BERLIN — There have not been many bright spots for Chancellor Angela Merkel since she won the German election in September 2009. But it plainly counted as a good moment this month when Germany beat Turkey 3-0 in a soccer match in Berlin. The Olympic Stadium was packed with Turks who have turned the German capital into what is effectively the world's second-largest Turkish city after Istanbul. They waved their Turkish flags, roared and shouted, but also whistled disapproval as soon as a German player named Mesut Ozil touched the ball. Worse still, Ozil, born of Turkish parents, scored for Germany.
After the game, the chancellor came into the changing room and embraced Ozil. "It wasn't easy for you," she said.
Why did Merkel seek out the soccer star with the immigrant background? Far from representing the "failed multiculturalism" that Merkel derided in a speech last weekend, Ozil is the model example of immigrant assimilation that Merkel sees as Germany's future. He is the son of a Turkish "guest worker" but has been going to German soccer classes since age 6; he speaks fluent German, has become a German citizen, and has a German girlfriend who has converted to Islam. For Americans, this type of integration may not seem out of the ordinary: you come to the United States because of its prosperity and its rule of law; you swear loyalty to the U.S. Constitution; you stand with America against its enemies, on the soccer field or the battlefield. But the evident frustration in Merkel's voice in her recent speech underscored that Germany has struggled to translate this type of integration auf Deutsch.
Indeed, Germany has little tradition as a welcoming home for immigrants. With no significant colonies, it had no tradition of assimilating foreigners. For 12 intense years in the middle of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler's Third Reich made a murderous ideology out of hostility to foreigners. It was only starting in 1955 that West Germany, squeezed by manpower shortages, began striking deals with southern European countries -- Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Yugoslavia -- to supply cheap workers. But these Gastarbeiter were given only short-term contracts and otherwise cast out of mind.
Of course, many of those workers ended up staying in Germany. Discomfited Germans responded by pretending that the foreigners didn't exist; they were banished to grubby dormitories on the fringes of cities and bused to the steel mills or car factories where they worked. Later, when they were joined by their wives, they moved into the rundown sections of inner cities. There, the Turks in particular began to develop a parallel economy, setting up grocery shops, halal butchers, cafes, and mosques that catered to their own.
Grudgingly, the German political class accepted in the 1980s that it had a problem. The birth rate of native-born Germans was dipping, while the Muslim families in their midst were expanding. It's here that Multikulturalismus was offered as a solution: Ethnic communities would be encouraged to coexist with the Germans. But that's not to say they were given a German passport -- citizenship was still reserved for those who could demonstrate the presence of German blood in their family tree. And it was only with German citizenship that you could become a Beamter, a civil servant. So there would be no dark-skinned police officers and no Turkish schoolteachers. Germany's multicultural bargain of the 1980s involved allowing immigrants to enter society while retaining the integrity of their own culture. The government would not bestow the rights and responsibilities of German citizenship, and the immigrants could lead their lives in Germany while preserving their ties to their home countries.
The result was supposed to have been a great carnival of cultures, the introduction of color into a monochrome society. But it proved a failure.