Multicultural Germany Class: Week 4, Defining “German”

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 Preethi Kandhalu:

The “Multicultural Germany” class started off the week with an interesting presentation from Sara about the German citizenship test one takes during the naturalization process. She highlighted the requirements of becoming a German; for example, you have to have lived in Germany for a minimum of eight years before you can apply, and you have to get at least seventeen out of the thirty three possible questions right in the test to pass. Just for kicks, we were given a citizenship test (the questions were acquired from and, surprisingly, I passed!

The test encompassed various realms of the Germany history and society ranging from day-to-day lives (“Who do you have to allow into your home in Germany, if asked” Correct answer: Your landlord), cultural knowledge (“Which of the following do Germans traditionally do at Easter?” Correct answer: Paint eggs), politics (“The Federal Republic of Germany is a founding member of…” Correct answer: the European Union), economics (“A social market economy means the economy…” Correct answer: is based on supply and demand, but the state ensures a degree of equality) to questions relating to the Third Reich and the WWII (“When did Hitler become Chancellor of Germany?” Correct answer: 1933).

The aspect that seemed very fascinating to me was the nature of the questions relating to the Third Reich and WWII. Based on the questions, one can see that Germany continuously tries to distance itself from its dark past. In general, one anticipates countries being uncomfortable when discussing wars they lost, but the fact that one of the questions is on how WWII in Europe ended (Correct answer: with the unconditional surrender of Germany) suggests that Germany realizes the crimes and mistakes they committed and is trying to make Germany a better place. This attitude of distancing and moving forward is reinforced with questions such as what is the form of government in Germany, where options include “A dictatorship” (Correct answer: A republic)

The discussions were also accentuated with the readings for the day; they dealt with different citizenship laws that were passed as the political landscape changed. There were a considerable number of legal statements that were subjective – one is able to twist the statement in a way that it may or may not favor the immigrant who is applying for citizenship. Examples include the German Empire- and State-Citizenship Law of 1913 (Article 1 of Chapter 4 from the book, “Germany in Transit” edited by Deniz Göktürk, David Gramling and Anton Kaes), which states that whether the applicant fulfills certain requirements“ must be discussed by the community of the area” and that the applicant must have “lived a morally upright life”. Such vague statements are unfair – while it’s understood that the immigrants come from different walks of life and it may be hard to have a set of guidelines that is appropriate to all of them, I believe that such subjective statements are hard to quantify. Another interesting thing is that the citizenship laws changed drastically towards the beginning of the Third Reich. Naturalization was explicitly prohibited based upon race; Eastern Jews were no longer allowed to be citizens – new applications were denied and the citizenship of existing Eastern Jewish citizens was revoked, unless they had served in the First World War or were useful to German interests.

We also talked about a chapter from “Russian Disco” by Wladimir Kaminer. Kaminer is a Russian-born German who immigrated to Germany during the post-reunification period. I find Kaminer’s texts to be satirical and personal while also sending home an important social message. This particular chapter, “The Language Test”, dealt with his father’s experience with the naturalization process while simultaneously shedding light on the complexities of ‘getting into a big club’ like that of Germany – while there are strict requirements such as the need to have lived in Germany for eight years, there is also the language tests one needs to take; when one sees the fictional questions in Kaminer’s story, however, it is apparent that the test is drawing a psychological profile of the person rather than testing their German language skills. The test, again, has ambiguous questions. Since the test was administered during the turbulent post-reunification period where questions dealing with identity were back on the table, the ambiguous nature of the questions could denote that the German identity was, in fact, ambiguous, or the ambiguous questions could also serve as a trap for the immigrants and could consequently mean that Germany is hesitant towards naturalizing the immigrants.

We ended the discussion with the Introduction of “Not so plain as Black and White” by Patricia Mazon and Reinhild Steingröver, and “Migrancy, Culture and a New Map of Europe” by Paul Gilroy. Mazon and Steingröver discuss the status of Afro-Germans in Germany; the article seeks to address how the identity of the Afro-Germans have changed over time and also by the ways they have tried to find a group identity. The aspect that amazed me about this article is the hip-hop groups “Brothers Keepers” and “Sisters Keepers” – I believe the idea of raising awareness for an important social issue through music that attracts a specific demographic is actually a genius idea! The article by Gilroy deals with the continuing tensions created by Europe at different times of history as immigrants come in – there exists xenophobia, but the reasons vary as time passes.

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