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Turkish Immigration to Germany: A Sorry History of Self-Deception and Wasted Opportunities

By , Andrea Brandt and

Part 2: The Rise of Immigrant Neighborhoods

Two young Muslim women walk by a pub in the Berlin neighborhood of Neukoelln draped in a German flag during the 2010 soccer World Cup: A lack of a proper immigration policy in Germany in the past led to today's problems with integration. Zoom
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Two young Muslim women walk by a pub in the Berlin neighborhood of Neukoelln draped in a German flag during the 2010 soccer World Cup: A lack of a proper immigration policy in Germany in the past led to today's problems with integration.

Politicians tolerated but did not endorse or support such integration efforts. On the contrary, when the oil crisis threatened to stall the economy in 1973, the guest workers were suddenly seen as an economic burden. Then-Chancellor Willy Brandt's coalition government of center-left Social Democrats and liberal Free Democrats enacted a moratorium on the recruitment of guest workers, which, paradoxically, led to an increase in the numbers of foreign immigrants.

Fearing that life in Turkey would be not what they expected if they went home, and that they would never be able to return to Germany, many Turks decided to stay and, to be on the safe side, brought their families to their adopted country. But because they needed more space, the Turks began moving out of the dormitories and into cheap apartments in neighborhoods near the factories, which the Germans gradually vacated. This led to the rise of immigrant neighborhoods like Marxloh in the western city of Duisburg and Neukölln in Berlin, which are now seen as the strongholds of so-called parallel societies.

By the mid-1970s, says Freiburg-based contemporary historian Ulrich Herbert, there was a conspicuous "trend toward permanent residence" and, along with it, toward "the transformation of guest workers into immigrants." But according to Herbert, German politicians reacted either wth helplessness or by proposing contradictory plans. For example, while foreigners already in the country were to be "integrated," the official policy until the late 1990s was to "promote the desire to return home," at times by offering the guest workers monetary rewards of up to 10,500 deutschmarks (€5,400).

A Generation of Bilingual Illiterates

Many schools introduced supplementary lessons in Turkish, not to promote bilingualism but to prepare the children for a future life in Turkey. An "unconditional integration into the German school system" was not desired. The result, says Herbert, was a generation of "bilingual illiterates" who were fluent in neither the language of their parents nor that of their German fellow students. Their employment prospects were slim.

As German industry modernized and companies began demanding better qualified workers, the drawbacks of the practice of recruiting Turks largely from the uneducated classes became increasingly apparent. These "black Turks," as they are called by the elites in Istanbul and Ankara, are also popularly viewed in Turkey's major cities as unsophisticated, conservative and deeply religious.

While pious immigrants from Anatolia and their offspring shaped the image of Turks in Germany, countries with a more far-sighted immigration policy, like the United States, brought in well-trained specialists. In Britain, for example, Turks are considered well integrated. "They adapt to the British lifestyle, are generally very fluent in English, are involved in local politics and practice a moderate form of Islam," says Sara Silvestri, a social scientist at the University of Cambridge.

Xenophobic Rhetoric

The Germans, on the other hand, were increasingly at odds with their Turkish immigrants. Their presence, and that of a large number of asylum seekers, triggered an ongoing political debate that fluctuated between the Green Party's demands for a multicultural society and a "right of residence for all" and the crudely xenophobic rhetoric of large segments of the CDU. "The foreigners' return to their native countries must be the rule and not the exception," Alfred Degger, the then-head of the CDU in the state of Hesse, said in 1982. In Degger's view, it was "not immoral to demand that what is left of Germany be reserved mainly for the Germans." Manfred Kanther, interior minister in the cabinet of then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, expressed similar views in the 1990s.

The dispute came to a head in early 1999 when Roland Koch, the head of the CDU in Hesse at the time, campaigned against dual citizenship during the run-up to a state election, while voters lined up at CDU campaign booths to "sign petitions against the foreigners."

Today, more than a decade later, integration policy has more supporters across party lines. Armin Laschet, a CDU politician in the western city of Aachen, was one of the first conservatives to advocate a non-ideological commitment to immigration, and in 2005 he became the state of North Rhine-Westphalia's integration minister, the first such post throughout Germany. "The discovery of integration policy marks the end of a decades-long collective denial of reality," says Laschet today.

