Germany and Immigration The Changing Face of the Country
Many Germans feel foreign in their own country and are afraid that immigration is changing their homeland rapidly. Every fifth person in Germany comes from an immigration background and that number will continue to climb. What does that mean for the country? By DER SPIEGEL Staff
Maike Manz runs her hand across the patient's belly and hopes that the young woman in the hospital bed will at least have an inkling of what she's trying to tell her. "We're going to conduct an ultrasound now and then we will decide how to proceed," the gynecologist says, slowly and as clearly as she can.
The pregnant woman is from Guinea-Bissau and has only been living in Germany for the past nine months. She peers on helplessly as the doctor does a miming gesture to try to help her to understand. Adhered to her stomach is the sensor of a CTG device that measures babies' heart rates. She's in her 36th week of pregnancy and is expecting twins. Aside from the word "baby," she hasn't understood anything, because she doesn't speak any German.
Manz looks at her mobile phone display in the hopes it will provide some relief. It's quarter to five and the translator, a relative of the patient, was supposed to be here 45 minutes ago. She shrugs her shoulders. "Different cultures, different understandings of time," says Manz, who has worked at the maternity ward of the Mariahilf Hospital in Hamburg's Harburg district since last year.
During prenatal checkups and the actual birth, Manz, who is the chief physician here, always carries index cards with basic vocabulary in Arabic, Farsi, Russian, Romanian and Turkish. When she chooses new staff, Manz also tries to make hires that can help her department cope with the new challenges.
Indeed, that is one reason why Sufan Abdulhadi has become something of a star at the hospital over the past three years. The Libyan began his doctor residency in Germany in 2008 and he has been working at Mariahilf since 2014.
Abdulhadi is something of a bridge between the cultures. Arab families feel they're in good hands with Abdulhadi and it's easy for them to explain things to him. "I've spoken more Arabic here in recent years than German," he says. "It's unbelievably important for women who come to us that during the most important moment of their lives, there is a doctor nearby who can understand them."
Close to 40 percent of the mothers who give birth at Mariahilf were born outside of Germany. Harburg, where the hospital is located, is neither one of Hamburg's more prosperous areas nor is it particularly poor. The statistics are similar at many other big city hospitals around the country. In many parts of Germany, obstetrics has become a multicultural career field, with the unique challenges that come along with it.
The latest numbers from the Federal Statistical Office show that almost every fourth child born in Germany in 2016 had a foreign mother. Female immigrants are indeed contributing significantly to the fact that Germany's birth rate is rising again. Already today, one out of five people living in the country has immigrant roots.
Germany has obviously become a country of immigration - and one that is changing rapidly. And although economists and politicians are fond of emphasizing all the positive aspects of this development - Germany's aging society, for example, has been an issue for decades - there's also a large segment of society that is anything but pleased by the development.
These people are asking themselves what their heimat, or homeland, will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years. They harbor doubts that the government is able to solve the problems already arising out from the lack of integration among some immigrant groups. Some fear that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is leading the country toward a bleak future with an aimless immigration policy - a policy that allows migrants to come to Germany and apply for asylum rather than a policy that actively seeks to bring in highly skilled workers. A policy that ultimately means that even those whose asylum applications are rejected are ultimately allowed to stay anyway.
Such fears of uncontrolled migration are nothing new. They helped catapult populist German politician Thilo Sarrazin's 2010 book "Deutschland schafft sich ab," which can perhaps best be translated as "Germany Is Doing Away With Itself" to the top of the best-seller lists. But at the time when Sarrazin was promoting his theories about Muslim immigrants' fondness for procreation, only 40,000 new asylum-seekers were entering Germany each year. At the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, that many people were arriving in the country within just a few days.
Swapping Out the Germans
Since then, just under 1.4 million refugees have arrived in Germany. One indication of how deeply the anger and rage are simmering in many people is the dangerous power of the conspiracy theory which holds that the chancellor, together with other sinister powers, is planning to swap out the ethnic German population and replace it with foreigners. Michael Butter, a professor of American Studies at the University of Tübingen, who is also an expert in conspiracy theories, says it is currently one of the most popular conspiracy theories circulating in Germany right now.
