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Cartographies of Differences

Interdisciplinary Perspectives


Edited By Ulrike M. Vieten and Gill Valentine

This volume investigates the process of learning how to live with individual and group differences in the twenty-first century and examines the ambivalences of contemporary cosmopolitanism. Engaging with the concept of ‘critical cartography’, it emphasizes the structural impact of localities on the experiences of those living with difference, while trying to develop an account of the counter-mappings that follow spatial and social transformations in today’s world. The contributors focus on visual, normative and cultural embodiments of difference, examining dynamic conflicts at local sites that are connected by the processes of Europeanization and globalization.
The collection explores a wide range of topics, including conflicting claims of sexual minorities and conservative Christians, the relationship between national identity and cosmopolitanism, and the ways that cross-cultural communication and bilingualism can help us to understand the complex nature of belonging. The authors come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and all contribute to a vernacular reading of cosmopolitanism and transnationalism, aimed at opening up new avenues of research into living with difference.
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Notions of Conflict and ‘New’ Citizens’ Inclusion: Post-Cosmopolitan Contestations in Germany

← 108 | 109 →ULRIKE M. VIETEN1

Notions of Conflict and ‘New’ Citizens’ Inclusion: Post-Cosmopolitan Contestations in Germany

ABSTRACT: The German sociologist Ulrich Beck became renowned as an advocate of European cosmopolitanism; Germany, however, has a very dark history when it comes to cosmopolitan citizens. What is at stake is a gap between symbolic exclusion from the national community, rooted in the long-lasting ideological effect of ethno-national citizenship in Germany, and a rise in mixed-heritage identities on the ground referring to an already existing vernacular multicultural society. In this chapter, focusing on Berlin, different narratives of key minority political activists illustrate individual success despite vulnerability and conflicts, and are juxtaposed with the populist xenophobic debate of the day. In this way the chapter explores the ways hate crime and institutional racism are significant within the background scenario of how ‘new’ citizens feel and display their belonging within the German national community, and also influence layers of transnational and cosmopolitan identity that include intersecting angles, such as locality, age, class, gender and religion.

Goethe Street, Goethe hiking trail, Goethe museum, Goethe prefab houses, whatever. Discussions and theatre performances are pretty much focused on this. Equally there are a lot of lectures around here. You are permanently confronted, somehow. And the same goes for Buchenwald; plenty of people come to see the concentration camp; and if friends and family are visiting me, of course, I will show them around, and also lead them to visit Buchenwald. It means I am pretty much aware of this, and kind of constantly working on this topic. Talking about Buchenwald, I think it is important to add that Weimar is a place where Nazis also head to. By now, there have been two attempts by Nazis to have big demonstrations organised here. But we also had big counter demonstrations; we’ve got a left-wing anti-fascist movement; plenty of people voicing protest against Nazis, and an alliance of citizens ← 109 | 110 →against Nazis here in Weimar and surrounding areas. (Ercan, interview in Weimar, 17 February 2011)2


Looking back at my research stay in Germany between October 2010 and May 2011, I wondered why it didn’t occur to me initially to travel to Weimar, in order to conduct an interview with a ‘new’ German citizen of partly Turkish (Kurdish, actually) heritage. My prejudiced perspective might have been related to a largely West German ‘lens’, taking for granted that Berlin is the obvious multicultural metropolitan space in which to look for the mingling of and distinctions between different ethnic and religious groups. Having said that, there are some cities in the West of Germany – Cologne and Düsseldorf, Essen and Duisburg, all in the federal state of North Rhine Westphalia; the Hanse cities of Bremen and Hamburg in the North West; Frankfurt am Main in Hesse – where you expect to find larger Turkish communities. However, this goes hand in hand with the assumption that there is no space for Turkish-Germans in the East of Germany.

Indeed, you still don’t find that many in Weimar, I learned later.

← 110 | 111 →In contrast to Berlin and its metropolitan area of more than 3.5 million inhabitants, Weimar has a population of approximately 65,000; in Weimar, visible minorities are even less visible than they are elsewhere in Germany. So, what is special about Weimar?

Weimar embodies an awful lot of what is (in-)famous about Germany: the Classical writers and intellectuals Goethe and Schiller, the 1920s art and architecture movement Bauhaus, ‘Weimar’ as the First Democratic Republic of Germany, the National Socialist regime following the republic, the concentration camp Buchenwald. Weimar enshrines provinciality as well as German national history, or, to turn this around, German national identity as condensed in provinciality. In that respect Weimar signifies the German Kulturnation’s symbolic space, where history has imprinted its presence and leaves its mark on sites which attract crowds of international twenty-first-century tourists. Weimar, which was also a GDR city between 1949 and 1989, is historically charged, and certainly no one can deny its significance to any inheritance of German national identity.

And it is through a link to the famous Bauhaus that Ercan enters the scene. Ercan, a ‘Wessi’ – a West German – who was born in Rüsselsheim, another small city, but located in South Middle West Germany, in the federal state of Hesse. Rüsselsheim is well known for its car industry and is a place where Turkish and Kurdish men, first on their own and later with their families, have settled since the 1960s. Ercan, one of my younger interview partners, originates from a Kurdish and Alevi family background. He moved to Weimar to do his PhD at the Bauhaus University and he is involved with radical left socialist politics and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, an educational charity foundation linked to the post-socialist party Die Linke. What is fascinating about Ercan’s narrative, in particular, is a concrete indication of a more vernacular emergence of ‘new’ Germans, a merging and melting of different national and cultural histories into the contemporary and future make-up of Germany as a multicultural society. So, is there once again a thriving cosmopolitanism on the ground, going beyond the character of 1920s Berlin to encompass a growing ‘relaxation’ of the old ethno-past? This leads us to further question the place of migrants and their offspring and the space of hybrid national identities in the concept of cosmopolitan Europe, or cosmopolitan Germany.

