At Home in a Foreign Country: German Turks Struggle to Find Their Identity
Part 2: Ethnic Segregation in German Cities
Caglar Budakli is walking through the streets of Kreuzberg, past kebab shops and hair salons. Young men -- Turks, Lebanese, Albanians -- shake his hand in greeting. Budakli is still a notorious figure in the neighborhood. At 11, he joined a Berlin gang called the "Crazy Kick Brothers," spending his days on the streets, spraying graffiti and breaking into grocery stores. He spent less and less time in school, partly because he felt that the teachers were humiliating him. He was arrested at 15 and charged with burglary and extortion. He had to change schools six times, until there were no longer any principals in Kreuzberg willing to accept him.
The middle class's fear of the detrimental effects of proximity to immigrant populations is not just reflected in schools, but in entire neighborhoods. Social scientists are finding that the segregation of German cities into socially and ethnically distinct neighborhoods is progressing. Hochfeld, a district in the western city of Duisburg, is an example of how a neighborhood deteriorates when its more affluent and educated residents move away.
Rauf Ceylan, a social scientist and religious scholar, grew up in Hochfeld and has reconstructed how the great flight out began in the 1960s. The middle class, which had settled there during the boom in the local steel industry, moved to quieter parts of the city. Rents declined, making housing more affordable for guest workers from Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. When the coal mines were closed and the steel industry in Duisburg collapsed as a result, unemployment also went up in Hochfeld. The early 1990s brought a new wave of immigration -- war refugees and ethnic German immigrants -- and it was gradually transformed from a working-class neighborhood into one with a large unemployed population, says Ceylan.
"What Kind of People are Germans?"
For years, he has been studying ghettoes in Germany, which he calls "ethnic colonies." He says that immigrant colonies are vital for the survival of new arrivals, because they cushion the culture shock. Germans also formed colonies when they first arrived in New York and Tokyo. On the other hand, says Ceylan, the many years of isolation mean that immigrants lose contact with the rest of society, which is precisely what is happening in Hochfeld and many other neighborhoods in Germany.
When Ceylan was conducting interviews for his dissertation, a Turkish arcade owner took him aside and said: "I guarantee you that in 10 or 12 years, we'll have a hard time finding Germans in the neighborhood, and we'll ask ourselves: Germans? What kind of people are they, exactly?"
A small segment of the young immigrant generation has accepted its status as troublemakers in Germany. They are the lost in two ways. On the one hand, their country of birth has no use for them; on the other, they feel outcast and excluded. Some have found a risky way to handle their envy and the feeling of being unwanted: They cultivate an aversion for the majority, who they perceive as oppressors.
Some of these angry young people discover religion, which offers them security, guidance and a seductive opportunity to isolate themselves from the majority. Isolation is also a way of forming an identity. In a 2005 survey by the Essen Center for Turkish Studies, 80 percent of Muslims of Turkish origin between the ages of 18 and 29 described themselves as "somewhat" or "very" religious, up from only 64 percent five years earlier.
Those who seek affinity, meaning and retribution are susceptible to the ideas of radical preachers. Attila Selek, the son of Turkish immigrants, was a member of the so-called Sauerland cell, a group of men arrested for preparing a terrorist attack. The others were Rami Makanesi, the son of a Syrian immigrant, who traveled to Pakistan to give up his life for jihad, and Ahmad Sidiqi, who had come to Hamburg from Afghanistan in the early 1990s with his brother. He too hoped to end his life as a martyr.
Minister 'Has to Be Dragged into Integration Meetings'
In her book "Das Ende der Geduld" ("The Limits of Patience"), published in July 2010, the now-deceased Berlin juvenile court judge Kirsten Heisig wrote that there is a "mindset hostile to Germans" in certain deprived areas that "can degenerate into racism toward the non-immigrant parts of the population." Nevertheless, no one has been able to prove that hostile feelings about Germans are on the rise, or that they even exist throughout immigrant communities. There are no statistics to substantiate such speculation, and the number of cases involving clear anti-German hostility is quite small.