Part of the reason it became so popular is that society, politicians and the media haven't discussed some of the developments openly and factually - at times out of fear of playing into the hands of xenophobes. Too often, the debate is driven by people more focused on showing off their own worldliness and tolerance than actually addressing the problems. But hopes that the conflicts created through poorly managed immigration might somehow disappear behind the optimism have been dashed.
Large segments of the German population are suffering from a kind of stress relating to identity. Germans without any immigration background in their own families fear that immigrants could strip them of their Heimat, their sense of home. At the same time, Germans with immigrant backgrounds feel marginalized and foreign. But it's an altogether different phenomenon for refugees arriving here. When they think about home, it tends to be the one they just lost.
'Rampant Feelings of Rootlessness'
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), reacted to that sentiment with his recent remarks that Islam doesn't belong to Germany. Of course, the sentence in and of itself is nonsense: Around 4.7 million Muslims call Germany home. Many were born here and are very well integrated into society. There's at least one mosque in almost every large city in Germany.
But even weeks after Seehofer uttered those words, the debate over his comments still hasn't abated. In fact, polls show that large parts of the German population agree with Seehofer. But why? Because saying "Islam doesn't belong to Germany" is a way of expressing discomfort with the ways in which the country is changing. A way of saying they would like the development to stop.
Merkel's answer to Seehofer, though, namely that Islam does belong to Germany, also isn't helpful, says Cornelia Koppetsch, a professor of sociology at the Technical University of Darmstadt. She argues that both politicians sought to "create a sense of community within their political camps," but ultimately ended up promoting "rampant feelings of rootlessness."
Germany is fond of such symbolic debates, which ultimately ony serve to determine which side people fall on rather than actually addressing the real issues at hand. There are constant debates over whether to ban the burqa, even though very few women actually wear them in Germany. These discussions serve largely to provide supporters of a ban with a vehicle with which to express their sentiment that tolerance has gone far enough.
As Christianity Shrinks in Germany, Islam Grows
The CSU has now promised worried Germans that the country will remain one shaped by Judeo-Christian traditions. At the same time, though, it's also true that membership in Christian churches in the country has been shrinking for years. In 2016 alone, 350,000 people left the church.
As Christian churches close in many places in the country, Muslims are building new mosques - or they are taking over buildings that are otherwise empty.
In Hamburg's Horn neighborhood, the Islamic Center al-Nour community is even in the process of converting a former church into a mosque with the help of funding from Kuwait. The church had been empty for more than 16 years with its members having either died, left the church or moved. Nobody is being pushed out. And it also provides the Muslim community with a convenient opportunity to make use of an empty space. Some nevertheless see the conversion as symbolic.
"Allah" is now emblazoned in gold, Arabic letters where the cross was once located on the 44-meter-high tower of this former church. The Muslims want to move into their new house of worship later this year. Until that time, they will be praying in a former underground parking lot. Initially, an investor had bought the building, but his plans for the property didn't pan out and he sold it to the Islamic Center al-Nour in 2012.
Former pastor Wolfgang Weissbach tenderly refers to the former church as "my first love." Weissbach, who is now 80, began his career as a pastor here. It's a recent Tuesday in April and Weissbach has come to the visit the construction site together with two former parishioners, Ellen and Heinz-Jürgen Kammeyer. The pastor suddenly grows uneasy. "There's the baptismal font," Weissbach calls out, pointing to a white pedestal that has been upended in the middle of the construction debris behind the fence.
The three aggrieved retirees stare at the sacrilege before them. Weissbach once baptized children with water from a copper bowl that had been placed on this pedestal. It was standing next to the Kammeyers when they married in 1985.
The Kammeyers are members of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and say they would never vote for the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). Even though they feel a bit odd about the fact that Muslims will soon be praying in their former church, they did join a demonstration organized by the Citizens' Initiative Pro Germany five years ago to defend the Muslims' right to convert the church into a mosque.
