June 29, 2010


Immigrants Defend the Flag while Left-Wing Germans Tear it Down: With Germany celebrating as its football team advances through the World Cup, the flag is flying everywhere in the country. But as one German of Lebanese descent has found out, not everyone in the country is a fan of the patriotic display. His giant German flag keeps getting torn down -- apparently by left-wing activists. (Kevin Hagen, 6/29/10, Der Spiegel)

A small stocky man with short black hair, Bassal, 39, leans over the counter. "We celebrate every football game out on the street. This is our own small 'fan mile,'" he says, referring to the specially designated areas set aside for football fans to watch games in the city.

"We have hung little German flags outside for years," Bassal explains. But this year, he and his cousins decided they would do something different. They placed a special order with a textile company, and soon a giant German flag worth €500 ($616) was hanging on the outside of the building where Bassal's store is located. Measuring 22 meters tall and 5 meters wide (72 feet by 16 feet), the over-sized banner covers five stories. For Bassal, a German with Lebanese roots, the flag is a symbol of cultural integration. "We live in Germany and we also belong to Germany," he explains.

Outside, a girl glances up as she walks by. "That's totally cool," she says, catching sight of the giant piece of fabric. But not everyone is happy about the monument to national pride over Bassal's store.

Over the past few weeks, ever since the start of the football World Cup, the neighborhood has been the scene of what local media are calling the "Neukölln flag fight." Left-wing activists have called on sympathizers to destroy the German flags which can be seen everywhere, arguing that they are a symbol of German nationalism. There has been a rash of thefts of small flags attached to car windows. Some of those who decorated their vehicles with flags say they now only display the flags when they are actually driving their cars. [...]

Bassal himself simply cannot understand why all the protests are coming from the German side. "For the fascists, we are foreigners and for the anarchists, we are ..." He pauses a moment. "Actually, I have no idea what we are to them." [...]

"We won't let them take away our beautiful Germany, the one we have in our hearts," Bassal explains and bangs on the glass counter again. He was born here, he has always lived here and he feels like a proper German, he says.

"We have to get away from calling these people foreigners," agrees customer Manuel Hornauer. The 19-year-old student has come to the store to look at electronic devices but stays to hear about the giant flag in detail. "It is super when they are so integrated."

There is also a positive side to the so-called "flag flight," Safter Cinar, the spokesperson for the Turkish Federation in Berlin, told the Berlin-based daily Berliner Morgenpost. The fact that the immigrant population is so proud of their German flags, and the German football team, is a good sign of integration, he said.

Because 11 out of the 23 players on the German national side come from immigrant families, it is easier to identify with them, Cinar argues. Talented players like Tunisian-German midfielder Sami Khedira and play-maker Mesut Özil, a German of Turkish descent, "show that the children of immigrants have a chance here," Cinar says.

As for the fact that many of the German flags in Neukölln appear alongside Turkish flags, Cinar sees this as a positive thing. "One does not cancel the other out," he concludes.

Rooting for a team led by Poles and Turks is their Jackie Robinson moment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 29, 2010 8:19 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus