Intercultural Love

Love between two Cultures

Copyright: ColourboxCopyright: ColourboxThe Germans are mobile, travel round the world, in their jobs, on holiday. And quite often they then meet their partner for life. Almost two and a half million couples, of whom only one or neither of the partners has German nationality, live in Germany.

Bi- and multi-national couples live with, sometimes also between two cultures. Hiltrud Stöcker-Zafari, deputy chairwoman of the Association of Bi-National Families and Partnerships (iaf), knows the typical lines of conflict: "There are often differences of opinion on the subjects of family, money and upbringing. The concept of family may be understood differently, for example there might be differences about who belongs to the family or also about the extent to which members of the family should or must be supported financially."

But the mixture of cultures has, above all, positive aspects. " Couples often see this as an enormous expansion of their horizons, granting them direct insights into the everyday life of other countries, into the family life of another culture, they are more curious and interested when encountering people from foreign countries. The partnership offers chances of checking one’s own attitudes and opinions and opens up a whole vista of behavioural possibilities," says Stöcker-Zafari

Citation Heimat: Ipek and Domna, MP3, 1:07 min.
Citation Kulturmix: Kai, MP3, 0:27 min.
Citation Kulturmix: Peter, MP3, 1:02 min.
Citation Sprache: Lars, MP3, 0:22 min.
Citation Zuhause: Linda and Lars, MP3, 1:24 min.

"You become more tolerant and more open"

Copyright: Colourbox Peter Böhm from Austria and the Greek Domna Xanthopoulou can only confirm this. "I get to know the culture from another perspective, not just as a tourist but in everyday life. And I still find that very exciting," says the psychologist, who has been married to Domna since 2006 and lives with her in Munich. "You learn a lot from the other person, you become more tolerant and more open, and that’s something very special." adds Domna. For Kai Blask the marriage to his wife Ipek, whose family originates from Turkey, means that the number of his family members has grown "from four to forty".

Unlike Domna and Ipek, Linda Galetzki was not born in Germany, nor did she grow up here. She came from Australia to Germany on the exchange programme AIESEC, and it was in Hamburg that she got to know her husband Lars. Her marriage is "tri-national" for Lars is already a mixture: his mother is Finnish. "I think this is great," says Linda. "She understands if I’m homesick or if I have the feeling that some things are just better at home." But just like Domna and Ipek, who have meanwhile taken German nationality, Linda feels very at home in Germany. Ipek even feels German. At least in Germany. "In Turkey that changes, I speak Turkish and it’s as if I were always there." In this respect Domna thinks differently: "Germany is my home, I’m fully integrated here, but I feel absolutely Greek. I’m a Greek who lives in Germany."

Domna and Peter can’t imagine living in Greece – perhaps, though, in Austria. Nevertheless, Peter is learning Greek so that he can talk to his relatives and to the people there – and, above all, so that later he can understand his son Andreas, who is to grow up bilingually. Liam, the son of Linda and Lars, is also learning two languages, English and German. The three of them have no plans to move at present, but they could imagine living in Australia or Scandinavia. Ipek and Kai feel much the same. They are not planning to live in Turkey now, but it is not excluded as a future possibility. For all eventualities Kai is already learning Turkish.

A lot of red tape

Copyright: ColourboxEuropeans such as Domna and Peter can live and work in the European Union wherever they want. Linda, however, needed a residence permit at first. Documents always play a major role, bi- or even multi-national weddings often involve an enormous amount of bureaucracy. Particularly if a partner comes from a country that requires a visa and, above all, from one of the so-called "problem countries", as Stöcker-Zafari says. These include, for example, the countries of West Africa or South-East Asia. "It happens with ever greater frequency that the authorities question the validity of certificates or documents and the sincerity of the relationship."

If the couples have decided on a German-foreign marriage, then alongside German law, the national law of the non-German partner also has to be considered so that the marriage is legally valid in the respective home country. The registry office checks whether the engaged couple are allowed to marry according to the laws of their respective countries. To register for marriage Germans then need a valid I.D. or proof of nationality, a birth certificate and confirmation of registration. In case of a previous marriage the divorce papers must be presented. Foreign fiancé(e)s also need a birth certificate / certificate of parentage, a passport and furthermore - if such a document exists in their country’s legal system – a certificate of no impediment.

Meanwhile many foreign documents have to be not only translated but also certified by the interior authorities of the issuing country and by the German representative authorities abroad (embassies, consulates). In some countries (for example India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo) the German embassies demand additional papers to authenticate the documents or they engage a so-called confidential lawyer whose investigations have to be paid for by the bi-national couples. This can take up to one and a half years. Sometimes the checking of the documents is also accompanied by a personal interrogation. Further information can be obtained from the Association of Bi-National Families and Partnerships (iaf).

Six per cent of all couples living in Germany are bi-national; if one adds to this the couples where both partners are foreigners, the number actually rises to twelve per cent. Altogether there are about 1.3 million foreign-foreign couples and about the same number of German-foreign couples. Most of them are married. According to the micro-census of 2005 by the Federal Office for Statistics, German men married mainly women from Poland, the Russian Federation and Turkey, whereas German women married, above all, Turks, Italians and Austrians.
Nicola Jacobi,
free-lance journalist in Munich

Translation: Heather Moers
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion

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December 2007

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