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Berlin's Turkish Team

Lydia Leipert (mrm)August 31, 2008

It doesn't have its own pitch and the team's organization is chaotic at best, but the Turkiyemspor soccer club has become the third best in the German capital. But can they survive the demanding world of German soccer?

A giant soccer ball with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.
The club has become the third most successful regional team in the German capitalImage: AP

Coach Uwe Erkenbrecher screams across the training field of the Jahnsport Park in the Prenzlauerberg district of Berlin. The colorfully clad team members of the Turkiyemspor soccer club are taking part in a scrimmage, kicking and chasing the ball around the field.

It's the team's first training session on the pitch where club members will host their first match. But there's no promise they'll be able to inspect the field again before the match. Practice sessions ahead of the home opener have been held all over Berlin.

In order to survive without a regular training pitch, Turkiyemspor, which was founded 40 years ago by Turkish emigrants to Berlin and is part of the German Regional League, has developed its own social and sporting structures.

"It's really a special club," the 53-year-old Erkenbrecher said. "The whole social structure and culture that dominates Turkiyemspor is a lot different than in a normal, German club."

Perennial underdogs

Türkiyemspor coach and player on the field
Without a training pitch of its own, the team is often found wherever there's extra spaceImage: Lydia Leipert

Often kicking a ball around next to a boys' team or unknown group of hobby players, Erkenbrecher said the team brings soccer back to its roots as a sport played on the streets wherever there's space.

This season the coach is working full time for Turkiyemspor, along with a few other players. But the majority of the team plays on a voluntary basis and hold down other jobs as well.

Faced with a minimal budget, co-trainer Edal Guncu, who is a student teacher when he's not on the field, said a lot is demanded of the players.

"Of course we want to have better training conditions, but it’s also not bad for the psyche for the players to see where we stand," he said. "Maybe they'll transfer that to the game."

The team is always looking for new players, and has been completely revamped with 17 new members since last season. One of the only prerequisites for the team, despite its origins, is being able to speak German -- which is lucky for coach Erkenbrecher, since he doesn't speak a word of Turkish.

Positive examples

Football fans with a German and a Turkish flag.
Half of the team is of Turkish descent, the rest has German, American or African rootsImage: AP

Half of the team members have Turkish roots while players with German, American and African heritage make up the rest. Nationality isn't a factor in deciding who gets on the team, Erkenbrecher said, adding that the differences in the players are what makes the team exciting.

"Of course it is a challenge for a multicultural team to bond and grow," he said.

Ilter Senkaya, 26, has been with the team since last season. He said he thinks the colorful mix of players creates a positive atmosphere of togetherness both within in the team and the community.

Last year the club won the German soccer Association's Integration Prize for their work with youth and girls teams.

"We're also showing everyone that the children of immigrants are good athletes too," Senkaya said.