← 111 | 112 →Cosmopolitan ambitions of ‘new’ European citizens

Some contemporary scholars propose a cosmopolitan Europe or suggest we should approach European issues through a cosmopolitan lens (e.g. Beck and Grande 2007, Rumford 2007). These purposeful interventions reflect to a certain degree present-day attempts to normalise what emerged historically as an upper-class and highly individualised cultural competence in different parts of the world and across various societies (Nava 1998; Stevenson 2003; Mouffe 2004; Calhoun 2007). Following Calhoun’s (2007) critical view of cosmopolitanism as being no antidote to nationalism, and not living up to its promises of racial, gender and class equality (Vieten 2007; 2012), what matters when looking at the vernacular everyday within nation states is the question of how cosmopolitan openness can be actually lived (Nava 2006, 2007; Valentine 2008). How does a subjective cosmopolitan consciousness relate to nationally and territorially nested classed, racialised and gendered hierarchies, on the one hand, and current spatial-social transformations, on the other?

Nedelcu (2012) convincingly illustrates how contemporary migrants show a specific form of cosmopolitan capacity by linking different localities through and in their transnational lives. In what ways is cosmopolitanism an appreciated topic in contemporary Germany – a Germany with a toxic history concerning twentieth-century cosmopolitans, including the mass murder of Sinti and Roma, as well as Jews?

Mandel (2008) explores in more depth the complicated ethno-relationships in Germany, such as the relationship between majority ethnic Germans with minority ethnic Turks. Whereas a postmodern cosmopolitan image of Berlin prevails in the media and in public discourse, she finds continuing racial stereotyping when it comes to the Turkish community, for example those living in the borough of Kreuzbe.g. However, she also encounters ‘in-between’ feelings of belonging, torn between the demands of Turkish national identity and German hybrid identities, alongside a very creative cultural and political local space.

Kaya (2012: 161) argues that ‘German-Turkish transmigrants’ are effectively involved in producing cosmopolitan identities as ‘a form of ← 112 | 113 →multilocality […] in both real and symbolic terms, in order to position themselves vis-a-vis the risk of being excluded by the majority society.’

So how do late modern ‘national-cultural’ cosmopolitan claims and cosmopolitan practices fit together when it comes to the situation of ‘new’ German citizens?

This chapter is part of a larger theoretical project (Vieten 2013; Vieten 2014) developing the notion of new European citizens as a metaphor for building transnational identities within a framework of Europeanisation, and also highlighting the potential of specific regional identities, typical of federal states, in a transformed and transgressive democratic counter-space of civic society. This original approach supplements more conventional discourses on migration, enhancing our understanding of emerging transnational societies. Through a unique dataset derived from in-depth interviews based on narrative methodology (Andrews et al. 2013; Esin 2011), this chapter demonstrates the practical (and in some cases conflict-ridden) empirical effects of contemporary cosmopolitanisms in Europe, whose conceptual elements have been outlined elsewhere (Vieten 2007; Vieten 2012),

The argument unfolds within two sections. First, I will contextualise some conceptual aspects of the post-migration condition of German society and the relevance of the city space to the idea of ‘being a new citizen’ in a post-cosmopolitan age. Then, secondly, I will bring in interview sequences drawn from a larger study,3 introducing some key political activists who live or have lived in Berlin, the capital city of Germany. It is argued here that ‘new’ citizens are involved in a variety of ‘enacted’ (Isin and Saward 2013) forms of citizenship, advancing active political practices and civic interventions in the city space where they live their daily life.

‘New’ citizens’ post-cosmopolitan practices and struggles are unfolding alongside and in spite of a strong anti-Muslim discourse in Germany, as we will see later. This anti-Muslim discourse mainly targets Turks as the ← 113 | 114 →biggest ‘ethno’-religious national minority. Even the individual ‘new’ citizens who I spoke to, who are highly educated and – with regard to social status – can be regarded as very well ‘integrated’ and successful, share the deeper vulnerability and experience of actual or perceived victimhood felt by the entire minority community. The different narratives are juxtaposed with the populist xenophobic debate of the day. In this way, the chapter will explore the significance of hate crime and institutional racism to the background scenario of how ‘new’ citizens feel and display their belonging to the German national community, on the one hand, and to layers of transnational identities (which include intersecting angles such as locality, age, class, gender and religion), on the other.

The Turkish and Kurdish communities in Germany

The Turkish community is the largest national minority in Germany in terms of numbers, and also, being predominantly of the Muslim religion, Germany’s most vilified non-Christian group post 9/11. They are addressed in the public debate as a single ethnic minority, without further differentiating to take account of, for example, a Kurdish background. Characteristically, Turkish immigrants have settled in big cities, not only in Berlin but (as mentioned above), in Hamburg, Bremen, Frankfurt am Main or cities in North Rhine Westphalia like Essen, Duisburg and Cologne. Whereas long-term settlement of Turkish people took place across West Germany following their immigration as so-called ‘guest workers’, the different historical make-up of the social and economic fabric of the GDR means that only a few Turkish people live in the east part of Germany, even today. The structural outcome of this lack of long-term ethnic minority settlement in East Germany creates an uneven space for the political-civic participation of visible minorities, and leaves fewer opportunities for individual multicultural encounters on all sides. Despite Germany’s ‘secular republican’ claim, a strong Christian influence persists with regard to its educational institutions as well as its social fabric and welfare system. Also ← 114 | 115 →significant, as a legacy of its communist orientation, is the fact that ‘East Germany is one of the most secularized parts of Europe’ (Biendarra and Leis-Peters 2007, 2).

