Summer Reading: German Cultural Context

This summer, in terms of reading about German culture and its attitudes toward immigration, has been taxing. To start, reading in a foreign language requires a bit more elbow grease than reading in one’s native tongue, which in and of itself can often be arduous. However Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab by Thilo Sarrazin has left me confused, surprised and often offended. German attitudes towards immigration are a nuanced issue, heavily informed by the country’s dark past as well as the current nebulous state of the post-reunification German identity. Because of their past, Germans by and large shy away from Nationalism, it tends to draw parallels between themselves and their Nazi forbearers that they prefer to leave undrawn. However in the current European political and economic climates, where Germany remains one of the few stable, even prosperous, economic powers, Germans are now being forced to come face to face with what it means to be “German” and the question of what room in this definition is there for the incoming waves of immigrants. By Mr. Sarrazin’s measure, none. He argues that the “Gastarbeiter” program of Germany’s post-war era, which brought workers in droves from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries (primarily Turkey), has been a failure and that now these “lower class” migrants are outpacing native Germans in birth rate, endangering the future of a unique German identity in the European socio-political landscape. I plan to use these questions and concepts to create a realistic, literally multi-dimensional stage in which to set my short story that I’m writing as the final product of this project, a story whose main themes center on questions of identity, foreignness, and generational gaps between immigrants and their first-generation children.

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