This post is part of a series in which students reflect on their discussions in the UC Berkeley undergraduate seminar “Multicultural Germany.” This week two students have written summaries of the past week’s sessions. The first is by Brittany Scott:
The first discussion of the week began with an intriguing presentation by fellow classmate Jenelle, who gave a presentation on Germany’s current population drop and the problems that have resulted from it. The most interesting information provided by Jenelle’s project was Germany’s solution to the population drops and the increase in abandoned buildings. Instead of allowing buildings to remain empty, Germany has begun to demolish buildings that no longer have residents. Following the destruction of the buildings, the lots that remain become public developed space such as parks and landscaped open spaces.
Following the discussion prompted about this creative way to renovate the German landscape, we began a new discussion on the year 1973 and the film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. In 1973 several issues prompted a change in West Germany’s policy of guest workers. The most relevant issue was the oil crisis, which resulted in a global economic crisis that prompted high anxiety levels in relation to German employment opportunities. The wildcat strike at the Cologne Ford Factory that occurred in 1973 was an important part of the class discussion- both as a topic of interest and in relation to the news article, “The Turks Rehearsed the Uprising.” The strike was a critical part of the prior week’s reading and provided students who weren’t familiar with German history a new insight into the world of labor. The strike, we determined, was innovational as it went against the labor union model that was prevalent in Germany at the time. Despite language barriers and xenophobia, Turkish migrants fought for a raise, which ultimately benefited Germans and migrant workers alike by resulting in a cost of living bonus that aided everyone in a fading economy. Unfortunately this victory was a small one in a larger battle against the faltering economy and declining state of living.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul came out in 1974 and provided a complex look into relations between the migrant workers of Germany and native Germans. It played on alienation factors to confront the audience and create a commentary on the exoticism of migrant workers. Personally, I found the trailers and excerpts of the film the class watched rather off putting, as intended by the director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. However, the lessons that can be derived from the film are incredibly insightful and make it completely worth watching. The film pleads for native Germans to look xenophobia in the face and asks for labor and class solidarity as a result. This study emphasized the fact that students need to learn to examine the content of texts and films in order to better contextualize these forms of media in relation to real life.
Later in the week, the class emphasized the analysis of film and texts in their broader cultural contexts. An avid discussion was held about the recent multilingual Super Bowl Coca Cola ad that has been derided for its lack of true patriotism. This in turn resulted in a discussion of how xenophobia and language relate and in fact can be used as a synonym for each other even today. How nationality can come into conflict with the purity of how an individual views their nation was an incredibly important question. However, no true, single answer could be derived from the discussion.
A new discussion began on the divisions between the FRG and GDR and their treatment of migrant laborers. The primary differences that were determined were the terms used to denote the position of migrant laborers- in the FRG migrant workers were labeled “guest workers;” in contrast the GDR termed migrant laborers “socialist friends,” as they were primarily from socialist nations such as Vietnam. Many of them were refugees in contrast to those working in the FRG in order to supplement familial income.
The weeks’ final discussions emphasized how instability within Germany following reunification in 1990 impacted the migrant population. This was perpetuated by the inability of former GDR foreign workers or “socialists friends” to find or maintain jobs after reunification. This in turn resulted in increased tensions and xenophobia as native Germans anxiously viewed foreign workers as a threat to employment and economic stability. This was demonstrated best by the discussion of cigarette smuggling, which was a method for Vietnamese workers to maintain a form of income in order to live and survive in areas of the former GDR.
The instability of Germany in the early 1990s was not only emphasized by the class text but also by an additional book called Russian Disco. Russian Disco demonstrated how religion and race could play a strong role in the position one assumed in society. In this case, the unstable German society saw an influx of Russian Jewish people who were given a place in society as an apology for the Holocaust. Some Jewish people who entered Germany at this time then took advantage of the apartments that had been abandoned in East Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall and picked up their lives in Germany.
Overall this week’s discussion was incredibly enlightening in regards to differentiation between West and East Germany and the portrayal of migrant laborers throughout Germany.