Since their marriage, the couple has lived in a red brick residential complex where they raised their two children and the couple still has a framed photo in their living room of the church they used to attend. These days, half the names on the doorbells here are now Turkish or Arabic. The two SPD members try to maintain good relations with their neighbors, but the extent to which their neighborhood has changed has not been lost on them.
"When you're in the minority, you feel foreign," says Heinz-Jürgen Kammeyer, his wife nodding in agreement. On some bus lines in the neighborhood, she says, she hears more "Swahili than German - people cut in line and show little consideration."
"Immigration isn't the only thing that makes it feel like we are losing our home," says Ellen Kammeyer. She says the neighborhood's social hubs have lost their meaning. "What, should I play bridge at the senior center?" she asks. She says there is a lack of space in society for the new generation of senior citizens to which the Kammeyers belong.
Ellen Kammeyer has since left the Protestant Church, but every time she goes past the construction site, she gets a lump in her throat. Her husband, especially, is bothered by the idea that men and women will soon be divided as they pray in the mosque. "Turkish families live here whose daughters are covered as soon as they start to menstruate," he says. He has nothing against Islam, he says, but the way some Muslims treat women is in his view "incompatible" with the German constitution. "This attitude that a woman is a whore just because she wears a bikini!"
A recent survey taken by Forsa, one of Germany's most respected pollsters, showed that more than one out of four Germans agree that Islam is something that "arouses fear." With its reign of terror in Syria and Iraq and its numerous attacks in Europe, the terrorist organization Islamic State has succeeded in increasing fears of the religion. Hardly a day passes in which the media doesn't report about cases of anti-Semitism among Muslims or about how Muslim children at elementary schools are bullying those who think differently.
A Failure to Differentiate Between Islam and Islamism
Often enough, the rejection of Islam manifests itself in the form of vandalism or violence. Statistics from the German Interior Ministry show there were at least 950 attacks on Muslims and mosques last year. That includes hate speech in the internet, but also threatening letters and Nazi symbols or slogans daubed on buildings. In almost all of these cases, it is assumed that the perpetrators had right-wing extremist motives.
Many Germans make little effort to differentiate between Islam and Islamism. Muslims are constantly under pressure to justify themselves, even if they have fully integrated into German society. That, too, leads to a situation in Germany in which many feel like the country that they call home is being taken away from them.
The fear in Hanan Kayed swells again after every single terrorist attack - each time a self-proclaimed Islamic State stooge shoots or stabs people - or drives a semi-truck into a crowd. When that happens, she says, she would rather just curl up into a ball and stay in her apartment until things have quieted down.
Kayed, 26, just passed her first state examination in law and works for a small organization that helps refugees find rooms in shared apartments. She also happens to be a pious Muslim. On the night of Easter Sunday, she's sitting in a Berlin café with exposed brick walls, worn-out leather couches and colorful metal stools. She wears a blazer, a floral-themed shawl and an olive-green headscarf. Born in Cologne as the daughter of Palestinian refugees, she has lived in Berlin for the past eight years.
"I have never had any doubt about the fact that I am German," Kayed says.
It was after the attack on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo that, for the first time, she heard someone on the train say: "You Muslims deserve to die."
A Hefty Headscarf Debate
Kayed's headscarf often causes her problems. The law student says she wants to apply for a traineeship in the public sector, but that her chances of getting one are low, even though she passed her first state legal exam with distinction. "If I didn't wear this piece of cloth on my head, they would kiss my hand and hire me - but as things are, I will have to worry the nobody will take me," she says.
Berlin is currently embroiled in a hefty debate over whether the city-state should allow a neutrality law that bans female teachers from wearing the headscarf in class to remain on the books unchanged. The current state government, a coalition of the center-left SPD, the far-left Left Party and the Green Party, is considering eliminating the legislation, but a campaign that has more than 2,000 supporters is also trying to prevent that from happening.
