Ministers Make Music and Play Politics

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When German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy met in Berlin on Monday, a major issue on their agenda was European immigration. While Sarkozy and Merkel were facing some critical questions from students of a local high school — one 18-year old girl, for instance, questioned the German Chancellor about the absence of immigrants in her cabinet — German foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier and his French counterpart Bernhard Kouchner turned the official occasion into a multicultural house party.

In a small backyard recording studio in the Berlin neighborhood of Neukölln, known for its large, mainly Turkish, immigrant population, the two ministers joined forces with 23-year-old German Turkish singer Muhabbet to record the pro-immigration hymn Deutschland. Senior politicians rarely visit the troubled neighborhood, much less show up to sing a duet. But if the two men in suits were feeling awkward, they certainly didn't let it show. Steinmeier smiled and grooved to the music — a mixture of Turkish folk and R&B which Muhabbet calls "R 'n' Besk" — while Kouchner rhythmically snapped his fingers.

"He did a good job", Hakan Durkac, project manager at Muhabbet's record label Plak Music, afterwards commented on Steinmeier's performance. "He hit all the notes and shook his hips. He even took off his tie".

There weren't too many notes for Steinmeier to miss, however. Supported by Muhabbet and seven background singers, Steinmeier and Kouchner merely had to repeat the word Deutschland (Germany) over and over again, with a slight variation at the end where the word for Kouchner's sake — whose French accent added some extra exotic charm to the song — was substituted with Frankreich (France).

The song, which was co-written by 17-year-old newcomer Sefo, is an appeal for more communication between a country's native population and its immigrants ("We have our customs, you have your customs/Let's look into each others eyes and say what we're thinking/Show your true face ... Germany, why do you shutter yourself. Germany, put your cards on the table"). According to Durkac, "it is simply the kind of song that happens when you live in this country as a German Turk. We are not as stupid as the media presents us. And we do speak German. Sometimes when you go into a club, you get the feeling that the color of your hair decides if you are getting in. The song says, forget about the hair color!"

Muhabbet and the German foreign minister have known each other for several years, since the singer in 2005 accompanied Steinmeier on a visit to Turkey, where the politician met Abdullah Gul, then Turkish foreign minister, for a conference aimed at improving the intercultural dialogue between Germany and Turkey.

The song might help Steinmeier, who was just named vice chancellor following the resignation of Franz Müntefering, to brush up his image and, being considered a potential candidate for chancellorship in the 2009 general elections, to gain the favor of voters that previously considered him a stone-cold bureaucrat.