Multicultural Germany Class: Week 3, After Reunification

This post is part of a series in which students reflect on their discussions in the UC Berkeley undergraduate seminar “Multicultural Germany.” This week’s summary is by Ying Ruan

After the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, a large influx of foreigners, who were let in due to changes in immigration policies, lead to xenophobic tendencies among native Germans. Unlike more broadly defined migrants who move to a foreign land by personal choice, many of these foreigners were asylum seekers who came to Germany with permission to stay as political, racial or religious refugees.

The pros and cons of the German asylum system have been widely debated. Many believed that these asylum seekers were coming for economic reasons instead of ‘political persecution.’ Asylum seekers were often perceived as benefiting from social-welfare assistance that was paid by German taxpayers while engaged in violent crimes and drug offenses as well as prostitution and illegal employment. A large number of right-wing conservatives and extremists strongly proposed to reform asylum laws to protect the interests of German citizens. On the other side, some criticized that blaming the asylum seekers irresponsibly was a reflection of hysteria and folkish small-mindedness. They believed that the best way to face the foreigners was to open themselves to outsiders and consider this change as an enrichment of their history.

In the early 1990s, while people debated about the status of asylum seekers in Germany, racist violence did not stop, but rather worsened. Right-wing radicals attacked the asylum seekers without warning. The government did nothing but give a few ambiguous words of sorrow, enraging the victims who had stayed quiet and endured the unequal treatment.

In addition to physical bullying, people meticulously questioned the lineage of non-ethnic Germans and denied their identities as Germans. The song ”Foreign in my Own Country” by the hip-hop group Advanced Chemistry was written as a response to the xenophobic arson attack in Rostock-Lichtenhagen. becauseThe lyrics go further than the single incident and raise questions about issues including race, identity and what it means to be a “real” German. Regardless of the fact that he was born and raised in Germany, holds a German passport and is a legal German citizen approved by the laws, the character portrayed in the song was asked to show his identification and was questioned “You’re German? Come on, do not try to fool me” only because of his ancestry and appearance.  Then what does a German look like? “A real German must look German – blue eyes, blond hair, then you are okay.”(Germany in Transit, 116) This standard of characterizing a German is merely based on one’s appearance, this means that one’s nationality and identity are primarily decided by his/her physical traits. “I was born here, but I probably do not look like it, I’m not a foreigner nor a resettler, tourist or immigrant, but a German citizen, from this country.”(Germany in Transit, 116) People who did not fit into a predetermined category were excluded without any excuse, and I would ask whether there is a difference between this kind of exclusion and that practiced by the Nazis. Then what is the difference between those doing the excluding and the Nazis? However, it is interesting to see the role of hip-hop music as a vehicle to address political and social issues happening in Germany at that time and also as a tool to take leading action against racism.

The issues of racism and xenophobia in Germany are not recent occurrences but have existed for many years. The German government is now much more aware of the situation that the asylum seekers are in and have been attempting to find a win-win solution for both German citizens and foreigners. Since Germany, unlike the United States, has only recently begun to regard itself as an immigration country, it needs time to learn how to accept and to be tolerant. Germany recently presented a possibility of allowing “dual citizenship” and has been showing active engagement in the European Union; therefore, we can not deny that Germany is now starting to welcome and embrace people from all over the world, even though some fear that it might lead to serious problems that could one day trigger instability within the nation.

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