Leaders Say Germany Open to the World, But Urge Caution | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 06.06.2006
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Leaders Say Germany Open to the World, But Urge Caution

Days before the World Cup kicks off, leading politicians have underlined Germany's open and tolerant nature. But Chancellor Merkel has warned the country must remain vigilant to the threat of attacks against foreigners.

Open, tolerant and rooting for their team

Open, tolerant and rooting for their team

With just days left before the soccer World Cup kicks off, on Friday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged his fellow citizens to work towards presenting a better image of Germany abroad during the tournament.

"During the four weeks of the World Cup we have to show who we really are," Steinmeier said. The opportunity should be used "to present our best side: open, hospitable, friendly and tolerant."

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said that the city would present itself as "a worthy capital" of a reunified Germany.

Racist attacks cast a shadow

At the same time, Chancellor Angela Merkel referred to rising concern in Germany that the tournament comprising 32 countries, and which runs from June 9 to July 9, could be tarnished by violence against foreigners after a number of highly publicized attacks.

"Unfortunately, we have had individual xenophobic attacks, which must be condemned absolutely and against which we must act with the utmost resolution," Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, adding that Germany had to remain highly vigilant.

Merkel bei ihrer EU Erklärung

Merkel says German has to remain alert

"But the vast majority of people in our country are friendly towards foreigners. You can't describe xenophobia as something 'typically German'," she said.

Merkel's comments follow warnings last month by a former government spokesman who now heads an anti-racist organization that black soccer fans visiting the country during the World Cup should avoid going to areas where neo-Nazi attacks had taken place.

His remarks triggered fierce debate in Germany about so-called no-go areas for dark-skinned foreigners and were followed by a suspected racist attack on a politician of Turkish-Kurdish origin in eastern Berlin. A string of other racist attacks in the east of the country have also put the country on edge.

"A real fan can't be a racist"

Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasized that a "real soccer fan" could not be a racist, saying that the Bundesliga, the German first-division league, had several players who didn't come from Germany.

Sport, Fußball, WM06 Gerald Asamoah

Ghana-born German citizen Gerald Asamoah plays in the national team

He added that the German national team also has "two black Germans (Gerald Asamoah, a Ghana-born striker and David Odonkor who is half-Ghanaian) at the World Cup who we can be proud of."

Theo Zwanziger, head of Germany's soccer association, the DFB, said soccer organizations in Germany had a special responsibility in countering racism in the game.

"Soccer players -- that's also part of our statute -- can't allow right-wing violence in this country," Zwanziger said. He added that he expected all the 26,000 soccer organizations and clubs in the country as well as officials to "recognize this message and live according to it."

Over the weekend thousands of Germans demonstrated against the far-right in several places. Scuffles broke out during a demonstration in Düsseldorf when some members of the far-left scene threw bottles and stones at police. Police also broke up a neo-Nazi concert in the state of Thuringia and arrested two people.

Merkel: have developed healthy nationalism

Despite the tensions stirred by racist attacks in recent weeks, Chancellor Merkel said she was happy to see that on the eve of the World Cup Germans have at last developed a healthy sense of national pride.

Deutsch für Fans Lektion 12, Fans im Stadion

Merkel says German have developed a relaxed pride in their country

"Our fans have developed a relaxed pride in their country. People are waving flags without having the feeling that they to justify themselves. Fifteen years ago things were still different," Merkel told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"Our relation to our own country has become something beautiful, but in a normal and not an arrogant way."

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