The Turkish daily newspaper Today’s Zaman reported in 2012 that ‘about 2.7 million German citizens have a background of Turkish migration. Twenty-seven per cent of Turks living in Germany were born there, and 39 per cent have been living in Germany for more than 30 years.’ Further, Today’s Zaman reckons, ‘the proportion of this 2.7 million who consider Germany their homeland has decreased in the past few years; only 15 per cent regard it as home, whereas in 2009 this figure was 21 per cent. A further 45 per cent consider both Turkey and Germany to be home, and 39 per cent named Turkey alone.’

According to Eccarius-Kelly (2010, 105), despite the change in naturalisation law in 2010, ‘[s]ocietal violence, however, affects the quality of life of Turkish/ Kurdish immigrants and ethnic Turkish/ Kurdish Germans. As permanent residents and citizens, the minorities experience occasional physical attacks by right-wing groups, neo-Nazi organisations, and militant nationalists from Turkey.’ The majority of Turkish and Kurdish migrants have settled in big cities, as outlined above. Hence, in the next section I will talk briefly about the city in a cosmopolitan sense, and link the city space to the visible participation of its citizens and denizens.

City space, citizenship and the post-cosmopolitan condition

The city space is central to our images of modernity and cosmopolitan life, and also to the visibility of difference and the presence of minorities. It links to perspectives that stress ‘the primacy of the city over the nation’ (Christensen 2012, 891), also emphasising the polis, the city space where local political organisation and action take shape.

This is true not only for activities such as the Gezi Park protests that took place in Istanbul in May 2013, claiming a democratic right to the city for all citizens, but can also be witnessed when it comes to the rise ← 115 | 116 →of visible anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner protests, for example those in Dresden. Looking at the most recent German far-right populist movements, PEGIDA (‘Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes’, translated into English as ‘Patriotic Europeans against the rise of Islam in and across the West’), visible not only in the East German city of Dresden but mushrooming across the country, it seems that alongside an everyday urban cosmopolitanism a negative cosmopolitanism has (re-)evolved in Europe, which dismisses certain bodies or groups according to shifting racialised and classed boundaries (Vieten 2011; 2012).

Having said that, a new urban generation of citizens from a migrant background underscores the presence of multiple diasporic and transnational identities in Europe (Ghorashi and Vieten 2013; Vieten 2014). The transnational orientation of these ‘new’ citizens from Turkish or Kurdish backgrounds seems to fit best into the contemporary world of liquid modernity (Bauman 2000).

Following from these considerations, it is argued here that gendered, classed and religiously and ethnically laden symbolic boundaries in contemporary Europe – Germany being a case in point – refer to problematic and contradictory ‘post-cosmopolitan’ (Dobson 2003) urban spaces. Hence, the contemporary struggle about who has the ‘right to the city’ (Vieten and Valentine 2015) and the right to belong to the nation is still very much shaped by violent ruptures and ideological barriers (e.g. an ethnic-national imagining of who is included in the ‘people’). This long-lasting block in Germany, for example, is perpetuated by violent hate crime incidents which have been downplayed in the past. It exists despite distinctive regional policies which might positively impact on individual social mobility and achievements. Germany, as one of the big players in the EU, has recently subscribed to a more liberal democratic agenda, even promoting a ‘culture of welcome’ for foreigners and encouraging inclusion. This is a significant departure from Germany’s long history of immigration denial and its track record of drawing political boundaries along ethno-national lines.

Still, the transnational and multi-layered aspirations and identifications of Turkish/Kurdish ‘new’ citizens disrupt the hegemonic narrative of a territorialised, European-bounded national citizenship, particularly if they have been naturalised and obtained legal German citizenship. ‘Acts ← 116 | 117 →of citizenship’, according to Isin (2008, 39), are ‘those acts that transform forms (orientations, strategies, technologies) and modes (citizens, strangers, outsiders, aliens) of being political by bringing in new actors […] through new sites and scales of struggle’. It is here that ‘new’, transnationally oriented German citizens disrupt a system that still takes for granted territorial notions of citizenship and belonging. They live in Europe, but they are not regarded as European; or are they? They have German citizenship, but they are not regarded as German; or are they?

What is at stake is a gap between, on the one hand, symbolic exclusion from the national community, rooted in the long-lasting ideological effects of ethno-national citizenship in Germany, and, on the other hand, a rise in mixed-heritage identities on the ground, within a vernacular multicultural society. In what ways has this paradox been inscribed in the lives of ‘new’ Germans from a partly Turkish or Kurdish background?

Before I turn to my interview partners’ experiences and my discussion of the tensions outlined above, I will give some information on the methodology used and on the interview sample itself.

Giving a name to individual voices

This study was part of a larger research project looking at intersecting points of inclusion with respect to ‘new’ citizens in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands (Ghorashi and Vieten 2013; Vieten 2013; Vieten 2014).

