This week in Germany, I am visiting sites and interviewing practitioners with the Germany-wise program, “Integration through Sport” (in German, “Integration durch Sport”). IdS, which is financed by the German government, administered via the German Olympic committee and implemented locally through youth programs and sport clubs, is a wonderful example of the intersection between sport and conflict resolution.
Today I was privileged to visit the state headquarters of IdS in the German province of Baden-Württemberg, which is conveniently located next to the bus stop “Mercedes World”.
If you could re-create Disney World for adrenaline-loving, sport-watching, autobahn-driving car nuts, this would be it. IdS is located on the 4th floor of a giant building that houses (as far as I can tell) everything that has to do with sport in Baden-Württemberg.
It is conveniently nestled behind the Mercedes-Benz Arena /sport center,
practice fields for BW’s famous soccer team (the “VFB”),
kitty-corner from the Mercedes-Benz Museum (highly recommended – I test drove a voice-automated “E Klasse” sedan there once) and a stone’s thow away from the Porsche Museum, and, lest they be undone by Mercedes,
the Porsche Arena. Wow! That's quite a world!
The point of this entry is integration, however, not why sports lovers are at home in Germany. (Though that has something to do with it!). Kids in the Federal Republic of Germany practice sport in three way, generally:
1) In school – Meaning PE – gym class. German schools do not have the same kind of school-team sport culture we do in the USA
2) In clubs – This is the location for team and competitive sports. These are local and one usually pays a fee to join, (though this can be publicly covered). Called “Sport Vereins”, these clubs act as a cultural marker in a unique way.
3) In outreach work – Play-centered sport, sport as a way to relax and pass time, instead of training or working for a team. After school drop-in centers or church groups often offer sport opportunities.
My research in Germany connects with all of these areas, and it is interesting to consider how each individual defines the word “integration” in their context. Indeed, this is not only a program-specific question, it’s a question that Europe in general asks itself, as its population grows older and shrinks, and as it is faced with lots of immigrants.
As my psychology professor Dr. Moghaddam would phrase it, Europe is determining how to “manage cultural diversity”.
This past October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that multiculturalism in Germany had “utterly failed”,
that the attempt to coexist was clearly not working for them. While the statement was considered purposefully polemical by a number of critics, it struck a chord. Many Germans – many Europeans, fell that despite the rapidly increasing ethnic and cultural diversity of their nations, these culturally different groups continue to live separate lives, even though they are in the same place. And this can lead to a lot of political and social problems. Sometimes, even hate crimes.
A friend of mine here, a German married to a Yugoslavian, recently showed me a comedic video where a German citizen (dark skinned, accent – obvious immigrant) was given an “integration test”. Among other questions, he was asked,
“How would you say you can tell you are integrated?”
“How?” the man answered, “That’s easy. I used to only drink vodka. Now I drink beer!”
…Which is a funny way of answering a perplexing question that people all over the world right now are trying to answer: “What IS “integration”, really? It’s not complete assimilation (drink only beer, never drink vodka again) but it’s also not isolation (drink vodka only, refuse to touch beer even though you live in a land flowing with it)…there must be some middle where you can speak the cultural language of your hosts (maybe drink vodka at home and beer in public?), but it’s got to go a step further, too, when the host culture starts changing itself, taking on the cultural traits of its immigrants, or even coming up with some mixture of both (selling both beer and vodka? Germany has already achieved this status).
This phenomenon shows up easily in the culture of food, but it is more difficult to negotiate in things like politics, education, or cultural mores. In sport, culture, education, and politics are all present at once, which can make it a good place to start the work.
So let me ask you, then:
What is integration?
Where is it successful?
Multiculturalism in Europe, has it failed?