Germany and Immigration The Changing Face of the Country
Part 2: Facing the Challenges of Integration
Fessler is angry about the stress it has caused him, especially because of the feeling he has that no one is willing to help him in this difficult situation. He says that, not too long ago, when his wife tried to take out the trash, a group of men stood in her way and spit in her face. "We were panicked that she might have caught something," Fessler says. He also claims that another man groped his daughter's genitals as she was going to the mailbox, but neighbors intervened. When Fessler travels for business, his wife and daughter now stay in a hotel or with their grandmother. "We're afraid," he says.
The businessman has pursued several possible solutions. He wrote the word "city" in Arabic on a sign in an effort to redirect hostel residents onto a different route into town. But local authorities told him that doing so wasn't allowed. He also hoped that the city would build a new sidewalk along the main road so that they wouldn't all have to walk past his home. But the municipal council rejected the idea almost unanimously. The council, said an SPD politician, didn't want to "send a message of exclusion and racism."
"Of course," Fessler says. "They also don't have a single African walking past their homes." Fessler used to be a member of the CDU but he left the party in protest against Merkel's refugee policies. In the last election, he cast his ballot for the AfD. "I am a protest voter," he says.
Fessler isn't the only former CDU voter to have turned his back on the center-right party. Many have done so for reasons relating more to a feeling of cultural alienation than to the absolute number of immigrants taken in by Germany. They were concerned about excessive immigration, but they also felt shut out by a societal expectation that they view the newcomers as a benefit to the country.
The legacy of the 1968 generation, the changing role of women, the acceptance of homosexuality, the multicultural ideal: To voters like Fessler, such ideas make their homeland feel just as foreign as do minarets and women wearing headscarves. With the CDU following Merkel to the center, they lost their political home as well. The further to the left Merkel led the party, the further to the right one element of society drifted.
A Global Shift in Sentiment
In her book "Strangers in Their Own Land," U.S. sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild examines why white workers in the American South supported the right wing Tea Party movement and then Donald Trump. Her central argument: People had the feeling that as they were struggling to obey all the rules, others -- including women, minorities and immigrants -- moved past them in the line waiting for the American Dream. And it seemed like they were allowed to ignore the rules.
A global version of this view has since developed, Hochschild argues. In Germany, it could be seen in the heated debate in February surrounding the charity Essener Tafel, which provides groceries to the needy in the city of Essen. The organization temporarily ceased accepting new foreign customers because poor German pensioners felt like they were being crowded out by immigrants.
The fact that left-wing politicians consistently told these people that their feelings were incorrect, and that immigrants and others would not steal their jobs and homes only made them more furious in the U.S., Hochschild says. Indeed, they began to believe that their problems were being ignored and covered up.
In Germany, people adhering to such views have identified politicians and the media as the primary culprits. At the height of the refugee crisis, Green Party floor leader Katrin Göring-Eckhardt launched an effort to reduce prejudice, but it backfired, proving more divisive than reconciliatory. She referred to the newcomers as a "gift for Germany."
But it was a gift that many in Germany didn't want to accept. And those like Fessler who had a problem with the new reality weren't particularly receptive to appeals that they change their worldview. Fessler now speaks of wanting to emigrate to somewhere like Uruguay or Hungary. He believes his family would have a more promising future in such places than in Germany.
A Small Minority of Troublemakers
The fact that there are occasional problems at the refugee reception center in Sigmaringen is well-known. Even as the number of crimes committed by refugees has dropped nationwide, there has been a clear spike in the Sigmaringen district, police have said in a statement. Every fifth crime suspect in the area is a refugee, the statement notes. The train station concourse in the town now closes its doors at 5:30 p.m. instead of 7:15 p.m. so that drunks can no longer create problems there.
Neff Beser operates Alfons X, a club and bar located in the train station building. Last summer, patio sales plunged by 30 percent and at times, he has even imposed temporary bans on refugees attending his club because too many women were complaining of harassment.
"The situation has actually improved again since a group of North Africans that had been creating problems suddenly disappeared. That has to be repeated over and over again to avoid an inaccurate image of refugees," he says. "It is just a small group that causes problems, but they do so quite effectively."
The police force in Sigmaringen has now been boosted by eight officers, a significant number in a town with a population of just 17,500. Nevertheless, the mood hasn't improved much, says Beser. The bar owner, who himself has Turkish roots, blames politicians. On one occasion, his doorman had to intervene because an asylum applicant had gone after a police officer and pulled her to the ground by her hair. "For too long, we were given the feeling that there was little that could be done about the troublemakers."
The fact that the number of refugees has sunk significantly hasn't done much to mitigate such concerns. In February, only 10,700 refugees reached Germany. In November 2015, that number was north of 200,000.
