We love all kinds of sports!

Soccer is the favorite, of course.
Exploring Turkish sport clubs in Schöneberg and Kreuzberg

Amelie Kutter and Carmen von Kende (photos), Slubice/Berlin

Since three years the number of Turkish sports clubs in Berlin has been constantly increasing. You can see them wherever you go, especially in areas of Berlin where the Turkish community is quite strong like Kreuzberg, Wedding and Schöneberg. They are called “Göktürk”, “Türkiyemspor Berlin”or alike and proudly present themselves as fan clubs, so called “e.V.” The abbreviation stands for “eingetragener Verein”, which means “registered society”, reserved “for members only”.

A ‘good’ German good citizen is expected to spend his free time in such registered societies, participating either in charity or in sports. As clubs are supposed to foster social integration they have a special juridical status, granting legal protection and tax-exemption for serving drinks to members of the society.

The charm of neon light

Most of the Turkish sport clubs top the aesthetic charm of German clubs. They look like neglected cafés, sparsely lighted by some neon tubes, slightly greened by some dusty palms, the lamella curtains almost closed. If you glimpse through an open door you will see posters of Berlin Turkish soccer teams on the walls, some extra kitchy pictures showing cats with sweetly done fur, bubbling water falls in far away Turkey or national Turkish symbols.

You will see an accurately decorated bar counter and lots of men having tea and playing cards. Access is restricted to members over 18, as it is indicated on the outside window of every club. What is not indicated: Women are not accepted in the clubs, except non-Turkish ones, sometimes pretty blondes serving tea and other drinks.

Once you have got curious about these closed up islands of Berlin immigrant subculture, you want to know what is going on in there. We did a walk around and asked the club members.

WHICH PICTURE DOESN’T FIT TO THE OTHERS?

We are attracted by a Turkish club next by, with properly painted red letters, decorated with a map highlighting all countries from Turkey to the United Arab Emirates: the Kurtulus CB-Funk-Club. “This is not a sports club”, the owner says with indignation. “It is a radio ham club”.

A radio ham club? What is that? The man looks at us with total indifference, as if we were chicken. He pushes the door open and points wordless at a strange instrument for radio recording and transmission, resembling to a somewhat outdated model of a transistor. We are confused, astonished and don’t dare to ask anything else. We simply leave.

Well, obviously not every Turkish club is necessarily a sports club. Actually, as we go on, it turns out that not even clubs officially declared as sports or fan clubs are what they claim to be….

Digitürk, fresh from Turkey

Göcktürkspor e.V., located in Kolonnenstraße. Again, it turns out, that it is hard to get any detailed information. At the Göcktürkspor club, which is associated to the Berlin Göktürkspor soccer team, the boss is missing and the men hanging around the bar don’t want to give an interview.

But we find out that they come here regularly to watch soccer on television. Watching sports on television is supposedly one of the main activities in these clubs. All clubs have huge TV screens or beamers.

The more important ones have “Digitürk”, a Turkish pay-TV station which provides digital broadcasting via satellite and offers sports programme packages in Turkish – “for all the Turkish people”, as a man at the bar tells us. In big fat letters on the outer windows of the clubs: “Digitürk”, the advertisement for guaranteed high entertainment live broadcasting of soccer and other sports matches, fresh from Turkey and all over the world.

The Sport, the TV remote

Do you actually play soccer yourself? We ask some men in the next sports club called “the sports friends’ circle”, which opened recently close to Göcktürkspor.

“Yes, yes, yeah we meet often and play soccer. We are going for a kick-about close to here, to the Kickers’ soccer field at the Monumentenstraße.”

“Actually, No. We just watch TV.”

“Some of us, some play soccer, sometimes.”

Do you make bets about who will win the match?

“No, we don’t. This is done at the commercial bookmakers’ offices.”

“Well, we do, but just among friends, for fun, not for money.”

No soccer for women

Why will you never find a Turkish woman in those clubs? “Turkish woman are not interested in soccer” is one of the statements, the others are hardly any better. The Turkish sports clubs are definitely not just for “members only, age 18 and over”, one should add “men only”.

Sports and Turkish women is a general issue that is not limited to the clubs. It is a persistant problem that there are too little sports activities for Turkish girls. The clubs usually offer soccer, but only for boys. Social workers try to negotiate and convince Turkish sports clubs in Berlin to promote girl sports activities, including “tabu” sports like basketball, volleyball or soccer.

Especially soccer is regarded as not suited for Turkish girls, they are not supposed to expose their body and be looked at by other men. Though all this doesn’t sound too encouraging, one should note that the first and only European Turkish woman soccer team “Agrispor” was actually founded in Berlin, back in 1991. The “Agrispor” women are kicking every week at the Görlitzer Park. During these hours they are taking over the green field otherwise populated by their male mates.

GAMES, TEA & CIGARETTES

Even if soccer seems to be the favorite sport, we get reminded at the “sports friends’ circle” that their circle is not only dedicated to soccer. “We love all sorts of sports” a member declares with pathos, whereas to define which discipline they actually like except soccer turns out to be difficult. “Well, we just love sports”. Not like German fan clubs, which are usually associated with either a well defined discipline and/ or with a particular sports team.

In the “General Berlin Sports Club” – the “Allgemeiner Berliner Sport CluP e.V.”, located on the other side of Kolonnenstraße – three different soccer fan communities meet. The club has been in Kolonnenstrasse for over 10 years, but nobody corrected the wrongly spelled “CluP” into “club”.

