• Vie. Jul 12th, 2024

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For the 2.8million Turks in Germany, Euro 2024 is football coming home

Jun 22, 2024 #PL, #premier, #premierleague
For the 2.8million Turks in Germany, Euro 2024 is football coming home


Euro 2024 has two home teams.

One of them is Germany. As the detail-focused among you will have noticed, that’s because the tournament is being hosted in Germany.

The other is Turkey. If you watched their sensational, chaotic victory over Georgia, you will have spotted that the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund was Turkish for the day. But you didn’t need to be in the stadium to experience the strength of the Turkish support.

A 2015 microcensus estimated that 2.9million of Germany’s inhabitants have Turkish passports or Turkish roots, the largest population of Turks outside of Turkey. They are spread across the country, but the biggest populations are in Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg. Turkish is the second-most widely spoken language in German homes.

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And at the heart of their cultural identity is football. German Turks will often have a German team and a Turkish team. Schalke and Fenerbahce. Hamburg and Galatasaray. Hertha Berlin and Besiktas.

Most, particularly third- and fourth-generation people, consider themselves German. But also Turkish. It’s something that the more malign actors either cannot or choose not to understand: that identity, especially national or cultural, doesn’t have to be binary. It is perfectly possible to be both.

And then, something happens like the European Championship being held on your doorstep.


The history of Turkish migration to Germany goes back to the 15th and 16th centuries and the Ottoman Empire. Turkish prisoners were forcibly settled in what is now Germany, and various events over the centuries brought Turks there.

But the biggest influx came in the 1950s, when the economic, post-war boom of West Germany attracted workers, and they were officially and actively invited after an agreement was signed between the two countries in 1961. Therefore, many Turkish communities in Germany are in their third and fourth generations.

Cologne is one of the centres of Germany’s Turkish community. The biggest mosque in the country sits on the edge of Ehrenfeld, a suburb just to the north of the city centre. It’s an extraordinary structure, with two minarets on either side of a sort of deconstructed dome. Underneath it is a ‘bazaar’, intended to reflect the intricate arcades of shops you’ll find in Turkey: it’s a little sparse, and nobody would mistake it for the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, but the intention is there.

To the east of the city centre and slightly to the south is Keupstrasse, the area of Cologne known as ‘Little Istanbul’. You don’t need to be versed in the intricacies of multicultural Germany to know that. You just need to stand at the top of the street, which is dominated by an absolutely colossal Turkish flag, maybe five metres across, that hangs above it.

Turkey Germany Cologne Little Istanbul


Cologne’s ‘Little Istanbul’ on Keupstrasse (Nick Miller)

On the day of the Georgia game, it isn’t quite the same broiling hub of Turkish humanity as in some areas of the country, but it’s still glued to the match. It’s on in bars, cafes, restaurants, delis, even an electronics shop. It’s on a big square screen (the aspect ratio is all over the place) in a jeweller’s that earlier was showing adverts for expensive watches.

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The Turkish Airlines office has closed for the day and the guy manning it is ignoring the pile of admin on his desk in favour of his TV. About an hour before the game, the waiting staff in the Mevlana restaurant change from their crisp white shirts into Turkey jerseys. A couple of minutes before kick-off, there’s blind panic as the TV feed drops out.

“I’m German, until I’m Turkish,” says Emre, watching the game in a cafe on Keupstrasse. He means it in a couple of different ways: in part, he agrees with what Mesut Ozil said a few years after he retired from international football, about being “German when we win, an immigrant when we lose”.

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But he also feels it instinctively, particularly when it comes to football. He pulls a face when I ask who he would support if the two faced each other later in the tournament. Turkey is the conclusion, but it’s not an immediate answer. “I support Germany too, but against Turkey…”

Many others aren’t as torn. Everyone else I ask about their allegiances says Turkey without much hesitation, while at the same time reaffirming their German-ness.

You could view this as a dividing point, but football is a way of bringing the communities together.

