BERLIN—The cover of the World Cup schedule distributed by Germany's National Party showed the torso of a player in a German national team jersey above the words "White shouldn't just be a jersey color. We want a real National team."
That sentiment—that the German team should consist of white players only—exposes a harsh undercurrent bedeviling Germany as its team opens the World Cup soccer tournament in Munich on Friday against Costa Rica. Who is a German in a country where immigrants are becoming a larger part of society?
"Germany has never been a nation of immigration, but clearly it's our future," said Thomas Bauer, a research fellow at Munich's Center for Applied Policy Research. "The one thing Germans have been able to unite behind since the war is the (soccer) team. When the fact that we are changing shows up there, it's difficult for some. Some are shocked, some react with fear, more are simply confused."
By American sensibilities, there's not much to see: The 23-man German roster includes two black players. Gerald Asamoah was born in Ghana. David Odonkor was born in Germany to a Ghanian father. There are also two Polish-born players on the team. A Brazilian-born striker didn't make the cut.
But German sensibilities aren't American ones. "We have lots of foreigners on our team now," said German historian Manfred Gortemaker of Potsdam University.
Much of Europe is struggling these days with identity issues. What does it mean to be European? To be French, or Dutch, or German?
Bottomed-out birth rates mean traditional populations are aging rapidly. Nations that have always seen themselves as having single identities are trying to come to grips with change. The struggle is causing reactions from the traditional populations and recent immigrants, such as the French suburban fires, the Danish cartoon crisis, the Dutch anti-immigration movement.
Experts note that Europe, unlike the United States, doesn't have the tradition of a constant flow of immigrants. The phenomenon is new here, though strong: Projections indicate that, by 2026, every other child in Berlin schools will have an immigrant background. Currently, it's 1 in 4.
This week, the German Federal Bureau of Statistics published its latest census data: 15.3 million of Germany's 82 million residents came here or are descended from people who came here after World War II. Half of those hold German passports.
"Germany is a country of immigration," said Statistics Bureau President Johann Hahlen.
It's a trend that's particularly tricky here because Germans haven't been sure of who they are since the end of the World War II and the defeat of Nazism.
"The history of our nation has been shrunk to 12 years," controversial German historian and author Joerg Friedrich said, referring to the Nazi years, 1933-1945. "The 1,500 years before are nothing more than preparation. Our national identity has been replaced with a deeply rooted guilt."
German experts believe that's led recent generations to yearn for an untarnished history and to the recent uptick in neo-nationalism, or neo-Nazism.
The soccer planner is a perfect example, because, Friedrich noted, "soccer is the one place where, nationally, we allow ourselves to be happy and proud."
The question of French identity became an issue when France hosted the World Cup in 1998. The problem for the anti-immigrant crowd, however, was that the French team, led by Zinedane Zidane, the child of Algerian immigrants, won. The current German team isn't thought to be as good.
Police quickly confiscated the original schedules, citing laws that ban Nazi-like language. The makers, the National Party—as close as there is today to a political embodiment of the Nazis—released a new one showing 11 paper figures in German-esque uniforms. Ten had brown, black, yellow or red faces. One had a white face. The words below the picture, referring to the starting national team for the 2010 World Cup, read: "National Eleven 2010?"
In case anyone was left confused by the planners' meaning, a statement on the back cover railed against a Germany where "multi-culti and money-making prevail instead of an honest representation of our nation and cities."
National Party spokesman Klaus Beier is open about his distaste for Germany's two players of color.
"A national team should be a national team," he said. "Asamoah may be a good soccer player and he can hold as many German passports as he wants—he will never be German."
Yonas Endrias, the vice president of the International Human Rights League in Berlin, said it's dangerous to view such sentiments as the rantings of the fringe.
"Everyday racism is widespread and institutional," he said. "Europe is moving towards the right, and racist attitudes, anti-immigrant attitudes, are becoming the mainstream."
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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