American Views Abroad

Monday, May 22, 2006
The news on immigrants has turned dark and ugly. Two vicious, brutal attacks on German citizens of color since April, one in Potsdam and the other this past weekend in Berlin, have kicked off a debate among politicians and in the media on whether or not there should be lists of 'no go' areas for people of color in the eastern part of the country and just how much will these incidents harm Germany's reputation before the World Cup starts in June. Richard Bernstein analyzed how safe Germany is for the games in his column in last Friday's IHT. He wrote:

'The Africa Council and others are talking somewhat about Berlin but more about the small towns in Brandenburg or Mecklenburg-Pomerania that are more troubled. In those places, the heritage of Nazism and of four decades of Stalinism combined with unemployment rates of up to 25 percent have left a heavy residue of unreason.'

He claims, correctly, that Germany is a lot safer than the United States but, in the end it depends on what you look like, and where you are.

A very troubling aspect in both the debate and the media coverage is how one essential point often gets ignored. The usual knee jerk response on immigrants calls for their integration and their willingness to learn the language and adapt to the local norms and culture. Yet, in both these attacks, the victims are very well integrated into German society. The victim in Potsdam, born in Ethiopia, is working on his PhD, married with children, and the Turkish born victim in Berlin is a member of the Left Party in Parliament. In the Sunday edition of the FAZ there is a page long article on The Perfect Immigrant - Die Perfekten Einwanderer in the Gesellschaft section. The author, Julia Schaaf, discusses the Chinese in Germany and poses the ultimate question: since they work very hard, are devoted to getting the best education and create no problems are they a model of integration or do they represent a parallel society that no one has noticed yet?

The area I reside in has one of the lowest percents of foreigners compared to the rest of Hamburg. Yet, the local Catholic Church has an unusually large number of other nationalities among its members. There are many Iranian and Chinese families living right in my immediate area. One Iranian family actually has German passports, though they never say: We are German, but, instead, we have German passports. Not uncommon here is the number of German born, now US citizens who have returned to Germany, very often for family reasons after retiring. They lost their German citizenship upon obtaining their US passports and are thus, legally, foreigners in the country of their birth. They look German, they certainly sound German, but they are not German. They too are caught up between two worlds. Perhaps an argument can be made that in any given society there are unlimited, albeit small, parallel societies.

On the other side of the Elbe in the Williamsburg section of Hamburg where the population is about 80% non-German born, a re-ntegration is taking place. Students have found out that apartment rents there are far cheaper and thus younger Germans are now moving back in.

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