Migration has changed the cultural landscape of the Federal Republic permanently. The German-Turkish youth culture in Berlin is just one of many examples. Regina Römhild reports
It has been official for around the past two years: Germany is an immigration country. This realisation comes extremely late, because 50 years of work-related migration and immigration by ethnic groups – but also the much longer history of exodus, expulsion and exile – have been leaving permanent traces for a long time.
However, there is a lack of public awareness as to how migration has changed and continues to change the cultural landscape of the Federal Republic as a whole.
Cultural globalisation and pluralisation
Beyond integration logic, the migrants have been creating space of their own for their transnational life plans for some time – and in doing so they have changed the entire societies involved.
For it is a fallacy of the integration model to conceive the cultural consequences of migration as a problem that the immigrants must overcome – while the national majority of Germans can apparently remain unaffected by it.
But in fact migration results in cultural globalisation, and from the local perspective of the indigenous population that means cultural pluralisation. Because as a result of the migrants' many and varied transnational projects, a new cultural diversity is created.
This diversity cannot be subordinated to either the national standard model or the standardised culture of a "global village", and has just as little to do with the cultural diversity of a multiculture categorised according to national origins. Above all, cultural globalisation also means that the cultures themselves become mobile, and are reinvented in the process of this movement.
Cultural relationships in a global context
The German-Turkish youth culture in Berlin is one aspect of this cultural globalisation. German-Turkish hip-hop and rap are merely the most spectacular developments within this scene, which are now considered a musical avant-garde by German audiences as well.
The German-Turkish hip-hoppers form a link with the Afro-American youth culture. Kreuzberg and Brooklyn are becoming symbols of a cultural relationship in a global context. And these developments also have their equivalents at a European level, where comparable products of young migrants emerge in all immigration countries – a "European Rap" movement, which contributes different migration histories to global hip-hop in Italy or France.
Second-generation immigrants in particular express themselves offensively in public places, and also adopt a political stance. Their mouthpieces are musicians, film-makers and literati such as the author Feridun Zaimoglu, who made Kanak Sprak socially acceptable, or the political action group Kanak Attak.
Nonetheless, the language and culture of the "Ghetto Kids" have long since left the ghetto and have now become a part of the commercialised German multiculture.
Beyond multiculture nostalgia
The phenomenon of transnationalisation can also be found in other German-Turkish places: cafés and clubs that emerge in the expensive inner city districts, which in other words become established in a mainstream environment and yet are aimed almost exclusively at Turkish audiences – the established middle class in particular.
Here Turkish pop is played, just the same as in Istanbul or Ankara; the interior decor is urban in style. Here they neither recreate the ghetto nor plump for Arabesque folklore. The imaginary point of reference for this scene is urban Turkey, which is perceived to be modern and European.
These places exist in Frankfurt and Offenbach as well, and the German public is frequently fairly unaware of them. The German multiculture has other institutions: the proverbial "Greek" with Souvlaki, Sirtaki and nomadic rugs on the wall is such an institution, into which virtually no Greeks will stray unless they work there.
The young Greeks in Frankfurt distance themselves from German multiculture nostalgia of this type; they prefer pubs that reflect their urban, modern outlook more, that may well be reminiscent of New York or Athens, but not of a romanticised Mediterranean village culture.
The transnationalisation and cultural globalisation of our society continue throughout all these places and scenes, producing a diversity which cannot be contained either by international product marketing or by definitions of a predominant national culture, but rather keeps picking these up as a framework of reference for productions of its own.
Dr. Regina Römhild
© Goethe-Institut 2006
Translation from German: Jo Beckett
The author works at the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology at the University of Frankfurt, and is a board member of the Federal Culture Foundation's Projekt Migration