“It creates identity and community,” says Yunus Ulusoy from the Centre for Turkish Studies in Essen. “Almost everyone is a fan of a Turkish team — I am a fan of Trabzonspor — and, at the same time, a fan of a German team — in my case, Borussia Dortmund.

“In football, especially in club football, the dividing factors recede, and the commonalities — success and fun — become prominent. For my generation, the early second generation, Turkish footballers were the reason for becoming a fan of a German club, and our fan relationship changed as they changed clubs.

“I came to Germany in 1973 and my generation included Erhan Onal at Bayern Munich, Ilyas Tufekci at Schalke and Erdal Keser at Borussia Dortmund.”

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There is plenty of crossover in the Germany and Turkey squads. Germany have Ilkay Gundogan and Emre Can, German-born players with Turkish roots. Turkey captain Hakan Calhanoglu, Cenk Tosun, Salih Ozcan, Kenan Yildiz and Kaan Ayhan were all born in Germany.

“Players like Gundogan and Ozil are heroes to us,” says Kerem, a third-generation German Turk I speak to on Keupstrasse. “They tell the rest of the country that you can be German and Turkish.”

But it can also be used as a dividing issue. There was a significant backlash to Ozil’s retirement statement, proving his point, you could argue. Gundogan, Ozil and Tosun were on the rough end of criticism when they posed for a picture with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2018.

Erdogan, who has been president since 2014, is a divisive figure to say the least, both in Turkey and abroad, for his perceived authoritarian policies. An Amnesty International report in 2023 accused him of conducting “baseless investigations, prosecutions and convictions of human rights defenders, journalists, opposition politicians and others”.


Mesut Ozil with Erdogan in 2018 (Kayhan Ozer/Getty Images)

Gundogan and Ozil were booed when they played in a friendly against Austria shortly afterwards, and it even provoked comment from Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor at the time.

The hope is that things are getting better. The symbolism of Gundogan captaining Germany, if nothing else, is a cause for optimism.

But it’s not that straightforward.


It would be easy to think that things are going to get worse before they get better. A poll in a recent documentary, Unity and Justice and Diversity — The National Team Between Racism and Identification, suggested that 21 per cent of 1,304 people surveyed agreed with the statement, “I would prefer more white players to be in the German national team.”

Germany head coach Julian Nagelsmann reacted angrily to the poll, saying he couldn’t believe the question was even asked, and attempted to project a message of unity. “We’re playing a European Championship for everyone in the country,” he said.

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Which is all very well and good, but the success of Alternative for Germany (AfD, a right-wing, anti-immigration party) in the recent European elections is a more tangible and perhaps worrying sign, particularly for Germany’s Turkish community.

A few years ago, the regional chairman for AfD in Saxony, Andre Poggenburg, was forced to resign after a speech in which he referred to German Turks as “camel drivers” who “should go back to where they belong, far beyond the Bosphorus, to their mud huts and multiple wives”. He also called them a “landless rabble we don’t want here anymore”.

The AfD stuck its nose into the Ozil-Gundogan-Erdogan issue. “Team spirit isn’t working with Ozil and Gundogan in the German team because whoever only takes part half-heartedly can’t muster the necessary fighting spirit,” said Jorn Koenig, its sport spokesman.

“Joachim Loew should cut the cord and send both of them home. There are national players who are proud of our country, and Ozil and Gundogan should free up two spots on the national team for players who don’t pay more homage to the Turkish president than they do to the German homeland.”

You didn’t need particularly acute hearing to recognise the dog whistles.

AfD’s rhetoric has been smoothed over since, to the point where it made active attempts to court the vote of communities like Germany’s Turks in those recent elections.

But there is still a lot of concern, “especially in young people of the third generation”, according to Ulusoy.

He continues: “They are worried about what will become of their Germany and whether they are wanted in this country. As a representative of the second generation, I share these concerns and add: Germany is also our Germany, because my family history began in Germany in 1962. I am concerned, but also confident that German democracy and the absolute majority of the population will resist the right-wing populists.”

