Germany's new relationship with Turkish

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More Germans are learning the Turkish language than ever before. It helps that one of Germany's newest soccer stars is the son of Turkish immigrants. It also helps that many German companies are now marketing to the country's biggest minority group. Cyrus Farivar reports from Mainz, Germany.

DAVID BARON: At the World Cup many people have been surprised at how well the young German team is performing. They beat England yesterday and will next face Argentina in a quarterfinal. Many have also been surprised at how multiracial the German team is. The squad in South Africa includes players of Bosnian, Brazilian, Guinean, Nigerian, Polish and Tunisian descent. And most importantly, to Germany's largest minority, the team's emerging star is an ethnic Turk. From Mainz in Germany, Cyrus Farivar reports on what this says about Germany today.

CYRUS FARIVAR: Germans are really taking to their young, multi-ethnic team. One of the team's best new players is 21-year-old midfielder Mesut Ozil, who has rapidly become a national hero. Ozil was born in Germany. His grandfather was a Turkish so-called "guest worker" in Germany. Ozil speaks perfect German, but off the field, he's known for reading the Koran before each match. It even made national news last week when his German girlfriend agreed to convert to Islam. He considered playing for Turkey before committing to the German national team. His story personifies Germany's hopes and fears about whether Turks and their families can "become German".

CLAUDIA RIEHL: What people see here is the doner, the Turkish food and something like that and a little bit more cliches, but they don't really know about it.

FARIVAR: That's Claudia Riehl, a professor of German linguistics at the University of Cologne. She says that because of this ignorance, when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan came to Germany earlier this year and called for more Turkish language education learning in public schools, it was met with skepticism.

RIEHL: That's something a lot of work that has to be done before it gets into the mind of the people that Turkish is really a rich culture and its worth to learn it.

FARIVAR: Funny enough, most Germans think of doner kebab, mean sliced off of a spit and then served in bread, as being authentically Turkish. In fact, that version is a German-invented variation of a Turkish dish, just as the burrito as served in the U.S. embellishes the original. Many Turkish immigrants, who came to Germany like many immigrants from Latin America in the United States, often came without much in the way of education. Many Turkish families have struggled. The German government has insisted that they and their offspring speak German. But school teacher Suzanne Van Hertzen, who has many ethnic Turkish students, says Germans are hung up on this language issue.

SUZANNE VAN HERTZEN: There are so many parents today and not only Turkish parents, who don't talk to their children and this causes so many problems at school. So I would then say if we talk about what language we talk to them, should they talk German to them or not, then I would say it doesn't matter which language they talk as long as they do talk.

FARIVAR: But of course, not all Turkish-Germans have problems with language. One of the most prominent Turkish-Germans is Cem Ozdemir, a member of the German Parliament.

CEM OZDEMIR: We tell our newcomers that they have to integrate, but we're not clear what we mean with integration.

FARIVAR: He says that immigrants in Germany should learn German and respect German culture. However, historically, Ozdemir says Germany was a country more interested in turning Turkish immigrants into Germans rather than them changing the nation to accommodate a new Turkish-ness.

OZDEMIR: Whether somebody wears a head scarf or not is completely up to that person. Whether somebody is a Muslim believer, a Christian, a Jew, an Atheist, or whatever is up to that person. That in the German context is unclear.

FARIVAR: But more recently, Germany has become a little bit more Turkish. One of the major German mobile phone companies markets this service specifically to Turkish Germans. It's called Ay Yildiz, which means Moon Star in Turkish. That's also the name of the Turkish flag. There are more Turkish German writers and filmmakers coming to the fore. And, of course, soccer players like Mesut Ozil. Mehmet Aydan, a Turkish German college student was in a bar in the city of Mainz yesterday cheering on Ozil and the German team.

MEHMET AYDAN: If you've known only one culture, you might see other cultures as a threat. Having grown up with them, you see both of them as something good, so you might be more open to other cultures as well.

FARIVAR: That may explain why Germany's latest soccer star, Mesut Ozil, likes to point out that he learned soccer playing with other immigrant children. For The World, I'm Cyrus Farivar in Mainz, Germany.