Germany Holidays: Turks and guest workers

Fast food, clean toilets and late opening hours; the Turks make a significant contribution to the visitor experience of Germany.

In the Hitler era of National Socialism, the very idea of people from other cultures sharing the same soil – and the same rights – as ethnic Germans was famously abhorrent. However National Socialism has led (albeit unwillingly) to just that, because it was the rebuilding of the German state after the devastation of World War II that first recruited foreigners for the coal mines and blast furnaces. And it was these people, plus the moveable populations of ethnic Germans who had been uprooted and sent packing from beyond Germany’s borders, who were instrumental in the economic miracle of the 1960s and 1970s. And it is that Wirtschaftswunderwhich underpins Germany’s prosperity today.

Although initially these guest workers or Gastarbeiter came from all over Europe, it was the Turks who showed themselves particularly persistent, diligent and motivated. Today, the culmination of that hard graft is a population of approaching three million Turks in Germany, many of whom are at least second generation. A large proportion of them still live in the industrial areas of western Germany – the Ruhr, for example – but there are also big populations in cities such as Cologne, in Mannheim, location of the largest mosque, and in Berlin, particularly Kreuzberg.

They continue to do much of the work that the native population is unwilling to do

The status of these Turko-Germans is an awkward one. Like the immigrant populations in the UK, they continue to do much of the work that the native population is unwilling to do. The percentage of university students with a Turkish family background, for example, is relatively low.

The majority of Germans of Turkish origin – over 70 percent – are still Turkish citizens. Fewer than a million have been granted German citizenship, and the term Ausländer is still colloquially applied to them as well as to their children and grandchildren. Whether by choice, by instinct or by religion, the Turkish and German communities do not find it easy to integrate, running their lives in parallel, with their own distinctive traditions, institutions and support systems. It isn’t an easy situation, because while many of the younger Ausländer in Germany speak only limited Turkish, they could still be sent ‘home’ to a country they have never known.

The tourist, however, is unlikely to become aware of these tensions. For most of us, the Turks provide extra cultural interest through the likes of their open-all-hours doner kebab shops and Turkish Baths, and variety is the spice of life.


Looking for more? See other destinations in Western Germany

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