The Politics of Place in Global Cities

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Berlin, Germany’s largest city by population, has been a city of locals and immigrants for several centuries. Immigrants from various countries in the world have contributed to the shaping of the character of Berlin and Germany in general, making a relatively unique feature in the city. While most immigrant communities in the city can trace their roots back to the history of the city and nation, some have immigrated into the country (Kesselman 69). History is one of the most important aspects that have influenced immigration in Germany. Although there are various cities and urban areas with large populations, huge industries and strong cultures, the significance of Berlin in the history and culture of Germany is outstanding, especially due to its unique culture, the history that influences the entire country, and the impact of Berlin Wall on the nation’s population, culture, and economy.

The Importance of Berlin in the History of Immigration in Germany

An important part of the history of immigration into Berlin City and Germany is the Turkish immigration since the early 1800s. The earliest records of Turkish immigration into the German cities, especially Berlin, occurred between the end of the 1700s and mid1800s (Kesselman 71). In particular, the Ottoman Turks were constantly visiting the city during the times of the Holy Roman Empire, with a large number of them settling down in the area. As the Ottoman Turkish troops advanced towards the areas such as Warsaw and Vienna in the 1600s, a substantial population of them remained in German cities such as Berlin, with the majority living there permanently due to assimilating into the predominantly Christian population of Germany.

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Nevertheless, the aftermath of the Second World War is one of the most important historical factors that contributed to the appearance of immigrants in the city (Green 228). With Germany being the European nation suffering the largest destruction and political-economic isolation during and after the war, there was an urgent need for the nation’s policy makers to seek for the external labor force to rebuild its economy. The main idea was to obtain labor from Turkey and a few other nations of the Eastern Europe (Green 229). In particular, the primary destination was West Germany, where large Turkish populations moved during the “economic miracle of the 1960s-1970s. A few years after the end of the Second World War, West Germany was suffering from an acute shortage of labor due to an economic boom. To solve the problem, the government of Berlin and Turkey signed a deal allowing Turkish workers to move to Germany to fill the labor gap, especially in the factories located in major cities. These workers were known as “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers) in West Germany and were given labor opportunities alongside other immigrants from Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain, and Greece (Kesselman 131). Initially, it was perceived that the presence of the guest workers from Turkey and the other nations would be temporary. However, consequent demands by the workers included unification with their families, which eventually led to a massive immigration of their spouses and families soon after the settlement. Eventually, these laws shaped the population of Berlin and other cities in the country.

As described above, West Germany experienced an economic boom a few decades after the Second World War, especially due to its alignment with the west and democratic capitalism. On the other hand, East Germany remained largely influenced by Marxism ideas, which limited its economic and social development. Thus, West Germany was the primary destination of the immigrants from Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece (Kesselman 92). Given that the city of Berlin was divided into two physical sections, the part that fell on the West Germany experienced a rapid population transformation as these immigrants settled there in search of labor. On the other hand, the part of Berlin located eastwards of the Berlin Wall remained unattractive to immigrants, which explains why the Berlin Wall still influences the locations of immigrants in the modern city (Green 234).

The identity of populations in Germany has historically been based on family ties and bloodlines. The “German” identity was taken to denote people with ethnic or familial origin in Germany. In the modern times, people whose families have lived in Germany for many generations or those who speak German as their first language are considered “the most German”. In addition, a person whose language has changed significantly is considered “German” just because he or she has German bloodlines despite having lived in other countries for generations (Hinze 57). This phenomenon has impacted the immigration in Germany. For instance, the “more German” term is taken to mean the people who have strong bloodline and familial ties in Germany followed by the immigrants who have settled in other nations but retain strong familial or blood links with Germany. In fact, the immigrant populations from Turkey and other European nations whose ancestors have lived in the country for generations are not included in the “more German” category, because they have weak or no familial ties or bloodlines with the original inhabitants of Germany. Thus, immigrants are still not considered “Germans” from the social and cultural perspective, but the law considers them as equal Germans with equal rights and opportunities.

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Differences between Assimilation and Integration

In Germany and most other parts of Europe, the terms “assimilation” and “integration” have always been used in defining the processes of incorporating foreigners into the native populations. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between the two terms in definition and application. The term “assimilation” has always been used in reference to the process of the absorption of minority groups or communities into the perceptions, views, and ways of life of the majority groups in a given society that is predominantly multicultural. It is primarily a unidirectional process, because the minority groups are required to learn the traditions and customs of the majority group and eventually give up their own ways or modify them in order to be accepted by the majority group.

On the other hand, the term “integration” means the process in which two or more cultures develop cross influences on each other changing some of their ways, traditions, and cultures in order for the minority culture to be acceptable in the majority group. The process requires both groups to accept the ways, laws, and traditions of the host nation, but they are not required to give up their own laws and traditions.

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In Germany, assimilation was a major factor in the past, especially concerning the Turkish immigrants. The German policy makers, especially in such sectors as education, law, health, and other public services, expected the immigrants to learn the German language, culture, and the way of life in order to live in the country. For example, education in schools and universities was offered predominantly in the German language. The official language was German despite the large number of foreigners in the country. Industrialists, policy makers in the economic sectors and other business areas used German as the sole language of communication, which required the foreigners to give up their own language and laws and adopt the German ones. Nevertheless, they were allowed to use their own languages within their groups and communicate freely whenever necessary. The Germans themselves were not required to adopt the language, culture, or ways of the foreigners, because the culture and laws seemed to favor them despite the democratic rights offered to all the populations.

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Nevertheless, the modern concept of immigration into Germany is largely based on the idea of integration. Currently, large populations of people from Turkey, Africa, Asia, and other European nations are living in Germany. In Berlin, the Turkish language is common, though largely influenced by the mainstream German language. In addition, English, French, Spanish, and other European languages have become official making it common for immigrants to live in the country without the need to give up their ways of life and languages. Thus, policy makers in the modern German have to consider these facts, especially in education, health, and other public sectors, where communication is done in multiple languages to fit each individual. 

Transnational Urban Space and Communities

Transitional urban space has shaped the experience of the people in Berlin, especially women. For instance, the interviewed women generally accept the fact that they are partly Germans and partly foreigners, yet they feel comfortable being referred to as Germans (Hinze 157). The freedom that comes with democracy, observation and protection of human rights in Germany has shaped the perceptions of women, especially those who come from Asian nations such as Muslim countries. They have also shaped Berlin in some ways. For instance, the Turkish and other foreign women have contributed to the change of the local population and culture, given that they have the right of clothing such as veiling or wearing foreign attires (Hinze 188). Thus, Berlin has become a multicultural and global city due to the presence of local and foreign cultures that have been integrated thus forming a unique culture.

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It appears that transitional urban communities will increasingly inhabit most cities in Germany and other European cities in the future due to the increased immigration of people from various parts of the world to settle and work in the urban areas. Over the last few decades, various European nations have encouraged the immigration of foreign populations, especially the expatriates from the developing world contributing to the economic development. In particular, these individuals are favored by the democratic nature of the locals, where the degree of the acceptance of foreigners is relatively high. As such, the cities will be mainly cross-cultural, with various world cultures represented.