I interviewed 14 Turkish-German key minority activists in some of the largest cities of Germany between autumn 2010 and spring 2011. Apart from a snowball system at a later stage, I got to know my interview partners through personal and political (left-wing) contacts. Further, I approached individuals I came across as publically renowned minority activists (e.g. in newspapers, on TV and on the internet). A comment on the notion of ‘key minority activists’ might be necessary here: I approached minority citizens who held positions of individual power marked by influence in and on institutions, or who I perceived as intervening in public debates with respect to ← 117 | 118 →local and national affairs. They advocated to some degree the interests of minorities and were involved in human rights and women’s rights.

Interviews were conducted in the participants’ offices or homes or in cafés, depending on the space they preferred or on what was accessible for the scheduled time of the interview. All 14 semi-structured interviews were transcribed verbatim; they lasted between 50 minutes and 1.5 hours. Two out of 14 interviews were conducted in English; the others were held in German. I interviewed slightly more women than men (8 to 6).

In terms of social class, about half of my respondents’ came from working-class families and the other half from a middle- or upper middle-class background. A significant number of my interview partners exemplified upward social mobility and – if they had immigrated as children – they received their education in West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. The majority were of Turkish ethnic background (10) and – although this was not explicitly asked and thus indicated – might be categorised as heterosexual. Ten of my interview partners regarded themselves as Muslims, and expressed clear secular views.

Unlike many other empirical studies, in which interviewees’ birth names are not disclosed to ensure that they feel safe, in this study 12 out of the 14 interview partners were happy to openly share their names. All but three were well known to the public, and some could be even labeled as VIPs, so they were used to standing up and speaking out publically. In hindsight, I particularly appreciate their willingness to be mentioned by name. One important epistemic element of the research was to not only give a voice to minorities, but name individual key minority activists in order to strengthen the right to civic individualisation. This is not to suggest that my interview partners’ more privileged social position could be easily generalised, or lumped into one specific structural group positioning. Rather, it is intended to support the idea of role models and shed light on individual agency, actual and active civic change.

In the next section, I will focus on minority activists who live or have lived in Berlin. I will examine how we find repercussions of the complexities outlined above in the testimonies of the people I spoke to. What do well educated and politically engaged ‘new’ Germans have to say about the situation they live in? What are the implications of the pressure to speak German, or the desire to pass as a German?

← 118 | 119 →Berlin: Turkish-German dilemmas and options

In twenty-first-century Germany the Shoa is part of the collective memory across the metropolitan city of Berlin. As a visible testimony of mid-nineteenth-century Turkish immigration, we also find in Berlin the first Turkish cemetery, founded in 1861. Compared to the widespread and noticeable commemoration of Jewish culture and pre-Holocaust cosmopolitan life all across Berlin, an awareness of the close nineteenth- and early twentieth-century bond between Germany and Turkey is almost absent in the public sphere.

Today, Berlin is home to the biggest Turkish community outside Turkey (roughly 110,000 people). Official statistical records regarding ethnic minorities and religious belief do not exist in Germany, so information is measured according to ‘nationality’. The capital city of Berlin is divided into administrative areas known as Bezirke (districts, similar to boroughs in London). The three districts most frequently mentioned in the context of Turkish settlement are Kreuzberg,4 Wedding and Neuklln. All three districts are located in the old West of the city.

According to Mühe (2007, 64), ‘[i]n the districts of Neuklln, Kreuzberg and Mitte, the number of welfare recipients makes up more than 11 per cent of the population – the highest in Berlin.’ The percentage of welfare recipients can be an indicator of poverty and lower-class status, associated with low income, poor housing, precarious living conditions and lower access to consumer goods.

Since the 1990s politicians have accused the Turkish community, in particular those who live in Kreuzbe.g. of embracing ‘parallel societies’ (Parallelgesellschaften). This negative attitude towards the existence of Turkish-speaking neighbourhoods and the maintenance of non-German ← 119 | 120 →cultural habits may explain the way some of my Turkish-German interview partners reflected on matters of language, culture and inclusion.

Prof. Dr H.H. Uslucan, Director of the Centre for Turkish Studies and Integration Research at the University of Essen-Duisburg, moved to Berlin with his mother in 1973. He was born in Anatolia in the 1960s, and he belongs to the generation whose fathers migrated first to West Germany and brought the family at a later stage, all of them settling in the new homeland. Prof. Uslucan reflects on his upbringing in different social-cultural neighbourhoods, pinpointing some of the effects of living in a more homogenous lingual-cultural environment and the advantages of moving to an upper-class area.

My father moved to Germany at the beginning of the seventies and due to the right to bring in his family he brought us to Germany as well. I went to school in Turkey for two years; in that respect my educational socialisation was shaped by my heritage in Turkey. Well, I came with my brother and my mother to Germany in 1973; first to Neuklln. At that time this district wasn’t the notorious place it is known as today, as it is stigmatised nowadays. I attended a German language class for six months, and I was quite successful. It meant I could leave the third class [of primary school] after two months and switch to the fourth class. As far as my educational/ school career is concerned the migration did not impact negatively on my school performance. … We moved to Schneberg at that time. I think that was a very important push to my personal development. Previously, in our house [in Neuklln] we used to live with six or seven Turkish families; in Schnebe.g. we were the only Turkish family. Thus, learning German, learning the language with my peer group increased; the boys and children who I used to play with in the yard, they were Germans.5

← 120 | 121 →Schneberg (-Tempelhof) is a more prosperous district of (West) Berlin. Prof. Uslucan remembers it as a crucial turning point in his further educational achievements and learning of German as his second language that his parents moved to a more affluent neighbourhood of Berlin. Even more important, it opened up possibilities for mixing and mingling with German children on a day-to-day basis. From this perspective, it seems that a cultural or linguistic ghetto inhabited by a minority can impede an individual’s integration.

