National Geographic : 2016 Oct
110 national geographic • october 2016 in Schleswig-Holstein. “The farmer said to my mother, when she needed milk for my sister, ‘ You all are worse than cockroaches,’ ” Steinbach said. “There was not a lot of warmth.” There was even less for the Turks. In the 1950s and ’60s, with the economy booming, West Germany needed workers. It recruited them first in Italy, then Greece and Spain, but in greater numbers from Turkey. Mostly men came alone and worked in factories or construction. They shared rooms in barracks or dorms. There was no expectation at first on either side that they’d stay—they were Gastarbeiter, guest workers, not immigrants. They would rotate back to Turkey after a year or two, taking the money they’d saved. Other “guests” would take their place. That was the idea, but reality intervened. Employers didn’t want to lose workers they’d trained. Lonely workers imported families. Fa- tih Evren’s father brought his wife and three children—and then had Fatih in Germany. “Af- ter a certain time he settled down,” Evren said. “Making good money in Germany was fun.” In Bebra, a working-class town five miles down the road from Rotenburg, Evren is now secretary of the Turkish-Islamic community center and mosque that his father helped found in 1983. The guest-worker program was shut down in 1973, when the Arab oil embargo triggered a re- cession. But today there are nearly three million people of Turkish descent living in Germany. Only half are German citizens. Some have as- cended to prominence—such as Cem Özdemir, co-leader of the Green Party. What struck me about the conversations I had with ordinary Turks, however, was the consistent note of am- bivalence toward Germany. “To be a ‘guest’ in a country for decades— that’s insanity,” said Ayşe Köse Küçük, a social worker in Kreuzberg, the Berlin neighborhood where many Turks settled. She came to Berlin when she was 11 and has lived there 36 years. She still doesn’t feel accepted, and her children don’t either. “My children, whom I never told, ‘ You are Turkish,’ started saying, ‘We are Turks,’ after fourth grade,” she said. “Because they were excluded. That hurts me.” And yet Kreuzberg is her beloved home. “ We came as workers, and as workers we’re integrated, but not as neighbors and fellow cit- izens,” said Ahmet Sözen, 44, who was born in Berlin. He can’t fully integrate, he explained, into a society his father doesn’t belong to. In Bebra, on the oth- er hand, everybody knows one another, and Turks stage an annual cultural festival in the town square, Fatih Evren said; integration has worked. Still, al- though he was born and grew up in Germany and has many Ger- man friends, he expects to be buried in Turkey. Feeling fully accepted in Germany has nev- er been easy, even for some Germans. Chris- tian Grunwald’s maternal grandparents were refugees—ethnic Germans from northern Ser- bia who ended up in Rotenburg after the war. His mother told me the story one afternoon at the Alheimer Kaserne. We were in the old guardhouse, surrounded by jail cells full of do- nated clothes; Gisela Grunwald coordinates a Red Cross operation that supplies clothing to today’s refugees. Gisela’s mother is in a nursing home now, she said. Her ancestry is German, she has lived in Rotenburg for 65 years, her grandson is the popular mayor—and still, Gisela said, one day not long ago “someone came to her and said, ‘You’re not German.’ ” It seems she hadn’t quite shaken the accent she’d brought along with her from Serbia. Germany’s labor agency estimates that half the refugees will still be unemployed after five years.