Last week, Serap Güler, a senior official at the state Ministry for Families and Integration in North Rhine-Westphalia and a member of Merkel's CDU party, launched the latest salvo in the ongoing headscarf debate. "It's absolutely perverse to pull a headscarf over a young girl," she said. "It sexualizes the child. And we have to take a clear stance against that." Her boss, state Integration Minister Joachim Stamp of the business-friendly Free Democrats is considering a headscarf ban for girls under the age of 14 similar to the one announced by the Austrian government to prohibit them in pre- and elementary schools. The scarf has symbolic meaning for many because it provides a visible symbol of what they view as the threat of Islam, making the issue a lightning rod for debates that, even after decades, still haven't dissipated. Bülent Ucar, a professor of Islamic theology at the University of Osnabrück, speaks of a "pathological fixation" on all sides over the headscarf.
That may partly explain why Germany seems so worked up over the issue. Few other conflicts demonstrate as clearly how difficult it can be for a country of immigrants to establish the right rules.
Because if you allow teachers to wear the headscarf, you are accepting the risk that girls will feel increasing pressure from the community to do the same. People of authority are also role models. At the same time, if you prohibit women like Hanan Kayed from being able to work as a judge, you are creating barriers for Muslim women who are self-confidently seeking to pursue a career. Ultimately, this requires tough decisions over who is worthier of protection.
Law student Kayed still dreams of one day becoming a judge or a prosecutor. She also hopes that, at some point, she will be able to live more freely in Germany than has thus far been possible.
Only one month ago, she was again attacked on the street. She was on her way to the university library when a man jostled her at a train station in central Berlin, almost pushed her to the ground and insulted her. "Headscarf-wearing bitch, miserable Muslim whore - get the fuck out of my country." It's wasn't the attacker who scared her the most - it was the passersby who stood around and stared but didn't do anything. Kayed has already made changes to her life in response. She never leaves the university past 9 p.m., she avoids public transportation and uses a car whenever possible.
What Is 'Heimat'?
There are many definitions for the German word Heimat, which doesn't quite mean home or homeland as a literal translation would suggest, but actually mixes the feeling of home with a sense of belonging. Each person has their own idea of what it means. Most of the time, the feeling of familiarity plays a role. Hermann Bausinger, a retired cultural studies professor at the University of Tübingen once wrote that "Heimat is the product of a feeling of conformity with a person's own small world. When people are no longer secure in their surroundings, when they are constantly exposed to irritations, then that Heimat is destroyed."
It's a sentence that Hanan Kayed would likely agree on, as would tile shop owner Ralf Fessler.
The 48-year-old is leaning on the railing of his balcony, which offers a sweeping view of the Swabian town of Sigmaringen and he can even see the tops of the towers of the Hohenzollern Castle, a symbol of the entire region. "It used to be so nice here," says Fessler. In the yard downstairs, two rabbits nibble blades of grass in their cage next to a pond.
"Wait, there's another one coming," he says. A black head of hair is bobbing next to the hedge, which Fessler says he last trimmed before the refugees moved into the former military barracks up on the hill. It's an African man walking toward the town center wearing headphones. "OK, at least he was quiet," says Fessler. "But normally that's not the case." He says they used to shout over to "please be quiet." Usually, though, he says, the reply he received was something like "fuck you" or "I kill you."
Fessler has lived for the past 28 years in the home that his father built. In 2015, the state of Baden-Württemberg repurposed the former military barracks into an initial reception center for refugees in the state. It's located just a few minutes by foot from Fessler's home and around 350 people live in the facility, with most coming from Nigeria, Morocco and Gambia. The route they take into town invariably leads right past Fessler's hedge.
At 4 p.m. a week ago Monday, men could be seen passing by on the street every few minutes. "It's hell at night," Fessler says. "They buy booze at the discount supermarket, get drunk or stoned at the train station and in the park and then stagger by us on their way back." He says he's unable to sleep half the night and that he feels like he's being terrorized.
- Part 1: The Changing Face of the Country
- Part 2: Facing the Challenges of Integration