At Home in a Foreign Country: German Turks Struggle to Find Their Identity
The first Turkish ‘guest workers’ arrived in West Germany 50 years ago. Like other immigrants, they’ve had children and grandchildren since then. But large segments of younger generations are struggling to find their place in Germany, where they are hampered by a lack of education and prospects for the future.
It was supposed to have been yet another feel-good, photo-op meeting. Maria Böhmer, the German government’s integration coordinator, had invited a group of young people with foreign roots to a gathering at the Chancellery last Tuesday. The event was meant to generate cheerful images of immigrants and tell the story of a successful integration policy. But then four young men and a woman stepped onto the stage.
They had prepared a statement, and the message it delivered was stark: “Nothing is good in Germany.”
They took turns at the microphone. They said they were tired of being brought to Berlin and paraded as model immigrants. They also said that the old truism that all it takes to be successful in Germany is hard work was a lie. Shalau Baban, 17, stepped up to the microphone. His roots are in Iraq and he goes to school in the central German city of Marburg. “I have a good friend,” said Shalau. “His name is Adnan. He was always hardworking. He was deported two weeks ago.” Nothing is good in Germany, the five young people said, nothing.
The room fell silent when they stepped off the stage. Integration official Böhmer had stopped smiling. A few teenagers had just destroyed her integration show. They had shown her and the assembled journalists that an entire country has been lying to itself for years when it comes to the subject of integration, and to the children and grandchildren of immigrants.
Many in this young generation still feel as if they haven’t arrived in Germany. It’s their home, and yet for many it remains a foreign place. And despite the German government’s official celebration this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the German-Turkish recruitment agreement, some of the children and grandchildren of those first immigrants see little reason to celebrate.