As is the case in Sigmaringen, it is usually just a small minority that is responsible for much of the crime, a group that generally wasn't particularly well-liked in their homelands either. Many of these people will never be able to integrate here in Germany -- but will stay nonetheless.
The German government has said it intends to deport a greater number of people. But such returns often fail because would-be deportees disappear, resist or are suddenly able to present medical certificates precluding their deportation. Just under 230,000 foreigners are currently subject to deportation and more than 60,000 of them don't even have a temporary residency permit and technically have to leave the country immediately.
Criminal elements among the migrant population also dominate coverage in the mainstream media. Reports of refugees who have raped or even killed women leave a more lasting impression than features about Syrians who are quickly able to establish themselves as dental technicians in Germany or about successful second-generation entrepreneurs from Turkey.
This has led to an additional problem: Terminology. Terms like immigrant, German, foreigner or "immigration background" no longer work particularly well in a country of immigration. Is a third-generation Turkish immigrant who even pronounces his name in the German way a migrant or a German? Or both? For how many generations after immigration can you still say a person has an immigration background? What do people really mean when they say that the number of foreigners is on the rise? Are they referring to the number of refugees? The number of foreign-looking people? Or the number of those without a German passport?
Often, they are all lumped together under the single term "immigrant:" the doctor with Turkish roots, the North African with no chance of receiving a residence permit, the seasonal laborer from Eastern Europe and the war refugee from Syria. Usually, though, there is very little connecting the various groups.
Indeed, there are huge differences between how well individuals come to terms with Germany and how well Germany comes to terms with them.
Troubles in the Education System
It's a recent Wednesday morning in April, and Malte Küppers, a 30-year-old in jeans and a hoodie, is walking through Duisburg's Marxloh neighborhood, past mobile phone shops, bridal fashion stores and three police officers who are standing around on the sidewalk. Küppers is a social worker at the Henriettenstrasse Catholic elementary school in Marxloh, a district notorious throughout Germany for its social problems. Some 95 percent of the pupils at Henriettenstrasse have immigrant backgrounds -- or, to put it another way, only 10 of the 200 pupils at the school come from German families.
This morning, Küppers is on his way to a Romanian family whose three children, he says, haven't been coming to school since the fall break. Nobody knows why. A short time later, Küppers is standing in front of the apartment building, the residents of which have scrawled their names in permanent marker on their mailboxes. The Romanian family lives on the ground floor. Küppers rings their bell and knocks, but there is no answer.
"You can't do anything about it," he says turning around. The social worker makes such house visits in Marxloh around three times a week to families whose children have missed school unexcused at least 20 times. Parents are legally obligated in Germany to send their children to school and have to pay a fine if they don't do so. Local authorities step in if the situation doesn't improve. "Many are unfamiliar with our school system," Küppers says. He usually brings an interpreter along when he makes home visits.
Back in his office at the elementary school, Küppers takes a seat. An even-tempered soul, Küppers is also a de-escalation trainer and has been working at Henriettenstrasse for the last six years. Up until three years ago, most of the children at the school came from Turkish families and some of them were German -- but almost all spoke German. Today, most of the children come from Bulgaria, Romania, Syria and Iraq -- and three-quarters of the first-graders don't speak the language at all.
Küppers strokes his beard when asked what that means for day-to-day life at the school. He then says: "Hardly any of the children complete elementary school in four years, most of them need five or six. We can't stick to the normal curriculum, that's impossible. In the first months, we have to communicate with hand gestures and our focus is on the children learning the language as quickly as possible. Teachers pay for pens for their pupils out of their own pockets."
Nevertheless, Küppers hasn't lost his optimism. In the Ruhr Valley industrial region, where Duisburg is located, Turkish guest workers worked in the coal mines alongside Germans and they became friends. "Why shouldn't the same thing happen again?" He sees it as part of his job to help schoolchildren find a new home. But, he says, "there is a lack of social work and teachers brave enough to start out here. And once they are here, they will need to have learned what to do when you are standing in front of 20 children who don't understand a word you are saying."
Like Küppers, educators and teachers across the country complain about the lack of support and understanding from political leaders. They have written impassioned letters and gone to the media, efforts that all too often end in disillusionment when their appeals go unheard.
"The focus needs to be on the second-generation immigrants," says demographer Reiner Klingholz of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. "Germany has to make huge improvements there." One of the biggest problems is that social intermingling hardly takes place at all in the cities. Often, the share of immigrants is particularly high in those schools already located in problematic neighborhoods. Around 70 percent of children with immigrant backgrounds in large cities go to elementary schools where a majority of the student body is made up of immigrants and the socially disadvantaged.
In generational comparisons, slight improvements have been made, but many immigrant children are still far away from reaching their potential. The share of second-generation immigrants from Turkish families with a university-prep high school diploma, for example, is 25 percent while for Germans it is 43 percent. "It continues to be the case that many immigrants pass down their limited education to their children," Klingholz says.
