To summarize the first two weeks of the seminar “Multicultural Germany” (fall 2015) it is best to start off with the participants: One third of the class is exchange students, mostly from Germany. Due to this the class can benefit from the insights and background information these students bring to the table. Another bonus is that many of the American students have double citizenship and/or a mixed cultural backgrounds. This adds dimension to the discussions and enables us to look at the topics from a diverse range of angles and viewpoints. Because students are asked to do weekly postings, in which they reflect on the topics as well as news coverage of their choice, there is always a broad spectrum of articles and resultant questions on current debates as well as questions regarding definitions of cultural terms.
In the first week, those questions varied from questions of legality (as with the refugee situation in Hungary and the discussion about border control), the advantages and disadvantages of immigration for Germany (as with resistance from groups like PEGIDA), the dangers of fleeing home (as with the incident in Austria in which seventy-one tragic victims were found dead and decomposing in a standing truck), narratives of foreignness, to the influence of representations in the media (as with the tragic drowning of three-year old Alan Kurdi).
Cultural definitions and media representation also formed two of the main pillars in our readings. The class’s main readings derived from Germany in Transit (2007) which contains a collection of a variety of documents partitioned under migration-related questions.
The focus of the second week took a closer examination of current events surrounding Germany’s refugee debate. Under the heading “Arrested Mobility: Refugees, Borders, and the Predicament of Asylum” everyone was called to scan the current news and post their findings to the online course forum.
The articles posted were on the usage of the term expat and immigrant, the migrant crisis in Hungary, Europe’s struggle with migrants and Asylum, U.S. foreign policy, the definition of migrants respectively refugees and the pressure the large number of refugees puts on small towns in Germany.
Though we vacillated among all these topics, the class discussions nonetheless clearly centered around one broad issue, namely the ambivalence in attitude that manifested itself in both alienation and compassion when dealing with situations like the refugee crisis. All that newspapers seemed to offer us was numbers: “USA wollen 10.000 Syrer aufnehmen” The USA wants to take in 10,000 Syrians (Die Zeit online; 10. September 2015), “Über 100 Flüchtlinge in Lastwagen entdeckt“ Over 100 refugees found in a tractor trailer (T-Online; 02.09.2015), „40.000 Flüchtlinge haben Österreich passiert“ 40,000 refugees have filtered through Austria (Kleine Zeitung online; 10.09.2015), „Deutschland und die große Zahl: Sind 500.000 Flüchtlinge machbar?“ Germany and the large number: are 500,000 refugees manageable? (ntv online; 08. September 2015).
As we are inundated by large quantities of news from several different countries about the current refugee situation in Germany, with many of them emerging from topics of immense societal and political relevance, we certainly felt the need to gain a fuller understanding of the (pre)conditions and repercussions of the events that were then taking place.
The screening of Nina Kusturica’s documentary Little Alien (2009) did exactly this. It helped us to gain a deeper insight into the lives of underage refugees. Two scenes we discussed in context with the current headlines as they seemed striking: First the facelessness portrayed in the opening sequence in which refugees crossing the border appear as little black dots in the border patrol’s surveillance cameras. In the second scene discussed we see that the refugee processing center is completely mechanical and automatic, devoid of any human contact. These scenes raised questions about the legal position of seeking Asylum in Germany as well as about the integration process. With the ongoing situation of the refugees the seminar surely will have enough up to date material to be discussed during the term in addition to the required readings. Therefore the discussions promise to stay as vivid and procreative as we have experienced it in these first two weeks.
– Evelyn Roth