'As Welcome as Satan in Heaven' German Xenophobia as Our Readers See It

A SPIEGEL ONLINE opinion piece on xenophobia in Germany has elicited strong reactions among foreigners living here. Although some say racism is not a problem, many have experienced xenophobia in their daily lives.

Immigration has -- once again -- become a hot political topic in Germany after Hesse Governor Roland Koch called for a crackdown on "criminal young foreigners" as part of his campaign for re-election. Immigrant groups have criticized his rhetoric for being xenophobic, but Koch's populist stance did strike a chord with many voters.

There have been happier times for German flag waving -- like at the World Cup in the summer of 2006.

There have been happier times for German flag waving -- like at the World Cup in the summer of 2006.

In a recent opinion piece, SPIEGEL ONLINE editor David Crossland wrote that Germany is doing a bad job of integrating its immigrants. "Maybe it's the Germans' romantic yearning for purity and cleanliness, for a 'Heile Welt,' a 'Perfect World,' that renders them prone to a collective xenophobia," he wrote. "This nation of dog lovers goes for pure breeds."

SPIEGEL ONLINE International invited readers who have experience of living in Germany as a foreigner to write in to share their views. Here is a selection of their letters on being an Ausländer in Germany.

Dear Spiegel Online,

I am an Asian scientist working in Munich. I lived in China and Singapore before I moved to Germany. I was offered a pre-doctorate position in Singapore from a private research institution with full pay before I came to Germany. But I still decided to look for a position in Germany, because I wanted to live in Europe. The major motives for such a move were firstly, the freedom of expression that European countries offer; secondly, the superior infrastructure of the German research system; and thirdly, the European values of tolerance and integration.

I was not disappointed at all when it comes to freedom of expression and the infrastructure in Germany. But I was utterly shocked when it comes to integration and tolerance. I never suffered explicit racist attacks like those which happened in eastern Germany. But I was exposed to a subtle yet stubborn kind of racism on a daily basis. This mostly takes the form of social exclusion -- I always felt that I am not and will never be allowed to become a normal member of society, despite holding a promising academic record and decent linguistic skills.

In the beginning, I regarded social rejection as a result of linguistic insufficiency. Therefore I spent a large amount of time improving my German. At the moment my spoken German is close to fluency. But I was completely disappointed about the results of my effort. Instead of feeling more integrated in the society, I actually discovered even more xenophobia around me, because now I understand what is written in newspapers and on street placards. Also, I became aware that people throw me angry looks when I mispronounce German, or give me suspicious looks on the U-Bahn. It is a constant battle on my side to handle such things. I am determined to move to another country once I finish my studies. It is hard to leave such a good working environment behind, but I see no hope for real integration here.

I have spoken with other colleagues of mine, who are either foreigners or have a foreign background. Many of them suffer the same kind of social rejection. There are very few things we can do except opting to leave the country when we finish our training. But it is detrimental to the intellectual progress and economic growth of Germany when even people of higher education fail to integrate into the society.

I am not saying that there should be any kind of favoritism towards intellectual foreigners, or that there should be immediate and absolute equality among Germans and foreigners. What I hope to see is more cultural sensitivity and inter-cultural communication. People should start to understand that foreigners are assets, not threats. And the only ones who can push for cultural sensitivity and exchange on a large scale are the mass media and the government.

-- Name withheld


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