Why it took so long for Germany's team to become multi-cultural

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The Germany team is a model of multi-cultural harmony – but only since the turn of the century. Bundesliga expert Stefan Bienkowski investigates why...

It’s been six months since Germany beat Holland in the preliminary group stages of Euro 2012. Six months since that angelic twirl from Mario Gomez to score the initial goal; six months since his perfectly-placed second; and six months since that viral photo of Mats Hummels gleefully strolling past Rafael van der Vaart & Co. in the midst of a team breakdown.

Despite that joyous victory over old foes, Germany's Euro 2012 never lived up to its promise; after a run full of talent and hyperbole, Joachim Low’s side bowed out to perennial bogey-men Italy.

Yet while this Germany side lacks silverware, at least it displays pleasingly modern attitudes towards the country's integration of ethnic minorities. Defender Jerome Boateng's father was West African; midfield linchpins Mezut Ozil and Sami Khedira are of Turkish and Tunisian lineage respectively; key forward Mario Gomez's father was Spanish. And of course Lukas Podolski, now well beyond his 100th cap, was born in Poland and insists "there are two hearts beating" in his chest.

The current German side maintains a level of ancestral diversity like none other before it – and surely few other contemporary national sides.

German teams have been reliably powering through to the latter stages of international tournaments for half a century or more. But when we compare the country’s past teams to neighbours like France and Holland, we quickly notice a striking difference: there have been barely any black players in the German national team.

Exceptions existed: Erwin Kostedde, the son of a German mother and African-American father, broke the mould in 1974 and William "Jimmy" Hartwig followed five years later. But during their time in the Bundesliga, both faced indescribable amounts of racism from home and away fans alike; it took until 2001, and the success of Ghanaian-born Gerald Asamoah, for black players to truly be accepted in the national side.

Isolated pioneer: West Germany's Erwin Kostedde

Of course, racism has been regrettably commonplace throughout Europe’s major leagues; fortunately for football, the courage of many who overturned the abuse would pave the way for the proud, multicultural sport that we enjoy today.

Yet for Germany – a nation whose history provokes more misunderstandings and suspicion than most – it would be a misconception to assume that there was a discriminatory agenda to exclude players of mixed ethnicity, right up to the turn of the millennium.

It can be argued that Germany's black community is older than the nation itself. As far back as the 17th Century, when the territories that Julius Caesar had named Germania were still either part of the Holy Roman Empire or nation-states like Prussia and Bavaria, German traders brought African workers – not slaves – back to work alongside indigenous labourers.

As the years passed, there was a gradual improvement in the standing of black people in Germany. In the 1720s, Ghanaian-born Anton Wilhelm Amo became the first African to attend a European University – or rather several: he studied philosophy at Helmstedt, law at Halle and logic, metaphysics, physiology, astronomy, history, theology, politics and medicine at Wittenberg, while mastering six languages. 

Things picked up further pace in 1884. At heart, the Berlin Congo conference existed to exploit the African continent by splitting it between the European superpowers, but it immediately encouraged a sizeable migration of Africans to Germany to obtain higher education and training at German schools and universities.

But Germany's situation changed drastically after World War I, when the Treaty of Versailles reclaimed all the country's existing colonies and dispersed them amongst the allied forces. The punitive treaty is often blamed for the rise of the Nazi party, but the repercussions it would have on the African colonies would also alter the course of multiculturalism within German society – and sport – for the remainder of the century.

Versailles: The UK, Italy, France & USA carve up Germany

Under the German empire, the colonies had enjoyed education and a degree of genuine citizenship with the possession of German ID cards in Germany and Africa. After the war, Africans in occupied Germany lost their citizenship – forcing many into terrible poverty during an already bleak depression – while those in Africa were encouraged to take up citizenship of their new European counterparts. Africa had been forcefully separated from Germany, and there was nothing either could do.

Even during the second half of the century's ‘Wirtschaftswunder’ – Western Germany's postwar 'economic miracle' – when millions of immigrants from Eastern Europe, predominantly Turkey, flooded into the country to snap up the available work, the newcomers were segregated rather than integrated.

A law dating back to 1913 stated that anyone wanting to obtain German nationality would have to give up their own nationality. Such decisions are rarely taken easily among economic migrant communities, and it's perhaps telling that the German term is 'Gastarbeiter' – guest worker.

So while die Nationalmannschaft unquestionably remained predominantly 'white' until the turn of the century, it wasn't due to football's institutionalised racism as much as political and legal hangovers.

And it was national legislation, followed by a radical nationwide overhaul of youth training, that has allowed Germany to field a side that accurately depicts the country's bubbling cultural mix of ethnicities – in the process changing the team's image, in the words of the country's biggest football monthly 11 Freunde, "from rolling tanks to multi-cultural football aesthetes".

Khedira, Ozil, Schweinsteiger and Podolski at Euro 2012

The turning point came about on January 1st 1990 when German authorities made it possible for the process of dual-nationality to children born of foreign parents. Twelve years later, the German FA launched the 'Extended Talent Promotion Programme' – and finally, an inclusive generation came through the ranks together: Germany won the 2008 Euro U19s, the 2009 Euro U17s and the 2010 Euro U21s.   

Like Holland's Euro 88-winning squad included Surinamese-descended players like Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, and France's World Cup-winning 'Black, Blanc, Beur' team including Marcel Desailly and Zinedine Zidane, this current German side embraces a multiplicity of ethnicities that can do nothing but good for a country that has struggled to define its own nationality for too long.

Finally, it would seem, Germany can move forward as many cultures but one nation. More to read
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