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  • Turkish Germans in the Federal Republic of Germany
  • Immigration, Space, and Belonging, 1961–1990
  • Online publication date: October 2018
  • pp 193-226


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6 Belonging in Reunified Germany

For Bilge Yılmaz, the fall of the Berlin Wall was nothing short of momentous. A resident of Wedding since her parents brought her to West Germany at the age of eight, the then twenty-four-year-old woman had grown up with the Wall’s presence and implications in her daily life, and she felt its destruction keenly. Yılmaz and her family followed the events on the television news, but that was not enough. “At the time, we had visitors from West Germany, from Stuttgart,” Yılmaz recalled. “We went with them [to the Wall] and there was a ton of people on the street, on either side.… We tried, too, to break down that battered wall. We still have pictures of it, that was really so wonderful, it was a pure experience.”1

Yet what started as the “wonderful” event of a divided country becoming whole, Yılmaz related, soon turned sour as first her employer and then her husband’s left Berlin for more financially attractive locations elsewhere. As manufacturing jobs emigrated from the area, the neighborhood suffered. “The people suddenly didn’t have work,” Yılmaz explained, “if no more work, then no more money.” Local businesses started to shut down. At this point in her narrative, German reunification becomes European unification, bringing with it the euro and higher prices. The “economic hardship” of reunified Germany became more than many families in the neighborhood could handle.2 The Wall had fallen, but the financial and social challenges facing residents in Sprengelkiez had only intensified.

The worsening economic situation throughout Germany in the early post-reunification years opened a space for right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis to blame the country’s financial woes, and especially its high unemployment rates, on nonethnic Germans. Whether they were recently arrived asylum seekers or second-generation youth who had lived their whole lives in Germany, so-called foreigners became a target of political rhetoric and, on several tragic occasions, physical violence. In 1991, a mob attacked a hostel in Hoyerswerda that housed Mozambican laborers, part of a larger series of attacks against asylum seekers and former contract workers in the East. In 1992, hundreds of rioters converged on a housing complex for asylum seekers in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, throwing Molotov cocktails and clashing with police. That same year, three Turkish residents of Mölln were killed in a firebombing of their home. The violence continued into the following year: four skinheads set fire to a house in Solingen belonging to a Turkish family. Two women and three young girls died, and fourteen other family members were injured. While the Solingen attack in particular galvanized hundreds of thousands to denounce far-right radicalism and march in support of multiculturalism, it was clear that the struggles of the newly reunified German state were not limited to ethnic Germans.

Although the connection is often lost in discussions of German reunification, the Wall separating the two Germanys played a significant role in the lives of Turkish immigrants and their children. Each major stage of the Wall’s existence had ramifications for the Turkish-German community. Its construction prompted the sharpening of the labor crisis that brought Turkish Gastarbeiter to the country, and to West Berlin in particular. Its presence defined district boundaries and, at least in part, neighborhood character. Finally, its physical removal changed both the political makeup and economic conditions of the reunified state, weakening the foundation on which the Turkish-German community had begun to construct its belonging.

Recently, scholars have begun to widen their research into the effects of German reunification to include the impact on the country’s ethnic minority communities. At the forefront of scholarship into the effects on the Turkish-German population is social scientist Nevim Çil. Focusing on generation, Çil demonstrates the close ties between identity and belonging and brings out new perspectives on the meanings of Mauerfall (fall of the Berlin Wall) and reunification.3 The first generation, she argues, experienced reunification as a disappointment, as their economic contributions to Germany were ignored and their own employment positions were lost. Although the second generation as a body experienced reunification as a social collapse rather than an economic one, their reactions differed depending on their age at the time of Mauerfall. The older youth, who had generally worked hard to incorporate themselves into German society and succeed economically, grew disillusioned as belonging in the unified German state took on an increasingly ethnically based bent. For those in their preteens during reunification, the process constituted a moment of self-awareness in which they came to realize their place at the margins of German society. Thus, for those in the second generation, Çil argues, “Turk” became a synonym for “outsider,” an identifier of one’s position in a minority group.4

If Çil is correct and the fall of the Wall and German reunification left members of the Turkish community feeling pushed farther toward the margins of German society, how did that development unfold in their daily lives? How were the spaces in their everyday landscapes affected by the events of 1989 and 1990? Did all their spaces of belonging deteriorate due to reunification, or were there ways in which the Turkish-German community became more settled in post-1989 Germany?

This chapter provides an overview of those spaces of belonging during the years following reunification, tracing the lines of continuity and highlighting new developments both within Sprengelkiez and in Berlin more broadly. A look at the Turkish-German community throughout the 1990s and beyond reveals a diversification of its experiences, which had significant consequences for members’ sense of belonging. As with broader German society, the consequences of reunification accentuated many of the challenges already facing Berlin’s Turkish-German community, such as the unstable job market and the continuing pressure on schools. Yet reunified Berlin also witnessed a growing level of interest from many corners in seeking answers to persistent issues through cross-cultural dialogue and action. Despite the very real challenges to Turkish-German belonging posed in the reunification environment and the accompanying disillusionment, the Turkish-German community managed to solidify its foundations within and identification with Berlin and make key entrées into German society.

Working Hard, Hardly Working

As discussed in Chapter 1, an economic downturn in the 1980s followed by the upheaval caused by reunification resulted in a significant destabilization of the workplace for many first-generation Turkish immigrants. Although ethnic Germans also suffered job losses and workplace instability, the situation was especially acute for non-German workers. Turkish workers, in particular, suffered. Throughout the country, the Turkish unemployment rate rose from 10 percent in 1990 to 24.8 percent only five years later. In comparison, the general unemployment rate in 1995 was 10.8 percent and 16.6 percent for all Ausländer.5 In Berlin alone, the unemployment rate by the mid-1990s had reached 16.4 percent for native Germans and almost 27 percent for workers with an immigrant background.6 For some Turkish workers, their move into the ranks of the unemployed was the result of their jobs emigrating out of the city, as was the case with Yılmaz and her husband. Others, however, pointed the finger of blame at the newly arrived former East Germans. One disaffected young man told a reporter, “I’ve lived here for nineteen years. But when I try to find work, I find nothing. Employers look at [people from the former East] and think, ‘I can pay them a little less, and besides that, they’re my countrymen. Why should I leave them in a bind?’”7 Whatever the direct cause, those who had originally come to Germany in order to work found that goal seriously challenged in the years following reunification.

Yet, even as a stable workplace became increasingly elusive, a growing number of immigrants sought stability and independence by opening businesses of their own. In 1981, only 4.7 percent of all Ausländer in West Germany owned their own business. By the time the Wall fell, that number had increased to just over 7 percent. By 1995, 8.5 percent of all Ausländer in the “old” Bundesländer (federal states) were self-employed.8 In the mid-1990s, Turks represented the second largest group of non-German business owners, coming in behind Italians. The statistics for Berlin are particularly notable and reflect in part the active engagement of Commissioner for Foreigners Barbara John in the decision of the Berliner Senate in the wake of reunification to offer advisory support and start-up capital for aspiring business owners. Between 1991 and 1994, the overall number of self-employed nonethnic Germans rose approximately 53 percent, with very similar gains (in terms of percentage, not real numbers) among men and women.9

According to a 1997 study of Turkish-owned businesses in Berlin by Hedwig Rudolph and Felicitas Hillmann, the majority of entrepreneurs did not open businesses as a way to escape unemployment. Similar to Blaschke and Ersöz’s study ten years prior, Rudolph and Hillmann found that most based their reasoning on either the desire to be their own employer or to create an alternative to factory work. In addition, the vast majority relied on family both for financing of the business and for labor.10 Initially, most of these new businesses were in the food services industry, as immigrant entrepreneurs flocked to this sector in numbers relatively high compared to their German counterparts. In 1992, one-quarter of all immigrant-owned businesses in the country were in the food services industry, compared to 6 percent of German-owned companies. For Berlin, one-third of all new businesses opened by immigrants were in this sector – and 36 percent of those were Turkish. Of the 1,129 Turkish-owned food service businesses in Berlin in the mid-1990s, the three most common were Imbisse (fast-food counters) with 422, grocery stores with 204, and restaurants with 150.11

The presence and proliferation of Turkish-owned businesses began to change the way that Berliners, Germans, and foreigners (such as tourists) perceived and experienced the city. Berlin became known for its ubiquitous Turkish Imbisse, which served up Döner kebabs for the person on the go.12 By the mid-1990s, the Stehcafes that clustered near transportation hubs and around tourist destinations were as likely to offer Döner as they were currywurst, and, although tourists continued to flock to sites such as Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburger Gate, many now also headed to Kreuzberg – advised by their guidebooks – to see (and consume) “Little Istanbul.”13 In constructing new spaces to address their own financial and personal goals, Turkish and Turkish-German business owners had redefined parts of the city not just for the immigrant community or the local neighborhood but also internationally. And, in consequence, they created new spaces of economic opportunity for the city.