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While right-wing populism is to be resisted in Germany, it’s interesting that there is enthusiastic support for Erdogan among the German-Turkish community. He’s more popular in Germany than in Turkey, if you go by the percentage of people who voted for him at the last election.

There are around 1.5million German residents registered to vote in Turkey, and of those that cast their ballots, 67 per cent supported Erdogan in the 2023 elections. By comparison, 52 per cent voted for him in Turkey.

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Erdogan and his AK Party have actively tried to appeal to the diaspora: he has visited Germany often, most recently when the two sides played a friendly against each other in Berlin in November. Turkey won 3-2. The Turkish Super Cup last season between Fenerbahce and Galatasaray — which was supposed to have been held in Saudi Arabia but ended in farce when the two sides were prevented from paying tribute to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s modern founder — was initially offered to Germany.


Turkey celebrate a goal in their friendly win over Germany in November 2023 (Marvin Ibo Guengoer/Getty Images)

Erdogan seems to believe that Germany’s Turks are not quite so much emigrants who have become part of their new country, more a satellite community that should remain loyal to ‘home’ and, by extension, him.

“You are part of Germany, but you are also part of our great Turkey,” he said in a speech a few years ago. “Yes, integrate yourselves into German society but don’t assimilate yourselves. No one has the right to deprive us of our culture and our identity.”

The support for Erdogan is interesting but, as Ulusoy points out, it’s perhaps an unfair thing to focus on.

“This question is also only asked of those of Turkish origin,” he says. “The approval ratings of European right-wing populists from Italy, Greece or Poland in Germany are hardly discussed, nor is Putin’s possible popularity among people with roots in the former Soviet Union.”


Turkey didn’t qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, losing on away goals to Switzerland in the play-offs. It was a theoretical blow on a couple of levels: first, it was a crushing disappointment considering their run to third place in 2002. Second, they were denied the sort of cultural celebration we are seeing in the country this time around.

That summer was romanticised in some parts of Germany. It was the ‘Sommermarchen’, when the country came together around the national team who made a slightly unlikely run to the semi-finals under Jurgen Klinsmann.

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But it wasn’t quite the case for the Turkish community. That year saw another in the string of killings that were known, pejoratively for a while, as the ‘kebab murders’. Enver Simsek, a flower importer from Nuremberg, was shot dead in his stand. A greengrocer called Suleyman Taskopru was killed in his shop in Munich. Mehmet Turgut was killed in a Rostock kebab shop. In 2004, 22 people were injured in a bomb explosion in Cologne.

Ten people died in total between 2000 and 2007, and were initially grouped by the police under the case name ‘Bosphorus’. For much longer than they should have done, the police thought the killings had something to do with the vague idea of the Turkish mafia. But eventually, it became clear that the victims had been targeted, because of their ethnicity, by a Neo-Nazi terror group called the National Socialist Underground. Eventually, nine people were convicted in relation to the murders and for being part of an extremist organisation.

The sense that the whole country was coming together around football was a nice idea, but wasn’t the case for everyone.

It’s probably important not to draw grand conclusions about the impact that Euro 2024 will have on the Turkish-German community, or cultural relations in the country more broadly. Football has a habit of over-inflating its importance when it comes to things like this: it’s important, of course, but it won’t solve everything.

What is probably more helpful is just to recognise that, for Germany’s Turkish community, having both of their national teams competing is simply hugely exciting, even if most tend to favour the nation of their ancestors and families when it comes to football. And for the rest of us, the idea of essentially having two home teams is fascinating.

“We really feel at home when we’re in Germany,” said the Turkey midfielder Yusuf Yazici before the tournament.

He isn’t kidding. For however long Turkey remain in the tournament, with their brilliant young players, including Arda Guler, and their incredible support, they will be one of the most compelling teams around, on and off the pitch.

(Top photo: Gerrit van Keulen/Getty Images)