Stories of migration

DOMiD – Documentation Centre and Museum of Migration in Germany e.V.

Demonstration; Copyright: Napoleon Geotitsas/DOMiD-Archiv KölnDemonstration; Copyright: Napoleon Geotitsas/DOMiD-Archiv KölnCollect, preserve and exhibit, in order to tell people about the history of migration in Germany – that is the aim of the Cologne-based charity.

Migrants were part of Germany's history and culture long before it defined itself politically as a country of immigration. Yet, so far little attention has been dedicated to the history of migration in its national and regional museums.

The Documentation Centre and Museum of Migration in Germany (DOMiD) aims to change this. The documentation centre was founded in 1990 as the Documentation Centre and Museum of Migration from Turkey (DOMiT) by migrants themselves at a time when it was becoming clear that many of the so-called 'Gastarbeiter' ('guest workers') recruited after the war in Germany would not be returning to their countries of origin. The Gesetz zur Förderung der Rückkehrbereitschaft von Ausländern (Law on the Promotion of the Repatriation of Foreigners) ratified in 1983 did nothing to change this either. "We wanted to document their history, for it is Germany's history", says Aytaç Eryilmaz, founding member and Director of the organisation. "Until now the portrayal of the history of migration in German museums and school books has been one-sided and hasn't told the whole story. It only tells German history, not the history of Germany."

The basis for a museum on the history of migration in Germany

Exhibition `Fremde Heimat – Xaban, Silan olur´ (1998); Copyright: DOMiD-Archiv Köln In order to change this, the Cologne-based DOMiD organises seminars and meetings, and initiates research projects. However, its main activity is collecting materials on migration to use for a museum on the history of migration in Germany. These include objects from every-day life, specialist publications and historical documents, posters, audio and visual images. The special library alone has more than 12,000 titles ranging from academic materials to grey literature. As a result, portable radios, televisions and pieces of furniture are piling up in the modest premises not far from Chlodwig Square. Over the years a unique and constantly growing treasure trove of social history has emerged, although it is still waiting to be archived and indexed because of a lack of funds.

At first the collection activities of DOMiD were not aimed at the labour migration of the Turks, but – as the original name of the documentation centre says – from Turkey. In order to be able to assemble the various different ethnic groups from Turkey gathered at DoMiT under one roof, the association committed itself to religious, political and ideological neutrality right from the beginning. Apart from the regular contributions from its members (currently 45), the documentation centre still has to get by without any significant continuous funding and supports itself primarily via small donations, lending charges and project funds. The only currency DOMiD receives from the political sphere is praise. But an even bigger source of capital for the centre is the trust that the owners of the items in the collection have in it. Anyone who has ever tried parting from household items or clearing out a box of photos will be able to understand how hard it is for the donors to let go of things that have accompanied them their whole lives. In particular older migrants find it hard to imagine entrusting their keepsakes to a majority society which discriminated against them for years. However, with DOMiD they feel their mementos are in safe hands.

Broadening the scope of the collection

Exhibition `Fremde Heimat – Xaban, Silan olur´ (1998); Copyright: DOMiD-Archiv KölnThe Artistic Director of the Bundeskulturstiftung (Federal Culture Foundation) was also aware of this when she convinced DOMiD to join the “Migration Project” in 2002. DOMiD had already made a name for itself, especially thanks to the exhibition Fremde Heimat - Yaban, Silan olur. Eine Geschichte der Einwanderung aus der Türkei ('Stranger at Home - Yaban, Silan olur. A history of immigration from Turkey'), which it put together in 1998 together with the Essen Ruhrland Museum. The preparation of the transdisciplinary Migration Project exhibition, which was on show in Cologne in 2005/2006 in several locations, represented a turning point for the documentation centre because it became apparent that it was necessary to broaden the scope of the collection.

Miner; Copyright: Sammlung Tsakmaki/DOMiD-Archiv Köln Today, the archives, which are open to any members of the public interested, not only contain materials on labour migration from Turkey, but documents from Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, the ex-Yugoslavia, Morocco, Tunisia, South Korea, Vietnam, Mozambique and Angola as well. This new direction is also reflected in the Migration Museum in Germany, an association founded in 2003 together with DOMiT but nevertheless independent, which wanted to reach a broader public by involving other ethnic groups. In 2007 DOMiT then merged with the Migration Museum association to become DOMiD. The goal, however, remains the same: to collect, preserve, and exhibit in order to tell people about the history of migration in Germany. It cannot be written, Aytaç Eryilmaz emphasizes, without the involvement and the perspective of the migrants. The next step, he says, would be to give this history a home "where Germany can finally get to know itself as an immigration country."

Andrej Klahn
is editor of the cultural magazine “K.WEST – Das Feuilleton für NRW” (K.WEST – the Cultural Magazine for North-Rhine-Westphalia).

Translation: Marsalie Turner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion

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January 2008

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