Travelling Between Cultures

    About Fikrun

    Fikrun wa Fann was a cultural magazine published by the Goethe Institute from 1963 to 2016 that supported and shaped the cultural exchange between Germany and Islamic countries. Together with the publishing of the last issue, “Flight and Displacement” (issue 105), in autumn of 2016 the maintenance and updating of this online portal was ceased.

    Migrants and Tourists

    Holiday apartments, Altea Costa Blanca, Spain. © Photo: Holert/TerkessidisThe Similarities between Travel for Pleasure and Travel out of Necessity.

    In recent years some strange encounters have taken place on the beaches of the Canary Islands and in other places around the world. Relaxed, sunbathing tourists have suddenly been confronted by refugees: by exhausted, salt-encrusted figures in rags, who had in some cases just travelled up to a thousand nautical miles in little wooden boats. No one observing these encounters would conclude that these two groups could have anything in common. What could connect a holidaymaker, someone who has enough money to buy himself a few weeks’ vacation in another country, with emigrants who have left their own countries to seek work because they cannot see a future for themselves at home?

    However, research into tourism in the 1960s indicated that tourists and migrants do perhaps have something in common: namely the motive to flee, albeit under quite different auspices, but ones which in fact mirror each other. One group is fleeing the constraints of an all-too-predictable daily life, while the other is fleeing because it longs for a daily life this predictable.

    So perhaps the encounter on the beaches of the holiday islands is not as meaningless and coincidental as it may at first seem. In the age of globalisation there are a whole number of overlaps between tourism and migration. On closer inspection we see that both types are rather paradoxical phenomena. While travellers in a certain sense, these people also call the idea of travel into question. Are tourists travellers? It is certainly true that they board some form of transport and find themselves some hours later in a different place. But this place is not foreign to them. They have heard stories about it; perhaps they have read up on it in a travel book. They know the place from the photographs in the travel brochures, all of them drenched in sunshine. Furthermore, there are people waiting for them there; the beds are always made up ready for the tourists, the travel programmes prepared, the local people ready to spread out the treasures of their culture before the visitors. Yet despite the fact that there is a long history of organised travel, tourists still expect a certain ‘authenticity’ – something particularly Spanish or particularly Moroccan, for example. Since precisely because of tourism there is less and less of this ‘authenticity’ to be found, it is presented instead as performance, to satisfy a generalised touristic view of the country.

    Tourists, then, are already there before they even arrive. They are already present, even when they are absent. An emphatic distinction is therefore often also made between the tourist and the traveller. Travel is definitely considered to be a positive thing: it broadens horizons. The image of tourists, however, is far from positive. The educated traveller likes to dissociate himself from the ‘hordes of tourists’ – tourists are, as we know, always other people. In the 1960s, after the first waves of mass tourism had rolled over Europe, many critics regarded tourists as barbarians flooding into other countries. Today, this image has been passed on to immigrants. Migrants, however, are seldom regarded as travellers, but only ever as people who are either currently or potentially present. Yet emigration is never nourished by sheer necessity alone, but also by the desire for better prospects coupled with a whole range of fantasies about a land of the future, a land where everything will be better.

    Just as is the case for tourists, the image of the other place is often nourished by the tales of those who have already been there. Another thing the emigration venture has in common with the tourist visit is an immense pressure to succeed: the journey has to be successful. No one likes to admit at the end of a holiday that the service was mediocre, the landscape boring, and to cap it all they also spend the whole time fighting with their partner. The tales emigrants tell when they return to their countries of origin are therefore always tales of success. Miserable jobs, bad accommodation and racism are glossed over, because their income, albeit meagre, still provides enough for them to display a certain affluence ‘back home’. That feeds the fantasies of those who have remained behind. Furthermore, media images presenting places like Europe as a paradise of accessible consumer goods are nowadays ever-present, reaching into every home.

    In the days when countries were recruiting ‘guest workers’, people in search of adventure still had the legal possibility of forming their own impression of the country of their dreams. Nowadays there is almost total freedom of movement within Europe, but – officially at least – Europeans do not want any more immigrants from the world outside the Schengen borders. Europe is building a high wall around itself, and it does not even shrink from cooperating with dictators in the fight against migration. The higher it builds the wall, the more unrealistic the fantasies of the would-be emigrants become. They feel cut off from real life; everything around them appears pathetic and boring. In Europe, though – now, that’s where people really live…

    Europe today is thus pursuing a lively ‘trade in illusions’ – an apt expression coined by the Moroccan migration researcher Mohamed Khatchani. Not only do its defensive walls encourage fantasies, the walls themselves are fairly porous. For one thing, migration can in any case never completely be controlled. For another, there are any number of back doors that individual countries continue to keep propped open because immigrants are essential to the economy. It can therefore justifiably be said that, in the age of neo-liberalism, a clandestine immigration policy is being pursued which ensures that would-be emigrants persevere in queuing up, as it were, before the gates of Europe, and that once they arrive in Europe itself they generally have an insecure residency status.