The political world's reactions to such phenomena tend to be relatively uncomplicated. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich sees immigration mainly as a security risk for the country. Staff members report that Friedrich practically has to be dragged to meetings with immigrants.
Integration policy is unimportant for Friedrich's boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel -- and this despite the fact that the government could save billions in unemployment and welfare benefits if more attention were finally paid to the young generation. In fact, it could even increase its revenues.
The Cologne Institute for Economic Research has completed an in-depth analysis on the economic potential of immigrant offspring. The government has had the results at its disposal for the last year and a half. They show, for example, that an 18-year-old whose second-chance qualifications are paid for by the government and who is encouraged to pursue vocational training, contributes more than 4,000 (about $5,400) a year to the government budget, in the form of taxes, social security contributions and the avoidance of unemployment costs, between the age of 24 and retirement. If the immigrant children who are currently under-qualified were brought up to the educational level of the remaining population, it could translate into up to 66 billion in additional government revenues by 2050, the Cologne study concludes.
For a moment last year, it seemed as if German Family Minister Kristina Schröder had decided to address the problem. At the height of the Sarrazin debate Schröder, a Christian Democrat, said that the hatred some immigrants felt for Germans was a phenomenon that politicians should take as seriously as right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism. When Schröder used the phrase "racism against Germans," it sounded as if a new culture war were on the horizon. Critics accused her of populism, while supporters said they were pleased that someone finally had the courage to tell the truth. At the very least, the minister now had a chance to claim an issue as her own, one that her fellow cabinet ministers had avoided. It would have given her an opportunity to demonstrate that she is searching for solutions, especially with a job that also involves addressing youth issues.
Debate Deepens the Divide
A conversation with Schröder in her office on Glinkastrasse in Berlin begins with a monologue about maternity rights and the female quota. When she is asked what happened to the hatred against Germans she had criticized so vehemently, and who addresses the issue in her ministry, her response begins with a long, drawn-out "Well " The 34-year-old minister says she has established a youth council, and that it includes both a member of the volunteer fire department and an immigrant. Other than that, she has nothing to say about initiatives or studies, or anything else. When asked what her insights into the behavior of immigrants is based on, Schröder says: "It's just a hunch I have."
Every debate over mainstream culture and the hatred of Germans, and every blanket judgment about criminal foreigners, only deepens the divide between Germans and the children of immigrants. Shalau Baban from Marburg believes all politicians are incapable and dishonest, while Caglar Budakli from Berlin still has a tendency to loudly proclaim, in front of anyone he sees as a so-called real German: "F*ck Sarrazin!"
They don't feel that they belong, which is why their only option is to make it on their own. Budakli began a training program as a forklift operator, worked in construction and in kebab shops, took a computer course and loaded crates at a wholesale market. He has been giving breakdancing lessons to teenagers at a Berlin youth center for some time, and it seems as if, at 30, he had finally found his place in society. Baban fought his way through high school after finishing junior high, despite his teachers' constant skepticism. He now has a year left and dreams of one day becoming a pilot. Budakli and Baban have managed to take a small step closer to their dreams, not because of but in spite of their immigrant background. But not everyone has their tenacity.
Germany needs a master plan to prevent parts of this generation from being lost. The country's new challenge is to achieve a second form of German unification, one that brings together citizens of German and foreign origin.
It still has a long way to go. The children and grandchildren of guest workers are less likely to graduate from high school than their contemporaries from German families. The German school system is hardly capable of offsetting social differences, write Aladin El-Mafaalani and Ahmet Toprak in their study for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, "Muslim Children and Adolescents in Germany." They say that many of these young people feel uneasy because the rules in their families differ so fundamentally from those in school. "In the family, obedience, collectiveness and loyalty to traditional values are expected, whereas self-discipline, individuality and independence are encouraged in school."
This is one of the reasons why the young generation drops out of school early and often feels frustrated in the process.
- Part 1: German Turks Struggle to Find Their Identity
- Part 2: Ethnic Segregation in German Cities
- Part 3: Transforming Chaos into a Model School
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