We should keep in mind that Prof. Uslucan entered the German education system in the mid-to-late 1970s, a period in which the governing Social Democratic party encouraged social mobility. There was, however, no master plan for the integration of immigrants.

The issue of language and identity also came up in an interview with another academic, who moved to Germany quite recently and had already lived in other countries beforehand. This interview partner grew up in an upper middle-class family in Turkey and gained her doctorate outside of Turkey.

So in Germany there are two nationalities or two groups, you are either a Turk, undifferentiated for the immigration background, or whatever, you are either a Turk or you are German. It’s almost two different categories that are in opposition to each other and of course I don’t understand why I am going to be this Turk for the rest of my life because I also made a lot of effort to be German or be just this new German.

Whereas speaking the main language of the country of residence might help with daily communication and increase the chance of career success, this matter proves more complicated when considering that a more cosmopolitan and mobile life might mean moving countries frequently, and – as far as academics and professionals are concerned – English has become the ← 121 | 122 →lingua franca. Further, the dilemmas implicit in the two-tiered positioning – the positive and privileged position of the citizen of the world or cosmopolitan, on the one side, and the negative view of cosmopolitan activity in which the mobility of migrants is restricted (Vieten 2007), on the other side – are carried through into the contemporary situation of non-Western migrants: although they live an everyday cosmopolitan life, the national integration policy and cultural order attempts to domesticate them.

In the interview we touched on the issue of what it means to raise a child. Here, enforcement of a language creates paradoxical results and even painful mothering experiences.

R: They said we should talk to her in German hoping her German would improve.

I: Who told you?

R: The kindergarten teachers.

I: Ok.

R: But I think they are instructed from somewhere that they have to tell these immigrant parents that they have to speak to their child in German. How many times do I have to change my mother tongue with my child? So I continued speaking in English with her and her father was speaking in German. Actually her German is much better than her English but this concept of integration looked absurd to me especially as cosmopolitan people like me who constantly have to change their mother tongue according to the country of integration.

While conducting research on Kurdish mothers in London, Erel (2013) noticed that despite making efforts to raise their children embedded in an understanding of Kurdish history, tradition and culture, the women being interviewed identified positively with British society. ‘I have found that all mothers in this study, regardless of their orientation to cultural change or continuity, positioned themselves as part of British society. They claimed rights for themselves and their children’ (2013, 981). However, the situation in Germany looks different, with a strong external demand to integrate culturally. Most of my interview partners expressed a struggle in identifying positively with Germany, as ‘new’ Germans.

Mr Kilic,6 a member of the Green party and an MP in the Bundestag at the time of the interview, sums up what the situation looked like when he ← 122 | 123 →moved to Germany as an adult. He immigrated in the early 1990s, pursuing legal studies and completing an MA in European law. He had already trained as a solicitor in Turkey.

It was a very interesting time to come to Germany; the time of the reunification when the wall went down, a very vibrant period. Having said that there was also a strong nationalistic mood. East Germany … ‘We want to have a healthy national consciousness’, all these slogans. Or ‘The ship is full’. All this somehow fueled Rostock, Hoyerswerda, Lichtenhagen. There were arson attacks on shelters for refugees. In Moelln and Solingen migrants were burnt to death. These were racists who did this. I knew Germany of course for Goethe and Schiller, and particularly my favourite philosopher, Nietzsche. I read his work in Turkish. Of course, I knew immediately that those who attacked refugees and migrants could not be regarded as representative of the German people as a whole. Well, I believe I am not mistaken in this. For sure, there were also people hiding behind the curtain, and actually siding with this, but then there were Lichterketten, hundreds of thousands of people went onto the streets, until the Nazis somehow withdrew. At that time I began working with the Ausländerbeiräte.7

As will be illustrated next, the shadow of the hate crimes and anti-Muslim racism of the early 1990s is reflected in the testimonies of my interview partners, not only in Berlin, but also in other major cities. In this regard the findings of this study complement Mandel’s (2008) observation that Turkish immigrants and ‘new’ citizens from Turkish or Kurdish backgrounds are ← 123 | 124 →not included in the claim of an open-minded European Germany. It is here that the long-lasting shadow of history and the drawing of ethno-national boundaries triggers experiences of exclusion and non-belonging.

Post-Unification Germany in the 1990s: the peaceful change and its violent aftermath

The initially calm and peaceful transition from the communist system in the East and the social-liberal market system in the West (Rheinischer Kapitalismus) to the post-1990 united Germany left different sections of German society shattered, shaken and uncertain about their future. What is significant is the scale of racist attacks on black people, refugees and Turkish immigrants from the early 1990s in both West and East Germany, reaching a peak in 1992 and 1993.

Baubck (2010: 800) reflects on the meaning of the arson attacks in Mölln and Solingen in the context of citizenship status:

The 1992/93 arson attacks on Turkish immigrants in the German towns of Mölln and Solingen triggered a debate in Turkey about emigrants not being sufficiently protected while they are foreign nationals. The German naturalization requirement to renounce a previous nationality meant, however, that Turkish emigrants would lose their rights to unconditional return to Turkey, to own land and to inherit property there. Turkey therefore introduced in 1995 the so-called pink card, which secured all these rights (apart from the right to vote) for former citizens who had to renounce their nationality.