    This form of orrganising immigration ensures that migration acquires, in a perverse way, similarities with tourism. Anyone who wants to come to Europe from an Eastern European non-EU country or an Arab country must usually engage the services of an expert. He needs a trafficker, or as they are called – not at all unrealistically – in the jargon of would-be emigrants, a ‘tour operator’. In most cases this operator will obtain for the emigrant a tourist visa – the main door nowadays for migration into Europe. During the so-called ‘visa affair’ in Germany in 2004 it emerged that there were phony travel agencies like this in Cologne offering non-existent package holidays for Ukrainians which enabled them to obtain visas. However, anyone who cannot find the money for such a visa – many people from sub-Saharan Africa, for example – is forced to take the cross-country route. This is extremely dangerous, passing through many countries and with many stopovers. As a result, a paratouristic infrastructure has sprung up over the years along the migration routes across the African continent; key hubs such as Agadez in Niger or Tamanrasset in Algeria offer all kinds of accommodation and advice.

    Asylum centre, Bari, Italy. © Photo: Holert/TerkessidisIf ‘illegal’ immigrants like these do eventually get to an EU country, or to certain of its cooperation partner countries along the European border, and if they are caught during checks or controls, they are usually temporarily interned. It is a cruel irony that, in and around Europe, buildings that were formerly part of the tourist infrastructure are now used for the internment of refugees. In Croatia, for example, the closed detention camp for ‘illegals’ is housed in the abandoned Jesevo Motel, a low building near a petrol station on the motorway from Zagreb to Belgrade. One of the most important facilities for the ‘temporary detention’ of refugees in Italy, the camp in Bari, consists of caravans parked on the landing strip of a former military airport. In Düsseldorf the so-called ‘initial reception facility’ for refugees is on the former cruise ship Siesta, moored in the city’s industrial harbour. This type of makeshift accommodation (hotels, caravans, tents; often, in Germany, containers as well) at the transit locations (rivers, coasts, airports) are intended to make clear to their inhabitants that they are not supposed really to arrive in the country, and that they actually belong elsewhere. Makeshift accommodation like this is part of an infrastructure of mobilisation, or of the ‘present absence’ mentioned above.

    So whereas tourists are already present even when they are absent, migrants – even when they have settled in a country – seem to be absent in spite of their presence: they supposedly belong elsewhere. This state of ‘present absence’ is also evident if we take a look at emigration countries in terms of the peculiar crossover between tourism and migration. Migration is usually considered from the point of view of the immigration country. Yet emigrants also have a huge role to play in their respective countries of origin. Many have invested in their former homeland – the amount of capital flowing back into these countries from migrants is enormous. In Morocco, for example, it currently constitutes an estimated 10% of the national GDP. Many ‘first generation’ emigrants from the 1950s and ’60s have bought property or built houses ‘back home’. Initially they intended to go abroad for just a couple of years and then return home once they had lined their pockets.

    However, for many reasons this wasn’t what usually happened. The children of these migrants, born in the new country, only go back to the home of their parents for extended holidays. Again taking Morocco as an example, a virtual exodus can be observed all over Western Europe in July and August as the packed cars of the Marocains résident à l’étranger – MRE, as the emigrants are officially called in Morocco – set off, trundling down the Mediterranean coast of Spain to Algeciras, where they catch the ferry. Three districts on the outskirts of the port city of Tangiers come alive in these summer months – Idrissia, Mabrouka and Hammet Belgique – which for the remaining ten months of the years are as deserted as tourist destinations in winter.

    Essentially, these districts no longer lie in Tangiers but somewhere in Europe. They are more like unrecognised suburbs of Amsterdam, Brussels or Madrid. The people here may have connections with members of their family and friends living nearby, but they play almost no part in the daily life of the area. One could describe the residents’ sense of space as ‘touristic intimacy’. They are ‘intimate’ with their immediate environment in the sense that they share a common origin with their neighbours, most of them speak the language, and to a certain extent they participate in family life there. Yet at the same time they are, like holidaymakers, only temporarily present, and are regarded by locals as visitors from the West – as people who bring with them money and loose morals.

