At Home in a Foreign Country: German Turks Struggle to Find Their Identity

By Maximilian Popp, and Christoph Scheuermann

The first Turkish 'guest workers' arrived in West Germany 50 years ago. Like other immigrants, they've had children and grandchildren since then. But large segments of younger generations are struggling to find their place in Germany, where they are hampered by a lack of education and prospects for the future.

Photo Gallery: Turks in Germany Photos
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It was supposed to have been yet another feel-good, photo-op meeting. Maria Böhmer, the German government's integration coordinator, had invited a group of young people with foreign roots to a gathering at the Chancellery last Tuesday. The event was meant to generate cheerful images of immigrants and tell the story of a successful integration policy. But then four young men and a woman stepped onto the stage.

They had prepared a statement, and the message it delivered was stark: "Nothing is good in Germany."

They took turns at the microphone. They said they were tired of being brought to Berlin and paraded as model immigrants. They also said that the old truism that all it takes to be successful in Germany is hard work was a lie. Shalau Baban, 17, stepped up to the microphone. His roots are in Iraq and he goes to school in the central German city of Marburg. "I have a good friend," said Shalau. "His name is Adnan. He was always hardworking. He was deported two weeks ago." Nothing is good in Germany, the five young people said, nothing.

The room fell silent when they stepped off the stage. Integration official Böhmer had stopped smiling. A few teenagers had just destroyed her integration show. They had shown her and the assembled journalists that an entire country has been lying to itself for years when it comes to the subject of integration, and to the children and grandchildren of immigrants.

Many in this young generation still feel as if they haven't arrived in Germany. It's their home, and yet for many it remains a foreign place. And despite the German government's official celebration this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the German-Turkish recruitment agreement, some of the children and grandchildren of those first immigrants see little reason to celebrate.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will try to keep up appearances. She will meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Berlin this week, and together they will thank the first Turkish guest workers for their services to Germany. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), will speak, and so will Integration Coordinator Böhmer. It'll be the usual official treatment of this subject: lots of words, big speeches and, if possible, some sort of an appeal. But nothing will be offered to improve the current situation.

Half a century after West Germany began promoting immigration, German society is having a hard time dealing with the second and third generations, and with the question of how to give meaning to the word integration. The country seems to be losing its connection with parts of the younger generation.

That is because they didn't grow up in Ankara, Palermo or Priština, but in Stuttgart, Braunschweig and Rostock. And although they did grow up in Germany, they have fewer prospects for success there than their fathers and grandfathers, who came to the country as adults to find work or political asylum. Almost a third of all men and women with foreign roots between the ages of 25 and 35 have no professional qualifications. The data is especially alarming for the roughly three million Turkish immigrants, Germany's largest minority. The share of young Turks with no professional qualifications rose from 44 to 57 percent between 2001 and 2006. This figure alone -- 57 percent -- perfectly illustrates the sheer magnitude of the failure on both sides.

At the same time, those with higher qualifications, the ones Germany urgently needs, say they want to get out as soon as possible. In 2006, there was net outward migration from Germany to Turkey for the first time. This too is an indication of the failure of a modern society. For many immigrants, Germany is no longer attractive enough.

An Unnecessary Social, Economic and Political Catastrophe

"Germany is starting to think about immigration when it has already been a country of emigration for some time," says Klaus Bade, chairman of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration. The failures of the children and grandchildren of guest workers, says Bade, is "an unnecessary social, economic and political catastrophe."

The country is unquestionably dependent on the children of immigrants, young people like Shalau Baban, whose family once fled from Iraq. He grew up in Marburg, a university town in central Germany. He goes to school there and has German friends, and yet he too uses terms like "the Germans" and "we foreigners" to classify people. The rap songs he and his friend Daniel Fisher, 18, write are furious responses to the insincerity of many politicians who discuss immigrants, thereby defining these two high-school students as problem cases, and as two boys who don't belong.