Inside the CluP another curiousity: Parking signs at the wall indicate where fans of the “Fenerbahce” or the “Besiktas” have to sit. Yüksel Durmaz, a member of the “General Berlin Sports Club”, informs us while smoking a cigarette that it is quite usual to be a member of different fan clubs at the same time.

Soccer Time-Out

As he lives in Kreuzberg, Durmaz, besides being a member of the “General Berlin Sports Club”, is involved in Türkiyemspor, the oldest and most famous Turkish Berlin soccer club. The club started out in Kreuzberg in 1978 and ever since, its fan community and club branches have been steadily increasing, especially in Kreuzberg, the club’s “home zone”.

But are the Turkish sport clubs really mainly and only about sports? As long as there is no sports broadcast, members of “sport friends’ circle” have their tea at the club and play “Okey”, a game, which, according to the most communicative and German speaking head of the players’ group, is a very traditional Turkish one.

“Such a club is just a place to talk to other members”, Durmaz says. “They have here cultural events as well, and they do some fundraising for homeless children or for youngsters who don’t have enough money for their studies and alike” Is it the club members’ children who are funded by this way? “No, no, it is not for the members, it is more general, some general social projects, but I’m quite rarely here, I’m not well informed”. Durmaz points at a collecting box with a German inscription, standing on the bar.

PARKING LOT FOR MEMBERS ONLY

This emphasis on sports, membership restriction, Turkish culture, non-commerce and charity benefit was repeatedly mentioned in all the clubs we visited. During our walk around the most “clubby” streets we began to suspect, that it is actually the other way around: In Turkish sport clubs something might be going on, which has nothing to do with sports, culture, and charity. At least there is a big effort to dispel this suspicion.

A Turkish baker in Kreuzberg, an enthusiastic fan of good old “Türkiyemspor” supported our speculations. He was even driven into claiming some substantial conspiracy theories:

“These clubs, especially the branches of Türkiyemspor in Kreuzberg, have nothing to do with sports. They are mainly cafés, places for socializing, a meeting point. They are just declared as fan clubs to avoid taxes. You know, the clubs have changed a lot, and so has soccer.

A tax haven

Türkiyemspor it is not the soccer club anymore it used to be. Once Türkiyemspor used to be a really good team, and the fan community was very vivid. In the 1980s and 1990s thousands of fans went to the Türkiyemspor matches. And the players were really great – they went up into the upper ligue and into the second federal ligue and became the first immigrant amateur club which represented Berlin at the German Cup.

Today nobody is really interested in soccer itself. It’s all corrupt and all about money. Basically you can tell already before the match who is going to win. And nobody will go to the matches because they play so badly.

No, these clubs are just used for tax exemption reasons. And they are a good way to escape police raids that frequently target immigrant cafés. The reasons for the raids range from suspected drug dealing, illegal immigration to fundamentalistic activities.”

No pretended enthusiasm

So what, no sports at all? This doesn’t seem to be true either, since we met a lot of sports enthusiasm, or lets say: soccer enthusiasm, which was hardly just pretended and not necessarily linked to the club Türkiyemspor. Some more voices from the clubs at Kolonnenstraße:

“All are waiting for the weekend, because of the soccer matches because that’s when they are shown. Everybody is enthusiastic about sports, everywhere, not just the Turkish community. But, in the first place, it is soccer that gets most of the attention and respect.”

“And it’s also true, that soccer got popular not only among Turks in Berlin, but among immigrants in general. To them soccer means opportunities, and they have a strong interest in the game.”

“Here in Berlin, we have great Turkish soccer players. One day, we Berliner will make the Turkish national team, I’m sure. There are already some players from our Berlin teams who went to Turkey to play there.”

Don’t forget about the radio ham…

What are they then, these Turkish sports and fan clubs? There seems to be no single definition of what they are. Some see their clubs as real sports clubs with arduous fans who want to promote their favourite team(s). Others regard them as a place to meet and hang out on the weekends, where you can spend your spare time relaxing from work and family. Or, by contrast, a place where to find partners to make business with. Obviously some owners don’t want to pay taxes, some club members don’t want to have trouble with the police.

Finally, leaving sports to the side, there still remains this bizarre thing with the radio ham clubs: What are they about? Could there be a connection between the sports and transistor radios? Transistor radios have a long tradition in Berlin, too: In the 1960s the german company Telefunken had several hundred Turkish women come to Berlin as seasonal workers to put together transistors.

Maybe history as unifying link? Or, to continue with the conspiracy theories: Could there be a secret code between the radio ham clubs and the sports clubs? Do the radio ham clubs, as our Turkish baker might suspect, use their oldfashioned transistors to hack into police radio signals in order to warn sport club owners about approaching police raids? Maybe we should go for another walk…

For more information about Turkish club and Turkish soccer in Berlin:

The glory of Türkiyemspor Berlin e.V.: www.tuerkiyemspor.info/content/view/9/35/

Secret soccer playing – Turkish girls in Berlin: “Mädchen am Ball”, Documentary film, director: Aysun Bademsoy, Germany 1995. 43 minute portrait of “Agrispor”, the only Turkish women’s soccer team in Europe.

How kids in Kreuzberg think about soccer and sports clubs: Berlin-Kreuzberg children’s project „…the street I live in….“, www.kinderstrasse.org

Digitürk – the guarantee of vivid fan life in Turkish sport clubs: www.digiturk.tv

Some Berliner newspaper articles:
“KREUZBERG: Heimlich Kicken gehen“, article about BSC Agrispor by Bernd Dörries (Berliner Zeitung, May 5th, 2000);
„Zu wenige Sportangebote für Mädchen“ (Berliner Morgenpost, August 20th, 2003)

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