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11/02/2011 05:47 PM

At Home in a Foreign Country

German Turks Struggle to Find Their Identity

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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.

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.

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.

Transforming Chaos into a Model School

One Berlin school is a good example of how this could be changed. In 2006, teachers at the Rütli School in the Neukölln neighborhood sent an urgent appeal to the school board, begging it to address problems that included kicked-in classroom doors, pictures torn from the walls and the use of firecrackers in school, as well as aggression, ignorance and lack of respect. Cordula Heckmann, who was working at the neighboring middle school at the time, has been the principal of the Rütli School for the last two years, in which she has achieved what many believed to be impossible: She has helped to transform the chaos into a model school, the 47,000-square-meter (around 500,000 square feet) "Campus Rütli."

About 90 percent of students are still from immigrant families, while 80 percent are still eligible for free schoolbooks and materials, because at least one parent receives benefits under Germany's Hartz IV welfare reform program. But now the school has become a place of hope, where even an outsider has the opportunity to climb the social ladder. On the campus, children play chess, dance, play drums, receive free tutoring and learn Arabic and Turkish.

Critics malign the project as a "soft approach deluxe," one that involves too many foundations, costs too much money and isn't transferable to other cities and neighborhoods. But the most important thing Principal Heckmann has achieved is free, although it takes time, energy and patience.

It began with T-shirts and a campaign called "You Are Rütli." The goal was to teach the students that a school is made of people, not concrete, and to make them understand the meaning of responsibility and respect. When Heckmann walks through the hallways today, students remove their caps and quickly take their feet off the benches. If a student misbehaves, they can expect to be sitting in Heckmann's office by the next day. In these meetings, she reminds the offenders of their family honor, their countrymen and their responsibility to the school. Sometimes she tells them that what they did was a disgrace.

"You Don't Get Stamped as an Immigrant Here"

Honor, disgrace, responsibility; as simple and transparent as it sounds, Heckmann has managed to convince the students in her school that they are being taken seriously, because she speaks their language. Many young people in the Reuterkiez part of Neukölln refer to Rütli as if it were their first great love. They identify with the school and even insist that Rütli should no longer be synonymous with the lower classes, but with the concept of respect for those who work hard, no matter where their parents are from. Rütli has become a brand. "You don't get labelled as an immigrant here," says one female student.

Girls, in particular, need to be encouraged, says Heckmann, because they will be raising the next generation one day. If the girls turn into strong women, she adds, their sons will stand a better chance of not becoming patriarchs like their fathers. Campus Rütli features girls' groups, soccer for girls and sex education specifically for girls.

No matter what steps are taken to facilitate social mobility, the same principle always applies: the earlier the better. Although 84 percent of all children from immigrant families go to kindergarten, they are rarely there for more than a year, which is much too short, says the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration. The number of daycare openings is too low in many places, the teachers are often poorly qualified, there is no language instruction, and the quality of German tests varies too widely. For these reasons, immigrant children are often poorly prepared when they enter elementary school.

But as long as early language instruction is dependent on living in the right neighborhood, and as long as children speak neither German nor Turkish well, the consequences have to be addressed. In the worst cases, judges order violent young offenders to take aggression-management courses, so that they learn not to vent their frustrations with their boots and fists.

Social organizations conduct the courses in some cities. In Munich, for example, the most challenging cases -- young men up to 21 years old, all from immigrant families -- end up in courses taught by the Workers' Welfare Association.

Multiple Offenders

Eight young men from Turkish, Iraqi, Serbian and Palestinian families are sitting in a room near Munich's main train station. Some have criminal records as multiple offenders, for such crimes as theft, robbery and assault. Their victims often end up with broken noses, and one even died. The Workers' Welfare Association employee who conducts the anti-aggression training is named Haci Erdogan, and he likes to keep things brief and to the point. "Take out your cell phones, shut them off and leave them on the table," he tells new students.

Erdogan is all too familiar with his students' system of values, which he describes as follows: If you don't hit back the minute somebody tries to get the better of you, you're weak. Real men are not weak. They defend themselves and their families, no matter what happens. If you don't strike back, you're either a woman or gay. In any case, you're a loser, a victim.

And victims are screwed.

It's a code of conduct for the street, where weapons and muscles are the way to address problems. The biggest misunderstanding lies in the concept of honor, and the notion that having one's honor violated is reason enough to strike back. This understanding of honor was imported into Germany primarily from Arab countries, where the collective is worth more than the individual, and it is part of a man's duty to keep his family's reputation intact.

A good anti-aggression trainer manages to crack the concept of honor. This works best when the boys open up, which none of them does unless Erdogan forces them to. He plants himself in front of a young man who we will call Ayhan.

"Ayhan, is your mother a whore?"

"What? No."

"Where is your mother now? Is she walking the streets?"

"No."

"She isn't turning tricks? Then what's she doing?"

"She's a cleaning woman."

"She's not a whore? Are you sure?"

Erdogan asks another attendee to come to the front of the room, and then he suddenly hugs him. He gets so close to a third student that the tips of their noses are touching.

The course lasts three months, with three-hour sessions once a week. Sometimes attorneys speak to the group to explain Germany's criminal code. Those who don't show up are sent to jail. "Of course, we can't change their world in three months," says Erdogan. Nevertheless, he adds, it's enough to get the boys to understand that they don't have to react violently to every provocation.

Like Caglar Budakli, Aylin Selçuk was born and raised in Germany. Her parents are from Turkey. She lives in Berlin, like Budakli, but her Berlin is a different and friendlier place. Selçuk, 22, graduated high school with top grades and is now in dental school. What she and Budakli have in common is her rage over how Germany treats the children of immigrants.

The future dentist says that she is taken aback by the arrogance of the so-called majority society when it comes to certain subjects. As a high-school student, why did she have to listen to teachers ask her whether she was going to be married off during summer vacation, just because she was going to Turkey to visit her grandparents? And why does everyone want to explain Islam to her? And why, in public debates, do those who act as if they were the true Germans constantly talk about the children of immigrants, instead of talking with them?

Being a German Turk

"Like everyone else, we are entitled to have a say and, most of all, to help shape things," says Selçuk. Five years ago, just as the country was discussing the excessive violence at the Rütli School, she sent an email to friends and acquaintances. At first, she says, it was nothing but a vague thought, a feeling that something was going wrong. "I felt that we lacked a voice that speaks for young immigrants," she says.

Some 70 people came to the first meeting, and Selçuk, 18 at the time, told them: "People, we're part of society. We too are Germany's children." The group established an association called DeuKische Generation (German-Turkish Generation), a name that seeks to express something that has been viewed as a problem until now: Being a German Turk. The association's main goal is to provide an identity to the members of a third generation, who are torn back and forth between the country of their parents and the country where they were born. They are half German (Deutsch) and half Turkish (Türkisch), or Deukisch.

The message of Selçuk's story is that being Deukisch isn't so bad. Although her parents are not wealthy, they did their utmost to ensure that their daughter could enjoy the best public education possible. Now their daughter is taking a stand to help as many immigrant children achieve the dream of making it in Germany as possible. The association provides schools with young mentors whose goal is to teach students that a child of immigrants can be successful. "There are many children of immigrants who see themselves as victims and start hiding behind this position," says Selçuk. Tenacity and assertiveness have to be learned, she adds.

It is a plea not to push the young men and women of the second and third generation to the margins, where their rage is only likely to increase. One thing is clear: They will not return to the country of their parents or grandparents. They are part of Germany, and they are staying in Germany.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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