In a few years, well over 50 percent of the residents over 40 in many large western German cities will be immigrants. The Prognos research institute predicts that Germany will be short three million workers by 2015. For the economy, the children of immigrants could be a welcome reservoir of globally thinking and culturally diverse employees, and yet the reality is different in many respects. Some 2.3 million people between the ages of 15 and 25 with foreign roots live in Germany, or one in four members of this age group. Many struggle with similar problems. On average, they are less well educated than the children of German families, their German isn't as good, and they don't do as well in kindergarten, school and in the labor market.

Few of them make it to college. In an ideal world, the fact that 2.3 million people have their family origins in Iraq, Tunisia or Croatia would be an advantage and not a disadvantage in an interview. In an ideal world, there would be more managers, judges, engineers and tax officials of Turkish, Russian or Iranian descent. But in the German reality, the unemployment rate is almost twice as high among immigrants as Germans. In the public's perception, Germany's status as a country of immigration is reflected primarily in its crime and unemployment statistics.

Struggling with the Consequences of Immigration

Caglar Budakli, 30, was born in Berlin. His parents are from Turkey, but he has a German passport. He is one of those who were almost lost entirely. His father came to Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood from Kars, a city on the Turkish-Armenian border, in the 1970s. He moved into a three-room apartment with his family and took a job on the assembly line at Siemens. Budakli says that when his father came home from work in the evening, he would either go straight to bed or be so drunk that he would beat his wife and children. Budakli's parents were unable to teach their son how to get ahead in Germany, because they themselves were struggling with the consequences of immigration.

According to the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, children with foreign roots who were born in Germany are more likely to experience behavioral disorders than Germans of the same age. A research report by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees concludes that four out of five Turks in Germany between the ages of 38 and 64 have no more than a junior high school education, while only a little more than a quarter have at least five years of schooling.

And even well-educated immigrants have a tough time in the labor market. According to calculations by the State Office of Statistics in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, 9.1 percent of high-school graduates with immigrant parents are unemployed, compared with only 2.6 percent of those with German parents.

At the same time, parents are reacting more sensitively to increasing the immigrant quota in their children's' schools. The classroom has become a battleground. Many fathers or mothers would rather drive their children halfway across the city than send them to schools with high immigrant populations, leaving behind classrooms filled with the sons and daughters of poorly educated families. Germany is regularly at the bottom of the heap in international studies that compare the educational opportunities of children with and without immigrant backgrounds.