Symbol of Integration

In 2006, then-Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble sounded out the prospects of Islamic religious instruction during a conference he held on Islam, and even Roland Koch, the governor of Hesse until recently, introduced German classes in his state for preschool children from immigrant families.

Some experts derive a sense of optimism from a completely different segment of society. Religious studies professor Rauf Ceylan, for example, is pinning his hopes on Mesut Özil, a young footballer of Turkish descent who played on the German national team at this year's soccer World Cup and became a favorite of the fans. Such images, says Ceylan, "are at least as important in promoting integration as all of our academic and political ideas put together."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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A Brief History of Integration in Germany
1949 -- The Constitution
The German constitution comes into force. Cognizant of Germany's Nazi past, the "Basic Law" provides for far-reaching asylum rights that include constitutionally guaranteed individual rights to sue for asylum.
1960 -- Recruiting Abroad
Some 280,000 workers from abroad are already employed in Germany. But more are needed. Recruitment agreements are signed in 1960 with both Greece and Spain.
1961 -- The Berlin Wall
The construction of the Berlin Wall puts an immediate stop to the flood of people flowing into West Germany from East Germany, meaning that new sources of labor must be found. Germany signs a recruitment agreement with Turkey.
1964 -- One Million Guest Workers
Armando Rodrigues from Portugal becomes the 1 millionth guest worker in Germany. He is given a moped as a welcoming gift.
1966 -- East German Recruitment
East Germany too needs to recruit workers from abroad to help with reconstruction. Between 1966 and 1989, some 500,000 people are brought in, mostly from Vietnam, Poland, Mozambique and other countries.
1971 -- Residency Made Easy
The West German government eases rules for residency permit applications. The change makes it easier for immigrants to stay in the country and leads to many of them bringing their families to Germany.
1973 -- The Oil Crisis
Due to the oil crisis and the concurrent economic slowdown, Germany ceases recruiting new guest workers from abroad. The German labor market is saturated with 2.6 million guest workers.
1983 -- Going Home?
The government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl passes a law that provides financial assistance to those guest workers who want to return to their home countries. But the law does not result in the wave of returns the government had hoped for.
1990 -- Fall of the Iron Curtain
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of communism in Eastern Germany, tens of thousands of ethnic Germans from the former Soviet bloc stream into newly reunified Germany and dominate immigration for a time.
1993 -- Xenophobic Attacks
Five people with Turkish backgrounds die in Solingen, Germany following an arson attack on the house they were living in. It was one of several xenophobic attacks in the early 1990s, including ones in Hoyerswerda, Rostock-Lichtenhagen and Mölln.
1999 -- Petition against Dual Citizenship
During the runup to a state election in Hesse, conservative politician Roland Koch -- who would go on to win the vote and become state governor -- caused controversy with a petition campaign against allowing immigrants in Germany to hold dual citizenship. The campaign was criticized for being xenophobic.
2000 -- Launch of Green Card Program
Then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced a "green card" program, which was aimed at recruiting 20,000 IT specialists from outside the European Union. The move sparked a new debate on immigration.
2001 -- 9/11 Attacks
After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the issue of security came to dominate the immigration debate. Immigrants were increasingly presented as being a risk rather than an opportunity for Germany.
2005 -- New Immigration Law
The so-called Immigration Law came into effect. It laid down new rules for immigration and included measures to promote integration within German society, such as the right to attend an "integration course."
2006 -- First Islamic Conference
Then-Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble held the first Islamic Conference. It led to the founding of a new umbrella group representing Muslims, the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany. Previously, Muslims living in Germany had not had a unified lobby group to represent their interests.
2006 -- Citizenship Tests
The states of Baden-Württemberg and Hesse introduced so-called "citizenship tests." Foreigners living in those states who wanted to become German citizens were obliged to correctly answer a series of questions about Germany.
2010 -- Diverse World Cup Team
Eleven of 23 players on Germany's national football team at the World Cup in South Africa came from immigrant families, including Mesut Özil, Marko Marin and Miroslav Klose. The diverse team was hailed as a symbol of multiculturalism in German society.

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