At the same time, the mid-1990s saw the beginning of a transition from first- to second-generation business ownership. The second generation, having grown up and been educated in Germany, was better equipped to deal with German bureaucracy as well as with diverse customers and suppliers. “It’s not a problem for me to think multiculturally,” a twenty-nine-year-old owner of a construction company with twenty employees told a reporter from the Berliner Morgenpost. The reporter noted that the naturalization rate among business owners was particularly high, as citizenship could smooth out bureaucratic tangles significantly.14 Hackett also notes the higher rates of citizenship among Turkish businesspeople in Bremen than the general population, and posits that “founding a business was often the result of both a desire to be economically independent and a feeling of loyalty to Germany.”15 Whereas in the Berlin case I have found little evidence of an abstract devotion to the Federal Republic as a motivating factor in starting a business, it is clear that immigrant-owned businesses reflected “integration and a commitment to their local surroundings.”16 Operating a business created spaces that anchored members of the Turkish-German community and re-created the urban landscape to reflect its changing social makeup.

A 2007 study carried out by researchers at the Fachhochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin offers a look at developments in immigrant-owned businesses into the decade following Rudolph and Hillmann’s study. Locating their study in Berlin-Mitte (comprising Wedding, Mitte, and Kreuzberg), the researchers sought to investigate the growth and composition of the “ethnic economy,” and identified three types of enterprises. The first, which constituted 25 percent of the 272 businesses in the study, employed family members and had a single-ethnicity customer base. The second (50 percent) included German customers as well, and the third (25 percent) had both German customers and employees.17 The average “ethnic” entrepreneur was a man between the ages of thirty-six and forty-five years old, who had earned a Gesellenbrief (certificate of apprenticeship). Proprietors of Turkish background constituted the bulk of business owners in the ethnic economy (173 out of 272). Similar to the findings of Rudolph and Hillmann’s study, an overwhelming majority were sole proprietors of their business and worked in the retail or food service industry.18 In addition, the Fachhochschule researchers found that some 30 percent of businesses in the ethnic economy were owned and operated by women.19 This is a significant difference from Rudolph and Hillmann’s study, which, ten years earlier, had located no women proprietors of Turkish-owned businesses in the food services sector.20 As the later study does not break down business ownership by type and ethnicity, it is not possible to tell the role Turkish-German women played in the ethnic economy. The difference between the two studies is, however, still remarkable and suggests a growing role of second-generation women in the city’s business leadership.

The spectrum of Turkish and Turkish-German experiences in the workplace after reunification is striking. At one end, first-generation (and, eventually, second-generation) workers were expelled from the labor market or failed to gain entry. At the other end, however, a stratum of the Turkish-German community created new spaces for themselves, their family members, and their employees to earn a living and participate in the city’s economic life. Through the space-making process, they rooted themselves more deeply in their local community, and they changed Berlin’s physical landscape and its national and international image. Such a wide range of experiences suggests that, for those who were part of the labor force in postreunification Germany, one’s sense of belonging may have become even more tied to one’s socioeconomic status than one’s ethnic identity or membership in a minority group.

Building Bridges, Guarding the Gates

Just as the post-1989 workplace was marked by bipolar experiences, so, too, were impressions of the home and neighborhood sites. In the years following reunification, Wedding (along with the rest of Berlin) saw the burgeoning of organizations, initiatives, and efforts directed toward improving its residents’ situations. Whereas they may have held this very general goal in common, the types of communal spaces that surfaced and their methods of dealing with perceived challenges varied widely and, in part, reflected the ongoing debates about both the definition and desirability of multiculturalism of the late 1980s and 1990s. Two types of local organizations in Berlin, and Sprengelkiez more specifically, took opposing courses of action to improve the lives of local residents: (1) those that advocated multiculturalism and cooperation to overcome social and economic problems and (2) those that sought protection and belonging through violence and ethnic separatism.

The Kommunales Forum Wedding (Community Forum of Wedding) is an example of a grassroots organization that has worked to improve living conditions in the neighborhood environment through civic engagement and support of local initiatives. Banding together in November 1988, partially as a consequence of local activism during the conflict over the Sanierung, the forum’s original members reflected the diversity of their neighborhood: university employees and the unemployed, clergy and renters’ advocates. The founders were initially motivated by the high levels of unemployment and poverty in their Kiez, and sought to involve local residents in combating such challenges through programs ranging from lunches for senior citizens to neighborhood beautification.21 As part of a diverse district, the forum also engaged in promoting cross-cultural understanding and cooperation. In this vein, it inaugurated a working group in 1999 called Interkulturelle Kommunikation in der Kommune (Intercultural Communication in the Municipality, IKK). The IKK was coordinated by a representative from the forum as well as one from Volkshochschule Wedding, and brought together interested local participants and various experts in a quarterly public forum where they discussed the challenges of multiculturalism and instituted projects aimed at furthering cross-cultural cooperation.22

The forum’s activities and orientation reflected a continued role of independent actors in the discussion and work of integration on the local level seen throughout the 1980s. At the same time, it demonstrates how such actors – from the Tenants’ Initiative (Chapter 3) and the VHS (Chapter 4) to the forum – considered integration as a part of improving local life that would benefit whole communities, not just foreigners. For the forum, perhaps even more than for the VHS, integration was not an end goal but rather a step along the way toward community well-being. The group’s efforts to improve the quality of life in Sprengelkiez earned them national recognition when they received the Living Democracy prize from Bundestag president Rita Süssmuth in 1998. In an article covering the event, the reporter noted that the organization continued its efforts to improve life in its Kiez, despite losing its office due to an inability to pay rent.23

Shortly after receiving the Living Democracy prize, the Kommunales Forum was formally joined in its efforts for neighborhood renewal by Berlin’s city government, as it followed suit with concerted, locally based efforts that identified the connections between economic conditions, neighborhood health, and integration. By the mid-1990s, it had become painfully clear that unemployment, poverty, and deteriorating infrastructure were affecting some neighborhoods at levels far exceeding those of others. In addition, the costs associated with reunification made city officials more amenable to tenement restoration and funding of local initiatives than they had been in previous decades.24 In response, the city government instituted a new program, called Quartiersmanagement (Neighborhood Management, QM), in hopes of finding solutions to these entrenched social and economic problems. The QM’s mandate reflected that of the Kommunales Forum: developing and supporting self-help projects through which local residents could improve their own situation.

As a “problem Kiez,” Sprengelkiez was one of the first to be “managed,” and the Sparrplatz QM and Kommunales Forum wasted little time in cooperating in their like-minded efforts.25 Residents, however, had mixed reactions to the new organization. Although some saw its opening as positive for the Kiez, others questioned its ability to enact real change.26 The more cynically minded wondered whether the new initiative was simply further political window dressing, intended to look as if the government was addressing local problems but more interested in advocating multiculturalism than dealing with economic issues.27 Whatever the locals’ opinions of them, the QM staff hit the ground running. Over the course of their first nine months in operation, they designed and carried out a survey among the residents with the intention of uncovering the neighborhood’s positive attributes and areas for improvement. While the majority of respondents replied that they felt at home in their Kiez, both German and non-German residents expressed the desire for more cross-cultural contact with their neighbors, and generally blamed non-Germans for the lack of contact.28 One concrete way the QM sought to address residents’ wish for more interaction with their neighbors was through the opening of a neighborhood center on Sprengelstrasse in 2001. The SprengelHaus, as it later came to be called, began as a 131-square-meter meeting space and event center for Sprengelkiez, but in the intervening years it has grown both in size (now 930 square meters) and scope, hosting a variety of local clubs, classes, events, and forums. This expansion suggests a continued and growing relevance of SprengelHaus’s purpose and locals’ desire to create spaces of exchange and communal assistance and action.29

By the end of the 1990s, many of the initiatives put forth to encourage cross-cultural connections had come to focus on religion. Although contention over religious instruction in the schools, the proliferation of mosques, and the increasing visibility of practicing Muslims made religious differences a flashpoint, advocates of multiculturalism believed they were also an opportunity. Local actors began to create spaces of interreligious dialogue that were designed to foster a multiculturalism that emphasized cross-cultural communication and understanding. Religion, or rather, discussion about religion, became a purposeful multicultural space. Alongside the intercultural communication effort hosted by the Kommunales Forum and the Volkshochschule, the QM in Soldinarstrasse partnered with a Tiergarten association to initiate a similar interreligious dialogue. The meetings, which began in November 1999 and took place at the Wedding Volkshochschule, brought together participants interested in learning more about the different religions represented in their district. At its second meeting, the group discussed abstract theological issues, as well as what different religions had to say about the problems faced by their neighborhoods. In addition, participants suggested communal religious holiday celebrations as a way to forge interreligious ties. The next meeting was scheduled to take place the following month at the Islamic Cultural Center on Lindowerstrasse, the first step in a plan to visit local places of worship. The meeting closed with a prayer – in German and Turkish – “for unity.”30

Spaces of interreligious dialogue extended beyond working groups and institutes of higher learning. Local activists initiated less formal programs that reached into the daily lives of residents. Bilge Yılmaz, a community-minded person with children, initiated a project with coworkers at the Ostergemeinde’s kindergarten to bring interreligious understanding to some of the youngest members of the Kiez. Beginning in 2003, Yılmaz and her colleagues – another Turkish German and two Germans – introduced an element of religious education into the children’s day once each week. They would celebrate various festivals together, talk about how their families observed religious holidays, and tell stories that the different religions held in common.31 Although Yılmaz felt the children enjoyed and benefited from their efforts, after four years she and her colleagues decided to stop the program. Yılmaz blamed the contemporary political climate for the lack of similar programs in the neighborhood and continued her activism through participation in other local multicultural initiatives.32 The focus in these interreligious dialogues, whether between local lay and religious officials or amid a kindergarten class, on finding points of commonality and respecting differences demonstrates a continuity from discussions in the 1980s about multiculturalism as a new way to conceive of German identity.33 Although these discussions may have been muted in the wake of reunification and the consequent “patriotic shift” back toward a homogeneous German identity, some local actors energetically and deliberately carved out spaces of cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation they hoped would nourish a growing multicultural society.

