Migration

    No More Migration-Ali

    At Home Here, Successful Here: Four Portraits of the New Turkish-Origin Middle Class.

    Rebel. Dilapidated old house, peeling paint, the apartment a den furnished with stuff somebody else threw out. But the chaos is lovingly arranged: pictures in various stages of completion, manuscripts, washing-up, dangling ethno-kitsch. Furry red toilet cover; manifest contempt for gentrified cleaning standards. This apartment screams Artist Accommodation!

    Here lives Feridun Zaimoglu, 38, best-selling author. A fascinating idea made him famous years ago: he went around the Gaarden area of his home town, Kiel, and talked to rappers, pimps, small-time crooks, the unemployed – those ‘on the fringes of society’, but also, as Zaimoglu says, the ‘virile’ and ‘vital’ young men of the Turkish community. He let them talk about God and their view of the world and tried to find an adequate way of rendering their wild mixture of languages into German. The name he invented for this idiom was a stroke of genius (and also extremely marketable): Kanak Sprak, the title of his best-selling book, published in 1995. Kanak? Surely not a term any self-respecting, enlightened German can use to refer to his fellow citizens from abroad. But what if they use it themselves?

    Zaimoglu had found an effective method of punching his way into the discourse on the German feature pages: rebellion, breaking taboos. Others choose more conventional, though no less effective strategies. The number of self-employed people of Turkish origin in Germany is growing steadily, as is the number of academics. If we can assume that somewhere in PISA-stricken Germany we may have an educational reserve, it is among the German-Turkish youth. However, the biographies of those who make it also reveal what determination, hard work and, not infrequently, courage are required to carve out a place for oneself in this society. No state sponsorship programme can be a substitute for this determination to make life in Germany their own.

    Feridun Zaimoglu is vibrant, living proof that integration does not have to mean adaptation – not even to the expectations of media society. ‘Since Kanak Sprak I could have appeared on talk shows every week as an ethnologist of foreign cultures and delighted the promoters who believe in “understanding through petting”,’ says Zaimoglu. ‘But I’m not interested.’

    He’s not one for lukewarm emotions, but the man differentiates his hatreds, such as the well-meaning tendency of the German educated classes to whitewash problematic behaviour on the part of the Turkish immigrant underclass by using ‘middle class terminology’. ‘These people have to understand how far the conquest of land by the ethnos has advanced in some parts of Germany.’ He loathes the narcissism of the German ‘Generation Golf’ with almost equal intensity. ‘Those middle-class neuroses, that Playmobil life, I can’t stand that either.’

    What else does he detest? Female colleagues, writers and panellists, who do the ‘exotic chick’ thing. ‘Oh, aren’t we all so authentic today, so very authentic, so temperamental.’ And general immigrant moaning about exclusion in German society. ‘To people like that I say: “Idiot, learn to pronounce German surnames properly first, and then complain that yours gets mispronounced.”’

    But there are limits, even for this tough-guy intellectual. Zaimoglu says his ambition is to go far as a German author. And that’s where the joking stops. His novel German Amok, published in 2002, was as mercilessly savaged by the critics as Kanak Sprak was acclaimed. Insults such as ‘cultural mercenary’ rained down upon him; repulsive allusions were made to the author’s sex life. Zaimoglu knows that he is not entirely innocent in the aggression he attracts; after all, he dishes it out as well – in German Amok to the decadent Berlin art world. ‘The message of the reviews was perfectly clear, though,’ he says. ‘Migration-Ali is trying to do artistic. He should forget it.’ These reviews say more about the German feature press than about Zaimoglu’s book. He himself has already struggled back to his feet – not least since he was awarded the Jury Prize in the Klagenfurt Literary Competition. (...)

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    Susanne Gaschke
    is a reporter for, among others, the German weekly paper Die Zeit, where this article was first published.

    Translated by Charlotte Collins

    June 2006

    Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Fikrun wa Fann

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