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1. Successful migration needs planning
banksis 11/03/2011
Was it or is it the case that migrants to Germany can never become "real" Germans with the same rights in every respect once they become citizens as people born in Germany? And that a very lengthy period of residence is required to qualify for citizenship? A successful migration policy does not just happen. It needs to be organised, and starting 50 years after the migrants first come is too late. Have the authorities ever studied what happens in the traditional migrant countries like Australia and Canada?
2.
finebetty 11/03/2011
---Quote (Originally by banksis)--- Was it or is it the case that migrants to Germany can never become "real" Germans with the same rights in every respect once they become citizens as people born in Germany? And that a very lengthy period of residence is required to qualify for citizenship? A successful migration policy does not just happen. It needs to be organised, and starting 50 years after the migrants first come is too late. Have the authorities ever studied what happens in the traditional migrant countries like Australia and Canada? ---End Quote--- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_nationality_law Sure youre right that a successful migration policy does not just happen. Germany ignored the problem for a long time because migrants (from outside of EU etc) were seen as "Gastarbeiter", guest workers who would be returning home at some stage - i.e. not people who would stay and settle here. Finally theyre waking up to the reality and some long overdue changes in both policy and attitudes are beginning to happen - hopefully someone is looking at the situation in other countries. There were huge problems when Turkish migrants were offered citizenship but only on the condition that they gave up their Turkish passports, many of them werent prepared to do this and wanted dual citizenship. As far as I know dual citizenship is allowed in certain circumstances, e.g. "As far as German law is concerned, if your child automatically had two nationalities at birth, he/she does not have to decide between the two at a later stage. Your child is therefore a permanent holder of dual nationality. In some cases, the law of the other country may however dictates a need to choose. You are asked to contact the competent agency of the other country in such cases (interior ministry or authorities or the foreign missions of the other country." (from the federal foreign office)
3. Europe is EUROPEAN
ichbinsapporobeer 01/17/2012
Germany is an old culture and should promote social cohesion while safeguarding its own people. Germany is NOT Canada or Australia and should stop dreaming about Multiculturalism: We have or own unique culture! Look at Korea and Japan, we should safeguard the culture with the same firm politeness as they do. How many Christians live in Turkey? How many Europeans work in Saudi Arabia? Germany should welcome skilled labor, but it should protect its own culture and rich history as Japan and Korea does. We do not awe Turkish people anything!
4.
poliman 01/21/2012
---Quote (Originally by ichbinsapporobeer)--- Germany is an old culture and should promote social cohesion while safeguarding its own people. Germany is NOT Canada or Australia and should stop dreaming about Multiculturalism: We have or own unique culture! Look at Korea and Japan, we should safeguard the culture with the same firm politeness as they do. How many Christians live in Turkey? How many Europeans work in Saudi Arabia? Germany should welcome skilled labor, but it should protect its own culture and rich history as Japan and Korea does. We do not awe Turkish people anything! ---End Quote--- Wow, guilty and righteous. Great.... So, you compare Germany to Saudi Arabia and use it as benchmark to asses your Country. Congratulations, you have still few things to do to be like Saudis. Saudis stone adulterer, do you think Germany should benchmark its legal system on that? BTW Yes, you owe so much to Turks whom your government officially invited by letter, and brought them to work in factories when your country needed labor. They are the very reason for the boom of 60s, 70s and 80s. Now Germany has automation, and it does not need Turks anymore, and, you think do not owe them anything, right? Shame. Culture is adaptive and changing. There are already changes in German culture by Turks. Bratwurst is no longer the favorite fast food, but Doner. That is how it started in the US, with Italians making Pizza an American cultural heritage. Then music, sports, and now Italians are integral part of American culture. They took some and gave some. That is the integration. Not assimilation. Like it or not, unless they are send to ovens to be destroyed, Turks are part of Germany and need to be accepted as such. Anything else will be devastating to German social integrity Inlong run.
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From DER SPIEGEL
How Turkish Guest Workers Got to Germany
The Agreement
Turkish workers began coming to Germany as early as the late 1950s. But it was only in 1961 when an agreement was signed between Bonn and Ankara paving the way for the first wave of Turkish "Gastarbeiter" (guest workers) to come to Germany. The original plan foresaw them staying for two years. Turkey hoped that money wired back to Turkey from workers in Germany would stimulate the economy. Germany, for its part, needed cheap labor to fuel the "Economic Miracle." The idea of rotating workers through every two years was abandoned in 1964 at the request of employers in Germany. The recruitment drive came to a stop in 1973.
How Many Came?
From 1961 to November 1973, some 2.66 million Turks applied for a job in Germany. According to the Documentation Centre and Museum of Migration in Germany (DOMID), only some 650,000 received a position. One third of workers from Turkey were either experts in their field or had some prior training, according to DOMID -- a much higher number than those workers who came to Germany from Italy, Spain, Greece or Portugal. A fifth of those who came were women.
Who Could Come?
The application process proceeded as follows: German employers would turn to labor offices with a request for Turkish labor and the request would be forwarded to a German office in Istanbul and from there to Turkish labor offices. There were varying age limits: qualified male applicants could not be older than 40, for women the limit was 45. For unqualified laborers, the limit was 30.
How Many Stayed?
It is estimated that close to half of all those who came to Germany from Turkey between the years 1961 and 1973 returned home. The other half stayed and many of their family members moved to Germany to join them. Today, some 2.5 million people in Germany have Turkish roots.
Health Checks
All workers that were chosen by Turkish labor offices had to undergo medical checkups in Istanbul. They were examined in groups: blood pressure was measured, blood and urine tests were performed, applicants had to carry out physical exercises, their bodies were searched for scars and their genitals were checked. The latter test "was likely the worst of all for applicants from Anatolia," writes the Documentation Centre and Museum of Migration in Germany. Between 10 percent and 17 percent of those approved by the Turkish labor offices were rejected as a result of the medical tests.

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