In the East, Hoyerswerda and Rostock-Lichtenhagen became synonymous with racist attacks on non-white refugees. Solingen is a town in North Rhine Westphalia not unlike the cities of Essen, Duisburg and Düsseldorf. Two Turkish women and three girls were murdered here on 29 May 1993. On 23 November 1992, in Mölln, a town in Schleswig-Holstein, a Northern federal state in West Germany, two Turkish girls and their grandmother had died under similar circumstances. In both cases, racists and, as it turned out, ← 124 | 125 →neo-Nazis had targeted Turkish family homes and murdered women and children in cowardly arson attacks.

These racist murders provided a landmark within the trauma of many ‘new’ Germans from a Turkish or Kurdish background. When I asked my interview partners to name three or four important historical dates or events they remember from the past 40 years, the majority immediately came up with ‘Mölln and Solingen’. Some of their comments are given here as examples.

Solingen and Mölln are central and divisive experiences for me. That … you know … people are still being burnt and this is happening at the turn of the 3rd millennium. (Cakir, Frankfurt am Main)8

Clearly Mölln, Mölln is a household name, of course 11 September, too. But I have to say the first thing was Mölln. I was deeply shocked. Well, at that time I often had nightmares, for example, that suddenly … there was a Turkish family in my neighbouring house, I lived in the Lindenstrasse, and you know they had a house. And I had this dream that their home was burnt. (Yuksel, Bremen)9

Very important is the Turkish house burning in Mölln. I had my first nervous breakdown on that occasion. At that time I was preparing for my first law exams and, in general, was not following that much what was going on around me in terms of political and social events. I was only concentrating on law and my exams, and I was walking in the Schulterblatt [in the St Pauli quarter of Hamburg] and then I saw this poster, on the window of a bookshop. I don’t know how I did it, but until then I had ignored completely what was going on and then I saw this poster and fainted on the street. It really got me. Besides, I became sick with shingles. Well, it happened at a time in my life where I was bound to do my studies and could not engage in politics. I think I had to do my law exams four weeks later. Hence, this ← 125 | 126 →breakdown and realising that I couldn’t do anything about what was going on politically was a very influential experience for me. But, you know, I wanted to pass that exam. (Gul, Hamburg)10

Yes, it was 1992, 1993, those fascist attacks against… well, let me think, against migrants, refugees, here in Mölln, Solingen and there were others, because there were a lot of places where these things happened. That was, you know, the debate around the time…. 92/ 93; these were the years when I got politicised. (Ercan, Weimar)11

Prof. Karasoglu, another interview partner, also mentioned these years of racist attacks, which for her were connected to a life-threatening personal experience. A Molotov cocktail was placed in front of her office while she was working at Prof. Uslucan’s Institute in Essen.

Another interview partner confirmed the centrality of these years in her research observations: ‘I find the burning of the houses in Mölln and Solingen very vivid in many of the Turkish immigrants’ memories here. Especially then there were other burnings. About 1992, 1993, 1994’ (H., Berlin).

← 126 | 127 →As argued at the very beginning, the contested post-cosmopolitan urban space unfolds with contradictory claims: on the one hand there is a vernacular presence of settled migrants across all major West German cities; on the other, persistent anti-Muslim racism prevails, targeting Turkish individuals and families and extending to become institutionalised racism (Vieten 2014). The long-lasting impact of the hate crimes of the 1990s shapes the feeling of all minority communities and individuals in contemporary Germany.

Excursus: The ‘Sarrazin’ debate in 2010

In late summer 2010, Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a former member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, published a book with the title Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany does itself in).12 Jürgen Habermas writes about this book, and the message it conveys, in The New York Times:

Since the end of August, Germany has been roiled by waves of political turmoil over integration, multiculturalism and the role of the ‘Leitkultur,’ or guiding national culture. This discourse is in turn reinforcing trends toward increasing xenophobia among the broader population…. ‘Germany Does Away With Itself,’ a book that argues that the future of Germany is threatened by the wrong kind of immigrants, especially from Muslim countries. In the book, Thilo Sarrazin, a politician from the Social Democratic Party who sat on the Bundesbank board, develops proposals for demographic policies aimed at the Muslim population in Germany. He fuels discrimination against this minority with intelligence research from which he draws false biological conclusions that have gained unusually wide publicity. (28 October 2010)

← 127 | 128 →In 2012, Sarrazin’s populist book became a German bestseller, running in its seventeenth edition and selling 1.5 million copies.

Prof. Y. Karakosoglu, introduced above, told me in our interview:

This is something which strikes me so much. Two or three or four weeks ago when Sarrazin’s book was published. I got a call from Martin Spielberg from the Zeit and he asked me ‘What do you think about the discourse? What do you think about people thinking about Sarrazin’s book?’ And I said ‘Oh, this book, it was sent to me in advance. I had a glance on it and now in my opinion this will not cause much discussion because it is so un-intellectual and it has such stupid ideas and I think we are far beyond this in Germany with our discourse on integration.’ Two days later, I realised that the comments on it, in the newspaper, were so positive. I called him and said, I was totally wrong, I didn’t realise what the main ideas in society, the main fears in society, are. What I would say is he [Sarrazin] was able as a social democrat in a very important position in the economic system in Germany to use expressions which the man on the street would like to use and always feared. Of course, he was then considered to be politically incorrect. Now, the barrier is opened, the barrage is open. Everybody is able to speak about the issue the way he or she always wanted to and use all kinds of expressions, can use all kinds of stereotypes, because it is allowed, he is allowed to. …. And people are now happy about being able to do it in a non-differentiated way. And Sarrazin thinks it is an achievement to do this, but what strikes me is a lot of others, politicians and so on, would … and also scientists would speak about his book as ‘Okay, there are some terms and some expressions which are really racist, but mainly using figures that are really, really interesting he did something that helped us to open the discourse.’ I don’t understand it. Really, I am helpless.

