Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Germany – the new mini-superpower

As its economic clout rises, Germany sheds its postwar identity, becoming more assertive in Europe and the world.

(Page 7 of 8)

"We need immigrants!" argues one official. "This isn't an issue. We have an aging population without a lot of natural resources. It is in our self-interest."

Skip to next paragraph

In fact, Germany officially became an "immigrant society" four years ago. It passed a law decreeing that citizenship no longer meant you had to have "German blood." It was a huge change.

But the law didn't eliminate antiforeign sentiment or a deep sense that "being German" means something. "Germany is cautiously moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot of animosity and outright hate," says Deidre Berger of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin. "You can't change attitudes that quickly in a relatively homogenous society."

Today about a fifth of Germany's 82 million people are nonethnic Germans. The Turkish population in 1970 was approximately 500,000 and today numbers more than 3.5 million. The former guest workers or Gastarbeiter from Turkey, who often do menial labor such as cleaning streets or who own convenience stores, are now second- and third-generation Germans. Cem Özdemir, coleader of the Green Party, is of Turkish heritage. In 20 years, the German workforce will decline from 44 million to 35 million, estimates the Economics Ministry.

In Berlin's north Neukölln district, 90 percent of the schoolchildren come from immigrant families. The district is 40 percent ethnic. Conditions are more run-down, the street tone brusque and gritty, though Middle Eastern cafes and African hair salons colorfully share space with Dunkin' Donuts.

The area has been a cultural battleground over integration. About half the children of Neukölln need remedial help to enter German schools. Welfare rates are high, graduation rates low. Neukölln is the current media example here for the "parallel society" that many Germans are irritated by, if not afraid of, and that Sarrazin depicts as a possible future.

The term "parallel society" itself was coined by the mayor of Neukölln, Heinz Buschkowsky. The mayor comes from the political left but has become something of a guru on integration for many Germans of all political stripes. A rotund and flamboyant figure, he broke taboos by openly talking about immigrants who refuse to learn about Europe and who freeload. But he's also lauded for floating tough-love, zero-tolerance solutions on crime and education that are seen as caring, and for going to the streets to study various Muslim sects.

He created a model neighborhood-school collaborative in 2006 out of an educational institution so violent its teachers all quit. He talks about blocking social funds for parents who let their kids skip school. He advocates quick prosecutions on crime.

One German artist involved in a circle of volunteers for Neukölln families says the new German straight talk on immigrants has created some mainstream resentment. "The stereotype is that the kids sit on the street, the parents sit at home," the artist says. "The parents don't supervise the kids and are indifferent to the school system. Teachers try to be in contact but parents don't respond. They collect welfare. Meanwhile, everyone in the family seems to have the latest iPod, the latest flat-screen TV, the most expensive high-tech gear – and how is this?"


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story