of schooling. Does the presence of a large number of migrant children in a classroom lower the level of education? The answer seems to be: sometimes yes, sometimes no. And so, broadly speaking, the solution is left up to the teaching staff.
Germany has quietly moved forward
The main complaint of non-natives meanwhile is the lack of suitable employment and promotion at work. Yet this applies largely to cities such as Berlin where poverty levels are high. In West Germany, migrant unemployment is not dramatic. The key to a satisfied society is social mobility, the ability to rise. In 2003 I wrote a study with Dorte Huneke comparing the happiness levels of Pakistanis in Bradford and Turks in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg. The Berlin Turks rarely had German citizenship, while the Bradford Pakistanis were all British. Yet the Bradforders rioted against the state, while the Berliners did not. Could it be that having British citizenship raised expectations – and frustration? If so, then making it easier for Turks to become German citizens could actually stoke up social problems. But our conclusion was different: allow and encourage German Turks to rise, to unfold their talents and compete on equal terms, and greater ethnic harmony results.
A new lightness
This is not happening perfectly and there is still friction over the building of mosques or about traditional muslim values. But the World Cup has shown that Germany has quietly moved forward since the 1990s. Mesut Özil is a third generation Turkish German, born in Gelsenkirchen. He prays in the changing room and recites, in Arabic, verses form the Koran when he treads on the football field. Nobody thinks he is a freak. After Germany’s World Cup victory in 1990, the country’s sporting levels slipped. And so the country invested over 600 million euros in soccer training centres for teenagers; Germany started to win under-17, under-19 and under-21 competitions in Europe. The centres actively encouraged children with migrant background. Özil was one of them: now he is a role model and says that he prefers to play for Germany than Turkey. “It’s not a decision against my Turkish roots. But my family has been living here in Germany for three generations, I have grown up here and I have always felt good here.” As for Özil’s team-mate Sami Khedira who has a Tunisian father and a German mother, he says the non-native Germans have brought a lightness to Germany’s game. But he acknowledges that even the “foreign” Germans have imbibed the so-called German national virtues: “discipline, ambition, concentration.”
Two typical Germans called Özil and Khedira?
I like to think so.
is Germany correspondent for the London daily newspaper "The Times". He has been living in Germany for twenty years and is author of the column "My Berlin" in the "Tagesspiegel". In his book "My dear Krauts" he describes the peculiarities of everyday life in Germany with typical British humour.
Photo “Flaggen” © Stihl024 / PIXELIO
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
Do you have any questions about this article? Write to us.