Sarrazin got plenty of media attention in 2010, and therefore was able to spread his opinion among a range of different audiences; neither Chancellor Merkel nor other prominent politicians shunned Sarrazin. Despite the lack of outrage among the German elite about Sarrazin’s populist right-wing message, a counter-publication by authors from various ethnic, national and religious backgrounds was released at the beginning of 2011. Edited by Hilal Sezgin, its title Deutschland erfindet sich neu – Manifest der Vielen (Germany invents itself anew – Manifesto of the many) engages expressly with Sarrazin’s book, but also critiques the way politicians, the media and civil society responded to prejudice against Turkish, Jewish and Muslim communities.

← 128 | 129 →The public debate following Sarrazin’s publication recalls events in the Netherlands more than a decade ago, when the ‘new realism’ (Prins 2002) marked the start of an openly aggressive public ‘anti-tabooing’ campaign targeting visible minorities and migrants, although in the Netherlands the principal targets were Moroccan-Dutch ‘new’ citizens.

Concluding remarks

The chapter presented the findings of an original study on the intersectional positioning of minority ‘new’ citizens, moving beyond the migration debate and approaching Turkish- (Kurdish-) Germans as individual citizens, who have to cope with the post-1989 violence as a collective traumatic experience. All of my interview partners come from a highly educated and elite section of the ‘new’ German citizens; they have hybrid migrant identities as well as a vernacular post-cosmopolitan life with transnational orientations, despite mostly living a local city life. Speaking the German language and excelling in higher education creates opportunities; individual social mobility means that ‘new’ Germans have achieved some public and political visibility. When it comes to broader issues of inclusion, however – such as being accepted as a transnational migrating actor – the German culturalising discourse (Vieten 2007) falls short of providing an all-inclusive cosmopolitan society. The racist violence against Turkish immigrants that took place in the aftermath of German unification in 1989 has had a long-lasting traumatic effect on most ethnic Turkish- and Kurdish-Germans, despite their individual achievements and successes in the Germany of today.

Following Sarrazin’s populist racist writings back in 2010, another unsettling affair hit the headlines in 2013 concerning the racist murder of several Turkish men (and one Greek man) by the NSU (National Socialist Underground). And in 2014, previous waves of racist statements and actions were succeeded by the populist right-wing demonstrations of PEGIDA, which hit city streets in Germany. Having said that, counter demonstrations ← 129 | 130 →still largely outnumber neo-nationalist sentiments. The recent welcoming of (Syrian) refugees by Munich’s inhabitants in September 2015, for example, indicates a spontaneous response to the needs of Middle Eastern refugees seeking asylum and a new life in Europe. These positive vernacular actions do offer another model of civic consensus in cosmopolitan compassion. So, is this good news, indicating grassroots changes and a move to a more open and cosmopolitan society in the new Germany?

Societal divisions and conflicts hint at wider contestations about group belonging, inclusion and everyday cosmopolitan openness towards difference and the Other in Germany. It seems the popular mood is divided in the German public domain: on the one hand, the inadequate institutional handling of the NSU affair13 and the lack of robust efforts to tackle the roots of the more recent PEGIDA protests may indicate ‘institutional racism’ (Vieten 2014), but this exists alongside undeniable vernacular multicultural orientations. On the positive side, my interview partners’ left-wing political identities, and their engagement with the local sites in which they live, underline a strong civic identity corresponding with the ideal of the ‘good citizen’. As newcomers to German society, however, these citizens from Turkish or Kurdish backgrounds can be seen to have performed as rather than identified as citizens of the German city-polis.


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   1   If not stated otherwise, all translations from German into English are by the author.

   2   ‘Goethestraße, Goethewanderweg, Goetheplattenhaus gibt es, Goethemuseum und was es alles gibt. Die Diskussionen und Theaterstücke drehen sich viel darum herum. Es gibt viele Lesungen. Da bist du ständig damit konfrontiert. Und mit Buchenwald auch, weil sehr viele Menschen kommen; sehr viele Menschen, wenn die mich besuchen, bring ich sie zu den Orten und auch nach Buchenwald. Dann sehe ich das ständig und dann setze ich mich ständig damit auseinander. Bei Buchenwald ist noch wichtig, hinzuzufügen oder insgesamt, weil Weimar so ein Ort ist, ist es natürlich auch ein Ort, wo die Nazis viel marschieren wollen. Und es gab schon Versuche, hier zwei Aufmärsche zu machen. Dann gab’s immer einen großen Protest dagegen. Es gibt auch ne linke antifaschistische Bewegung; viele Menschen, die dagegen protestieren, ein Bürgerbündnis und äh... hier in Weimar und Umgebung.’

   3   The study was associated with the ‘Inclusive Thinking’ research group and generously funded by the Dutch VSB fund; particular thanks go here to Prof. Halleh Ghorashi, VU Amsterdam.

   4   Today the Bezirk is named Friedrichshain-Kreuzbe.g. Friedrichshain is ‘old east’ and now a chic place where a lot of tourists go for leisure purposes (restaurants, bars, shops). In contrast to Kreuzberg it is a young, white and middle-class space.

