This is the story of a former guest worker who behaved exactly the way the Germans wanted him to: He went back to Turkey.
Two words: Sackgasse (dead-end street) and Einbahnstrasse (one-way street). "That's all I remember," says Ismail Bahadir. The rest of his German vocabulary, says the man who was once famous for a few days in Germany, was simply lost.
Bahadir, 65, a gray-bearded man with smiling eyes, is sitting with his wife Emine, 61, in the living room of a modest three-room apartment on the outskirts of Konya. The industrial city in the heart of the Anatolian highlands, known for its textile factories and dancing dervishes, is considered to be particularly religious. The Turks call it "the green capital of Turkey." Green is the color of Islam.
Bahadir and his wife and children moved into the apartment on Hakverdi Sokak, or the "Street of the God-given," in 1982. He purchased the apartment with the money he had earned as a guest worker in Germany.
But Bahadir wasn't just any guest worker. He was the "millionth guest worker from southeastern Europe," or the "millionaire," as his coworkers later called him.
'An Immeasurable Contribution'
His story began on a cold morning on Nov. 27, 1969. A small crowd of journalists, diplomats, representatives of employer associations and the Federal Labor Office had gathered at the main train station in Munich. They were waiting for a special train from Istanbul with about 850 Turkish men and women on board, including Ismail Bahadir.
Josef Stingl, then the president of the Nuremberg-based Federal Labor Office, characterized the work of foreigners in West Germany "as an immeasurable contribution" to the country, and noted that there were still 280,000 jobs to be filled. Germany, he said, needed new workers from abroad to "cope with the mountain of pensions" and "achieve growth objectives." These are quotes from the days of the German economic miracle, a time when there were no integration debates and no one was concerned about parallel societies.
Five years earlier, industry representatives had celebrated the "millionth guest worker in Germany," a Portuguese man, upon his arrival and given him a moped. Now it was time to repeat the media spectacle.
A photo taken at the time depicts Bahadir, looking polite, serious and slightly gaunt, in the glare of flashing cameras. His name had been called out on the PA system. Officials shook his hand, held speeches and gave the young Turk a television set as a welcome gift. Soon afterwards, a German picked up the confused Bahadir and chauffeured him to a "Home for Guest Workers." For the next 11 years, he worked as a lathe operator for German industrial companies in three western cities: Mainz, Wiesbaden and Kaiserslautern. He was welcome and wanted, a qualified immigrant from abroad.
The Ideal Guest Worker
Bahadir came from a region in Turkey that was underdeveloped and full of unemployed young men. He saw Germany as his opportunity. He was diligent, worked many hours of overtime and sent money home to his family, which eventually followed him to Germany. "My first (monthly) salary was 730 deutsche marks. Later on, I was sometimes earning more than 4,000," he says proudly. His wife Emine and their daughter Ayse came in 1971. Five more daughters were later born in Germany.
But Bahadir had vowed to return to the Anatolian countryside one day. He wanted his children to learn Turkish instead of German, and the German authorities supported his wish. They had no objection to Bahadir sending his girls to special classes for Turkish children. They also didn't encourage the parents to learn German. After all, Bahadir didn't want to immigrate. He just wanted to be a guest. The Germans liked that. In their eyes, the reserved man from Konya was something of an ideal guest worker, an ideal Turk.
In 1981, when they had saved up enough money and Bahadir had decided that life in Germany was not what he wanted for his adolescent daughters, the family returned to Turkey. They went without leaving any German friends behind. They didn't even know their neighbors.
Bahadir, who memorized 50 special words to pass his driving test -- terms like dead-end street, one-way street and right-of-way -- quickly began to forget Germany and the few bits of German he had learned.
'Back Then It Was a Good Deal'
There are family photos displayed on a table in the living room: pictures from a cruise on the Rhine, an outing to the city of Kiel in northern Germany, and a picnic in Mainz. The photos are all the family has left of Germany. They get German television stations, but Bahadir doesn't like what he sees. "The Germans have changed," he says. "They were always so upright and orderly, but now they're letting themselves go."
He heard about the German president's recent visit to Turkey, but it meant very little to him, just as he has little interest in the integration debate now raging in Germany. He is more upset about the fact that German automaker Opel, where he worked for a few months, is threatened by bankruptcy than about the comments of someone like Thilo Sarrazin. ( Sarrazin, a former board member of the German central bank, the Bundesbank, made headlines in August with the release of his polemic book blaming immigrants for the demise of German society.)
Bahadir says that if Opel goes bankrupt, so will Germany. He was always proud of Opel, he says.
And today? Would Bahadir get on that train to Munich again, if he were 24? "Probably not. My country is doing well today. I would find work today," he says. "But back then it was a good deal."