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Immigrants and the German cultural scene: from guest worker to role model

If you are caught between two stools, you are usually on the sidelines. This is what six year-old Cenk Yilmaz discovers at football. He is neither chosen by the German nor the Turkish teams, although he would be eligible to play for both: German mother; Turkish father. The kids at Cenk’s school see things differently: for them he is neither the one, nor the other. Cenk begins to ponder: What am I really? His cousin consoles him with a story about their grandfather who migrated to Germany in the 1960s … And this is the beginning of the hilarious and extremely successful Film Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland. It is a film about a perfectly ordinary Turkish family in Germany, a film about home, a film about the difficult search for the place where you belong.

Immigrant success


The script for Almanya was written by Nesrin Samdereli and the film was directed by her older sister Yasemin. Their grandparents moved to Germany from Turkey many years ago. A successful, award-winning German film and a delightful comedy, made by the descendents of former guest workers. This comes as no surprise to younger people any more. For years, immigrants, and especially their children and grandchildren, have been assuming influential positions in German society – in politics, business, sport and culture. Wherever you look, the immigrants are already there, not in the short-term role of tolerated guest workers, but as a constituent part of society, as role-models and idols for young people in Germany.

The much-acclaimed, multicultural German national football team comprises star players like Özil, Khedira, Gómez and Boateng. And other stars include the actress Jasmin Tabatabai, who has Iranian roots, the filmmaker Fatih Akin and the television presenter Nazan Eckes, both of whom have a Turkish background. Then there is the multicultural Hiphop musician Culcha Candela, the rapper Bushido, whose father is Tunisian, and the writer Rafik Schami from Syria. All of them contribute to the democratisation of society and consciously or unconsciously campaign for tolerance and understanding. “Most (immigrants) ... have long been playing their role in the life of society, just like every other generation since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany and even well before that,” says Mo Asumang, German actress and presenter with a Ghanaian father. “My response to that is: Germany is recreating itself.”

Historical association


At the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn, a museum of federal German history, you can see a Zündapp-Moped Sport Combinette. The fact that this motorbike is museum-worthy has nothing to do with the make or model. It represents an historical event: Armando Rodrigues de Sá, a Portuguese, was presented with the bike in 1964 in honour of being the millionth guest worker in the Federal Republic of Germany. There are photographs of the presentation in lots of history books. The Samdereli sisters have drawn on this association twice, once in their film Almanya and once in reality: When the one million and first cinema ticket was sold for Almanya the Samderelis presented the lucky purchaser with a Vespa. Perhaps it will be exhibited in the Haus der Geschichte one day, too, as the symbol of special services to closer relations between Germans with foreign roots and those with none. Perhaps it even stands for the birth of a new era in which no one bothers to ask about the differences in the first place.

Have you been to Germany for a longer period of time or have you migrated from your home country to another country? Discuss your experience about feeling a stranger and feeling at home with other alumni in the forum of the community group KULTUR – CULTURE!




June 2011

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