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East German Soccer Sports International Face

They may be at the bottom of the German Bundesliga rankings, but 1. FC Energie Cottbus has managed to distinguish itself in another way. The East German team boasts the most foreigners on any Bundesliga team.

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Brazilian Franklin Bittencourt (right) loves playing in "the East"

Though soccer team Energie Cottbus hasn't been able to celebrate many victories on the field this season, it has gained respect for the way it has looked in failure.

The tradition-rich team from the former East German textile city of Cottbus boasts the most number of foreign-born players in Germany's Bundesliga. 14 players from countries ranging from Brazil to Bosnia pepper the 26-man Energie roster.

Coaches overcome the language barriers through mandatory German classes given to the team three times a week. It's a small cost and offset by the fact that foreign-born players are less expensive and more eager to play in Cottbus than traditional German recruits.

"This region is for many Germans - unjustifiably so - not interesting enough," team spokesman Ronny Gersch told DW-TV. "That's why it's easier for us to work with foreign players ... For them Cottbus is very attractive, as a spring board to getting into a better German team or European team."

A multicultural success story

What began as an economically sound way to keep costs down and attract players has turned into a surprisingly successful sociological experiment in a city that can boast few.

Around 17 percent of the population in Cottbus is unemployed. Like many other East German towns, the youth have few options. Many choose to flee to better opportunities in the West. Others choose the solidarity of an active and dangerous right wing scene.

There are round 2,000 youth active in the right wing scene in Cottbus and surrounding areas, according to the federal government. Federal authorities counted 40 violent incidents involving racist or right-wing motivations in 2001. There have also been well-publicized accounts of Energie fans hurling racist insults at their own foreign players.

But that seems to have faded in the past few years.

"The fans identify with their team, with their players," Cottbus spokesman Ronny Gersch told DW-TV. "It was also suprising for us. At the beginning ... we had concerns that there would be problems between the fans and the team. And it has never come up."

The new generation of Cottbus foreigners agrees with that sentiment. Franklin Bittencourt, a Brazilian striker, has been happily playing in Cottbus since 1998.

"I've been in the east for the last ten years and nothing has happened to me," he said. "I feel good here. I have two kids that go to school here. I have German friends. It's not like people think it is."

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