   5   ‚Mein Vater ist Anfang der 70er Jahre nach Deutschland gekommen und hat im Rahmen der Familienzusammenführung uns nach Deutschland geholt. Ich habe in der Türkei zwei Jahre auch die Schule besucht, also so dass ein Anteil der schulischen Sozialisation auch hier in der Herkunft festgelegt wurde, so dass ich auch einen Teil der... der Sozialisation und der schulischen Sozialisation in der Türkei durchgeführt hab. Ja ich bin mit meinem Bruder und meiner Mutter 1973 nach Deutschland gekommen und äh... zunächst nach Neukölln (Berlin). Das ist damals also kein so skandalträchtiger Bezirk gewesen, wie es gegenwärtig stigmatisiert wird. Äh... und hab nen Deutschkurs besucht, ein halbes Jahr und war recht erfolgreich, so dass ich also die dritte Klasse nach zwei Monaten wieder verlassen konnte und mit der vierten angefangen habe, also so dass, was die schulische Karriere betrifft quasi die Migration nicht sehr früh schon zur schulischen Beeinträchtigung geführt hat. Wir sind dann umgezogen nach Schönebe.g. Das war glaub ich jetzt für die eigene Entwicklung ein wichtiger Schub. In dem Haus vorher waren wir sechs, sieben türkische Familien, und in Schöneberg waren wir die einzige, also so dass quasi das Deutsch lernen, Sprache lernen im Peerverbund viel größer war, mit den Jungs und den Kindern, die auf dem Hof waren, das waren alles Deutsche.‘


   7   ‚Als ich 1990 nach Deutschland kam, war es eine sehr interessante Zeit sozusagen mitten drin in der Wiedervereinigung. Mauer ist gefallen und eine sehr bewegte Zeit. Aber es gab auch ziemlich starke nationale Töne. Ostdeutschland... „Wir wollen auch ein gesundes nationales Selbstbewusstsein haben“ - all diese Sprüche, oder „Das Boot voll“, haben dazu geführt, dass in Rostock, Hoyerswerda, Lichtenhagen Flüchtlingsheime in Brand gesteckt worden sind, in Mölln und Solingen Migranten verbrannt worden sind. Die Rassisten haben so was gemacht. Ich kannte Deutsche natürlich von Goethe, Schiller, insbesondere mein Lieblingsphilosoph Nitsche. Ich hab ihn in türkischer Sprache gelesen. Ich wusste sofort, dass diese Leute nicht die Repräsentanten des deutschen Volkes sein können. Ähm... ich glaube, dass ich mich nicht geirrt habe. Sicherlich, es gab auch viele Leute, die hinter Vorhängen applaudiert haben, aber dann gab es Lichterketten, Hunderttausende Menschen auf die Straße gegangen, bis die Nazis sich klein gefühlt haben. In dieser Zeit hab ich mich bei den Ausländerbeiräten engagiert.‘

   8   ‘Solingen und Mölln sind für mich sehr einschneidende Erlebnisse. Dass... in einem... also kurz vor dem dritten Jahrtausend Menschen immer noch verbrannt werden.’

   9   ‘Also Moelln, Moelln ist so ein Begriff, ne 11 September. Also ich muss sagen, als Erstes, Moelln so. Das war ziemlich … da war ich ziemlich geschockt. So, und hatte ja damals auch Träume gehabt, dass plötzlich die... das war ne türkische Familie, die im Nachbarhaus, ich wohnte da in der Lindenstraße, und die hatten da ja ein Haus. Und da hab ich geträumt, dass deren Haus abbrennt, so ne.’

  10    ‘Ganz wichtig ist der türkische Hausbrand in Mölln. Da hab ich wirklich meinen allerersten Zusammenbruch gehabt. Also hatte ich dann auch nicht. Aber da steckte ich mitten in der Examensphase in meinem ersten Staatsexamen und kriegte eigentlich weder gesellschaftspolitisch noch überhaupt irgendwas mit. Also ich kriegte gar nichts mit, außer Jura und Examen und ging im Schulterblatt entlang und dann hing ein Plakat, war bei der Buchhandlung. Und ich hatte das, ich weiß gar nicht, wie ich’s geschafft hab, aber ausgeblendet bis dahin, bis mir irgendwie dieses Plakat... und brach wirklich mitten auf der Straße zusammen. Es hat mich echt eingeholt. Und kriegte dann sofort ne Gürtelrose. Es war... es war in ner Phase, wo ich partout nicht irgendwas hätte machen können und auch nicht äh... weil ich... ich glaube, ich hab vier Wochen danach Examen geschrieben oder so. Es war irgendwie... aber das ist ganz, ganz prägend, da irgendwas, so was mitzukriegen und nichts tun zu können oder wollen, also ich hätte... können hätte ich ja. Aber ich wollte ja nicht, weil ich wollte ja dieses Examen... ’ (Gul, Hamburg).

  11    ‘So 92 bis 93 die faschistischen Angriffe gegen... lass mich überlegen... gegen die Migranten, Flüchtlinge hier…. Mölln, Solingen und andere, weil es gab ja viel andere. Das war... und die Debatte drum herum. 92/93 – das war so das... das waren auch die Jahre, wo ich mich sehr politisiert habe.’ (Ercan, Weimar).

  12    Since then he has published more books with similarly populist titles, such as Europe does not need the Euro: how political wishful thinking led us into crisis (2012) and The new character assassination: the limits of free opinion in Germany (2014).

  13    The Turkish community in Germany published a report on the NSU court case, showing how institutional racism is interwoven into police practices when dealing with crime against Turkish people (Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland 2013: 78).