Integration debate

We are the new Germans

The association “Typisch Deutsch” isn’t split along the lines of Germans and immigrants.  Photo: © Typisch Deutsch e. V.The association “Typisch Deutsch” isn’t split along the lines of Germans and immigrants.  Photo: © Typisch Deutsch e. V.Their parents come from Turkey, Ghana or Korea and they are not fans of being labeled as people with “immigrant backgrounds”. The members of “Typisch Deutsch” (lit. typically German) prefer to be called “new Germans” and are out to redefine what it is to be German.

The original plan was just to make a video with people who all look different but who all feel like they are part of German society. The idea came from Sezen Tatlici from Berlin. She was tired of the ongoing debate about the “integration” of “people with immigrant backgrounds”. “I have been part of this country my whole life,” says the 28 year old with Turkish and Arab roots. She was born and raised here, studied economics and works for Bertelsmann, a quintessential German media company. For politicians she is a prime example of successful integration, but Tatlici cringes at the thought. She'd had enough of being considered one of those “people with an immigrant background” and decided to fight back.

Typically German

The logo of the association. Photo: © Typisch Deutsch e. V.For the video project, Tatlici gathered friends and family who are of the same mind: motivated young people whose parents are from Ghana, Turkey, Korea, Afghanistan and Germany. Each one of them looked into the camera and introduced themselves: “My name is Max Pöppel and I am a typical German. My name is Martin Huyn and I am a typical German. My name is Abdullah Ince and I am a typical German.” Joshua Lupemba: typical German. Bahar Naghavi: typical German. Sabrina Corsi: Typical German. Sezen Tatlici: typical German. The short film was then posted on Youtube and quickly went viral with overwhelmingly positive reactions that in turn inspired the filmmakers to found the association Typisch Deutsch.

That was at the beginning of 2011. In the months before that, a debate about the supposed lack of desire among immigrants to integrate had been occupying the public’s attention and the association wanted to combat this negative image. “We think a lot of things are going a lot better than they are portrayed,” says Sezen, who would prefer to see people build on the things they have in common. There is so little talk of those things. “The term ‘integration’ itself is incorrect,” she says, “because it refers to ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘They’ are outside and need to include themselves.”

New and old Germans

Group photo of the association.  Photo: © Typisch Deutsch e. V.The association isn’t split along the lines of Germans and immigrants. Rather, they see it as old and new Germans. New Germans include everyone with non-German ancestral roots but who consider Germany their home. If you live here, you belong. That is the basis of her work, says Tatlici. If you feel a part of it you will learn the language naturally and want to be an active part of society. She is convinced of that, as is Joshua Lupemba, deputy chair of the association. “Germany needs a culture of acceptance,” says the 25 year old whose parents come from Ghana. “That is the only thing that will create an atmosphere in which people will want to get involved in society.” Lupemba is a pastor in Schöneberg and has been doing workshops with a gospel choir at schools for years now. He is familiar with the mood in schoolyards: rejection, disappointment and negative images of being German. “We too have been hurt and disappointed,” he says, “but that does not mean all ‘old Germans’ are like that. We still say that we are all one.” Indeed, most of the 70 members of the association are old Germans – everyone needs to sit at the same table regardless of religion or background.

The members of Typisch Deutsch feel that the first step on the path to responsible social living is to show the positive sides of it while making the youth feel they really are a part of society. They too are German – new Germans. The members go to schools in tough Berlin neighborhoods where the proportion of kids with “immigrant backgrounds” is very high and they talk to the 15 and 16 year olds. “We don’t tell them that they have to take on responsibility,” says Tatlici. “They figure that out on their own. When you listen to them they open up and listen back.”

What are you?

New Germans: If you live here, you belong.  Photo: kudryashka © 123RFAs an icebreaker, Typisch Deutsch members talk to the students about their image of Germany, which range from positive to negative, and from grateful to disappointed. Sentences like these are not uncommon: “They don’t want us”. Or, “My grandmother was here, and my parents after her. So why do people ask me why I speak such good German?” Or, “I am thankful because Germany gave me everything.” The question, “What are you?” is for many very simple: Turk, Russian, Albanian are the answers, and without hesitation. Berlin? Yes, so aren’t you new German? New German? The members of the association talk with them about society and about who is part of it. Games help shift the focus to the students themselves. Tatlici and Lupemba are consistently amazed how positively the kids react. “Most of them thank us for listening to them,” says Tatlici.

The new Germans have also been invited to podium discussions and lectures. “Politicians are saying we have introduced a new paradigm,” says Sezen Tatlici. But the Typisch Deutsch folks like to keep it simple. “We communicate positivity, and that opens the door to change.”

Katja Hanke
is a freelance journalist in Berlin.

Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
July 2013

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