When is a German not a German? Identity re-emerges as a thorny issue

Mesut Özil, who is of Turkish descent, played for Germany in the World Cup but recently quit the national team.David Ramos / Getty Images“I am a German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” he said in the letter announcing his decision. “I am still not accepted into society.”Özil pointed out that former national team colleagues Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose “are never referred to as German-Polish, so why am I German-Turkish?”He added: “Is it because I am a Muslim? … I was born and educated in Germany, so why don’t people accept that I am German?”‘I feel like I’m in Turkey here’It is easy enough to see how it’s possible for someone like Kiki, the restaurant owner, to have not learned German after almost two decades in a place like Duisburg.Turkish is the language predominantly spoken at the tables and in the open kitchen at his business.And only a short walk away, the Marxloh district buzzes with more Turkish restaurants and the soft sound of the Muslim call to prayer.The neighborhood is home to one of the country’s largest mosques and the Wedding Mile, a shopping destination for Turkish brides-to-be from across Europe.One of the many wedding dress stores on Duisburg’s Weseler Street — which is also known at the Wedding Mile.Hilarius Riese / for NBC NewsWhile it is by no means only Turkish people who frequent the district, it feels distinct from the rest of the city.“I feel like I’m in Turkey here,” said Ayse Kara, a Turkish cashier at a gift store halfway down the street packed with bridal outlets.“My family is here and I don’t have to go far to get great Turkish food,” she said, pausing to speak to customers in Turkish.Two hearts — German and TurkishWhen Özil tried to explain to fans why he was quitting the German national team, he said he had two hearts: “one German and one Turkish.”Mehmet Uzan, 33, is a street cleaner born and raised in Germany. But when faced with having to pick a passport, he opted for Turkish citizenship instead of obtaining a German one. That decision means he can’t vote in Germany.“My heart is still Turkish,” said Uzan, whose father came to Germany in 1966 as a guest worker and found a job in a Ford automotive plant.Mehmet Uzan was born and raised in Germany but chose to get a Turkish passport.
Hilarius Riese / for NBC NewsUzan says he does not feel fully welcome or like he truly belongs here and said much of his identity is still rooted in the customs and traditions of his forefathers.Uzan isn’t alone. Experts say many second- and third-generation people of Turkish descent in Germany feel similarly conflicted.“Many Germans just don’t want foreigners to live here,” said Uzan, the street cleaner. He cited the rise of the far-right AfD party, which captured 12.6 percent of the vote and 94 seats in Parliament in last year’s federal election.In the district of Duisburg-Hamborn, which includes the neighborhood featuring the Wedding Mile and Kiki’s Turkish restaurant, the party won almost 20 percent support.The AfD has played heavily on the rising numbers of Muslim migrants in the country. “Burqas?” read one campaign poster before the election. “We prefer bikinis.”AfD placards reading “Merkel must leave!” and “Burqas? We prefer bikinis.”JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP – Getty ImagesAnd it’s not just the far-right who have questioned Islam’s place in Germany, which has a population of around 82 million people.“Islam does not belong to Germany,” but the Muslims living in the country “of course do,” German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said this year.In April, the German state of Bavaria made it mandatory for government buildings to display a crucifix.But the sense of rising Islamophobia goes beyond political speech. Last year, the German Interior Ministry recorded 1,075 Islamophobic crimes across Germany, the majority of which were linked to the far-right.A recent study released by the Pew Research Center found that around one in three Germans would not accept a Muslim into their family.But not everyone of Turkish origin feels torn by their dual identity.Chefs prepare Turkish food in Duisburg, Germany.Hilarius Riese / for NBC NewsKaan Akuslug, 21, who works as a waiter at his uncle Kiki’s restaurant, says he feels half German and half Turkish.“I have both German and Turkish friends,” he said, explaining that he’s never encountered either racism or xenophobia.“We grew up together,” he added. “You can be both German and Turkish.”MORE FROM news

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