Efforts to expand spaces of belonging for those with an immigrant background were also under way at the federal level, most visibly present in the heated debate in the late 1990s over reforming Germany’s citizenship law. Up to this point, immigrants and their children had found it almost insurmountably difficult to obtain citizenship, which since 1913 had been based on ethnic descent (jus sanguinis). In order to be naturalized, aspiring citizens had to prove a range of economic, political, and cultural qualifications, pay up to DM 5,000 in application fees, and overcome “the ultimate hurdle of bureaucratic discretion” from the civil servant reviewing their case.34 The SPD-Green coalition government under the leadership of Gerhard Schröder led the push for reform, and, after almost two years of intense debate and political struggle, the new citizenship law was enacted – one which officially extended the definition of German identity by adding the option of citizenship based on birth (jus soli). This expanded definition of political belonging, however, included specific constraints – one parent had to have lived in the Federal Republic for a minimum of eight years and held a certain residency status for at least three years. In addition, children whose parents met those requirements had to also officially choose German citizenship by the time they reached the age of twenty-three or their citizenship would expire.35

Reactions from the Turkish-German community reflected its diversity of backgrounds and experiences. Some approached the issue of German citizenship from a practical angle, seeing value in the expanded political rights and responsibilities and the excising of an extra layer of bureaucracy from their lives and businesses. Entrepreneurs, for example, sought naturalization more often than was the case more broadly in the Turkish-German community. For others, though, the symbolism of being a German citizen motivated their decision. As we saw in the Introduction, when a German historian asked Eren Keskin about German citizenship in the early 1990s before the reform made the prospect more feasible, his response did not speak to the difficulties involved in the process but rather to citizenship’s value in his everyday life. “We have black heads,” he answered, “and everyone knows we are not Germans.”36 When I asked Engin Günükutlu, the representative of Wedding’s Office for District Social Development, whether he had German citizenship, he simply smiled, shook his head, and said he was a Turk. He gave his answer like a simple statement of fact. Although he had lived and worked in Berlin for decades, loved the city, spoke excellent German, and married a German woman, Günükutlu felt that his Turkish identity precluded exchanging his Turkish nationality for a German one.37 Günükutlu had constructed a belonging for himself that did not require (and even did not have room for) a change in passports.

At the same time that the Kommunales Forum and residents such as Bilge Yılmaz were trying to improve local conditions through intercultural cooperation, and politicians in the Bundestag were pushing for (and against) an expanded political definition of “Germanness,” a different group of people pursued the solution to their problems down another track altogether. Angered by experiences of prejudice and alienated by feelings of foreignness, some young men sought to create spaces of belonging and empowerment through participation in street gangs. Turkish street gangs began in the 1970s, developing out of networks and friendships in the neighborhood and at school and prompted in part by the desire of young Turkish men to protect themselves and their communities from skinheads. In addition to this early motivation, the spaces of belonging to Turkish-German youth created within the context of gangs were strongly rooted in local sites, and, before the fall of the Wall, members focused on defining themselves against other immigrant-background street gangs.38 In the 1980s, fights between gangs from different districts – such as Wedding’s Black Panthers and Kreuzberg’s 36 Boys – could be frequent and violent.39 Members also exerted their belonging and authority in their districts by congregating together at neighborhood events or popular local businesses, such as street festivals and movie theaters.40

The fall of the Berlin Wall had ramifications that contributed to young men’s motives for joining gangs and opened up opportunities for members to expand their activities and influence. The loss of jobs, the difficulties in obtaining apprenticeships, and the high rates of unemployment suffered by the Turkish-German community created a bleak prospect for economic security and success among the second generation in the 1990s. At the same time, consumption played an increasingly important role in their identity and self-presentation. “We came from a generation that was really influenced by the television,” one former member of Moabit’s Bulldogs related during a group interview in 2005.41 Achieving a certain style and “self-presentation,” in the words of the former gang members, however, required money, which they pursued through extortion and drug dealing. “It was obviously about the money,” another Bulldog remarked.42 With funds from these illicit activities, gang members could purchase the consumer goods they wanted, and that made them look the part. Unimpressed with the grocery stores and Döner stands of their fathers and put off by the social stigma of living off the system, these young men fought for a lifestyle they were either unwilling or unable to achieve otherwise.43

In addition, when the Wall disappeared so, too, did the boundary that separated Turkish street gangs in the western districts from skinheads and neo-Nazis in the East. Yet it is important to note that burgeoning white supremacy activities encouraged by the one hundredth birthday of Adolf Hitler and an election that brought the Republikaner party into the Berlin House of Representatives enflamed the situation even before the fall of the Wall.44 Whereas Wedding itself remained fairly quiet during this time (one researcher credits the approximately five hundred members of the Streetfighter gang with keeping the peace), other parts of the city erupted in violence.45 At a demonstration held to mourn the death of Ufuk Sahin, a man stabbed to death by a German racist on May 1, 1989, neo-Nazis gave the nearly seven thousand participants the Hitler salute before attacking the demonstrators. A group of Turkish gang members emerged from the crowd, and a violent battle between the two sides ensued as police tried to protect the crowd and stop the fighters. Such incidents shortly before the fall of the Wall, together with the increasing number and violence of racist attacks such as those in Rostock and Mölln (1992) and Solingen (1993), sharpened an atmosphere of fear and anxiety among Turkish-German communities, even when members had not personally experienced hostility.46

Turkish-German street gangs in Berlin sought to protect their neighborhoods and exert their dominance by actively seeking out potential threats. In the group interview with the former Bulldogs members, one man recounted that there were “three hundred youth gangs [in the East] that hated us.” The fall of the Wall refocused their purpose (or target); it was not about heading over to Kreuzberg to beat up “some Ahmet,” one of the men explained. He and his associates would drive into East Berlin and the surrounding communities, looking for Germans who “hated foreigners.”47 In 1990, one Spiegel article reported the police estimated the number of “armed youth” in West Berlin at around four thousand.48 For the Turkish gangs in these western districts, skinheads and neo-Nazis remained the primary enemy. As time passed, however, territorialism assumed a greater role, and gangs again turned their attention to conflicts between neighborhoods and districts.49 The city attempted to deal with the increase in gang activity through a combination of law enforcement, social workers, and mediated discussions between different gangs.50

Young Turkish and Turkish-German men connected with Berlin gangs saw the several benefits to their involvement. First and foremost, young men felt gangs provided them with a sense of belonging, both to the people in the group and also to a particular place. Within the spaces of belonging created within the context of the gang, participants fulfilled specific roles – drug dealing, theft, break dancing, graffiti, and so forth – that contributed to the group’s identity and success. Through the gang’s collective identity, individual members crafted their own “self-presentation” and achieved “self-confidence.”51 In addition to belonging to a network, gang members belonged to and exerted authority over a place. Turkish-German gangs were, as already noted, strongly territorial. As one 36-er told a journalist in 1990, “We say it like this: Kreuzberg belongs to us. We are in charge here. What we say, goes.”52

The second part of the young man’s statement illuminates another advantage of gang membership: power. In an environment of high unemployment, visibly escalating hostility to perceived foreigners, and loss of social standing due to reunification, gangs offered spaces through which young men (and some young women) could step out of the role of victim and fight back. And fight they did. “Violence was like breakfast,” a former Bulldog explained. Participating in violence proved the young men’s masculinity and enhanced their reputation, a connection members made bluntly and repeatedly during the interview.53 It was also an integral part of drug dealing and extortion, activities that brought gang members the money they wanted to craft and maintain their image. Similar to the other community-based organizations discussed earlier, gang members attempted to solve the socioeconomic challenges they were facing, but through the medium of ethnic separatism and violence. They rejected both the calls for intercultural cooperation to build a multicultural society and demands to conform to a homogenizing German identity, choosing to eschew national belonging in favor of a self-awareness built on shared ethnic background and highly localized identity.