Many education experts point to Canada as an example to be emulated, a country that regularly comes out near the top in the comparative PISA study of global student performance carried out be the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In Canada, there is little correlation between social status and achievement in school. Second-generation immigrant children sometimes even do better in school than children from families who have been in Canada for generations. But the comparison is of only limited utility due to the fundamental differences between Canadian and German immigration policy. Canada carefully chooses its immigrants and they tend to be well-educated and fluent speakers of English. In 2016, the country only took in around 50,000 refugees.
A situation such as the one Germany was confronted with -- in which a huge number of immigrants came into the country as asylum-seekers, with many of them poorly educated or even illiterate -- is not one that Canada has ever experienced. That also helps explain why people in Canada have a different view of immigration.
A Need To Recognize and Address True Problems
Statistics from Germany's labor market would appear to support the concerns of the skeptics. More than half of those of working age who receive Hartz IV welfare benefits for the long term unemployed have immigrant backgrounds. One out of every 10 Hartz IV recipients is from Syria. Most aren't able to earn a living, instead focusing on learning German or receiving training. There was a hope in some quarters in 2015 that the incoming Syrians might help resolve Germany's shortage of highly skilled workers, but that has proven illusory. Still, a debate as to whether Islam belongs to Germany or not will certainly not help Syrians find jobs and accelerate down the path of integration.
It would be better to recognize that there are problems associated with immigration as it is practiced in Germany. And then to explore how many of those problems can be overcome by way of education, jobs and opportunities for advancement. A system such as the one used in Canada is largely impossible simply because of Germany's geographic location. No immigration cap will be able to change that. But the German government does need to muster sufficient courage to impose more regulation on immigration, reform the European asylum system and find effective ways to send rejected asylum applicants back to their home countries more expeditiously.
Jens Schneider from the Institute of Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück is one of the optimists in the immigration debate. That perhaps has to do with the focus of his research: He looks into the chances for social advancement among immigrant families living in those cities that are, as he puts it, "super diverse." Among that group of cities, there are positive examples to be found, and several of them are in southern Germany, such as Stuttgart or Augsburg, "where more than half the population has an immigrant background." In Augsburg, the share of immigrants was 46 percent in 2016. Soon, people without immigration backgrounds will be in the minority there.
'Work Is the Great Equalizer'
For many AfD supporters, that prospect is terrifying, but Augsburg is hardly known as a troubled city. "Because of the many jobs in the region, integration goes quietly and with little friction," says Schneider. The mantra of many political parties like the AfD or the CSU that the best immigrants are the ones that aren't there, Schneider says, has little to do with reality. In Augsburg, 64 percent of residents under the age of 18 have immigrant backgrounds. "The German majority that has to integrate a foreign minority into society: That model hasn't existed for some time now." Yet, he adds, a clash of civilizations is not taking place.
Integration means participating in societal structures. "From the moment I get a job in Germany, it is generally well enough paid that it is possible to build up a life on that basis." Work is the great equalizer, Schneider believes. "Socialization via work did wonders for the guest workers and it still works today."
The football fields of Augsburg are likewise extremely diverse. The leader of the local amateur league is currently the multicultural team called TSV Kriegshaber. The players are between 19 and 43 years old and come from 16 different countries: refugees and asylum applicants from Syria, Iraq and Gambia play alongside ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe and children of former guest workers who have long since acquired German citizenship. Team coach Michael Heuberger, who was born in Augsburg, is part of the team's Swabian minority. His team also includes a Brazilian, an Italian, a Serb and a Kurd. Team captain Selcuk Kus is Turkish.
"Communication isn't always easy," says Heuberger, a 57-year-old employee of Deutsche Post who works as a coach part time. When he shouts to his team from the sideline, he sometimes merely gets blank stares back.
With 17 victories and just a single defeat, TSV Kriegshaber is an unexpected league leader. The different types of player on the team make them unpredictable for their opponents. "We don't have one pre-eminent star, we work as a team. Everybody runs and fights for everyone else," says Heuberger. To solidify team spirit even further, the team skipped practice on a recent Tuesday to go to a beer tent at an Augsburg folk festival.
Kriegshaber is a residential district in western Augsburg. "People help each other here," says Heuberger. During one season, he "helped write 50 job applications," he says. "We had nine unemployed players, but by the end of the season, all of them had found jobs."
If Germany is to become a home for all, then it will need several thousand Heubergers.
By Matthias Bartsch, Annette Bruhns, Anna Clauss, Lukas Eberle, Katrin Elger, Bartholomäus von Laffert, Cordula Meyer and Katja Thimm
- Part 1: The Changing Face of the Country
- Part 2: Facing the Challenges of Integration