Turkey enjoy rapturous Euro 2024 reception from diaspora in Germany

For Karani, Euro 2024 in Germany has the distinct air of a home tournament about it. “That Turkey qualified, and the national team is now here is a really nice feeling for me and many others of Turkish origin,” he says, trying to suss out via a weather app if he can trust the forecast enough before the Turkey v Georgia game on Tuesday to put out the cushions on the terrace of his café in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district.

“Of course I’m proud. I hope we get far. A Turkey-Germany final would be the best outcome, though I admit in that case I would struggle to know who to support.”

Turks make up the largest single ethnic minority in Germany – 1.54 million in addition to 1.4 million German citizens who are of Turkish descent – as well as forming the biggest Turkish diaspora. Like Karani, who was born in Germany, most Turkish Germans trace their ancestry to the Gastarbeiter (guest worker) movement of the 1960s and 70s.

As a result, after the host nation Germany, no other European Championship participant will receive as much support as Turkey. The elation with which the Turkish national team was greeted last week during its public training session at its base in Barsinghausen, Lower Saxony, gave something of a foretaste of the reception the team is likely to receive in Dortmund on Tuesday evening, followed four days later there against Portugal and on 26 June against the Czech Republic in Hamburg.

Some who failed to get tickets clambered up into the tree tops hoping for a glance into the training ground. They cheered Vincenzo Montella’s team with flags, homemade placards and cries of “Türkiye, Türkiye”. Many were already in national team kit or wore the shirts of their favourite Istanbul clubs. They hovered on the sidelines hoping for autographs or selfies with the stars, such as Real Madrid’s Arda Guler, Borussia Dortmund’s Salih Ozcan and the captain, Hakan Calhanoglu.

Turkish supporters in the fan zone in Dortmund. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

“We really feel at home when we’re in Germany,” the attacking midfielder, Yusuf Yazici, told journalists on the sidelines. “It’s like having your nation accompany you, such was the enthusiasm, and we’re all very happy to see them wherever we go.”

Ozgur Ozvatan, a political scientist and sociologist at the Berlin Institute for Empirical Research on Integration and Migration says a friendly between Turkey and Germany last November showed just how much potential there is for the Turkish fan scene to be politicised, driven in no small part by the nationalist momentum behind Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting Germany at the time. But he says, around this championship, there is much to suggest that pure unalloyed emotion is the factor motivating most fans.

“If you look at the sense of delight, it seems to be something that is less political and rather more to do with joy and euphoria that the Turkish national team is in Germany, and that those who support Turkey in Germany have the feeling that they are the hosts for this national team,” he said.

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Tugsal Mogul, theatre director, anaesthetist and football fan, who has supported Borussia Mönchengladbach all his life, has brought to the stage his mixed feelings about the internal strife he has often felt when urged to support either Turkey or Germany. Unsere Elf (Our Eleven – A Somewhat Alternative National Anthem), which is playing at Hanover’s Staatstheater as part of the cultural programme around the Euros, explores racism, integration, migration and right-wing extremism, issues that have often been inextricably tied up with the game.

As a child of Turkish migrants who was born in Germany’s industrial heartland of North Rhein Westphalia, Mogul says he often felt at a distance from Germany’s national team. “For years I wanted Germany to lose,” he said. “I was born here, my mother tongue is German, but I just could not identify with this team for a very long time.”

The so-called Sommermärchen (summer fairytale) of 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup and for a few short weeks, all seemed well with the world, was an experience he shared, but only to a certain extent. “It was the best of summers. I very much warmed to the German team. It was more diverse, more different than it had ever been. Sports-wise also on another level,” Mogul says.

But it was also the height of what were initially dismissed as the “Kebab murders”, a string of racist killings by a neo-Nazi terrorist group, the NSU, the main targets of which were ethnic Turks, but who were long under suspicion by authorities of having carried out the attacks among themselves. “This image of the Sommermärchen, of a perfect world, a land without racism – it wasn’t quite correct. I remember seeing all the Germany flags at the windows, and feeling both appalled and happy,” he said.

By 2014, captivated by none other than Mesut Özil, “his legs, his style of play,” Mogul brought his first Germany shirt. “In Turkey,” he says with a chuckle. That dream also famously turned sour. Özil, widely considered one of Germany’s best players, resigned from the national team in 2018 citing discrimination, stating: “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose”. In some ways the affair still overshadows the national team and to this day calls into question its claim to be a motor for integration.

Turkey’s Italian head coach, Vincenzo Montella, supervises a training session before their opening game against Georgia. Photograph: Ozan Köse/AFP/Getty Images

Ozvatan, the political scientist, himself a former professional footballer, said that while he believed Özil was responsible for his own views, the German football federation (DFB) did not do itself proud in the way it dealt with his claim. He also talked about a poll from the recent documentary by Philipp Awounou, in which 21% of respondents said they agreed with the statement: “I would prefer it if more white players played in the German national team again”.

“The reaction of the national team coach [Julian Nagelsmann] was to say: it was a shit poll, instead of saying: ‘This is a problem in Germany and we need to deal with it,’” Ozvatan says. “But these things cannot just be brushed under the carpet”.

Mogul said despite some strife, there is much to be proud of in both Turkey and Germany’s teams, including Ilkay Gundogan, the grandson of a Turkish gastarbeiter, captaining the German team. For the opening game the TV camera seemed to linger on him a little longer than on anyone else, perhaps to see if he knew the words of the national anthem. (He did.)

On the Kurfürstendamm boulevard, following Germany’s 5-1 win against Scotland on Friday night, a group of young German-Turks stood on the side of the road cheering as a constant stream of cars bearing German flags drove by, honking their horns in celebration. “We’re really happy that Germany won,” Adem, 18, said. “And I would also like to feel the same warmth from the Germans towards Turkey if and when we win.”

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