More Readers Weigh In: How Xenophobic Is Germany?

Do foreigners have a more difficult time here than in other countries? Spurred by a recent editorial, SPIEGEL ONLINE readers have flooded our inboxes with their experiences and comments.

This Germany supporter at the 2006 soccer World Cup felt no qualms about flaunting his national identity -- but do foreigners feel at home in Germany?
AFP

This Germany supporter at the 2006 soccer World Cup felt no qualms about flaunting his national identity -- but do foreigners feel at home in Germany?

A recent opinion piece by SPIEGEL ONLINE editor David Crossland on xenophobia in Germany, in reference to a controversial election campaign by Hesse Governor Roland Koch, has inspired strong reactions from readers, with much discussion about whether racism is a real problem in the country.

"I was exposed to a subtle yet stubborn kind of racism on a daily basis," wrote one reader about his experiences in Germany, while another confessed that: "There were a couple of times in eastern Germany when I feared for my life." Other readers insist, however, that racism is a problem everywhere and is no worse in Germany than in, say, the UK.

Several readers have written to us in reaction to that first batch of letters. Here is a selection of their comments -- skip ahead using the menu below.


Dear SPIEGEL ONLINE,

This is a polemical piece that substitutes anecdotal evidence --which can never be refuted anyways -- for hard polling statistics. Of course the author is entitled to his opinion and I believe that he wants to offer constructive criticism. I have heard often that well-qualified immigrants are often made to feel unwelcome and "different" in Germany, and are absolutely certain that it will not be the place where they or their children can grow old. This is sad and I hope that it can change, but this is a gradual process that will take time and effort, and more exposure to foreigners to set a virtuous circle in motion.

I sincerely doubt opinion pieces with radical denunciations like the Crossland piece will make much of a difference and might -- at worst -- be counterproductive. Having lived abroad in the English-speaking world for most of my adulthood, I can recall personal anecdotes of xenophobically and socio-economically motivated violence in the north of England and in Harlem, but I can refrain from generalizing these experiences to a judgment about the UK and US as a whole.

Koch overshot and by clever insinuation widened the focus from juvenile delinquents to an overblown statement about "foreigners" in general. Crossland took Koch's asinine campaign remarks and widened the focus to an overblown indictment of all Germans.

-- Chris Habeck, New York


Dear SPIEGEL ONLINE,

I arrived in Hanover in Oct. 2007 from New Delhi to work in a reputed firm as a business consultant. The firm has recently announced a joint venture with an Indian company that owns a 51-percent stake in this joint venture, much to the chagrin of its cosseted and over-protected employees.

Perhaps because I'm a 24-year-old girl, or because I am quite "Westernized" (whatever that means -- South Delhi has given me a pretty diverse and internationally relevant upbringing), I have not encountered any obvious hostility. However I accept your argument about the abysmal state of integration in the country.

Everyone tells me that "Germans are cold like this," but I find it absurd how closed and reserved people are here -- even the young lot. It is virtually impossible to make friends with the locals because people lead such individualistic and family-oriented lives. My friends here are predominantly German but they're alternative people with a very broad and positive outlook towards life and the world in general. Most importantly, they aren't that many in number.

I come from a Kashmiri Hindu family, I have been born and brought up in a city with a glorious heterogeneous culture imparted by 700 years of Muslim and 300 years of British rule. When I hear even my open-minded friends talk about Turkish immigrants and Islam, I cringe. It seems to me as if the average German is incapable of extending any empathy or trust to people who are not in their own image.

My male Indian friends and an Iraqi-Australian I met here all complain of the harrowing discrimination they've experienced in shops and at the velvet rope in clubs. It isn't as brutal and obvious as being called a "nigger" or a "Paki" (words that I have encountered many times in Britain, incidentally) or a "terrorist," but it's evident in the disapproving look, the discomfort, the sudden curtness, the hurriedness with which transactions are conducted and the fact that all the white people are allowed in to clubs and the colored men can go bite the dust. In my case, as a woman of color, I feel fetishized and exoticized, which is frustrating and insulting at once, especially when you're actually out to just make friends.

But it's not all bad. For someone who doesn't speak a word of German, I'm surprised by how helpful some people have been whenever I have approached them for some assistance. It might also be that Hanover is an international business trade fair town and therefore the local populace is slightly more familiar with dealing with foreigners. Also unlike some of the other European countries or the USA, immigration in Germany is a very new phenomenon. USA is a country of immigrants whereas the major European powers have all been colonizers and thus the influx of foreigners in to their territories has been ongoing for a much longer time than in Germany.

Different cultures have been mixing in India for the past two millennia and even now we have problems with integration -- we still have right-wing lunatics who pledge similarly hostile slogans as Koch's.

Personally I think some of the hostility owes to the novelty of the experience for the average German. Integration is a dicey issue and one can argue that even in the USA and the UK the level of integration of immigrant populations leaves much to be desired. I'm not sufficiently aware of German politics to be able to comment on the policies designed to enable intermixing. What I have observed is that the biggest immigrant group here, the Turks, perform specific jobs in the German economy, such as running döner shops. For the number of Turks I see in the streets, there are only two that I know of who are employed in my company. That is worrying.

-- Neha

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