In a speech before the German parliament in January, 1991, former chancellor Helmut Kohl reiterated the official slogan for the country’s immigration policy: “Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland,” or “Germany is not a country for immigration.”
At the time of Kohl’s statement, just two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the government was wading through the murky legal waters of unifying West and East Germany. Many elected officials, including the Chancellor, failed to acknowledge that with over 5.5 million immigrants already residing in the country - almost 7 percent of the total population - Germany was already in effect, an Einwanderungsland, a country for immigration.
Entrenched in two World Wars, fiscal turmoil and Nazi ideology, Germany was predominantly a point of emigration throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, in the aftermath of World War II, the West German economy experienced an industrial boom and a subsequent wave of immigration from 1955 to 1970.
Germany’s first generation of immigrants – mainly laborers from Italy, Portugal, Greece and Turkey - were given a temporary welcome. As guest workers, they were subject to an antiquated and inconsistent legal system, in which citizenship was based on jus sanguinis, i.e. right of blood, and naturalization was offered on an ad hoc basis.
In 2000, with more than 7 million immigrants residing in Germany, the government took a legislative leap and amended nationality laws to include the principle of jus soli, i.e. right of soil. Some 60 years and 3 generations after the first immigrants arrived, children without ‘German blood’ could obtain citizenship at birth.
In spite of legal reforms, these children are not currently considered first-generation Germans. Rather they are identified as “second-generation immigrants” or “people with an immigration background.” Coined by the Office of Federal Statistics in 2005, the term, immigration background, or Migrationshintergrund, is used to distinguish residents with German ancestry from those without. According to a 2008 census, 863,000 Berliners – some 25 percent of the city’s population – have an immigration background
From ex-pats to asylum seekers, immigrants and their children are challenging the conventions of German identity. A collection of portraits, Stories from The Immigration Background, explores the lives of 10 Berliners who are forging the archetypes for Germany’s future as a country of immigration, an Einwanderungsland.