Ibrahim Esen is one of the 710,000 ‘gasterbeiter’ or guestworker Turks who were recruited for manpower in Germany between 1961 and 1973. He arrived some time in between, in his early twenties, a full-time metalworker, speaking next to no German.
He remembers the culture shock: “Where would I do my shopping, forced to live on my own? I wondered what to eat, didn’t even know how to cook. I had such trouble with the language — such a different culture.”
Ibrahim’s family soon joined him, and they have not left Germany since. The children are fully integrated, and now even though his wife admits her command of her adopted language is incomplete, she feels at home there.
Sevim Esen said: “I don’t feel like a stranger here. I have German friends and neighbours I do a lot with. We cook together, we go on trips, we communicate and understand each other very well.”
Ibrahim Esen chose naturalisation. This meant giving up his Turkish passport then. Only a minority of people of Turkish origin living in Germany went that way, around 700,000 out of a total of some three million.
Berlin entrepreneur Sabahattin Sari has kept his Turkish identity for all his 30 years in the country.
Sari said: “Integration for me means mutual acceptance. Without that I must give up my mother tongue, my religion and my culture. Why should I renounce my identity if I am to integrate? That would not be integration but rather assimilation.”
Most young people of the Turkish community in Germany feel that; 95 percent of those born here say they feel Turkish first. The community has its millionaires, artists, all sorts of contributors to German success, yet many still say they have been made to feel unwelcome.
A recent hit book by German politician and senior banker Thilo Sarrazin says, in the context of today’s economic turbulence, that post-war immigration policy and multiculturalism will be the end of Germany.
But Ankara and Berlin are celebrating 50 years since the manpower recruitment drive, although Chancellor Merkel herself acknowledged that discrimination against Turks continues, notably in access to employment. Yet she has also called for the Turkish community to make more effort with the German language and education. Increasingly, young qualified Turks born in Germany have been leaving it to seek their future in Turkey.