Germany in Transit:
Nation and Migration 1955-2005

Deniz Göktürk, David Gramling + Anton Kaes (editors)

University of California Press 2007
A book review by Danny Yee © 2008
Germany in Transit is a documentary history built up of translated excerpts from primary sources, offering "a cultural history of postwar Germany through the lens of migration". Its ten chapters tackle different topics, each with an introduction followed by around twenty documents or excerpts, arranged in chronological order. These are taken from newspaper articles, opinion pieces, policy platforms, regulations and legislation, speeches, letters, interviews, scholarly papers, and song lyrics and poetry.

It lends itself to browsing, but Germany in Transit also works read cover to cover. The brevity of the pieces — just two pages on average — makes for easy reading, but they are not so short as to be frustrating. Many are informative or entertaining in their own right, and they benefit from their mosaic context; and the chronological ordering gives a feel for changing attitudes and ongoing debates.

"Working Guests" gives an overview of guest workers in West Germany, from the first Italians in 1955, through Helmut Kohl and the offering of incentives to leave, to refugees in 2005 facing the boat crossing from Tangier to Europe. "Our Socialist Friends" covers the rather different situation in East Germany, where the earliest large groups of foreigners were orphans and refugees from Vietnam. Reunification was not a boon for many, or for links to countries such as Mozambique.

"Is the Boat Full?" explores xenophobia, racism, violence, and responses to them, covering the panic in 1973, which saw a moratorium on guest workers introduced, the Heidelberg manifesto, right wing party platforms, the Solingen attack, and the culture of skinheads and rap music.

The pieces in "What is a German?" consider changing citizenship law, the debate over allowing dual nationalities and two passports, and related topics — such as a comparison with the integration of Jews in the 19th century.

"Religion and Diaspora" includes Jewish and Christian perspectives but focuses on Islam and flashpoints such as the wearing of headscarves by teachers, radical mosques, Islamic instruction in schools, and clash of civilizations rhetoric.

"Promoting Diversity" presents perspectives from some of the institutions and organisations involved in multiculturalism and cultural production: the Commissioner of Foreigner Affairs, church ecumenical committees, Radio Multikuli, the Carnival of Cultures, Kanak Attak, and artistic and cultural manifestos. "An Immigration Country?" covers debates over multiculturalism and the idea of a Leitkultur or "guiding culture". And the pieces in "Living in Two Worlds" give some feel for the lived experience of migration, highlighting accommodation and housing issues but also touching on marriages of convenience, Roma, and Thai brides.

"Writing Back" and "A Turkish Germany" offer reflections on culture, on literature, popular music, film, television, advertising, the doner kebab, and more, as well as debates over prizes and ideas of authenticity. An epilogue is dominated by Theory-heavy pieces on globalization.

Germany in Transit was perhaps designed as a text for a "German Studies" course. It is well-suited to anyone curious about modern Germany, however, with little background knowledge assumed and a chronology and a glossary provided. The bibliography is divided between non-fiction works and literary ones, with material available in English listed separately. There's also an eight page filmography listing some key films that deal with migration.

September 2008

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%T Germany in Transit
%S Nation and Migration 1955-2005
%E Göktürk, Deniz
%E Gramling, David
%E Kaes, Anton
%I University of California Press
%D 2007
%O paperback, chronology, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0520248945
%P 588pp