Multiculturalism in the Classroom

The two decades following reunification saw the continuation of challenges to education in a multiethnic context that had begun to surface in the 1970s and 1980s. On one hand, school administrators and teachers were still trying to deal with high percentages of students for whom German was not their first language. Particularly in working-class neighborhoods where immigrant communities tended to settle, educators faced the pedagogical challenge of teaching lessons to students with, at times, vastly different German language skills. Maja Herbert, a teacher of forty years, began working at a primary school in Sprengelkiez in 1990. The number of children per teacher at the school, she said, made effective teaching especially challenging. In one class, Herbert told a researcher, there were twenty-four Turkish students and one German teacher. They simply could not understand each other. “It’s madness,” she said with a laugh. Herbert insisted that the school needed more space for classes, more teachers, and more money. We are a rich country, she explained, but we skimp when it comes to our children.54

Ute Schmidt, a preschool teacher at a local primary school in the 1980s and 1990s, saw what she considered a lack of funding for and attention to teacher preparation as well. Schmidt recalled how she and her colleagues received very little, if any, special training regarding teaching in a multiethnic classroom. Sometime after reunification, however, the city senate began to take a more direct leadership role in the educational spaces created to equip teachers for the challenges posed by diverse student populations, including providing a German-as-a-second-language course for a number of Berlin teachers at a school of education. “The Senate was pretty clever,” Schmidt remarked wryly, “they gave us a certificate, but not so that they would have to pay us any better.”55 Although the city would open more spaces for teacher education in the 1990s, the majority of instructors continued to rely on experience, rather than formal training, to deal with the unique challenges presented by diverse classrooms. In addition, even as these top-down spaces slowly grew, some of the more grassroots programs began to wane. For example, the bilingual education programs that grew out of the less hierarchical collaborative spaces fostered by teachers such as Sabine Müller and Erol Kayman (Chapter 4) continued to shrink throughout the mid-1990s and early 2000s due to lack of administrative support and funding. By 2009, only five of the original sixty schools still offered bilingual classes.56

In a reunified Berlin, there were some teachers who did not have the sort of on-the-job training on which many of their colleagues relied: those from former East Berlin. East Berliners generally did not have much contact with foreigners, as the East German government had kept its contract laborers largely separate from the host society. As a result, when teachers from the former East obtained positions in western districts, such as Wedding, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln, they were confronted with new personal experiences and pedagogical challenges. Filiz Güler, who grew up in Wedding and now works there as a primary school teacher, remembers when East German teachers began working in her district. “Naturally, they hadn’t had any contact with foreign children,” Güler recounted, “and I still always hear, even though ten or more years have passed, that they can’t deal with them, or are really different.”57 In addition to the difficulties this could cause in the classroom, at times it also prompted tensions between the teachers themselves. Primary school teacher Sabine Müller noted the strained relations between colleagues at her own institution. “After German reunification many Turkish people experienced that they were again pushed to the back of the line,” Müller explained. “That was also for Turkish teachers; people came from Berlin, from [East Germany], that had no university degree, but despite that they took some courses, and immediately became public employees, and made the same money as those that had worked here for thirty years.”58

It was a combination of factors, then, that led to deteriorating conditions in a number of urban schools in the late 1990s. Even before the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) examinations were given and analyzed, many residents of Germany looked on the situation of their local schools and endeavored to send their children to schools outside their neighborhood, to schools with fewer perceived foreigners.59 Some used relatives’ addresses to get their children into more desirable schools; others opted to send their children to private or religious institutions. Whereas the majority of such parents were ethnic Germans, some Turkish parents followed suit and enrolled their children in schools with lower numbers of foreign students in hopes of improving their children’s language learning and educational opportunities.60

The release of the first PISA report in 2000 revealed a situation in German schools much worse than many had assumed. Almost a quarter of all fifteen-year-old students either could not read or could barely do so. Scores in math and science were similarly shocking. The lowest performing students were young men either from migrant backgrounds or from socially disadvantaged families. In addition, Germany had the largest gap between the highest and lowest levels of achievement of any of the thirty-two participating countries.61 The results sparked much debate over the ability of the German school system to address the needs of children with migrant backgrounds and concerns that it had failed to fulfill its role as their means of social advancement. Critics pointed out the high percentage of students with Turkish background who failed to graduate from secondary school (approximately half in 2002) or obtain an Ausbildungsplatz (apprenticeship training position) if they did graduate (around 40 percent). “Nowhere in Europe,” wrote one reporter, “are the abilities of students so far apart from one another, and in almost no country does the background of the children have so great an influence on educational achievement as here. This applies especially to the foreign problem children of the educational system.”62 The scores in the second PISA evaluation in 2003 rose somewhat, but the relative success rates of students with migrant backgrounds continued to concern education officials, teachers, and parents alike. In the years following reunification, the school continued to be imbued not only with the responsibility for equipping children with migrant backgrounds for the practical and cultural skills for success in Germany but also the blame when inconsistent training, funding, and expectations kept the target ill-defined and in motion.

Muslims and Islam in and beyond the Mosque

Religious spaces, in particular, expanded and changed shape after German reunification. As previously discussed, in the first decades of Turkish immigration to and settlement in West Germany, practicing Muslims utilized temporary sites or rented spaces they could use to fulfill their religious obligations. These spaces consisted of almost entirely preexisting sites in the local landscape, and, as the return home remained on the mental horizon of the first generation, they did not set out to construct purpose-built mosques to serve the needs of their religious community. However, by the 1990s, it had become clear that the Rückkehr was a receding dream, particularly for the second generation. Islamic organizations and mosque communities began to consider constructing “real” mosques in which they could perform their religious obligations.

This move from the courtyards to the street front has met with varying degrees of both resistance and support from Germans in the neighborhoods of the proposed renovation and construction projects as well as the public more broadly. The balance of opposition and support often determined the measure of success Muslim organizations would have in their construction projects. One of the earliest attempts to construct a purpose-built mosque started with the members of the Mevlana mosque, affiliated with the Islamic Federation of Berlin,63 and Millî Görüş, who had a history of conflict with secular and leftist Turks in the area that enhanced their sense of being persecuted for their religious beliefs by German society. In the late 1990s, this community began to take measures to construct a purpose-built mosque near their current location on Kottbusser Tor. The Mosque Foundation, a committee set up to facilitate the building of the mosque, met with roadblocks at each step in the process. First, they discovered that the land they purchased as the site for their mosque – a plot they had been attempting to buy for more than fourteen years – had been sold to them at twice its actual value. Rather than trying to hold the seller accountable, the Mosque Foundation sued the municipality, contending that they had changed the plot’s official designation in order to hinder the construction of the mosque.64 This was only the first in a series of missteps by the Mosque Foundation and miscommunications between that body and the municipality.

During the next several years, the Mosque Foundation developed and presented a number of plans for construction to the municipality as well as to its own members. The more modest plans, which called for renovation of the existing building and the addition of an extension, met with the municipality’s approval but were unpopular within the mosque community. This constituency wanted a larger building that reflected its use and the money invested. The Mosque Foundation responded with plans to demolish the existing structure and build a much larger mosque in its place, complete with an elaborate facade and minarets. These plans pleased the mosque community but were rejected by the municipality, which contended that they had not agreed on such a structure. Straining relations with the governing board still further was the Mosque Foundation’s intention to include a large shopping mall underneath the mosque that would help offset the costs of construction and maintenance. To this, the municipality responded that, whereas a religious and cultural center was appropriate, “a shopping mall belongs in a different department all together. It is against all existing regulations.”65 The Mosque Foundation responded to the city officials by publicly accusing the municipality of discriminating against Muslims. Money and media problems continued to trouble the Mosque Foundation, and the pressure applied to Millî Görüş after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, caused the Islamic Federation of Berlin to break its connection with that organization.66 The purpose-built mosque for the Mevlana mosque community never made it off the drawing board, and its members continue to worship in their original accommodations.

A look at a later example of disputed mosque construction throws into starker relief the elements of the debate surrounding the Turkish Muslim community’s move from invisibility to a public presence, providing a useful comparison to the earlier and relatively quieter situation in Berlin – the Central Mosque of Cologne (Figure 13).67 In spring of 2006, after ten years of plans, struggles, and compromise, DITIB received permission to build the first representative mosque in the city of Cologne – the largest in Germany.68 At more than one hundred thousand, Cologne has one of the largest Muslim populations in the country but had no large, central mosque. Instead, in the tradition of Muslim communities in Germany, there were around forty-five smaller mosques, reflecting various ethnic backgrounds and sectarian orientations.69 The mosque would be located in Cologne-Ehrenfeld, a district with a high percentage of Turkish residents. Reviewing the entries of their competition for the contract, DITIB chose the plans of German church architects Gottfried and Paul Böhm. Endeavoring to blend traditional Islamic architectural forms with modern style, the Böhms designed a building with a large central dome, constructed with nonconjoined pieces to give the impression of transparency and openness, flanked by two minarets.70 Glass walls reinforced DITIB’s efforts to communicate the mosque’s – and the community’s – transparency, and the size of the mosque was calculated to avoid overshadowing its neighboring buildings.71 Receiving the city’s approval for their plans, DITIB set out to construct the city’s first representative mosque.

