"A time to make friends" --- that's the official motto of the 2006 World Cup, which got underway Friday, June 9. German authorities want to ensure things are friendly. Officials are concerned about the country's right-wing extremists and racist groups. One former government spokesman even suggested that it would not be safe for dark-skinned football fans to travel to certain areas of the country. Those suggestions have been discounted by authorities, but some in Germany maintain that racist violence is a very real problem.
The Kreuzberg area of Berlin is home to around 400,000 Turkish immigrants, the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey. The Turkish Council says racially motivated attacks against the community are a very real problem.
Mustafa Besirli says far-right groups are a concern. “The problem is the Nazis. The Nazis are not good for Germany; not good for people from other countries, like me,” Besirli said. “Nazis in Berlin is a dangerous problem.”
In May, a Turkish-born member of Berlin's State Parliament was assaulted by neo-Nazis and ended up in the hospital.
Recently, a former government spokesman warned that dark-skinned fans should be careful if visiting towns in Brandenburg, the region around Berlin, because of right-wing extremists.
Government figures show that since 2005, there has been a 25 percent increase in violence from far-right groups nationwide with nearly 1,000 incidents.
Moctar Kamara from the African Council says visiting fans must be realistic about the welcome they will receive in Germany.
“All Germans are not racist, some are friendly, but we have a minority and it's dangerous and we have to say, we have to take care,” Kamara said. “ We have a region in Germany where as a foreigner we have attacks and it's not OK.”
There are fears that on the field, teams such as Togo will receive a less-than-warm welcome. German fans are known for their racist chanting against their own non-German players, and even other predominantly white European teams.
German fans are not the only ones guilty of such behavior. FIFA, the world governing body for the sport, has long fought against racism, particularly among Spanish, Italian and eastern European fans. FIFA admits there has been a surge of such behavior as more players from Africa and Latin America are signed by elite European clubs.
International publicity around racist chanting and attacks is a cause of great embarrassment for the German government.
Senator Ehrhart Korting, who heads the Justice Ministry in the Berlin State Parliament, says he's confident all fans will be safe.
”Each attack is one too much and at special points where we think might happen, we will have police. I don't think we can say there are places you can't go in,” he said. “Every city has places that you shouldn't go, but I think it will be no problem for our guests.
Despite the concerns, German authorities do not plan to issue any official warnings to visitors. They'll certainly be hoping that rivalries will play out only on the field.