BERLIN — Young migrants accompanied Bayern Munich players onto the pitch and took center stage to the applause of 75,000 fans before a Bundesliga game on Saturday.

The players each held hands with a German child on one side and a migrant child on the other for what the club described as “a symbol for the integration of refugees.”

Some of the kids waved shyly to the crowd, while others simply soaked it all in, the culmination of trips fraught with danger. The children, whose nationalities were not disclosed, were applauded by fans of Bayern and opponent Augsburg alike.

Bayern, like many German clubs, has offered support to people fleeing war and poverty. The club, among the biggest and richest in Europe, is donating 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to migrant projects, and arranging a training camp to give youths German lessons, meals and soccer equipment.

Schalke was bringing 16 children from families seeking asylum in Gelsenkirchen to a training session on Sunday, when they would meet former Germany forward Gerald Asamoah. They were then to attend the side’s league game against Mainz.

Mainz had already invited migrants to its home games, as had a host of other first, second and third division sides.

Hertha Berlin asked 1,200 migrants to its 2-1 win over Stuttgart on Saturday, a day after distributing footballs, T-shirts, and scarves to people from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

“Our team is multicultural, colorful and integrated. It was obvious that Hertha would help,” general manager Michael Preetz said.

On Wednesday, German football federation (DFB) president Wolfgang Niersbach visited eighth-tier side SG Egelsbach, which helped set up a team for migrants called “Refugees United.”

“What’s happening here is a fine example,” Niersbach said.

The following day the DFB announced it was extending its migrant-aid initiative by a further three years to 2019, offering payments of 500 euros ($560) to clubs who assist them.

It has long been argued that sport and politics shouldn’t mix but German clubs have bucked the trend. They pride themselves on maintaining close links with fans, keeping ticket prices low, cooperating on choreography for games, while most include public transport in the cost of match tickets.

While German clubs are taking the initiative, it’s also because they are being driven to do so by their fans.

The “Refugees Welcome” flag has become a common sight at football grounds, and banners proclaiming support for migrants are often seen at Bundesliga and lower division games.

Recently, there has been a boost in support, the culmination of a buildup of migrants in Hungary, and the reaction to a recent wave of far-right and anti-foreigner violence in towns such as Heidenau and Freital near Dresden, and Nauen to the west of Berlin.

Footage of migrant accommodation going up in flames, and right-wing mobs hurling bottles and fireworks at police protecting migrants evoked memories of fatal fire-bombings in the early 1990s. It got Germans thinking about the country’s darkest days, and spurred a response of kindness.

Munich police had to issue an appeal for people to stop delivering aid to the main train station – it was becoming too much – while authorities and aid agencies in Hamburg are struggling to coordinate all the assistance being provided by volunteers.

Television presenter Anja Reschke was widely praised for an on-air comment slamming the “little racist nobodies” who express hatred of migrants online. The video has been watched almost 10 million times on Facebook alone.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reticent stance softened after she comforted a 14-year-old Palestinian girl she brought to tears during a televised debate on immigration, and after she visited the migrant shelter that was the subject of protest in Heidenau.

Last weekend, she agreed to let in thousands of migrants who became stuck in Hungary.

Some 40,000 arrived in Munich in the past week with another 10,000 or more expected by Saturday night. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday that up to 40,000 migrants could arrive in the country this weekend alone.

German football clubs are doing their bit.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.