Figure 13. Central Mosque, Cologne

City government approval, however, did not equal universal acceptance. A coalition of city residents, calling themselves “pro Köln” (Pro-Cologne), formed in opposition to the mosque’s construction and proceeded to agitate against the project, allying themselves with extreme-right political parties from across Europe, such as the Austrian Freedom Party and Belgian’s Vlams Belaag. Yet it was the condemnation of writer Ralph Giordano, a Jewish German and Holocaust survivor, that propelled Cologne’s local conflict into a countrywide controversy. Giordano entered the fray to protest the building of the mosque, which he describes in a 2005 article as evidence of a growing parallel society that oppresses women and refuses to bear the responsibilities of German society. The fact that it was to be a DITIB mosque – an organization that positions itself as dialogue friendly and pro-integration – only caused Giordano more concern. Although Germany’s legal and political values protect religious diversity, the writer argued, Turkey’s Ministry of Religious Affairs did not, and DITIB was an arm of that ministry.72 While the positions of Giordano and Pro-Cologne were similar, Giordano considered the group a “local chapter of contemporary National Socialists” and resisted their efforts to co-opt him or his statements with their own.73

Pro-Cologne’s demonstrations were matched by opposing protests from members of trade unions, political associations, and the general public, who argued that Muslims have the right to freedom of religion, which should include the construction of places of worship.74 When Pro-Cologne attempted to host an International Anti-Islamization Congress in September 2008, members from all levels of society demonstrated against the forum and the organization to such an extent that the event had to be canceled.75 Despite the heated controversy, construction on DITIB’s Central Mosque continued, and in February 2011 the organization celebrated its roofing ceremony.76

This clash over the construction of Cologne’s Central Mosque grew from its local origins to a countrywide controversy and ultimately became part of the broader international discourse on the place of Islam in Western societies. At the center of this debate is the distinction between making a place for oneself in society and remaking that society. For those who oppose its construction, the Cologne mosque and others like it constitute a symbol of Muslim difference and separatism. Whereas the existence of the courtyard mosques, and the Koranschulen they contained, represented the withdrawal and secrecy of the Muslim community, purpose-built mosques have, for many Germans, come to stand for a blatant rejection of German values and a refusal to integrate. More than that, they are evidence of what some have termed the “Islamization of Europe,” a foothold of Muslim infiltration into “Fortress Europe.”77 Through such media representations, political debates, and public demonstrations, the mosque has become a discursive space of separation, antagonism, and threat.

On the other side of this argument are those who contend that the move from private courtyards to public visibility reveals not a hostile separation from the host society but rather a deliberate effort to make a permanent place for oneself within it. In the words of DITIB member Kılıç Iqbal, purpose-built mosques, in this case the Cologne Central Mosque, “will show we are a part of society.”78 Returning to his study of mosques in Duisburg-Hochfeld, Ceylan finds that mosques improve the quality of life for their members as well as encourage them to identify more strongly with their neighborhood.79 In addition, by bringing Muslim centers of worship onto the street front in representative mosques, the broader public is able to have more direct experiences with Muslims and Islamic worship. This interaction, an imam from Duisburg-Hochfeld contends, acts as a deterrent to prejudice through a fuller understanding of Muslims’ beliefs and practices.80 On the side of the Muslim community, building a representative mosque can be a concrete demonstration of their desire to put down permanent roots in the host society. As Ömer Alan concludes, “Whoever builds mosques wants to stay.”81 Representative mosques can be and have been spaces that anchor their members in their local environment and encourage better understanding between the mosque community and the host society.

Ceylan’s position on mosques as integrative agents supports earlier research by geographer Thomas Schmitt. In his study on the conflicts surrounding the construction and use of mosques in Germany, Schmitt concludes that, in addition to acting as a visible representation of the Islamic community’s recognition in German society, the mosque has served as a bridge and facilitator between Muslims and non-Muslims. The building itself has provided the physical space for interactions between Turkish Muslims and Germans, and the mosque has also allowed Turkish immigrants and their children to communicate and work with other German associations as a united group. From the platform of the mosque, Turkish Muslims have entered into interreligious dialogue, given their input on neighborhood issues, and consulted with local groups regarding construction projects.82 This cooperation at an institutional level puts Turkish immigrants and their children on more equal footing with their German counterparts and has allowed Turkish Muslims to positively participate in German society as they work to make a space for themselves within it.

Cooperation between mosque communities and German associations has resulted in successful mosque construction projects that avoided the bulk of the controversy that plagued the more well-known examples. One of the earlier instances of such cooperation is Mannheim’s Yavuz Sultan Selim mosque (Figure 14).83 In 1984, the Islamischer Bund (Islamic Coalition) Mannheim started talking with city officials about the possibility of building a large mosque in the center of the city. During the next seven years, the Muslim group worked with local churches and the Office of Foreigner Affairs to garner support for their efforts. The Catholic priest of the church across the street from the proposed site organized an interfaith committee, the Christlich-Islamische Gesellschaft Mannheim (Christian-Islamic Association of Mannheim), that worked to calm the fears of local residents protesting against the building of the mosque. The collaborative effort paid off; in 1993 the city council gave its final approval, and two years later the mosque opened its doors. Similar to the construction of the Cologne Central Mosque, the Islamischer Bund chose a design for their mosque that reflected their commitment to openness and transparency, symbolized in the numerous small triangular windows that face the street front. Held up as an example for its contribution to social order and education, the mosque has offered classes for Germans to learn about Islam and operates an institute dedicated to interfaith cooperation and education.84

Figure 14. Yavuz Sultan Selim mosque, Mannheim

The 2008 construction of the Merkez Mosque in Duisburg-Marxloh is another example of the mosque as a space of interethnic and interreligious cooperation (Figure 15).85 With space for up to twelve hundred worshippers, the Duisburg mosque was, at the time, the largest in Germany, and yet it attracted none of the controversy associated with the Cologne Central Mosque. Officials from DITIB entered into dialogue with local leaders and organizations early in the planning stages and made compromises in its design that made it more welcome to members of the broader community, such as keeping the minaret to half the height of the nearby Catholic church’s spire. DITIB also decided from the start that the new mosque would not broadcast the call to prayer – a controversial tradition even in the best situations.86 Although the construction project was not without its detractors,87 many residents have developed a sense of civic pride concerning the local mosque, a feeling further encouraged by a corresponding rise in real estate prices.88

Figure 15. Merkez mosque, Duisburg-Marxloh

Apart from cooperation in construction projects, participation in local life also has brought the mosque and its community into German society. In Berlin-Wedding, Turkish and Turkish-German Muslims have hosted festivals aimed at creating shared space with the broader community within the mosque. Onur Korkmaz of the Yunus Emre mosque described such celebrations his mosque community has hosted in their courtyard: members prepare a wide variety of traditional Turkish foods and small gifts and invite their neighbors to join them for a meal. The goal is to start conversations, because when people talk with each other, Korkmaz explained, stereotypes break down. He insists that this is not only important for Germans but also for Turks, who have built a “capsule” around themselves and need to break out of it.89 Some attempts at interreligious community activities, however, have not been as successful as others. Mehmet Asker remembered an instance when his mosque invited a local church to participate in an iftar meal with them, but nobody from the church came. While he did not feel that the lack of attendance was due to any animosity, it was clear that Asker was disappointed by the absence of a positive response and did not mention his mosque having attempted a similar event since then.90 Despite such setbacks, both that effort at community involvement and other more successful attempts demonstrate the mosque’s potential both as a space of openness and cooperation as well as a means for Turkish immigrants and their children to become a part of German society by making a space for themselves within it.

Mosque construction, however, constituted only one facet of the broader debate. As the visibility of observant Muslims increased, religious spaces began to extend beyond the mosque and the workplace (in the form of prayer rooms) and into new sites in the everyday landscape. One of the places into which religious spaces expanded was the school. Initially, school officials paid relatively little attention to the religious backgrounds of their “foreign” students. In the 1990s, however, teachers and principals in Wedding started to note an increased observance among the children with Turkish background, a devotion marked by larger numbers of young women wearing a Kopftuch. Two principals of Wedding secondary schools recalled that one hardly ever saw the headscarf in the 1970s and 1980s; it was not until the mid- to late 1990s that they first showed up in their schools. Although neither principal suggested the headscarf itself was a problem, both were concerned that some of their Turkish students felt pressured – both by families and by other students – to wear the headscarf as well.91 Some administrators and teachers also used the headscarf as a measure of students’ integration, viewing those who wore it as “aggressive” about their religion, to use the word of a Sprengelkiez primary school principal.92 In addition, some Turkish-German students in secondary schools observed Ramadan, fasting during the course of the school day. Again, for one secondary school principal, the issue was not that students chose to fast but rather that some of those began to pressure others into fasting as well.93 Both the secondary school principals and the primary school principal tied the increased religious observance and the pressure to conform to the growth of the Turkish immigrant community and the continual influx of new members from Turkey.

