The New Guest Workers A German Dream for Crisis Refugees 


Part 2: Living Proof of the Idea of a United Europe

Carolina López found a room in Berlin's Kreuzberg district in May 2012. She threw her clothes on the bed, put a photo of her boyfriend on the shelf and went out in search of a language school. She lived from her savings during the first few weeks. Soon, she was taking the subway to a German course every morning and writing job applications in the afternoon. She and her boyfriend, who had remained in Spain, kept up via Skype.

López studied in Seville and Cardiff, in Wales, and spent the last two years working for a public relations firm in A Coruña in northwestern Spain. The company went into debt as a result of the euro crisis, projects were cancelled and salaries were cut. When a dozen of her coworkers were let go, López left her job and moved away. After three months in Berlin, she signed a contract to work as a marketing manager for Twago, an Internet company. "I'm living the German dream," she says.

López is part of a new European mass migration. In the first half of 2012, 27,056 Spaniards made the same trip as she did. They were joined by 32,633 immigrants from Italy, 26,382 from Greece and 9,914 from Portugal -- and these are only the official numbers. The actual immigration figures could be three times as high, says Vassilis Tsianos, a migration researcher at the University of Hamburg. He points out that many immigrants don't register with authorities when they come to Germany.

Back at home, many of them had thought long and hard about leaving, asking themselves whether their native countries would gain the upper hand in the crisis, or whether they'd be better off leaving. Now it is the young people, the well-educated and the bold, who are coming to Germany. The average age of these new immigrants is 32. "They're making a bet on their own future," says Herbert Brücker of the Institute for Employment Research.

It appears to have been a good bet for Italian Enrico Orselli. Every morning, the 33-year-old drives his Ford from Cologne to the Bayer plant in nearby Leverkusen, puts on his lab coat and protective glasses and goes into the laboratory. He heads a team at the German chemical and pharmaceutical giant that is developing plastics that change their shape when subjected to an electric charge. Orselli has moved four times in the last nine years. He studied chemistry in Bologna, Italy, spent a year doing research in Amsterdam, did his doctorate in the northwestern German city of Münster and worked in Brussels for four years.

He met his current girlfriend Astrid at a party in Münster, organized for students participating in Erasmus, the largest European exchange program for university students, in the fall of 2005. They had a long-distance relationship between Brussels and Münster, until Orselli found the job at Bayer. Now they live in Cologne, where Astrid is writing her dissertation. He has no plans to return to Italy for now, and says that he wants to grow old in Germany.

Calling an Entire Continent their Home

The new generation of economic migrants will change Europe. "Ideally, the European labor market will become a hub for professional knowledge and prosperity," says Labor Minister von der Leyen. "Then young Germans will also go to Spain to work on advances in solar technology."

Many no longer call one country their home, but the entire continent, working or studying abroad for a period of time. The Erasmus program alone places some 200,000 young Europeans a year. They learn new languages, gain experience, make friends and, after a while, return home -- and often go back abroad again. Today, they are living proof of the idea of a united Europe, even more so than the founding fathers of the European Union could ever have dreamed -- even if it was the euro crisis that fueled this development.

From their perspective, the European consciousness that German President Joachim Gauck invoked in a keynote address on Europe last Friday has long been a reality. "Your very first pocket money was in euros, you are learning at least two foreign languages, your school trips go to Paris, London, Madrid, maybe Warsaw, Prague or Budapest," Gauck said. You really do get to experience 'more Europe' than any generation that has gone before." Budget airlines like EasyJet make it possible for members of the Erasmus generation to get together, they communicate via Skype and Facebook, and Berlin is currently their dream destination.

Emilia Cincu, 28, a biologist at Humboldt University in Berlin, says she doesn't feel homesick. When she misses someone, she doesn't travel to her native Timisoara, the third-largest city in Romania. Instead, she buys a ticket to London or Budapest, the places where her friends live today.

Although immigration from Southern Europe has increased dramatically in the last two years, Germany is even more popular among Eastern Europeans. In 2011, more than two-thirds of all immigrants from other EU countries to Germany hailed from Eastern Europe, mostly from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Some are extremely poor, and after being lured to Germany by shady brokers, they work for starvation wages in construction or even become homeless. Last week, after a debate over a new wave of poverty migration, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), promptly threatened to create an "entry barrier" for "the kinds of people" who are trying to abuse Germany's social welfare benefits.

But it's also true that almost one in three Eastern European immigrants is college educated. These are not people who come to Germany to live on the fringes of society -- they are at its center or at the top.

Emilia Cincu's parents -- her father is an engineer and her mother a librarian -- have rarely left Romania. They never had the opportunity to live the kind of life their daughter now enjoys. Cincu was only five when the Iron Curtain fell. After finishing her degree, she began to travel, study, work and, above all, live where she pleased. Before coming to Berlin, she worked in research in Budapest and Vienna. She only goes to Timisoara two or three times a year, usually on holidays, to visit her parents.

She found her post-doctoral position on the Internet. She sent an email with her curriculum vitae to various colleges, and Humboldt University was the first to respond. Just after arriving in Berlin, she wrote down a list of the places she wanted to see immediately: the Botanical Garden, the Spandau Citadel, the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. With a map of the city in hand, she explored Berlin's streets, and in the end she got lost on purpose. The same ritual has worked well for Cincu in every new city she has visited.

She came to Germany because it offered her a job, a salary and time to do her research. Will she stay? It depends, she says. She is submitting her dissertation this summer, and if she receives a better offer after that, she'll move on.

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