They sometimes encounter rejection and prejudice but their enthusiasm for soccer is unshakeable. Made up of players from six different countries, Berlin's female soccer team Al Dersim Spor is making quite an impact.
Soccer is not only crossing gender boundaries but cultural ones too
After the final whistle, the opponent has a slip of the tongue: "You're actually pretty nice." This strange sentence is often heard whenever the young soccer players of Al Dersim Spor play against a purely German team for the first time.
"A lot of them immediately associate us with foreign crime gangs or fundamentalists, because we're a Turkish club from Kreuzberg," said Safije, 26, a team member. She's familiar with the prejudices. She grew up in this Berlin neighborhood, home to many immigrants from Muslim countries.
Fighting the brothers for the ball
When she was just a little girl, Safije was already fighting her four brothers for the ball. Her early passion for this "boy's game" was accepted without any problem by her family. Today, the 26-year-old is the assistant coach to her teammate Mehtap. The 34-year-old Mehtap used to play for the Turkish national team and before becoming the coach of the women's team this season.
Kreuzberg is a very multicultural district of Berlin
Greeks, Turks, Germans, a Palestinian, a Pole and a South Korean, all between the ages of 17 and 34, make up the squad, all connected not by nationality, or even native language, but a common love of soccer. While the international make-up of the team is somewhat unusual for an amateur team, the coaching methods are also slightly out of the mainstream -- drills and browbeating are not the norm here.
"We only praise one another. We don't think much of complaining." It's a simple philosophy which has helped the newly formed team achieve 18 victories in 20 matches so far.
Soccer much more important than flirting
Paros, the club's 26-year-old goalkeeper, was already Safije's most talented training partner during grammar school. Her parents, who hail from Greece, never had any objections to their daughter's hobby. The fact that Paros comes from a Greek Orthodox family and Safije is a Muslim has never been an obstacle to playing together.
"I believe we are all religious in our own way. But nobody is trying to convert anyone else," Paros said
But the women of Al Dersim Spor say their soccer careers weren't always completely free of problems.
Playing soccer doesn't mean losing your femininity
Sometimes just choosing to play this sport that is still seen by many as a male activity can lead to conflicts. One player lost her boyfriend because she didn't want to give up soccer. Some of the players' brothers would rather see them choose a sport where they would be "showing off so much bare leg."
Some parents urge their daughters to at least stop with the "unfeminine" kicking once they've been married. A young Turkish man named Sinan doesn't agree with this opinion. He's the husband of the 24-year-old player Hülja and never misses one of his wife's games.
The supporters of Al Dersim Spor still form just a small group, but they are loud and enthusiastic. "When the weather is bad, only the diehards show up. But when it's sunny or we play indoors, we can draw as many as 100 fans."
The numerous relatives of Valerie and Marlene are always part of the crowd. These 24-year-old twin sisters are among the club's German players. It took years for the first German girls to join mixed teams, but is more common today. "Fortunately, the prejudices are starting to fade on all sides," Paros' sister Stavi said.
Cinematic plea for ladies' soccer
Germany's world champion women will be watching with interest
Thanks to the efforts of Marlene and Valerie, the ladies of Al Dersim Spor will even be present at next year's World Cup. They created and starred in a short film, "Way to go," in connection with this year's Berlinale Talent Campus. This cinematic plea for ladies' soccer impressed the international jury and will be shown as part of the program accompanying the World Cup 2006.
In the amusing and rapidly edited film, the young women prove that soccer can be played in a skirt. Neither dexterity with the ball nor stamina is determined by sex or cultural identity.
"On one of our past teams, we had a Muslim player who would only take the field wearing a headscarf and long trousers," said Vicky, whose parents would have preferred her to be a ballet dancer. She added that it didn't matter, since the extra cloth did not affect the quality of her play.