Whereas some religious spaces in school developed organically as a result of the growing Turkish-German population, the introduction of another such space was deliberate and engineered. Concerns and anxieties about what was being transmitted to Turkish children in Koranschule prompted many to call for transfer of Islamic religious education from the mosques to public schools. The trend continued through the 1990s until it became nearly universal across the political spectrum following the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. At this point, however, Islamunterricht (Islam instruction) advocates were confronted with the practical obstacles of implementing such a course. No single Islamic umbrella organization could legitimately claim to represent all Muslims in Germany, thus German politicians and education officials faced the dilemma of which organization they should partner with. Another significant sticking point was the almost complete lack of properly trained instructors. In the words of one Spiegel reporter, “The states are searching for educators with a training that does not even exist.”94 Officials in some of the states, including Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, and Lower Saxony, attempted to find suitable instructors among those who already taught Turkish.95

The situation in Berlin, however, was unique. A 2001 court decision ended a two-decades-long struggle by the Islamic Federation of Berlin to teach Islamkundestunden (Islamic studies periods) in Berlin’s public schools. The organization brought a case to the city’s administrative court, and the court found in its favor, saying that the city’s school administration was required to provide classroom space for voluntary Islamkundestunden as part of the constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Yet, even though the case accomplished the spatial transition from the mosque to the school, it circumvented the intended purpose of the move. Because in Berlin religion courses are voluntary and their content is the responsibility of the religious community, school officials had no influence over what the courses would teach.96 The class itself may have transitioned to the public schools, but its control was still centered in the mosque. The court’s decision for the Islamic Federation proved particularly troubling to many involved because of the organization’s affiliation with Millî Görüş and its perceived hostility toward non-Muslims.97 Longtime Commissioner for Foreigner Affairs Barbara John was among those disappointed with the outcome, but she acknowledged to a reporter from The New York Times that the court’s decision was “the result of our own failure to come up with a different solution earlier.”98 The city’s lack of engagement in the overlapping religious and education spaces opened up a path for control of a significant part of those spaces in the hands of an organization viewed with distrust by many Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The struggle over the location and content of religious education in Berlin has been one part of the larger battle over the character of Islam in Germany. Even before the September 11 terrorist attacks, German politicians and the broader public anxiously watched what they feared to be the growing radicalization of Muslims in Germany. The anti-German and anti-Semitic rhetoric of some imams affiliated with Millî Görüş, the organization’s outreach to Turkish-German youth, and its political and financial connections to extreme rightist parties in Turkey caused many in Germany to conclude that, at the least, this particular brand of Islam was inimical to the country’s cultural and political values.99 These fears were confirmed when it was uncovered that the men who carried out the September 11 attacks in the United States had ties to a terrorist cell in Hamburg.

Yet, at the same time, numerous Muslims in Germany were attempting to define and articulate their religious beliefs in a way that illustrated both their compatibility with German political values and their contribution to broader society. In 2004, DITIB’s chairman, Rıdvan Çakir, sat down with a reporter from Die Zeit in an effort to publicize his organization’s values and character. Çakir emphasized the distance between his group and self-identified Muslim terrorists, explaining that such groups misused Islam for political ends. “We condemned the attacks in New York, Istanbul, and Madrid immediately and in clear words – in German and in Turkish, by the way,” Çakir reprimanded the reporter. “However, these were not transmitted through the German media.” Çakir went on to describe the apolitical nature of Islam – in line with the tradition of Turkish secularism. DITIB’s stance on the headscarf demonstrated this religious/political divide. Whether or not a woman wears a headscarf does not make her more or less religious, he argued. “The present debate [over the headscarf] is not religious, but political. And thus we do not take part.” Additionally, Çakir posited that imams in Germany should speak German, but said there were currently no properly trained imams who could fulfill this role.100 The DITIB chairman’s position on the separation of the political and the religious, as well as his strong stance against terrorism, reflected the viewpoints of many Muslims in Germany, despite its lack of media coverage relative to that of more extreme perspectives.

Finally, some Muslim thinkers, German politicians, and academics suggested another religious space they considered more suited to life in Germany: Euro-Islam. This, advocates claimed, would be a form of Islam compatible with daily life, responsibilities, and privileges in Europe. Some of the definitions advocates of Euro-Islam laid out sounded similar to the values set forth by Çakir in the Die Zeit interview. Bundestag president Wolfgang Thierse, in response to a question from a Spiegel reporter about an “ideal Islam,” defined Euro-Islam as recognizing the separation of church and state, embracing pluralism, and practicing religious tolerance.101 Syrian-German political scientist Bassam Tibi went even further, calling for a reformation in Islam and Muslim renouncement of efforts to convert others to Islam.102 Researchers have found evidence to support the presence of this type of Euro-Islam, particularly among the second generation. Scholars point to more open and tolerant attitudes toward religious difference, personal study and interpretation of the Qur’an, and the hybridization of modesty with fashion as indicators of the growth and viability of European-influenced Islam.103

The German government took a step toward encouraging a Euro-Islam in 2006 when it invited Muslims from a broad spectrum of religious, cultural, and political backgrounds to take part in open dialogue aimed at creating and promoting a German Islam. The participants – who ranged from a representative of the conservative Verband Islamischer Kulturzentren (VIKZ) to Islam critic and feminist Necla Kelek – joined the government in forming the Deutsche Islam Konferenz (German Islam Conference, DIK), headed by Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU). On the agenda for the first meeting were the long-standing issues of training German-speaking imams and religious instruction in public schools.104 Although it is difficult to gauge the impact of such an organization on the local level, a survey conducted by the DIK in 2009 does illuminate some aspects of Muslim daily life in Germany. Whereas it reaffirmed well-known information, such as the predominance of Turks among Muslims in Germany, the survey also turned up new data that challenged common stereotypes, particularly in regard to women and girls. For example, approximately 70 percent of Muslim women in Germany answered that they did not wear a headscarf. In addition, 90 percent of Muslim girls participated in class trips, swimming lessons, and sexual education classes.105 These results suggest, if not a German Islam, then at least one that conforms more to German social customs than previously assumed.106 In other words, many German Muslims participate fully and readily in everyday social spaces, forging belonging and community alongside and with their German peers.

It is difficult to ascertain the extent to which the Muslims from the first and second generation have remained active in the life of the mosque over the course of Turkish immigrant settlement in the Federal Republic. Researchers have attempted to measure the degree of religiosity in the Turkish immigrant population and determine the impact of generational belonging and length of time in Germany on that aspect of community life. In October 2000, Germany’s Center for Studies on Turkey, headed by Faruk Şen, conducted a survey on the influence of religion in the daily lives of “two thousand immigrants of Turkish origin.” Generally, the majority defined themselves as “religious” (64.6 percent), and just over a quarter of respondents described themselves as “not religious.”107 Yet, despite the majority identifying as religious, only about 36 percent of respondents claimed membership with a mosque organization,108 and a minority from each age group – with the exception of those over sixty – replied that they visited a mosque on a regular basis.109

Among Şen’s survey respondents, generational differences quickly become apparent. The older generation tended to be more religious than the younger, with levels of religious observance (individual as well as corporate activities) increasing with age. Younger respondents, however, despite considering themselves not very religious, still participated in traditions related to religion, such as observing dietary restrictions and giving to the poor. Şen suggests that this pattern reflects a separation in the minds of the second generation of religious observance and cultural practice.110 A 2004–2005 study conducted in Kiel focused on the second and third generations, examining the importance of religion and degree of religious observance. As in the Şen survey, the Kiel study found that observance of religious customs was not necessarily tied to membership in a mosque organization or even regular visits to a mosque. In addition, the Kiel study measured the importance of religion in comparison to the amount of time participants, their parents, and their grandparents had been living in Germany, finding that, in general, the longer the stay in Germany, the less central religion became.111

Taking these two studies together demonstrates why one should be wary of postulating the existence of a secularization versus increased religiosity dichotomy. Although religion and mosque attendance appear to be of more importance to the first generation than those who followed, it is also apparent that, although religion may not be the dominating aspect of their identity, it has continued to play an important role in the lives of many in the second generation. The importance of religion to their identity, it seems, is in many cases not connected to participation in the life of the mosque. Instead, many in the second generation have created spaces for themselves outside the realm of the mosque where they explore, redefine, and practice Islam.


This brief examination of developments in the Turkish-German community demonstrates some of the significant challenges facing that population since reunification in 1990, most of which reflected a continuation of difficulties faced in earlier decades. Economic instability and high unemployment affected workers with a Turkish background disproportionately. As jobs emigrated from the city and a new surge of ethnic German workers flooded the labor market, the first generation in particular found themselves bereft of the inducement that had brought and anchored them to living in Germany. Economic hardship took its toll on homes and neighborhoods, as many small businesses closed their doors and more financially secure residents moved away. Members of the second generation, many coming to an age at which they should have been entering the workplace, were faced with a situation very different from the one their parents had previously enjoyed. For a minority of young men, their decline in socioeconomic status coupled with rising anti-foreigner sentiment motivated them to seek their own solutions through gang membership and illicit activities. Their lack of economic opportunity was tied in part to a school system that still grappled with the challenges of educating a diverse student body for social and economic success. At the same time, school officials, German policy makers, and Islamic organizations – although largely in agreement on where Islamic studies classes should take place – had yet to arrive at a consensus as to how they should be conducted. The broader German public had become even more anxious about the Muslims living among them, who had in the intervening years grown more visible and vocal. This combination of factors led to more deliberate efforts at creating and defining (and, to an extent, controlling) religious spaces intended to fit into mainstream German society rather than develop at the margins.