    So the coordinates of proximity and distance become blurred in this paradoxical state of present absence – a state that is apparently quite typical of living conditions in the globalised world. A similar, complementary displacement of the apparently clearly delineated boundary between tourist and migrant is also to be observed among tourists – again not far from Tangiers. On Spain’s Costa del Sol, undoubtedly one of the biggest purpose-built tourist areas in the world, holidaymakers surf, eat and sunbathe in vast numbers. Tourism in the area used to be something for the ‘big holidays’ – visitors would generally stay for two or three weeks in the summer. However, the tourist season has become more flexible. With the advent of ‘budget airlines’, the population of many cities in and around Europe now swells noticeably at the weekends. At the same time, a glance at any estate agent’s books reveals that they are selling not only houses in the immediate area but also in, for example, the Costa del Sol. Many Germans, Scandinavians, Austrians and British people own apartments in Spain; they head off to them several times a year, or live in them throughout the winter, or spend the whole of their retirement there. In Britain the number of those who have purchased a retirement home in Spain is estimated at 700,000 – a bona fide emigrant category.

    As a result, the model of the concentrated ‘hotel fortification’ along the Spanish coast has been replaced by an extensive accumulation of so-called ‘urbanisations’ – settlements specifically for the residents from Western Europe who own property here. These urbanisations are all planned and built by developers according to the same model. The houses are always arranged in a kind of village-like structure, closed off to the outside world, with no links to other urbanisations but connected to the nearest main road. Although the developers are trying to imitate the structure of a village, there are no communal open spaces – no squares, no churches, no monuments, often not even any pubs. In any case, the disturbing background noise of social reality, such as class conflict, criminality, or homelessness, remains outside. As a result, these places exist without a memory. They are dominated by the complete absence of memory. The façades are always new, the forms of existence entirely private; life here has no highlights and no difficulties.

    That doesn’t mean that in places like these there is no community. The British, Dutch and Germans generally keep company with their own fellow-countrymen – veritable ‘parallel societies’ exist in the European tourist areas. In this way they like to preserve a way of life that has long been disintegrating in their home countries – no pub in England these days is as ‘English’ as the ones in some Spanish coastal areas. Yet although the residents stick together in this sense, their relationships remain characterised by a certain unfamiliarity, for on a personal level they know almost nothing of their neighbours’ past – and indeed many people out here completely reinvent their own histories.

    The residents have a rather aloof relationship with their immediate environment. Most of them have in fact made some attempt to learn Spanish, but for the most part these attempts have ended in failure. They seldom take any interest in the local political affairs of the community; many are not even officially registered as living there. These residents frequently fly ‘home’ – so frequently that some researchers, confronted with such a high degree of mobility, saw themselves forced to dismiss the concept of permanent residency. Indeed, these urbanisations have almost no links with neighbouring Malaga; instead, their links are rather with places somewhere in Austria or in Norway.

    These residents are also present absentees. As Karen O’Reilly discovered while studying British residents in the town of Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol, these residents almost never refer to their location by name – neither the name of the region, nor any concrete names of towns. Instead they always speak of ‘Spain’. Basically they don’t really want to live in a concrete place, but against the backdrop of their own concept of a perfect, sunlit, recreational utopia. Unlike the people standing outside the walls of Fortress Europe yearning to get in, the foreigners on the Costa del Sol were actually in a position to fulfil their dream of a better life in another country. Yet because this country as it really is does not resemble their concept of this country, ignorance becomes the elixir of successful existence.

    Europe trades in illusions, says Khatchani, the Moroccan migration researcher; and it is illusions that drive both migrants and tourists, and mobility in general, in the process of globalisation. Many people are no longer settled, but neither are they nomads. They live in several places at once – in the strange and paradoxical state of present absence. In this way completely new relationships are created between proximity and distance – psychogeography has emancipated itself from topography. A glance at the map can no longer guarantee an adequate picture of true distances. Short distances – one need only look at the Strait of Gibraltar – are sometimes almost insurmountable. On the other hand, places situated very far apart may also be very close together, even overlapping. A melange of walls and transport connections, fantasies and flight, locations and non-locations, memories and amnesia – that is the contemporary social ‘geography’ of the European continent.

    In the end we are confronted with the question of how democracy can be shaped in a community populated increasingly by transient subjects. Everywhere nowadays we encounter people who, for quite differing reasons, do not have the opportunity for participation – perhaps because they feel, or want to continue to feel, that they are ‘holidaymakers’ or ‘guests’; or because, like many migrants, they are refused membership in a national community and therefore do not currently live in the place in which they would be able to exercise their civil rights. The status of full citizenship, invested with all its rights, is traditionally based on the status of being settled. In this sense, tourists and migrants are the centrifugal forces of society. It would, admittedly, be presumptuous to try to integrate these centrifugal forces in an age of globalisation. The task for the future is to develop ideas for a new form of democracy that allows for a participation on the move.

    Mark Terkessides is a psychologist and freelance author based in Cologne and Berlin. He is the author, with Tom Holert, of Fliehkraft. Gesellschaft in Bewegung – von Migranten und Touristen [Centrifugal Forces: Society on the Move – Of Migrants and Tourists] (Verlag Kiepenheuer und Witsch, Köln 2006).

    Translated by Charlotte Collins
    Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Fikrun wa Fann, September 2008

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