It’s just over 50 years since the first Gästarbeiter were welcomed into West Germany. At the time, Germany was in the throes of an economic boom, and needed cheap labour. Though Italians, Spanish, Moroccans and Yugoslavs came to take up employment, the bulk of the workers came from Turkey. At the time, it was imagined that Turks would come for a year or two, make some money and return home, and another Turk would take his place. Politicians saw this as solving Germany’s problem and also helping Turkey, as workers would return home with new skills and money. However, prospects of getting a job in Turkey in the 1960’s were pretty slim, and German employers didn’t want to let trained workers go, so the majority stayed and brought over the family. At this stage, they are often third-generation immigrants, meaning people who are born in Germany with German-born parents, who identify themselves as Turkish. The problem, for Germany, is that the Turks don’t integrate like other countries did. A majority of Spanish Gastarbeiter intermarried, and became “German”. However, culturally, Turkey has a major difference because it is Muslim. Their families and beliefs are central to their lives, and about 3 million of them have settled in strong communities throughout Germany, around 200,000 in Berlin. When you look for information on Turks in Berlin/Germany, there are tons of threads with right-wing comments that you could hear about immigrants in UK or USA – welfare spongers, don’t speak our language properly, too many children (in a country that needs population!). You can just imagine people saying “if only they’d stop calling the children those funny names, and put them in proper dirndl skirts and lederhosen, if they could just eat Wurst like us and have a glass of beer, and be NORMAL, then they’d be fine”.
On Tuesday, I went for a tour of Neukoelln, the area I live in, which is Turkish. The tour was led by Fatima, from Route 44, a group of Turkish women who trained together to take tourists on walking tours through their neighbourhood. She arrived from Anatolia 40 years ago as a little girl and had lived deep in the countryside, no running water, no electricity, no traffic. They moved to a flat on the corner of a busy intersection where the family were mesmerised by the traffic, but appalled by the lack of freedom to play. She showed us places of interest, the formal dress shop – weddings are huge in Turkish culture, and little sparkly suits for boys of 5 years old who have been circumcised, to be worn with a little Sultans hat. The local school had something like 160 different nationalities, and up to recently, had terrible problems. However, new policies and loadsa money have been poured in, so that it’s a success story. Of course, it’s not only Turks who live here. There are migrants from trouble spots in the Middle East, Morocco and Algeria, and Indonesia, all of whom find a city were Islam is accepted. She brought us to the local Mosque, and told us how to behave, as it was prayer time, with all the men prostrate and facing east. It was amazingly friendly and open, much more “integrated”, I thought, than the Mosque in Dublin or Paris. After the prayers, the Immam came over and welcomed us, and gave us leaflets to help us understand what Islam is about.
I think what bothers German politicians so much is that Turks don’t have any interest in being Germans. They can’t “integrate” the way the Germans would like them to, because they’re so happy with being Turkish. Germans would like them to produce children who speak German as a first language rather than a second one, who are competitive, serious, academic, “progressive”, who separate church and state, who see themselves as German, who aspire to what the Germans think is a better culture altogether. Of course, nothing is so cut and dried. The majority of Germans accept Turkish culture completely, and I find it interesting that young Turkish women continue to wear the headscarf, but have sexed it up, with a huge beehive underneath, at an angle, so that Barry and myself christened them “Nefertiti-heads”, and they often wear the scarf with tons of make-up and trendy gear, so that the scarf is a cultural symbol, but perhaps no longer really a religious one.