Despite these many challenges, the postreunification decades were not wholly negative ones for the Turkish-German community. Indeed, several noteworthy developments further rooted that population both in their everyday landscapes as well as German society more broadly. The number of Turkish-owned businesses increased markedly, tying their proprietors to the customers they served and giving a segment of the Turkish-German community an opportunity to influence the character and economic conditions of their environment. In the neighborhood, local activists from diverse backgrounds worked together to improve the economic and social conditions of their neighbors. Building and expanding on the foundations set in the 1980s, their efforts at intercultural and interreligious dialogue and cooperation created new spaces for open discussion and debate. Although they may not have resulted in agreement, such spaces did promote understanding and common cause, which participants considered a fundamental part of building a multicultural society. Finally, the expansion of religious spaces into other aspects of daily life, as well as public discourse, has given Muslim members of the Turkish-German community the chance to integrate their religious beliefs with their daily lives even as it has enabled them to redefine what it means to be Muslim in the face of one-dimensional media portrayals. By choosing to invest significant time, energy, and resources into mosque construction, the Turkish Muslim community made the strong statement that they considered the Federal Republic their home. Rather than looking back to a homeland they knew mainly through their parents’ stories and from summer vacations, the second generation was building a physical and lasting space of belonging in the place they saw as their future.

Thus, the two decades after German reunification witnessed continuations of developments that began as far back as the 1970s as well as new situations prompted by the fall of the Wall and the political, economic, and social restructuring that followed. Although these developments had conflicting influences on the sense of belonging among Turkish immigrants and their children, one thing was clear – members of the Turkish-German community were taking an increasingly active role in articulating the challenges they faced and creating spaces through which they could seek solutions from the local to the national and transnational level. That their approaches to addressing these challenges could be very different reflected the growth and diversification the community had experienced during its more than fifty years of existence.

1 Bilge Yılmaz (pseudonym), interview by author, 2 June 2009, transcription by Perrin Saylan, Berlin, 20.

2 Yılmaz interview, 20–21.

3 Nevim Çil, Topographie des Außenseiters: Türkische Generationen und der deutsch-deutsche Wiedervereinigungsprozess (Berlin: Schiler, 2007).

4 Nevim Çil, “Türkische Migranten und der Mauerfall,” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, 21–22 (May 2009): 40–46.

5 Armin Fuhrer, “Türkische Unternehmen boomen,” Die Welt, 14 July 1997, 15.

6 Hedwig Rudolph and Felicitas Hillmann, “Döner contra Boulette – Döner und Boulette: Berliner türkischer Herkunft als Arbeitskräfte und Unternehmer im Nahrungsgütersektor,” in Hartmut Häußermann and Ingrid Oswald, eds., Zuwanderung und Stadtentwicklung Opladen: Leviathan, 1997), 93.

7 “In Kreuzberg kommandieren wir,” Der Spiegel, 19 November 1990, 161.

8 The “old” Bundesländer refers to those states that made up the Federal Republic of Germany prior to reunification.

9 Joyce Marie Mushaben, The Changing Faces of Citizenship: Integration and Mobilization Among Ethnic Minorities in Germany (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008), 180.

10 Rudolph and Hillmann, “Döner Contra Boulette,” 100–101. Interestingly, in her study of Muslim immigrants (the vast majority of whom were Turkish) in Bremen, Hackett cites a 2001 study by the Zentrum für Türkeistudien that found only approximately one-fifth of all Turkish business owners who participated in the survey sought assistance or advice in setting up their own businesses. The majority of those who did so asked for support from family and friends, but the stark difference between Berliner business owners and their Bremen counterparts begs the question of what factors accounted for such a discrepancy. See Sarah Hackett, Foreigners, Minorities and Integration: The Muslim Immigrant Experience in Britain and Germany (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2016), 75–77.

11 Ibid., 95–98.

12 Eberhard Seidel-Pielen, Aufgespießt: Wie der Döner über die Deutschen kam (Hamburg: Rotbuch, 1996).

13 Regarding the changing perception of Berlin, guidebooks for Germany and Berlin in 1989 and 1990 often mention the presence of Turkish immigrants, particularly in connection with Kreuzberg. During the next two decades, however, the Turkish community and “ethnic” businesses not only characterize parts of the city, they have become tourist destinations. For a few of examples, see these editions of the popular Lonely Planet guides: David Stanley, Lonely Planet: Eastern Europe on a Shoestring (Hawthorn: Lonely Planet, 1991); Steve Fallon, Anthony Haywood, Andrea Schulte-Peevers, and Nick Selby, Lonely Planet: Germany (Hawthorn: Lonely Planet, 1998); and Andrea Schulte-Peevers, Kerry Christiani, Marc Di Duca, Anthony Haywood, Catherine Le Nevez, Daniel Robinson, and Caroline Sieg, Lonely Planet: Germany (Footscray: Lonely Planet, 2010).

14 Britta Petersen, “Jenseits von Döner Kebab,” Berliner Morgenpost, 26 July 1998, p. 39, Presse Inhalte: Sozial-Spi. W, MMA.

15 Hackett, Foreigners, Minorities and Immigration, 73.

16 Ibid., 86.

17 P. Kayser, F. Preusse, J. Riedel, and B. Umbreit, Ethnische Ökonomie als Chance der Standortenentwicklung (Berlin: Fachhochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft und Institut IKO, 2008), Vorwort.

18 Ibid., 43–49.

19 Ibid., 44.

20 Rudolph and Hillmann, “Döner Contra Boulette,” 101.

21 “Agentur für gesellschaftlich nützliche Qualifizierung und Beschäftigung im Sprengelkiez – Warum es uns gibt,” (accessed 11 August, 2011).

22 “Projekt: Interkulturelle Kommunikation in der Kommune (IKK),” Newsletter Zukunftskonferenz Müllerstrasse, no. 7 (December 1999), Veranstaltungen im Wedding (1992–2004), MMA, 1.

23 “Preis für Kiez-Engagement,” Berliner Morgenpost, 25 January 1998, Presse Inhalte: Sozial-Spi. W, MMA.

24 Alexander Clarkson, “Circling the Wagons: Immigration and the Battle for Space in West Berlin, 1970–1990,” in Simona Talani, Alexander Clarkson, and Ramon Pacheco Pardo, eds., Dirty Cities: Towards a Political Economy of the Underground in Global Cities (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 130–132.

25 “Problemkiez wird jetzt gemanagt: Weddinger Sparrplatz soll vor weiterem Niedergang bewahrt werden,” Tagesspiegel, 27 February 1999, Presse Inhalte: Sozial-Spi. W, MMA.

26 Dilek Güngör, “‘Viel verändern wird sich hier nicht’: Am Sparrplatz haben nur wenige einen Job? Quartiersmanager sollen die Lebensqualität verbessern,” Berliner Zeitung, 8 August 1999, Presse Inhalte: Sozial-Spi. W, MMA. Funding continued to be an issue, and, in 2011, the forum filed for bankruptcy. See “Der Verein Kommunales Forum Wedding e.V. hat Insolvenz angemeldet – Aktivitäten und Projekte im SprengelHaus gehen weiter!”, 2 September 2011 (accessed 25 June 2016).

27 Margaret Fischer (pseudonym), interview by author, 20 May 2009, transcription by Perrin Saylan, Berlin, 6–7.

28 “Gutes multikulturelles Miteinander im Kiez,” Berliner Morgenpost, 27 October 1999, Presse Inhalte: Sozial-Spi. W, MMA.

29 For more on SprengelHaus, see its website: I was fortunate enough to be invited by one of my interview partners to one of the then recurring events hosted by the SprengelHaus, a Sunday brunch, in July 2009. There were perhaps a dozen people around the table, most of whom seemed to be regulars who enjoyed the chance to socialize with one another over a well-laid table.

30 “Projekt Interreligiöser Dialog,” Newsletter Zukunftskonferenz Müllerstrasse, no. 7 (December 1999), Veranstaltungen im Wedding (1992–2004), MMA, 3–4.

31 Yılmaz interview, 10.

32 Ibid., 11.

33 Rita Chin, The Guest Worker Question in Postwar Germany (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 242–246.

34 Mushaben, The Changing Faces of Citizenship, 33.

35 Chin, The Guest Worker Question, 262–263. In 2014, the requirement to officially choose German citizenship by age twenty three (Optionspflicht) was eliminated in response to the recognition of complicated bureaucratic processes it imposed on youth, the consequences of which would primarily be experienced by Turkish Germans. My thanks to Joyce Mushaben for bringing this to my attention and for her incisive comments on the German citizenship law.

36 Eren Keskin (pseudonym), “Wirt einer Kneipe am Sparrplatz,” interview with Ursula Trüper, audiocassette, side A, DLSA, MMA, 1993.

37 Engin Günükutlu, interview by author, 9 May 2009, digital recording, Berlin.

38 “Bulldogs,” interview with Murat Güngör, “Zwei, drei Jahre Almanya …” Exhibit, digital recordings 20050503.mp3, Dokumentationszentrum und e.V. DOMiD.

