SPIEGEL Special - The Germans Is There a German Melting Pot?

When most people think of Germany, it's lederhosen and frothy mugs of beer that come to mind. With immigrants from all over the world, however, the real Germany is a mecca of multiculturalism. Streets like Wellritzstrasse -- with its 25 nationalities -- in the western German town of Wiesbaden are representative. But is it an example of integration, or merely segregated co-existence?

By Bruno Schrep

Germany has become much more colorful in recent years. But are the newcomers integrating?

Germany has become much more colorful in recent years. But are the newcomers integrating?

It's 5 p.m. In the Westend Café, the street's social magnet, a few men are talking soccer. In German, a rare occurrence. A slight, gray-haired man with a stubbly beard is standing at the heart of the group and yet somehow outside it. He can't really speak the language, just a few words, and expresses himself with the aid of animated gestures. He wears a friendly smile.

More than 30 years ago, the Turkish grocer Ramazan Oezdemir left his village in Anatolia in search of a new life in Germany. For years he ran a store just around the corner. When he came he brought exotic customs and spices, and sold halal lamb from sheep slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law.

Now he is old and worn. His store is a thing of the past. But he has no intention of returning to the village where many of his relatives still live, including two of his children. He extends his arms toward the street outside. "My home!" he says.

A few doors down another man points through the window: German retiree Ludwig Wondrak, who has lived here for half a century. "I would never have imagined things here looking like this," he concedes. Annoyed, he scans the motley crowd outside: women with headscarves, the dark-haired children, the stores with foreign names. "Sometimes I feel like a stranger here," he says.

Wellritzstrasse in Wiesbaden is 460 meters long. Named after a former forest, it was built between 1860 and 1900. Classical facades, cramped inner courtyards. More than 100 shops. Too few parking spaces. One-way traffic. Not a single tree.

A street in Germany. A century of history. Thousands of stories. Of buildings and their occupants. Of people driven away, returned or newly arrived. Of destruction and reconstruction. Of breathtaking change. Until some three decades ago, almost every resident on this street was German: laborers, office workers, craftspeople. Today, the street is home to 25 nationalities: Turks and Moroccans, Afghans and Congolese, Italians and Pakistanis, Poles and Albanians.

"A ghetto," curse those locals who disapprove. They make long detours to avoid setting foot on this street. "A melting pot," say others. They make long detours to go shopping here.

Many of Germany's millions of immigrants are Muslim.

Many of Germany's millions of immigrants are Muslim.

A microcosm representative of many similar streets around the country. A benchmark gauging whether Germans and foreigners, Christians and Muslims, a mix of myriad minorities can live side by side. It's a challenge.

The ideal scenario -- harmonious interaction -- is the exception, not the rule. Conflicts between vastly different mentalities are far less frequent than the skeptics fear. Normality is a largely peaceful coexistence: ever fragile, ever imperiled.

"At our place Afghans, Germans and Turks meet up. They talk, laugh and argue," says 34-year-old Erol Erdan, who runs the Westend Café. The trendy dresser is known as one of the brightest people in the hood. He has spruced up his café, serves Italian coffee specialties like latte macchiato, cappuccino and espresso, and makes real Turkish tea. Multiculturalism is his strategy for success.

"The eastern and German mentalities don't gel," counters Rolf Eichert from the German bakery on the corner. Tall and pony-tailed, he thinks he knows why: different customs, different temperaments, different values. The people who stand chatting around his tables are all Germans. "Germans who go into foreign bars here get strange looks and don't get served," he says, "Integration doesn't work. We live separate lives here."

A sudden crunch of metal, followed by prolonged honking. Loud curses, car doors slamming. A white Opel and red Smart have just collided. There are scratches on the paintwork. "It's nothing, forget it," says the Opel driver, a young Turkish woman who backed up without checking the rearview. She proposes exchanging insurance numbers. "No, no," says the driver of the Smart, an older German man. "We'll have to call the police." He wants an official report that will settle the issue of who's at fault. He wants justice. After all, you never know with these foreigners ... "I warned my husband not to drive through here," his wife says. "This neighborhood is a jungle."

Sixty years earlier, this neighborhood had suffered much worse damage. During the night of February 3, 1945, the British dropped incendiary and high explosive bombs on Wiesbaden. Hans-Peter Schickel, just 8 at the time and living in number 47, was huddled in one of the street's air raid shelters, clinging anxiously to his mother. She held him tight and kept repeating, mantra-like, "We're going to be OK. We're going to be OK." Today the 68-year-old still remembers his mother's steadfastness: "An incredible confidence that kept me going."

Death was but a few feet away that day: the house on the corner took a direct hit. A grisly image remains etched on the older residents' memories: the huge blast wave had smashed a woman against the building across the street. The enormous bloodstain remained visible on the wall until the end of the war.

Halfway down the block, another bomb shredded buildings on both sides. Several residents lost their lives, dozens their homes. Number 18 was blasted to bits. The destruction had actually begun before the war, namely on November 9, 1938, which went down in history as Reichskristallnacht. Armed with axes and shovels, Hitler's SA storm troopers had demolished the popular clothing store run by Julius Rothschild. The 56-year-old was beaten up by the Gestapo and shipped off to Buchenwald. Two days before Christmas, his wife received a package containing his ashes. C.O.D.

An explosion in Cologne in a Turkish area of Cologne shocked Germany and led to questions about the commonplace segregation of foreigners within German cities.

An explosion in Cologne in a Turkish area of Cologne shocked Germany and led to questions about the commonplace segregation of foreigners within German cities.

Shortly afterwards, the widow was forced to sell the building to a baker -- for a pittance. She was deported to Poland in 1941. Their 19-year-old son, Helmut Rothschild, managed to escape: he quit his apprenticeship and fled to Africa at the end of 1938. Today, 86 years old and nearly blind, he lives in a Jewish retirement home near Johannesburg. He has never forgotten the street where he grew up and has made more than a dozen trips to Wiesbaden since 1945. But he never visited Elisabeth Barneis.

The 92-year-old, who has trouble walking but otherwise bears her age well, is the daughter of the baker who bought the Rothschilds' shop. After the war, when the building was no more than a heap of debris, Elisabeth Barneis was a Trümmerfrau, one of countless women who cleared the rubble and literally helped rebuild German cities with their own bare hands. She organized transport, drove trucks to the countryside, scavenged for building material, and lugged boards and bricks for the reconstruction process. She still lives on the second floor of the new building, and ran a candy store on the ground floor until 1977.

What about the name Rothschild? Does it ring any bells? Yes, the old lady says, it does remind her of something. Of course: "Shortly after the war, I had to pay 5,000 marks in restitution. That was a lot of money back then. But my lawyer advised me to pay."

The first Italians arrived in the mid-1960s, so-called "guest workers" in the economic wunderland. They added exotic splashes of color to a street that was still German to the core. The first pizzeria opened in 1968, but the era of the Cavaleros, Raffrenatos and Ripellinos passed quickly. The pizza and pasta makers were soon forced to yield to the kebab shops. Today the street is firmly in the hands of the Turks.


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