39 Joachim Gästel, “Black Panthers, Fighters und Türkiye Boys,” “Jugendcliquen im Wedding: Von den Wilden Cliquen zu Banden und Fighters” Ausstellung (JWA), MMA.

40 “Bulldogs” interview.

42 The young man’s exact words were, “es ging ganz klar um die Cola.”

43 “Bulldogs” interview.

44 The Republikaner is a right-wing populist party whose main political platform is opposition to immigration.

45 Gästel, “Jugendgangs der Neunziger Jahren.”

46 Mushaben, The Changing Faces of Citizenship, 73–74.

47 “Bulldogs” interview.

48 “So ein Grfühl der Befreiung,” Der Spiegel, 12 November 1990.

49 Barbara Supp, “Die Droge heißt Respekt,” Der Spiegel, 26 May 1997, pp. 110–113.

50 “So ein Grfühl der Befreiung.”

51 “Bulldogs” interview.

52 “In Kreuzberg kommandieren wir,” Der Spiegel, 19 November 1990, p. 160.

53 “Bulldogs” interview.

54 Maja Herbert (pseudonym), interview by Ursula Trüper, 16 June 1993, audiocassette, DLSA, MMA.

55 Ute Schmidt (pseudonym), interview by author, 29 June 2009, transcription by Perrin Saylan, Berlin, 7.

56 Erol Kayman (pseudonym), interview by author, 29 May 2009, digital recording, Berlin.

57 Filiz Güler (pseudonym), interview by author, 27 May 2009, transcription by Perrin Saylan, Berlin, 11.

58 Sabine Müller (pseudonym), interview by author, 14 May 2009, transcription by Perrin Saylan, Berlin, 11.

59 The PISA is an analysis conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that evaluates the scholastic level of fifteen-year-olds across the world. The first PISA test was conducted in 2000, and has been held every three years since.

60 “Oma mit guter Adresse,” Der Spiegel, 26 October 1998, 94–97; and Fischer interview, 13.

61 “Die Pisa-Analyse: Sind deutsche Schüler doof?” Spiegel Online, 13 December 2001,,1518,172357,00.html (accessed 27 July 2011).

62 Martin Spiewak, “Weil Deutschland alle Schüler braucht,” Die Zeit, p. 6 June 2002, (accessed 28 July 2011).

63 The Islamic Federation of Berlin (Islamische Föderation Berlin) was founded in 1980 in West Berlin as an umbrella organization with twenty-six member mosques and Islamic organizations. It was the Berlin affiliate of the Islamische Gemeinschaft Millî Görüş, with continued links to that organization, and has likewise been under scrutiny by German authorities for Islamist positions. Yet, in 1998, the Islamic Federation was also the organization awarded the responsibility of facilitating courses in Islam in Berlin’s public schools. See below.

64 Gerdien Jonker, “The Mevlana Mosque in Berlin-Kreuzberg: An Unsolved Conflict,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 31, no. 6 (November 2005): 1070–1073.

65 Ibid., 1074.

66 Ibid., 1076–1079.

67 Central Mosque, Cologne. Photograph by Rolf Vennenbernd / AFP / Getty Images.

68 A representative mosque is one with a traditional architectural design, including a dome and minarets.

69 Miriam Bunjes, “Erstes Minarett über Köln,” die tageszeitung, 3 March 2006, (accessed 11 July 2011).

70 Helmut Frangenberg, “Moderner Kuppelbau mit zwei Minaretten,” Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 21 September 2006.

71 Mark Landler, “Germans Split Over a Mosque and the Role of Islam,” The New York Times, 5 July 2007, (accessed 11 July 2011).

72 Ralph Giordano, “Nicht die Moschee, der Islam ist das Problem,” in Franz Sommerfeld, ed., Der Moscheestreit: Eine exemplarische Debatte über Einwanderung und Integration (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2005), 37–51.

73 Landler, “Germans Split Over a Mosque and the Role of Islam.”

74 Anna Reimann, “‘We Want the Cathedral, Not Minarets’: Far-Right Mobilizes against Cologne Mega-Mosque,” Spiegel Online, 19 June 2007,,1518,489275,00.html (accessed 11 July 2011).

75 Yasemin Schooman and Riem Spielhaus, “The Concept of the Muslim Enemy in the Public Discourse,” in Jocelyne Cesari, ed., Muslims in the West After 9/11: Religion, Politics, and Law (New York: Routledge, 2010), 208–209.

76 Bildergalerie Bauphase, Dachverband Türkisch-Islamische Union der Anstalt für Religion, e.V., (accessed 14 July 2011).

77 This term, while certainly not restricted to one organization, has been used by Pro-Cologne. See Reimann, “We Want the Cathedral, Not Minarets.”

78 Jason Burke, “Mosque Stirs Racial Passion in Germany,” The Observer, 15 July 2007.

79 Rauf Ceylan, Ethnische Kolonien: Entstehung, Funktion und Wandel am Beispiel türkischer Moscheen und Cafes (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2006), 149.

80 Ibid., 175.

81 Ömer Alan, “Muslime im Ruhrgebiet: Wer Moscheen baut, möchte bleiben,” in Kommunalverband Ruhrgebiet (Hrsg): Standorte Ruhrgebiet 1999/2000 (Essen: Kommunalverband Ruhrgebiet, 1999).

82 Thomas Schmitt, Moscheen in Deutschland: Konflikte um ihre Errichtung und Nutzung (Flensburg: Deutsches Akademie für Landeskunde, 2003).

83 Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque, Mannheim. Photograph by Sabine Simon / Ullstein Bild / Getty Images.

84 Joel S. Fetzer and J. Christopher Soper, Muslims and the State in Britain, France, and Germany (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 118.

85 Merkez Mosque, Duisburg-Marxloh. Photograph by Patrick Stollarz / AFP / Getty Images.

86 Carolin Jenkner, “Why No One Protested against Germany’s Biggest Mosque,” Der Spiegel International, 27 October 2008,,1518,586759,00.html (accessed 15 July 2011).

87 Emily Harris, “Two Mosques, Two Different Reactions in Germany,” NPR, 11 October 2007, (accessed 11 July 2011).

88 Jenkner, “Why No One Protested against Germany’s Biggest Mosque.”

89 Onur Korkmaz (pseudonym), interview by author, 6 June 2009, Berlin.

90 Mehmet Asker (pseudonym), interview by author, 8 June 2009, Berlin.

91 Max Schulz (pseudonym), interview by author, 29 May 2009, Berlin; Erik Weber (pseudonym), interview by author, 25 May 2009, Berlin.

92 Paul Hoch (pseudonym), interview by Ursula Trüper, 29 October 1993, audiocassette, DLSA, MMA.

93 Weber interview.

94 Cordula Meyer, “Wenn Allah möchte,” Der Spiegel, 5 August 2002, p. 49.

95 Ibid., 48–49.

96 Carolin Ströbele, “Islamunterricht an Berlins Schulen erlaubt,” Spiegel Online, 25 October 2001,,1518,164474,00.html (accessed 25 July 2011).

97 Mushaben, The Changing Faces of Citizenship, 291.

98 Roger Cohen, “Long Dispute Ends as Berlin Court Backs Islamic School Lessons,” The New York Times, 6 November 1998.

99 “Der Islam ist der Weg,” Der Spiegel, 12 February 1996, pp. 44–49.

100 “Das Kopftuch ist nicht so wichtig,” Die Zeit, 3 June 2004, (accessed 29 July 2011).

101 “Thierses Traum vom Euro-Islam,” Spiegel Online, 23 December 2001,,1518,174243,00.html (accessed 29 July 2011).

102 Cordula Meyer and Caroline Schmidt, “Europeans Have Stopped Defending Their Values,” Spiegel Online, 10 February 2006,,1518,440340,00.html (accessed 25 July 2011).

103 For example, see Peter P. Mandaville, “Muslim Youth in Europe,” in Shireen T. Hunter, ed., Islam, Europe’s Second Religion: The New Social, Cultural, and Political Landscape (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2002), 219–229.

104 “Lowering the Wall between Mosque and State,” Spiegel Online, 27 September 2006,,1518,439410,00.html (accessed 20 August 2011).

105 Deutsche Islam Konferenz, Summary: “Muslim Life in Germany,” (2009), (accessed 20 August 2011), 7–8.

106 Bassam Tibi’s own experience is a cautionary tale against declaring Euro-Islam’s total victory over the public identity of Islam in Germany. Despite being a longtime German resident and citizen, Tibi felt that he was unable to be seen as a German by Germans or a Muslim by Muslims. He called his a “failed integration,” and took a position at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in 2006.

107 Faruk Şen, “Euro-Islam: Some Empirical Evidences,” in Ala Al-Hamarneh and Jörn Thielmann, eds., Islam and Muslims in Germany (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 39.

108 Ibid., 42.

109 Ibid., 40.

110 Ibid., 40.

111 Kea Eilers, Clara Seitz, and Konrad Hirschler, “Religiousness among Young Muslims in Germany,” in Ala Al-Hamarneh and Jörn Thielmann, eds., Islam and Muslims in Germany (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 83–115.